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Canadians are just crazy enough to love the cold winter months just as much as the warm summer days. With the gorgeous Rocky Mountains cutting through Banff National Park, it’s hard not to dive into this winter wonderland and explore the vast outdoors!
As a Canadian and having lived right in this region, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing most of the “must-see” areas. There is an overwhelming amount of things to do in Banff in the winter, so we wanted to streamline your search and pick out our favorite tours and activities.
Keep reading to find our picks for the 10 best winter tours in Banff, so you can enjoy this frozen paradise as much as we do!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Winter is one of the best times to see the dazzling splendor of Banff up close. Get adventurous with an icewalk in Johnston Canyon or a snowshoeing trip in the backcountry. If you want it all planned out, this day trip to Lake Louise visits a ton of wintery highlights.
- Best Winter Tours in Banff
- 1. Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway
- 2. Johnston Canyon Icewalk
- 3. Icefields Parkway and Ice Bubbles of Abraham Lake Adventure
- 4. Lake Louise and Yoho National Park
- 5. Dog Sledding
- 6. Horse Drawn Sleigh Ride
- 7. Winter Adventure in Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon
- 8. Grotto Canyon Icewalk
- 9. Snowshoeing
- 10. Wildlife tour in winter
- Where to Stay in Banff
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car in Alberta
Best Winter Tours in Banff
1. Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway
Lake Louise is easily one of the most visited places in Banff National Park – it’s simply gorgeous! During the summer, people flock here to hike through the trees and catch views of the lake from above. Somehow though, I think it’s even more impressive during the winter! There are other iconic sights right along the route from Banff to Lake Lousie, such as the Icefields Parkway, Bow Falls, and Moraine Lake.
You can experience all of these beautiful locations in one day on this full-day tour. This tour is perfect if this is your first time visiting Banff, as you truly hit all the highlights, you don’t have to worry about driving, and you’ll have a local guide to give lots of information about the area.
The tour will pick you up from your hotel in Banff or Canmore, and you instantly start sightseeing as you drive along the picturesque Icefields Parkway. You’ll make stops at Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake, with time to explore each area!
Lake Louise is home to the famous Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which looks like a castle from a fairytale in the winter. If you visit towards the end of January, you can see the annual Ice Sculpture competition that leaves intricately carved sculptures all along the shore of Lake Louise.
You’ll continue driving along the Icefields Parkway to Bow Lake, which gives incredible views of the giant Bow Glacier and the frozen waterfalls around it. If you’re looking for an epic place to cross-country ski, Bow Lake’s backcountry is one of the best places to do so! You will also get to explore Crowfoot Glacier and Peyto Lake.
We love this tour because it takes care of the details and logistics of your day. These areas of Banff can get rather busy, even in the winter, and parking, entrance fees, and driving can easily put a damper on your vacation. Having a tour that plans the route and takes care of the logistics frees you up to simply enjoy the beautiful Lake Louise and surrounding areas.
This full-day tour 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 and other iconic stops along the Icefields Parkway for $180 CAD.
2. Johnston Canyon Icewalk
Icewalks are one of my favorite ways to get outside during the winter. As the name gives away, it’s basically a hike on the ice! Banff is full of incredible hikes that can be accessed in both the summer and winter months. It is striking to see how an area can transform once it’s covered with ice, so even though we’ve done this hike a hundred times before, it’s a completely different experience each time.
Johnston Canyon is a popular icewalk just 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Banff. The drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon has picture-perfect views the entire way on the Bow Valley Parkway, even more so when they are dusted with snow! Johnston Canyon Icewalk is popular because you’ll see its two iconic waterfalls frozen in their tracks. If you’ve never seen a frozen waterfall before, you’re in for a treat!
I recommend taking this tour of Johnston Canyon because it provides transportation and all equipment necessary to complete the icewalk safely. If you’re not from this area, you might be a little out of your element, and having a local guide simply ensures your safety!
