Skip to Content

25 MAGICAL Things to do in Banff THIS December (2023) +Seasonal Events

25 MAGICAL Things to do in Banff THIS December (2023) +Seasonal Events

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

Banff is a beautiful mountain town, making it the perfect destination for the wintery month of December! It is located in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, offering incredible scenery that can only be described as a real-life winter wonderland.

If you’re visiting Banff in December, you’ll be able to experience a combination of lakes, rivers, and mountains, making it arguably one of the most picturesque places in Canada.

On top of that, winter is the ideal time to visit Banff, and in December, it’s even better when you add in the festive events of the season. Don’t even get me started on the beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere!

There’s a reason why Banff is one of our favorite places to visit in the month of December, and it’s why we keep coming back at this festive time of the year.

So if you’re thinking about visiting Banff in December this year, then look no further. This blog is all about everything you need to know about visiting Banff in the month of December including the best winter tours, events, activities, and so much more!

Why Visit Banff in December in 2023

Frozen waterfall in Grotto Canyon
Frozen waterfalls are so cool! This is the one on the Grotto Canyon Icewalk.

Whether you visit Banff in the fall, summer, spring, or winter, you are sure to have a magical time with plenty of incredible activities in Banff to keep yourself busy.

That being said, December is extra special in Banff.

Just imagine all of the snow, Christmas lights, Christmas markets, carols, cozy fireside glasses of wine, skiing, and hot springs! To me, Banff is the ultimate Canadian Christmas destination as there is just so much to do and see in Banff in the winter– especially in December! 

December Weather in Banff

Bailey on a chairlift in Banff Natiobal Park
You better be ready for some cold weather – perfect for hitting the slopes!

When visiting Banff in December, you can expect fairly cold weather. The daily high temperatures average to be around -5°C (23°F), with the average daily low being around -13°C (9°F).

Typically, around 19 days in December, we receive snowfall, with an average of 44cm (17in) of snow.

Events in Banff in December THIS YEAR (2023)

the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the snow with a snowman infront
The beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel looks like a winter fairytale castle!

My personal favorite part about visiting Banff in December (and why I keep coming back) is all the festive events that are on at this time of year! I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas lights shining through the snow?! It’s pure magic.

There is no way to visit Banff around Christmas and not get in the holiday spirit if you check out these events. The below events are some of the most popular that are on this year.

Christmas at the Castle  

Posing in the front of the Faimont banff springs hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel really is a winter Christmas castle!

Every year Banff’s historic castle becomes the center of Christmas celebrations. The Fairmont Banff Springs is one of the most luxurious hotels in Banff and during the holiday season, they really get into the Christmas spirit with decorations everywhere, daily events, and Christmas-themed meals. 

This time of year is officially called “Christmas at the Castle” – it sounds as wonderful as it is.

The Christmas at the Castle calendar of events changes daily, with some events open to the public and some open for only hotel guests. Some of their most popular events include caroling performances and meet and greet sessions with Christmas Characters (Santa Claus and his elves!) The Christmas tree light up is also lots of fun!

Christmas at the Castle is an annual event that starts at the end of November and goes until early January. To experience it the best, you should book a stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, this way you can participate in all the events without a worry.

Note: The Fairmont Banff Springs is the most luxurious and special hotel in Banff. In the summer months, prices to stay here are well over $1,000 CAD per night. During the winter, though, it’s much cheaper. So if you were ever to splurge on a stay here, winter is the time to do it! You can check prices, availability, and book here.

In Search of Christmas Spirit

many pine trees in the snow covered in different colored christmas lights
I just love Christmas lights!

This is the perfect event for anybody who loves Christmas lights. But this display is more than just Christmas lights – you’ll also get to see a Christmas story as told by the animals that call Banff home. It really is a family-friendly event to get you in the Christmas Spirit.

This event is on each night from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm from Nov 17 – Dec 31, 2023. It is completely free to visit but tickets are required. You can get your tickets online here.

Banff Christmas Market

an indoor area decorated with christmas lights and trees
One of the areas to enjoy at the market. Photo Credit: Banff Christmas Market

The Banff Christmas Market is another popular event held on the last two weekends of November as well as the first weekend of December this year (Nov 17-19, Nov 24-26, and Dec 1-3 in 2023).

At the event, you’ll find over 100 local vendors, an outdoor fire lounge, live music, Christmas treats, and warm drinks, as well as Santa’s House and Reindeer Stables. It’s a market the entire family will enjoy and just the thing to get you in the Christmas spirit!

