village under snow capped mountain

Exploring the Rockies: Your Perfect Banff Winter Weekend Itinerary


Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta, is a winter paradise that transforms into a snowy wonderland, offering an array of outdoor activities to cozy evenings, and amazing scenery. This guide to a Banff winter weekend itinerary offers activities, tips, and hidden gems to make your Banff getaway unforgettable.

Visiting Banff in the winter offers a magical experience for both outdoor and indoor activities. The breathtaking landscape is perfect for hiking, skiing, tubing or ice skating. For those who prefer the warmth, Banff provides cozy indoor experiences like exploring charming local shops and cafes and enjoying some good culinary treats. The mix of activities makes Banff an ideal winter weekend destination.

Day 1 (Friday): Arrival and Exploring the Town

Banff Main Street
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

The closest airport to Banff is Calgary International Airport. Once you have landed, rent a car and take the 80 miles (130 kilometer) drive to Banff along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). This can take you 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the traffic and road conditions.

Enjoy the scenery as you pass through the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Before you enter Banff National Park, you will pass by the town of Canmore. It’s worth stopping if you have the time to explore.

You will need to purchase a National Park Pass when you enter the park. You can do so ahead of time to avoid the lines. A day pass is $11 per person or $22 per vehicle.

Once you enter the park, enjoy the beautiful scenery as you drive into the town. Watch out for wildlife on the highway, like moose or deer.

Depending on where you are staying, you may not be able to check into your accommodations until later in the afternoon. Spend the rest of the day strolling through town and checking out the unique shops carrying locally made crafts and souvenirs.

Make sure you check out some of the local art galleries and museums located on Banff Avenue. A picture with the iconic Banff sign is a must.

Enjoy a meal at one of the following recommended restaurants. 

The Eddie Burger & Bar presents itself as a small retro diner with a big personality. Its ambiance adds to its charm and exclusivity. It is known for its love of burgers, particularly those made with Alberta beef, often accompanied by a milkshake?! Be prepared to wait for a seat as it gets very busy due to its small size.

Park Distillery is also a favorite restaurant of many, when in Banff. This craft distillery is renowned for its cuisine and is complemented by award-winning, small-batch spirits distilled in-house, especially their gin. It is the only distillery located in a Canadian National Park.

Day 2 (Saturday): Adventure and Discovery

Now it’s time to delve into one of the many outdoor activities that will make your Banff winter weekend itinerary complete. There are a few different options listed below, so you can decide what works best for you.

Banff Skiing

Lake Louise Skiing View
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

Banff is renowned for its world-class ski resorts, including Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay. Each hill guarantees a memorable skiing adventure amidst the stunning backdrop of the Canadian Rockies.

Sunshine Village boasts a high-altitude, snow-rich environment, perfect for skiers seeking deep powder and expansive terrain. This is one of the most popular ski hills in the area.

Lake Louise Ski Resort, known for its breathtaking vistas and varied runs, caters to all skill levels, offering everything from gentle slopes to challenging backcountry skiing. 

Mt. Norquay, the closest to the town of Banff, is ideal for those looking for a more intimate skiing experience with its family-friendly atmosphere and night skiing opportunities. 

Tubing

If you are not a skier and looking for something fun and different to do, then you can go tubing at Mt. Norquay. Mt. Norquay boasts one of Canada’s longest tubing runs. How fun is that for both kids and adults!

Ice Skating

Lake Minnewanka Ice Skating
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

Skating on a frozen lake, surrounded by the mountains, is one of the most amazing experiences you can have when visiting the Canadian Rockies. You can take a drive to Lake Louise to skate on the lake behind the Chateau. Or you can visit Lake Minnewanka just outside Banff, which also provides a unique experience. There is always a possibility of spotting wildlife around the lakes or seeing frozen bubbles trapped under the ice. It definitely is one of the most stunning landscapes to experience.