The icewalk starts near the Johnston Canyon Lodge and extends for 5.4 kilometers (3.4 miles) through the canyon. It’s not considered a difficult hike, as there is only 135 meters (443 feet) of elevation gain, so it is doable for most people. Your guide will help you strap on ice cleats and lead you through the canyon, explaining the geology and history of the area, and showing you the frozen upper and lower falls. At the end, you will warm up with hot chocolate and a snack!
This 4-hour tour includes roundtrip transportation from a designated meeting point in Banff, as well as ice cleats, trekking poles, your guide, and snacks! This tour is $101 CAD per person and is offered in the morning and afternoon.
I can’t think of a better way to get outside, breathe the crisp cool air, and take in the gorgeous sights than on the Johnston Canyon Icewalk. You can book this tour in advance here!
Related Read: Another place to catch some great views is at the iconic Morant’s Curve in Banff. If you’re lucky, a train might be coming around the bend which makes for the best photos!
3. Icefields Parkway and Ice Bubbles of Abraham Lake Adventure
There are a lot of beautiful lakes in Banff National Park, so many that this full-day tour hits three in one day and you’re still missing out on some! Abraham Lake, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake all turn into uniquely captivating areas during the winter, and you’ll get to explore the Icefields Parkway along the way which boasts the majestic Canadian Rockies.
While you get the chance to see a lot of pretty outdoor scenery while in Banff, visiting Abraham Lake is a unique experience. When the lake freezes, methane gas bubbles form and freeze in their bubble state. So as you look over the icy lake, you can see thousands of bubbles trapped beneath the surface – it’s astoundingly gorgeous! This tour takes it to the next level as you have a campfire along the shore with some hot drinks, as you gaze out along the Rocky Mountains and the frozen bubbly lake.
You’ll then head to Peyto Lake and strap on snowshoes to venture to Peyto Lake Viewpoint. Snowshoeing isn’t as difficult as it sounds, it’s more like you’re gliding across the snow, and it’s a fun way to get active during the winter. You’ll probably even work up a sweat and have to shed some layers, even when it’s freezing outside!
The last stop of the tour will be a quick look at Bow Lake, where you can see the Bow Glacier and the Wapta Icefield. This tour has no shortage of beautiful alpine views!
We like this full-day tour because it is a small group of only 13 people, so you can keep the group moving and share the experience with others! It includes transportation from Banff, all necessary gear, and your local guide. The tour is scheduled to last 8 hours and you can reserve your spot for $245 CAD.
4. Lake Louise and Yoho National Park
Banff and Jasper get a lot of the limelight when it comes to beautiful places in Alberta, but Yoho National Park is yet another captivating park in the area (although it’s technically in British Columbia!).
Yoho means “wonder and awe” in the Indigenous Cree language, and I think that perfectly describes Yoho’s vast scenery. This full-day tour hits some of the highlights of Banff and then gets off the beaten path to explore the best of Yoho National Park during the winter.
The tour includes a stop at the iconic Lake Louise. You’ll have about two hours at Lake Louise to take in the views of the Fairmont Chateau and the frozen lake, but the best part of this tour is snowshoeing around Lake Louise! It’s like taking a stroll on top of the snow. They say if you can walk you can snowshoe, so it’s a fun way to get out and explore in the winter.
This tour also visits Vermillion Lakes during the winter which is a group of three interconnected lakes just outside of Banff town. I love visiting these lakes in the winter to put on a pair of skates and get out on the ice! This tour includes about an hour here to take in the stunning views. If you want to come back at night, you can sometimes spot northern lights from here too!
The other huge highlight of this tour is Yoho National Park. We love visiting Yoho because it has significantly fewer people than Banff – but it’s just as beautiful. You’ll have a better chance of spotting moose, elk, or deer too!
Emerald Lake is Yoho’s iconic glacier-fed lake, and while it’s a vibrant emerald green color during the summer, it completely freezes over in the winter. You can even stay at Emerald Lake Lodge, which looks like it’s straight out of a Hallmark movie when it’s covered in snow.
This full-day tour is an excellent way to explore Yoho and Banff National Parks. I highly recommend booking this tour if you’ve never explored Yoho, especially with how unique the sights are during the winter.