Tickets are required for this event and cost $15 CAD per person. Tickets must be purchased in advance and you can do that here.

A Christmas Carol  

Who doesn’t love the classic story of A Christmas Carol?! In Banff, you can see a live rendition of this class story during the month of December! This version is also family-friendly and a whole lot of fun.

The show is held nightly at the Fairmont Banff Springs at 7:30 pm. Tickets start from $25 CAD and must be purchased online in advance here.

Christmas Day FREE Lift Passes

Bailey skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort near Canmore, AB
Me, skiing in Banff National Park.

During the month of December, ski fields are open daily, even on Christmas Day! In fact, Mt Norquay Ski Resort, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Banff Sunshine offer a full-day FREE lift pass for those who dress in a full Santa outfit on Christmas day (Mrs. Claus, elves, and reindeer count too!) 

Related Read: Looking for more free activities? Check out our blog about 33 FREE things to do in Banff!

Santa on the Mountain

At Sunshine Village in Banff, they have special days in December where you can find Santa skiing on the mountain. Get a once-in-a-lifetime photo with Santa in ski gear!

You can find Santa at Sunshine Village on Dec 9, 10, 16, and 17 in 2023.

Lake Louise Ice Castles, Skating, and Ice bar

A lady poses for a photo at the Lake Louise Ice sculptures
Me, with Lake Louise Ice Castles

Every December at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise you’ll find plenty of fun free events to enjoy in December.

First of all, be sure to check out the beautiful ice castle sculptures sitting on the frozen lake. Kids love them and they’re also completely free.

Then, lace up your skates and take advantage of the free skating on the lake! In the winter, Lake Louise freezes completely and then they turn it into a proper skating rink (they even clear the ice so it’s nice and smooth!) You can rent skates here too for $23 CAD for two hours.

Lake Louise frozen in winter with a mountain backdrop
Lake Louise!
Daniel stands on frozen Lake Louise with mountains behind him
It’s a stunning place!

Next to the skating rink, you ‘ll also find an ice bar, which is a bar made entirely out of ice! This is the perfect place to grab a wintery cocktail with arguably the best mountain views around.

It takes around 40 minutes to drive to Lake Louise from Banff but the drive itself is beautiful. In fact, why not take the scenic route there and drive the Bow Valley Parkway – another epic thing to do in Banff in winter!

There is a lot of parking available at the Lake Lousie foreshore, though it can fill up during busy times (weekends and public holidays). My advice is to arrive early in the morning or just avoid the weekends.

Alternatively, you can easily visit Lake Louise on this full-day tour from Banff, this way you don’t have to worry about driving! Not only will it take you to Lake Louise, but you’ll also get to hit some other iconic attractions on the Icefields Parkway as well as enjoy some time at Lake Minnewanka.

We love this tour because it takes care of the details and logistics of your day. It’s also a full-day tour that includes transportation from Banff and entrance fees. It doesn’t include lunch, so bring some extra cash for food and souvenirs! You can reserve this tour to Lake Louise here for $180 CAD. 

20 EPIC Things to do in Banff in December

There are some really great things to do in Banff in December. So, make the most of winter and get out and experience some of Banff’s best activities! 

1. Skiing and snowboarding

Chairlift at Louise Ski Resort in Banff National Park
Lake Louise Ski Resort
Close up of Bailey skiing down Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park
That’s me!

Let’s start out with the most obvious and popular thing to do in Banff in December – skiing and snowboarding! I ski and Daniel snowboards, and we just love hitting the slopes around Banff. In Banff, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to world-class ski resorts.

Here are some popular places where you can downhill ski and snowboard around Banff:

Norquay Ski Resort

Mt Norquay Ski Resort is the closest ski resort to Banff town. In fact, it’s only a 13-minute drive away. The ski hill offers some of the best views over Banff and is also open for night skiing. Mt Norquay isn’t the largest resort in the area and the runs to me aren’t the best. I find it suited to beginners or those not looking to ski an entire day.

Although not my favorite hill, the price for a full-day lift ticket is $124 CAD for adults, $93 for youth, $48 for children, and $93 for seniors – that’s cheap for Banff. If you buy early bird passes from guest services you can get lift tickets for as little as $50 CAD.

The closest hotel to the resort is The Juniper Hotel & Bistro.

Mt Norquay Ski Resort is open every day in December including Christmas Day!

Banff Sunshine Gondola
Heading up to Sunshine Village in the gondola.

