The little towns nestled in the mountains of the Canadian Rockies are full of tourists who enjoy the views and the many outdoor activities in the summer. But during winter, the charm of those small mountain towns becomes apparent. The snow-covered mountains, the frozen lakes and the snowy landscapes deserve all the attention they get. They play a significant part in the winter’s top things to do in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.
We spent one week in those three mountain towns, enjoying the winter charm of the Canadian Rockies. Hiking, sightseeing, skating and skiing were all on the agenda. Below is our list of top things to do in winter in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.
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Where are Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise?
The popular towns of Alberta are part of the Canadian Rockies. They are west of Calgary and south of Edmonton, Alberta. Banff and Lake Louise are both part of the Banff National Park.
How to get to Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise?
Flying: The closest airport is the Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is 100 km to Canmore, 120 km to Banff, and 180 km to Lake Louise.
Driving: All three towns are on the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1 in Alberta.
Find cheap flights here:
Winter Weather in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise
Winter weather in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise requires visitors and locals to dress up to withstand the cold. Some days will be sunny and mild, with barely below zero temperatures (in degrees Celsius). Other days will see frigid cold and reach minus 30 or colder on the thermometer.
How should I Dress for Winter in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise?
Dress for winter. This means a winter jacket with snow pants, a good warm pair of snow boots, a toque, neck gator or scarf and mittens. If you are active outdoors, dress in layers with the underlayer, preferably a material that wicks moisture away. My favourite is a merino wool undershirt and pants. A mid-layer is also efficient in keeping you warm. Some opt for fleece. I usually stay away from cotton.
Hand and toe warmers will also help keep your fingers and toes cozy in the cold. I always carry some in my backpack in the winter.
How much Daylight is There in Winter in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise?
We visited in January. During the week we spent in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise this winter, the sun would rise a few minutes before 9 am. It would set around 4:45 pm, giving us about 8 hours of daylight.
It is crucial to consider the sunset time, especially if you are hiking. Winter days are much shorter than summer days. Plan to be back at the trailhead by 4 pm and always carry a headlamp when hiking in the winter.
Stay safe on the trails in the winter with these 15 winter hiking tips.
One Week of the Best Winter Activities in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise
Our Accommodation for the week
We rented a studio on Airbnb. The view was amazing, with the balcony looking out to Ha Ling and Three Sisters Peak. It was in downtown Canmore and the perfect location to enjoy our week in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. You can check out this charming condo in the heart of Canmore, rented by Dave and Emma.
If that one is unavailable, there are many options for small condos that are perfect for one week in the mountains. You can find a few excellent options here.
Day 1: Winter in Canmore
After landing in Calgary and picking up our rental car from the airport car rental counter, we headed towards Canmore on Highway 1 West. We had some time to kill before checking into our rented condo. It was a sunny day, so hiking was a perfect option.
Three Sisters Viewpoint is a short, easy hike on the Cougar Creek bed through a wooded area. The trail comes to the Policeman’s Creek within a few hundred metres. In the winter, hikers can walk around the frozen pond and fully enjoy the view of Three Sisters Peak, Ha Ling Peak and Mount Lawrence Grassi.
Another great option for a leisure walk with fantastic views is the Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk. This trail is an easy four-kilometre walk that can be enjoyed in the winter. It follows the creek through Canmore, with the surrounding mountains in full view.
Downtown Canmore gets busy with tourists. Main Street (8th Street) is where most of the boutiques, souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants are. We took a stroll, hopping in and out of boutiques and galleries and exploring this charming street.
We enjoyed eating out at the Graze Food and Drink. The food was excellent, and the staff was friendly.
Day 2: Winter in Banff
On day two, we headed out to Bow Valley Parkway. Driving the Bow Valley Parkway in any season is a fantastic experience. In the winter, the scenic winding road through the mountains is magical, with the snow-covered pines and the mountains in the background.
Johnston Canyon is a busy trail in the summer, and it turns into a winter wonderland once the snow comes and the water freezes. The Johnston Canyon Icewalk is a popular destination on our top things to do in winter in Banff. It is 2.5 kilometres to the lower falls and back.
Hikers walk along the river at the bottom of the canyon and on bridges with rock walls covered in ice and snow. Make sure to dress warmly, as the canyon is always colder and more humid. Microspikes will make this walk more enjoyable and a lot less slippery.
*Red Chairs Alert!
Tunnel Mountain Hike is another stunning hike in any season. In winter, it would be helpful to wear icers or microspikes. The trail is four kilometres out and back. It has some steep sections and is considered moderate. The views at the top are stunning. Parks Canada’s red chairs offer a nice break with a view of Banff and the mountains.
*Red Chairs Alert!
Two Jack Lake is a day-use area where visitors can enjoy Parks Canada’s red chairs looking out at Mount Rundle beyond Two Jack Lake. Some also enjoy skating on the lake or a hike on the shore. The scene was incredibly wonderful just before dusk, with the coloured sky before sunset.
We visited the Fairmont Banff Spring Hotel. The art gallery is interesting and original. There are also a few boutiques for shopping. Just seeing the lobby is impressive. This 130-year-old castle is a landmark of the mountain town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the mountains.
On our second night, we enjoyed dinner and a drink at the Banff Ave Brewing Co in Banff. The atmosphere was fun, and the food was great!