Snowshoeing or Cross Country Skiing

Hiking Top of Tunnel Mountain
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

Guided tours are available for those seeking something a little less adventurous but still fun. With a guide you can learn about the surrounding areas and get local insights and stories while you snowshoe or follow the cross-country ski trails around Tunnel Mountain, Lake Minnewanka or Johnston Canyon.

Winter Hiking

Every time I spend a weekend in Banff in the winter, I always go hiking because it’s so different to experience the views from the top of a peak. Some of the best hikes in the area are Johnston Canyon and Tunnel Mountain. With so many winter hikes in Banff, you can find one that works the best for you. 

Some people think that winter hiking is hard, but it’s honestly one of the best things to do in the Canadian Rockies. You normally have fewer people out, you don’t have to deal with the possibility of bears and the winter scenery in the mountains is amazing!

Outdoor but not Exercise

If winter sports and exercise activities are not your thing, then consider taking a private horse-drawn sleigh ride or a scenic helicopter tour to enjoy the scenery and spend part of the day outside.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Conclude the day with a relaxing soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Known as the highest operating hot springs in Canada, soaking in the mineral-rich waters will release any tension you may have from your day time activities. 

The springs are open until 10pm, and admission is $17.50 per adult. Rentals of swimsuits and towels are available if needed. 

Dinner at Grizzly House

This is one of my favorite restaurants and I highly recommend it. Make reservations in advance and be prepared for one of the best fondue and grilled cuisine meals. The Grizzly House Restaurant is famed not only for its fondue but also for its distinctive feature of having old-fashioned telephones at each table, allowing diners to ‘communicate’ with other tables, adding a quirky element to the dining experience.

Day 3: Leisure and Departure

Brunch at The Juniper Bistro

Start your final day with a hearty breakfast or leisurely brunch at the Juniper Bistro. Enjoy the seasonal ingredients while you view the stunning landscapes that remind you of why you spent the weekend in Banff. 

Banff Gondola

sulphur mountain under gondola
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

Cap off your weekend by taking the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. If you are adventurous, you can even hike up the mountain. As you ascend up the mountain, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the majestic mountains and sprawling valleys. At the summit, visitors can explore the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site and Sanson’s Peak, offering an even more spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. The journey provides an unforgettable experience of the natural beauty of Banff National Park and the perfect way to end your weekend in Banff.

Banff Tips & Info

Banff Sign
Photo Credit: Melanie Seneviratne

SnowDays Festival

The end of January, hosts this wintry festival showcasing ice sculptures, skijoring, snow sculptures, live entertainment and many more fun activities. SnowDays Festival occurs in Banff and Lake Louise over a two week period.

Where should I stay in Banff?

There are many accommodations in Banff, depending on what you are looking for. From hotels to resorts to vacation rentals, there are many options to suit your preferences. 

Is Banff safe for travelers?

Banff is generally safe if you use basic urban precautions: be aware of your surroundings if walking alone at night and be alert in crowded areas. If you plan on going out and drinking, taxis are your best options for getting back to your accommodations.

What is the weather like in Banff?

Temperatures range from -10°C to -1°C (14°F to 30°F). Frequent snowfall ensures excellent conditions for winter sports, while the clear blue skies make for stunning vistas. Make sure you check the weather networks ahead of time, because the weather is always unpredictable in the mountains and sometimes can be much colder than you expect.

What should I pack for my weekend in Banff?

If you are planning any outdoor activities in the winter, make sure you pack layers, including long underwear, layers, fleece, toques, gloves, thermal socks and a warm winter jacket. If you are planning to hike, make sure to include micro spikes or crampons for trekking through the mountains.

In conclusion, crafting the perfect Banff winter weekend Itinerary is your key to unlocking an extraordinary getaway to the mountains. With many winter activities tranquil moments and tasty cuisine, Banff offers an unforgettable experience for every winter enthusiast. Don’t forget to pack your warmest gear and embark on a journey to create memories that will last a lifetime amidst the picturesque beauty of Banff in the winter.

This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash

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