Banff Sunshine

Banff Sunshine Ski Resort is located in the heart of Banff National Park 20 minutes from Banff. As the name suggests, they’re known for the sunny weather and have a wide variety of runs for beginners and experts alike. The ski resort (which you get to by riding up the Banff Sunshine Gondola) is really good for advanced skiers and snowboarders with lots of black and double black runs. Although there are plenty of green runs too, most have flat spots which are not good if you’re still not comfortable going really fast.

A regular lift ticket costs $165 CAD for adults, $127 CAD for youth and seniors, $69 for children. You can also stay at the ski resort and ski in and ski out every day. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a luxurious hotel only meters from the chairlifts. It’s one of the best places to stay in Banff for skiing.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise Ski Resort is the furthest ski hill from Banff at 40 minutes away. With that said, it’s one of the largest in Canada with a 935-meter verticle descent, 7 ski lifts, and 142 kilometers of groomed ski runs. It’s perfect for beginners, intermediates, and pros. I love the tree runs around Lake Louise and with so much resort to explore it will keep you busy all day. Oh, and on the colder days, the gondola is a lifesaver!

Adult lift tickets start at $129 CAD with a half-day option at $99. Youths cost $99, children $49, and seniors $99. If you want to stay close to the resort you’ll need to book a hotel in Lake Louise Village.

I have been lucky enough to ski at all the ski resorts above. So, which one is my favorite?

Well, in all honesty, I love Lake Louise the most. The ski area is huge and I love the terrain. Plus the gondola really saves you from the cold! My second choice would have to be Sunshine Village. It also has great terrain and the views are spectacular. For beginners though, I don’t recommend it. Instead, head to Mt Norquay where you can learn for just over half the price.

Related Read: Skiing is one of the best things to do in the cute mountain town of Fernie, BC in December too!

2. Ride the Banff Gondola

Banff gondola building and boardwalk on a early spring day with lots of snow
The top of the Banff Gondola. This is the boardwalk you can walk.
view of Banff town from up above on the Banff Gondola
The view of Banff town!

The Banff Gondola is possibly the singular most popular thing to do in Banff – and for good reason! From the top of the Banff Gondola, the views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world. The first time I rode the gondola was during my first Christmas in Banff and I loved it!

The Banff Gondola is a 10-minute scenic ride from the car parking lot to the summit of Sulpher Mountain. At the top of the gondola, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe, a gift shop, lots of information on the area and wildlife, as well as my personal favorite, the boardwalk!

The boardwalk takes you to various viewpoints and takes around 1 hour to walk up and back the entire way. For incredible views, walk all the way to the end and visit the old weather station. From here you can see the entire valley!

For the best views, it’s best to go up the Banff Gondola on a clear day but even a little low cloud won’t ruin your views completely. The Sky Bistro at the top of the gondola also offers a great dining experience at 2,289 meters (7,510 feet) for lunch and dinner.

A fire pit at the top of the Banff Gondola during winter on Sulphur Mountain
It’s cold in winter so find yourself a fire pit and relax!

While there are four different gondolas in Banff, I particularly love the Banff one over the holiday season. And if you’re deciding between the Banff and the Lake Louise Gondola, there should be no competition. This is because, during the month of December, the Banff Gondola gets into the holiday spirit by offering special Christmas events including Santa meet and greets and other family fun events. These special events are free to those who already purchased the Banff Gondola admission ticket, and run daily from mid-November to Christmas. 

The best place to buy Banff Gondola tickets is online in advance here. That way you can skip the ticket line when you arrive!

The Banff Gondola hours of operation have been changing recently, however, in winter the gondola opens at 10 am and closes at 9 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. They are also closed this year from November 6-17 for annual maintenance. You can check their updated hours here before you go.

3. Relax in the Banff Upper Hot Springs 

The Banff Upper Hot Springs during winter
Banff Upper Hot Springs in December

Just a short 5-minute drive up Sulphur Mountain you’ll find the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a public hot spring with incredible mountain views!

The hot springs are a crowd favorite in Banff, especially in December. I mean, who wouldn’t want to warm up in a natural hot spring with breathtaking views over the Bow Valley?

This magical hot springs in Alberta is run by Parks Canada and costs about $16.50 CAD to visit which makes it pretty reasonable to visit. This, however, means the springs can get pretty crowded and my advice is to visit first thing in the morning when the springs open at 10 am. In fact, get in line at 9:45 am so you can get through the gates and enjoy the pools before the crowds arrive.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are open daily from 10 am to 10 pm with the last entry at 9:30 pm although these hours do change sometimes, so check the website before you go.) The springs are located up Sulphur Mountain near the Banff Gondola and although there is a large parking lot at the springs, it can fill up during busy periods. Regardless, this is a must-do in Banff!