Day 3: Winter in Banff
Stewart Canyon Hike is a stunning walk along Lake Minnewanka to the bridge crossing Cascade River and in the forest on the ridge of the canyon. This easy hike is seven kilometres with little elevation. I recommend wearing microspikes. They will be helpful walking in the packed snow.
*Red Chairs Alert!
Lake Minnewanda is a day-use area where visitors can either skate on the frozen lake, enjoy a fire, take a walk on the shore or lounge in one of the Parks Canada red chairs. The views are stunning.
Banff Gondola Nightrise
One of the major attractions on our list of things to do in the winter in Banff is the Banff Gondola Nightrise. We took the gondola an hour before sunset to enjoy the view at the top while the sun was setting behind the mountain range. The pink sky and the moon above Mount Rundle were unique sights.
After sunset, Banff lit up and brought another amazing sight with Cascade Mountain behind it. And then, the light show began. We had a blast, and I highly recommend the Nightrise if you are in Banff in the winter.
The Canadian Brewhouse in Banff is a popular choice for tourists and locals alike. The sports bar attracts friends and family.
Day 4: Winter in Canmore
Three Sisters Parkway which eventually turns into the Smith Dorrien Trail, is a winding road full of stunning scenes along the way. With lakes and mountains but also with signs warning drivers of the dangers of this mountain road in an avalanche area, this drive is a typical Rocky Mountains experience. An appropriate vehicle with snow tires and either all-drive or 4×4 is a must on this winding, snow-covered mountain road.
Chester Lake Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is south of Canmore on the Smith Dorrien Trail. It is a 7-kilometre moderate trail through forest and meadows to Chester Lake. The first part of this hike is quite steep and requires either microspikes or snowshoes. Hiking poles will also help.
The trail brings hikers to a majestic winter wonderland with mountains as a backdrop. The meadows are a stunning scene. Take time to eat and relax on Lake Chester before heading back the same way.
We had a fantastic time at the Grizzly Paw Pub and Brewing Co in Canmore. Their Summit Series selection of craft beer is awesome.
Day 5: Winter in Lake Louise
We headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) from Canmore to Lake Louise. Lake Louise is roughly 80 kilometres from Canmore.
We headed out to Lake Louise Ski Resort for a day of skiing. The resort is home to fantastic ski and snowboarding runs and is the biggest ski resort in the Canadian Rockies. There is also snowshoeing and a tube park on the mountain. If you don’t have any equipment, the rental store at the resort will outfit you with all you need.
The resort has 11 lifts, including a gondola, and 164 runs of all levels. The top elevation is 2637 metres, and the longest run is 8 kilometres—hours of joy on snow.
Skiing is one of the best winter activities in Banff or Lake Louise. For an added challenge, you can ski the Big 3. SkiBig3 includes skiing on Mount Norquay, at Banff Sunshine Village, and the Lake Louise Ski Resort. If you ski at all three ski hills, drop by the Adventure Hub in Banff to get your SkiBig3 badge.
We had dinner at the Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar in Banff. This is a great place to have a few drinks and grab a bite.
Day 6: Winter in Lake Louise and Banff
No winter trip to the Canadian Rockies is complete without skating on Lake Louise. The most beautiful lake in the country becomes a famous skating rink once it freezes over. Enjoy skating on the lake surrounded by mountains.
You can rent skates on a first-come, first-served basis at the Lake in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. However, during busy days, especially on weekends, renting skates in Banff or Canmore at most sporting stores might be wise. We rented ours at Gear Up Mountain Sports Rental and Services.
Fairview Lookout Trail starts at the Lake Louise day-use area. The trail is a short 2-kilometre hike in a pine forest to a lookout of Lake Louise and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There are some steep sections, and the snow makes it very slippery. Microspikes or snowshoes will fix that.
We strolled down Banff Avenue, exploring the boutiques, souvenir shops and galleries. Banff Avenue is special with Cascade Mountain standing tall at the end of the road like it is guarding the town.
An evening in the hot pool of the Banff Upper Hot Springs is perfect after days on the trails, on ski hills or on skating rinks. The Banff Upper Hot Springs are located on Sulphur Mountain and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
We had a great time at Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon in Canmore. The place is small and cozy but full of charms. Their house creations are tasty drinks.
Day 7: Winter in Canmore
For our last day in Canmore, we opted for a hike and headed on the Three Sisters Parkway to Bow Valley Provincial Park.
Little Lougheed Mountain Trail is a challenging 5-kilometre hike to the mountain’s summit. It has a little over 700 metres of elevation gain, reaching the summit’s 2483 metres of altitude. This is a serious hike, and proper gear is essential. The effort is constant on this steep trail, but the views are stunning.
More Things to do in Winter in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise
- Dog Sled Tour
- Cross-country ski at the Canmore Nordic Center
- Hike the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk in Canmore
- Snowshoe Rawson Lake Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park near Canmore
- Visit Museums in Canmore and Banff
- Hike Cascade Pond Loop in Banff
- Walk the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail.
- Cross-country ski on Lake Louise
- Horse-drawn sleigh ride in Banff or Lake Louise
- Swim or climb at the Elevation Place in Canmore
- Walk on the River Walk Trail to the Engine Bridge in Canmore
- Visit the National Historic Site Cave and Basin in Banff
Last Words on Winter in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise
The Canadian Rockies are full of marvellous adventures, and wintertime adds even more to the list. This one-week itinerary, exploring Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise in winter, was thrilling. There are numerous things to do in the Canadian Rockies in any season. You might also enjoy a road trip exploring five national parks through those great mountains.