The tour includes roundtrip transportation from Banff or Calgary (handy if you’re looking for a tour from Calgary to Banff), entrance fees to the national parks, and your local guide. Prices range depending on tour group size and your departure point, but it starts at $169 CAD.
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.
5. Dog Sledding
If you’re looking for a truly one-of-a-kind experience while visiting Banff in the winter, dog sledding should be added to your Banff itinerary! Not only is being around the adorable pups enticing enough, but it also gives you a chance to get into the backcountry of Banff National Park. You’d usually have to go on a multi-day hiking trip to experience this remote wilderness, so getting to see it on a day trip makes the experience all the more worthwhile.
Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours was one of the first tour operators to provide sledding experiences in the Canmore area. They care deeply about the dogs and the long-standing mushing tradition and maintain an ethical experience with every tour they provide!
This is a super fun way to spend a winter day, you can either sit on the sled or drive it yourself! There are a few different tour options, but each one starts with 30 minutes of instruction and ends with a campfire and lunch – a perfect way to end a thrilling experience!
A 2-hour sled dog tour will take you about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) into the backcountry, for gorgeous views of untouched mountain landscape. This experience starts at $575 CAD for two people with a driver and is slightly more expensive if you choose to drive the sled yourself.
While this isn’t a cheap experience, I fully believe it’s worth it! If you love the outdoors and dogs and want a thrill while visiting Banff, this will be a memory that will last a lifetime. There are even retired dogs that are available to adopt that you’ll be able to see!
Related Read: A great way to warm up is by visiting one of the best hot springs in Alberta! (Hint – #1 is in Banff!).
6. Horse Drawn Sleigh Ride
There are a lot of exhilarating winter activities in Banff, but sometimes it’s nice to slow down and have a relaxing afternoon outside. I can’t think of a better way to do so than taking this horse-drawn sleigh ride through the winter wonderland in Banff! A sleigh ride is an activity anyone can enjoy, so it’s a great family activity – kids love it!
Banff Trail Riders Stables is located just at the edge of Banff town, so it’s convenient to get to no matter where you’re staying in Banff. This 40-minute sleigh ride has incredible views of the Canadian Rockies, as you are pulled through the tree-filled wilderness. The sleighs are equipped with wool blankets so it’s nice and cozy, but I still recommend dressing in your warmest clothes!
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 so 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!
7. Winter Adventure in Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon
Check out two of my favorite winter areas in Banff on this full-day tour to Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon! This is the perfect balance of adventure and relaxing sightseeing as you take on a moderate icewalk, snowshoeing, and catch some incredible views along the way!
This tour takes off from meeting points in Banff, Canmore, or Calgary. It includes all of your entrance fees, equipment needed for the icewalk and snowshoeing, and your local guide who is a wealth of information the whole tour. After departing from the Banff area, you’ll make a quick stop at Lake Minnewanka. This is the deepest glacial lake in Banff, although it will probably be frozen over in winter!
The next stop is Johnston Canyon for some icewalking along the frozen canyon floor. This is one of my top picks for icewalks in the area, as you’ll see frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and the craziest ice formations! The guide will help you get used to crampons if this is your first time using them.
Finally, you’ll visit Lake Louise, which is just as stunning in the winter as it is in the summer. There is a lot to do at Lake Louise, so I appreciate that this tour gives you two hours to explore the area. Snowshoeing is included in this tour (and I highly recommend trying it out if you’ve never done it before) but you can also book high tea at the Fairmont Chateau or a sleigh ride around Lake Louise.
If you visit from late January to March, you can see the famous ice sculptures at Lake Louise, making this gorgeous place even prettier!
This tour will last 8-10 hours, so while it’s a long day, it’s an excellent way to see some of Banff’s highlights. Bring warm clothes, extra money for lunch and souvenirs, and your adventurous spirit as you explore some of my favorite areas! You can reserve this tour in advance for $165 CAD.
8. Grotto Canyon Icewalk
Banff is an expansive area covering 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles). Luckily, you don’t have to travel far to experience some epic outdoor activities! One of the most popular winter activities in Banff is the Grotto Canyon Icewalk, located just 10 minutes outside of Canmore (our favorite place to stay around Banff).