Related Read: Another amazing hot spring is Radium Hot Springs. It is also operated by Parks Canada and although a couple of hours away, located in the beautiful Columbia Valley!

4. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride 

banff horse drawn sleigh ride
Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh is a fun, festive December activity in Banff!

There are few activities as Christmassy as riding in a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow around Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful and unique activity that is especially suited to the winter months in Banff. 

In Banff, this group horse-drawn sleigh ride is the perfect way to enjoy the winter wonderland that is Banff. It’s also an activity that kids will enjoy, too.

The sleigh ride starts from these stables just on the edge of town. It’s a 40-minute ride that offers stunning views of the Canadian Rockies as you wind your way through snow-covered pine trees. Don’t worry about getting cold either because there are wool blankets on the sleigh!

After your sleigh ride, you will return to the stables for a fire, hot drinks, and s’mores for a quintessential winter day in Banff.

This experience is available from mid-December to mid-March as long as there’s enough snow on the ground. You can reserve a spot for $49 CAD per adult and $38 CAD per child aged 4-12 and little ones 3 and under are free. Tours are offered on the hour in the late morning and early afternoon, so check your schedule and secure your spot for an unforgettable horse-drawn sleigh ride!

Hot tip: The horse-drawn sleigh is completely open-air, so dress accordingly! 

5. Johnston Canyon Icewalk

Views of the upper falls on the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
Johnston Canyon is a winter wonderland!

Another way to take in the spectacular scenery in Banff in December is to visit Johnston Canyon and go on an icewalk – you will literally walk on the ice in the canyon, it’s very cool! This famous attraction is open all year round but without a doubt, winter is the best time to go.

The drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon is about 30 minutes on the Bow Valley Parkway. From the parking lot, you’ll walk a 2.5-kilometer (1.6-mile) trail to the Upper Falls (ice cleats/crampons are recommended.)

You can also do the shorter option of just walking to the Lower Falls before turning back. The trail to the Lower Falls is 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) one way.

For those who want to learn more or don’t have their own gear, you can book a Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour. This specific tour is 4 hours long and includes transport to and from the canyon as well as an expert guide, ice cleats, and hiking poles. You’ll enjoy the views of frozen waterfalls and icicles while walking along the steel walkway.

The tour is $95 CAD and includes a hot chocolate and a maple cookie snack at the end! You can check availability and book this Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour online here.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, read our complete Viator review to learn more about what we think about Viator.

6. Go Dog Sledding

Dog sledding in Canmore, Alberta
You’ll never regret booking a dog sledding tour!

Dog sledding is one of those once-in-a-lifetime activities I have always wanted to do. Finally, after years of thinking about it, Dan and I finally signed up for a dog sledding tour – and we couldn’t be happier with our choice!

On our tour, our guide and six beautiful dogs took us by sled on a 10-kilometer-long adventure in Spray Lakes Provincial Park. At the halfway point, we got out to bond with the dogs as well as enjoy a delicious hot chocolate. We learned all about dog sledding and the dogs themselves (our favorite part!)

We did our tour with Howling Dog Tours located in Canmore. Although not in Banff, it was their ethics that made the short drive worth it. Howling Dogs Tours adopts the majority of their dogs and takes in any Alaskan and Siberian Huskies no matter what they look like (it’s actually funny because some of them don’t look like huskies at all!) On top of that, the dogs work a schedule with plenty of days off and only run to their ability.

The tour we did cost $270 CAD for adults and $170 for children and lasts for around 2 hours. Howling Dog Tours also offers a half-day tour if you want a longer experience.

Hot Tip: If you’re headed to Canmore for the tour, be sure to stick around and check out all of the other winter activities in Canmore too!

7. Go snow tubing at Mt Norquay

The tube park at Mt Norquay
Seriously the tube park at Mt Norquay is so much fun! Photo credit: Mt Norquay

Not a skier or snowboarder but still want to hit the slopes? Then be sure to head up to Mt Norquay and get yourself a ticket for their mountain tubing. I myself was skiing away when I saw it and just had to give it a go. I loved it!

Mt Norquay has the longest tube lanes in Alberta and you get some serious speed!

The best part is the entrance to the tube park is only $45 CAD for adults, $38 CAD for youths (ages 13-17), and $29 for children (ages 4-12). With that, you can pretty much go as many times as you want during your chosen timeslot – either morning, afternoon, or evening session.

The tube park is open during winter from 9 am to 4 pm every day with night tubing from 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday and Saturday. This can change so always check before you go.

Hot Tip: Planning a visit to Lake Louise Ski Resort? They also have a snow tube park that is slightly cheaper and allows you to ride all day (not just morning or afternoon sessions.) Children ages 3-5 also ride free at Lake Louise.

8. Go Ice Climbing in Johnston Canyon

A person Ice Climbs in Johnston Canyon
The views from an ice climbing tour in Banff

If sliding down a hill on an inflatable tube is not intense enough, try ice climbing! It’s definitely an adventure and a really unique wintertime activity in Banff. Ice climbing can be challenging and dangerous if not approached carefully, so joining a tour is the only way to do it safely for beginners.

This tour is a full-day adventure that helps people of all experience levels try out ice climbing. An expert guide will walk you through all the basics of the gear and how to climb, and then you’ll climb a frozen waterfall yourself.

The tour costs $215 CAD and leaves from Banff town. You’ll set off at 8 am and the tour lasts around 8 hours. You can check availability and book online here.

9. Drive the Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway in winter
The magnificent views on the Icefields Parkway!

Don’t let winter stop you from going on a road trip! The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in Canada (and possibly the world, if you ask us) so you shouldn’t miss this chance.

The Icefields Parkway is the name of the 232 km (144 mi) highway that connects Lake Louise with Jasper, and it’s an absolutely breathtaking drive!

Some of the best places to stop on the Icefields Parkway include Crow Foot Glacier Lookout, Bow Lake Viewpoint, Peyto Lake Viewpoint, Weeping Wall, Big Bend, Athabasca Glacier, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls.

For those not heading to Jasper, a great section to drive is until you reach Peyto Lake. This is only 70 minutes from Banff and after visiting, you can turn around and head back, visiting Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier on the way too. Although only 3 stops, you’ll also get those breathtaking views!

Lower part of Athabasca Falls in winter
Lower Athabasca Falls in winter!

With that said, if you have time then I’d drive the whole thing and stay a couple of nights in Jasper – there are lots of fun things to do in Jasper in the winter too!

Winter tires are a requirement on the Icefields Parkway and you need to be careful and alert while driving this highway in winter. Parks Canada will close the highway over the pass (after Big Bend) during bad weather, so check ahead of time for road closures.

If you’re not a confident winter driver, then you should book this guided tour instead. It is a full-day tour of the Icefields Parkway with hotel pick-up in Banff. This tour really is the ultimate tour of attractions in Banff National Park as it hits all the main spots including Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake – talk about crossing a few things off your to-do list!

This is a smaller group tour that’s limited to 22 people. The tour lasts for about 8 hours and costs $180 CAD per person. It is one of the more popular winter tours in Banff, so you should secure your spot online in advance here.

10. Grotto Canyon Icewalk

Hiking through a the frozen Grotto Canyon in winter
See all the ice below me?

Another awesome hike around Banff that is better in December than the summer months is Grotto Canyon. This trail requires ice cleats or crampons – without them, you might hurt yourself!

The Grotto Canyon Icewalk is a 4.4 km (2.7-mile) trail and you’ll actually walk right on a frozen river through the canyon!

To begin the trail, drive out to the parking lot at Grotto Mountain Pond. From here, it takes around 1.5 hours each way if you allow time to explore the canyon and take some photos. It takes 30 minutes of walking until you reach the canyon, and from here on out, you’ll follow the frozen river up the canyon to frozen waterfalls and an Inukshuk Garden.

Along the way, there are also pictographs, but you’ll need a keen eye to spot them (I missed them the first two times I did this walk!)

Ice from a frozen waterfall hangs above the grotto Canyon
Ice from a frozen waterfall hangs in Grotto Canyon.

Honestly, if it’s your first time visiting Grotto Canyon then I would just recommend joining this guided tour. Not only does the tour include transport from Banff, but the guide will show you the correct way to go and also find the pictographs for you. You’ll see frozen waterfalls and learn all about the history of the area, too.

Plus, the tour includes crampons/ice spikes as well as hiking poles. Without this gear, you’ll seriously struggle walking on the ice. Believe me, I tried once and actually had to turn around early because the ice was so slick and I kept falling over.

The tour lasts for about 4 hours and costs $98 CAD. You can check availability and book online here.

11. Take a Stroll on Banff Ave

view os snow-covered Banff Ave
Banff town in winter is stunning!

This one sounds obvious, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you some advice on the best places to check out along Banff Ave!