Grotto Canyon is one of the few places that is more popular during the winter than it is in the summer! During the warmer months, you can take a leisurely walk along the creek and check out the unique rock formations and the ancient pictographs etched on the canyon wall. But during the winter, Grotto Canyon’s river freezes completely over and turns into a vibrant blue ice formation. As you walk up the frozen river, you will eventually reach the large waterfall that is frozen magically in its tracks.
Grotto Canyon is unique because of the shades of blue that are in the ice, not every ice formation in Banff looks quite like this!
The best way to embark on the Grotto Canyon Icewalk is to book a tour, like this 4-hour tour out of Banff! It includes transportation, so you don’t have to worry about driving and the hassle of parking on a busy day, as well as crampons, trekking poles, a snack, and a local guide to lead the way. The trail is 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) and while it’s relatively easy to follow, having a guide to lead the way is good if it’s your first time visiting.
There is also a lot of history within this canyon, so the guides give you a deeper look at its interesting past and the geology of Grotto Canyon. You can expect to be hiking for about 2-2.5 hours, so be sure to pack water and snacks! This tour can be reserved in advance for $99 CAD or $111 CAD during peak times – like over the Christmas holidays in Banff.
A few of these tours include snowshoeing as part of other experiences, but taking a tour that focuses on snowshoeing makes for an authentic Canadian experience! Snowshoeing is a super fun way to get outside during the cold winter months, and you actually can get a little workout in – I had to shed my layers last time we did this!
It’s an activity that almost anyone can participate in, as snowshoeing simply makes it possible to walk on top of the snow instead of sinking in.
This half-day snowshoeing tour takes you into the backcountry of Banff, away from the crowds and main tourist areas. It’s a great opportunity to truly get into nature, and the Banff wilderness is incredibly vast and untouched – it’s hard to describe just how beautiful it is!
The tour will pick you up from your Banff hotel and head to Sunshine Village to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and into the backcountry. Here, your guide will lead you on a 3-kilometer (2-mile) expedition where you will get unparalleled views of the Rockies, and hopefully spot some wildlife!
The guides are also great at pointing out notable scenery and telling you all about the history of Banff National Park. This tour includes your snowshoes, gondola tickets, and snacks (homemade cookies!), but be sure to dress warm and in layers. Children 12 years and older can join this tour for $146 CAD.
10. Wildlife tour in winter
When I think of Banff I think of stunning mountain peaks and wildlife – there are a ton of animals in this area! While you’re out taking hikes in Banff, driving along the Icefields Parkway, or even walking through town, you might spot a moose or an elk as they are rather accustomed to people.
But, there is something so cool about seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, which makes this winter wildlife tour a unique way to experience Banff National Park.
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 for $88 CAD or $97 CAD during the peak Christmas holidays.
Where to Stay in Banff
If you’re taking a few winter tours in Banff, you’ll want somewhere to warm up and spend a few nights! There are several areas you can stay in Banff National Park – each with its own pros and cons. However, the fan favorite is usually Banff town itself.
Banff has plenty of great hotels and is used to tourists. But since the selection can be overwhelming (and book up months in advance!), we’ve chosen some of our favorite options for each budget below:
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap, but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose!
Rooms here can start as high as $755 CAD, and you can check prices and room availability online here.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families since it also offers two and three-bedroom units. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town.
Rooms here start at $155 CAD, but can even be a bit cheaper in the winter so check availability and book online here.
Banff Inn – $$
The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries like a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned.
A room here starts at $166 CAD but you should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
Samesun Banff Hostel is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms. It has everything you could need on-site including laundry, a restaurant and lounge, and a common area. It’s also perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available.
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 $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 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.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “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) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 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
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!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re exploring Banff this winter, you’re in for a treat! This really is Canada’s Winter Wonderland with tours galore that will help you discover its magic. I hope you found a winter tour in Banff that’s calling your name and will help you make some amazing memories in the snow.
If you plan on seeing more of the country, here’s a link to our blog about Canada. We have tons of helpful articles on everything from road trips to destinations you may never have heard of! And if you’re staying around the Banff area, here are a few related reads that may be useful.