Banff Ave stretches straight through the middle of Banff and the views from the street are so amazing it’s considered one of the most Instagrammable places in Banff National Park.

There are tons of hotels at one end and the Bow River at the other, and in the middle are tons of bars, restaurants, and shops to explore. You could literally spend weeks here going into every shop!

Personally, I recommend the following awesome spots:

  • Cool as a Moose souvenir store – Here is where you’ll get the coolest souvenirs in town. Amongst all of the souvenir shops, this recommendation will be valued highly!
  • Banff Candy Store – Buy some Canadian classic candies here including chocolates and Saltwater Taffy!
  • Park Distillery – This distillery offers daily tours at 3:30 pm. Any other time of the day you can enjoy their bar and restaurant and have a cocktail made with their local spirits!
  • High Rollers Banff – High Rollers is a bowling alley/ bar that’s a really fun place to take the family. Bowling, beers, and pizza – what more could you ask for!?
  • The Grizzly House – This restaurant has been around Banff for practically ever. It specializes in Fondu and has a cute and quirky setting.

12. Go ice skating

Wild ice skating in the Kananaskis
Wild ice skating is so much fun!
Daniel in hockey skates on the outdoor rink at Lake Louise
Daniel on Lake Louise.

Ice skating is one of the classic Canadian winter experiences. Of course, you can simply go to Lake Louise (mentioned above), however, there are a lot of places much closer to Banff too.

One of the closest is the Downtown Rink at Banff Community High School. The outdoor rink is completely free to visit, located right in Banff, and with Banff’s views, you’ll feel like you’re wild ice skating. At the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, you can also go ice skating indoors if you want to avoid the cold. Entry to the rink is $7 CAD.

On top of skating at the official rinks, you can also go wild ice skating during certain conditions. Vermilion Lakes, Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Cascade Ponds are popular choices. Of course, heavy snowfall can interrupt this, but early in the season, or if people have cleared some of the snow, these lakes are perfect.

Important: Skating on frozen lakes is dangerous if the ice isn’t thick enough. Only skate on ice thick enough to hold your weight and skate at your own risk. If unsure, it’s better not to go on the ice. I always ask at the Banff Visitor Center before I go to skate on any frozen lake.

13. Go snowshoeing

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park
Don’t let the snow hold you back from exploring!

Hiking in the deep snow you’ll find around Banff can be impossible, that is, if you don’t have snowshoes. If you ask me, snowshoes make hiking more fun, too!

There are lots of popular trails around Banff that are perfect for snowshoeing. One of the best beginner shoeshoeing routes is the Johnson Lake Snowshoe Trail. This 3.1-kilometer (1.9-mile) loop follows the edge of Johnston Lake with views of Mt Rundle and Cascade Mountain.

Another trail I love is Fairview Lookout. This trail is in Lake Louise and begins from the foreshore and is only 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) out and back. With that said, it’s a rather steep climb to the top, and snowshoes really help. The views over Lake Louise and the Fairmont Hotel are breathtaking!

Of course, there are plenty more snowshoe trails around Banff, but these are a few to get you started.

If you don’t have your own snowshoes, you can rent them in Banff from Banff Adventures for just $18 CAD per day.

Snowshoeing in Canada
Winter means it’s time to snowshoe!

If you’ve never snowshoed before then it is probably best to join a tour. On a guided tour, you’ll get all your gear included as well as an expert guide who can teach you the best technique. Plus, tours will only take you on safe trails (you need to be aware of avalanche terrain in Banff, it’s a serious danger.)

There are two different snowshoeing tours that we would recommend in Banff:

  • Snowshoe tour at the top of the Banff Gondola – This tour offers the most epic views, and honestly, it’s one that wouldn’t be safe for you to do on your own. Take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphir mountain before meeting your guide to explore off-the-beaten-path.
  • Snowshoe Tour at the Paint Pots – I love this tour because it actually takes you out of Banff and into a less-explored park called Kootenay National Park. Transport is included, and the drive out there is gorgeous. You’ll snowshoe at the Paint Pots, which is a stunning and fairly easy trail.

14. Go on a scenic flight

A helicopter sits on a mountain in Banff National Park in winter with two people
Get up and explore parts of Banff few get to! Photo credit: Banff Adventures

Want to see the Rockies from the best seat in the house? Then book yourself a scenic flight and soar high above the mountains in a helicopter.

In December, there are a few different tours you can do with Banff Adventures over the Rockies. The cheapest is the Three Sisters Helicopter Flight which takes you from Banff over to the famous Three Sisters Mountain Range in Canmore. This tour lasts for 25 minutes and costs $290 CAD.

If you want a longer tour, the Continentel Divide Helicopter Flight is a great option. At 45 minutes long, you’ll get to take in breathtaking views for twice as long as you pass over Banff National Park, the Sundance Valley Mountain ranges, and Goat Pass Range.

There are also lots of other tours available depending on your budget but personally, I’d pick a flight longer than 30 minutes so you can truly enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

15. Visit Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake during winter in Banff
Two Jack Lake is gorgeous in December!

Two Jack Lake is one of the most popular lakes to kayak and SUP in the summertime. However, by December the lake freezes over, and although less popular to visit, the lake is the perfect place to capture stunning photos.

Grab a coffee on your way out of Banff at one of the local coffee shops and take a drive out to Two Jack Lake to enjoy the gorgeous views. Stop at the day-use area and catch spectacular views of Mt Rundle, then, continue onto Lake Minnewanaka!

16. Then head to Lake Minnewanka

Sitting back at relaxing at Lake Minnewanka in winter
The famous red chairs you’ll find all over Canadian National Parks!

Lake Minnewanka is one of my favorite lakes to visit in December. This huge lake freezes over with sections over 2 feet thick. The ice is so solid it turns a dark color and under the snow and you can even see some small patches of methane bubbles here. My favorite activity though is to go ice skating.

Lake Minnewanka is very popular for ice skating and almost every day throughout December you’ll find people skating here. Although the lake gets a lot of snow, people bring down shovels to clear it. Even if the snow is an inch deep you can still skate the surface with no problem. When I lived in Canmore I spent many afternoons skating on the lake and enjoying the spectacular views!

Of course, you do need to be careful not to skate in areas near flowing water or thin ice. The safest way to do it is to stay close to the boat ramp area and don’t skate early or late in the winter season.

After you’re done skating, take the short walk from Lake Minnewanaka through Stewart Canyon. The trail isn’t overly spectacular but it’s still beautiful and you’ll get great views of the lake. The 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) return trail takes around 2 hours to complete if you walk the entire trail.

Related Read: If you come back to visit the lake anytime from May-October, make sure to book a cruise on Lake Minnewanka for spectacular scenery!

17. Spot wildlife/go on a wildlife tour

An Elk in Banff National Park in winter
There’s plenty of wildlife around, you just need to know where to look!

Banff National Park is famous for its abundance of wildlife. I have seen plenty of cool wildlife in Banff including bears, moose, and tons of elk. I’ve not yet seen a wolf in the wild but it’s on my bucket list!

For your best chance at seeing wildlife, join a winter wildlife tour.

This three-hour tour is led by a local guide who is a wildlife expert in the area and familiar with their patterns, behaviors, and territories. This wildlife tour is also paired with a sightseeing experience, so you’ll visit some of Banff’s best areas like Bow Falls, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Lake Minnewanka, and the Hoodoos. These areas are frequented by elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and other little critters, so it’s likely you’ll spot some sort of wildlife!

The most valuable part of this experience is all the information you’ll gain about the wildlife of Banff and hopefully a few pictures too. At the end of your tour, you’ll stop for some hot chocolate and a snack to warm up after a cold winter day! This tour can be reserved in advance here for $88 CAD or $97 CAD during the peak Christmas holidays.

18. Spirit of Christmas Store 

the outside of the Spirit of Christmas store on Banff Ave in the winter
You can find this store on Banff Ave. Photo Credit: Spirit of Christmas
a large staircase inside the Spirit of Christmas store with tons of decorations around
The store is gorgeous, too! Photo Credit: Spirit of Christmas

Located right on Banff Ave is the perfect store for all of your Christmas-themed shopping. The Spirit of Christmas store is a huge 2-level store that features an endless number of Christmas-related items including ornaments, decorations, gifts, and more.

It’s quite literally the best Christmas store I’ve ever been to.  

During the holiday season, the Spirit of Christmas store also has Santa Claus for meet and greets!  

Wandering Banff Ave and stopping at the Spirit of Christmas is a must-do in Banff in December!  

19. Take a short drive to Vermillion Lakes

People Ice skating on Vermillion Lakes near Banff
At sunset, the sky glows off the ice!

The closest lake to Banff town is Vermillion Lakes. From Banff town, you can reach the lakes in 5 minutes by heading down Vermillion Lakes Road. From here, drive along the lakes stopping where you please.

If you’re visiting in the middle of winter most of the lake will be frozen, however, there are sections where the water flows, and here you can get magical reflections of Mt Rundle – Banff’s most famous mountain.

The views are spectacular and I recommended coming here for sunrise or sunset. It’s so close to town that you can be inside enjoying a beverage within minutes afterward!

This is also a popular place for ice skating!

20. Cross-country skiing

Cross country skiing
Cross-country skiing is a good workout and lots of fun!

Cross-country skiing isn’t something I fell in love with right away. In fact, I only started so I could get some exercise in the winter. However, after a few times, I began to enjoy the sport. It’s fun, community-based, and a great workout!

In Banff, you can cross-country in the most beautiful places including groomed runs. The Castle Junction area on the Bow Valley Parkway offers 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles) of single-track groomed trails suited to all levels.

A popular spot close to town is Cascade Valley. There are two trails here, one 6.3 kilometers (3.9 miles) one way and the other 15.1 kilometers (9.4 miles) one way.

You can rent skis and get trail advice from Snowtips Bactrax in Banff and Wilson Mountain Sport in Lake Louise.

If you’re new to cross-country skiing, don’t worry, you can do a lesson at Lake Louise! This particular lesson includes an expert guide who will teach you all of the basics including the essential things like how to fall down and get back up with ease. By the end of the lesson, you’ll be gliding along the snow like a pro!

This lesson includes all gear, a guide, and it lasts for about 5 hours. It costs $150 CAD per person and can be booked easily online here.

Where to Stay in Banff in December

Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff
Photo credit – Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Banff, being the holiday destination it is, has no shortage of beautiful hotels. In fact, it’s hard to book a bad hotel in Banff. With that said, there are a few stand-out hotels for every budget. You know, those places that offer more for less.

December is one of the busiest months in Banff, so be sure to book your hotel well in advance. If you can’t get a hotel in Banff, check out the nearby town of Canmore which has more hotels. Canmore is also a great destination in the month of December with lots of events and things to do.

From hotels in Banff town to ones that are a little more out in nature, we’ve put together a list of our favorites that would be our top picks for each budget category:

Samesun Banff Hostel – ($)

For folks looking to save some cash while having a blast in Banff, it’s definitely worth checking out the Samesun Banff Hostel. It’s a great place for backpackers or anyone who’s fine with making some new friends and doesn’t mind sharing a dorm. But if you’re keen on privacy, keep in mind that there aren’t any private rooms available here.

A bed in a dorm here starts from around $40 CAD in the winter, including breakfast, and can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Banff Inn – ($$)

Rooms at the Banff Inn have a very affordable price tag, but are also chock-full with all the amenities you could want to have a great stay! This way, you can splurge on those once-in-a-lifetime tours and experiences that make a trip to Banff so memorable.

The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. Inside, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar – perfect for a little bit of relaxation after a long day out exploring Banff.

Rooms here start at $115 CAD in the winter, but don’t forget to book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort ($$)

Pushing up into the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a beautiful swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms come equipped with kitchenettes or full kitchens. We’d say this is the perfect option for families, since two and three-bedroom units are also available.

The hotel is also in a good location that’s just a 5-minute drive away from town, so it’s a great place to enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet of the Banff countryside!

Rooms here average around $500-600 CAD per night in the high season, but dip as low as around $104 CAD in the low season in the winter. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Fairmont Banff Springs ($$$)

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. As you can expect, it’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose.

Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, a bowling alley, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. With so much to do in this one-of-a-kind luxury hotel, you’ll honestly feel like you’ll never want to leave!

Rooms here at the Fairmont start from around $550 CAD per night in the winter, but can rise further in peak season. For the best deals, it’s best to book as far ahead as possible! You can check prices and room availability online here.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

Please note: Hotel prices in Banff differ from winter to summer. In fact, most hotels are more than double the price in summer.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass”Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is memorizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Related Read: Another popular destination in Alberta in December is Calgary – read all about it!

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass”Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is memorizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Before you go…

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie at the Banff Sunshine Gondola in winter
Thanks for reading!

Banff is such a beautiful place to stay, visit, and explore. And visiting it during the winter, especially in December, it’s simply magical. There are so many fun outdoor activities to try, as well as fun seasonal events.

I hope this list helps you plan an awesome vacation to Banff in December! No matter how you spend the day, I know you’ll love it here!

If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out the rest of my blogs about Banff, Jasper, and Canada in general. Some you might particularly like are:

The Perfect 1, 2, or 3 Day Banff Itinerary

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Jasper in December

What to do in Calgary in Winter

Guide to Visiting Revelstoke in December