What are the best Banff winter hikes?

Spending your next winter holiday in the Canadian Rockies is a good idea. During the winter Banff turns into a winter wonderland.

Popular activities are cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding.

But did you know that Banff is also a great place for winter hiking?

Here we share the best winter hiking trails in the Banff and Lake Louise area.

So put on your winter hiking shoes and let’s go.

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A snowy day at Lake Louise
A snowy day


Winter Hiking Tips

Let start this post by sharing some general winter hiking tips.


Be Prepared

Preparation is the key to make your hiking trip hazard-free.

Keep in mind that mountain weather changes frequently. So we advise you to check the weather forecast and the trail conditions before you go.

You might not get cell phone coverage in Banff and during hiking. Call 911 or satellite phone 403-762-4506 in case of an emergency.

Tell a reliable person where you are going and when you are planning to get back.


Be Avalanche Aware

Before you start, study thoroughly about the spots where you are going. In winter, trails are snow-covered, and there is every chance of them being treacherous in look.

Therefore you may face trouble in finding your desired road and end up taking the wrong one instead. These kind of incidents may lead you to a difficult situation, so check the trail map and trail conditions beforehand.

Avalanche hazard occurs from November to June. Trails above the tree line (2000 m) may be exposed to danger. Snow-covered steep slopes are also at risk of avalanche.

90% of victims trigger their own avalanche, don’t be one of them.

Hiking with snowshoes
First-time ever we hiked with snowshoes, it was a lot of fun!

Carry the right equipment

  • Ice cleats: Since trails are often icy during winter, we recommend you to bring ice cleats. Here you can find an overview of the best ice cleats for walking.
  • Hiking poles
  • Winter hiking leggings: Winter hiking leggings are different from your regular tights and yoga pants. A lot of them are designed to protect you from the elements, weather, bugs, sweat, and moisture. Some of these leggings also act as a base layer if needed.
  • Winter hiking boots: Good winter hiking boots are indispensable if you go hiking in Banff during winter. Please ensure that you are wearing winter hiking boots with traction.
  • Snow pants: Or some other kind of insulated and waterproof pants that will keep you warm even as you sink knee-high in the snow or accidentally trip and fall.
  • Sunglasses: The sun reflects on the snow and makes sunglasses indispensable
  • Finally, we advise you to bring a warm hat, scarf, and gloves


Dress in layers

The weather can be very fickle. We experienced how a bright and sunny day can change into an inclement winter day in a matter of hours.

Although the temperature may feel OK when you start your day down in the village it may be a lot colder if you are higher up on the mountains and exposed to frisk winds.

Therefore, one of the most important tips we can give you is to dress in layers.

Best winter hikes Banff

Sulphur mountain hike in Winter
Hiking to the top of Sulphur mountain


Sulphur Mountain

  • Distance: 5.5 km to the top of the gondola, plus 0.5 km to Sanson Peak
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 4 hour round trip
  • Elevation gain: 655 m
  • Route type: out & back
  • Highlights: Far-reaching views of Bow Valley


Short description of the trail

This well-marked moderate 10,1-kilometer trail (back and forward) brings you to the summit ridge of Sulphur mountain.

Once you reach the peak, you can see magnificent views of the Bow Valley.

You can choose to make a 0,5 km side trip that leaves from the boardwalk. of the upper station of the Banff Gondola. This will take you to the old weather station on Sanson Peak.

It is possible to hike to the top of the mountain and take the Banff Gondola back down. Here you can find our full post about riding the Banff Gondola in winter.

In summer you will need to purchase a one-way down-ticket at the top station, during winter the ride back down is free.

One-way tickets are currently not offered due to COVID-19.  Hikers are at this point not allowed to access the upper station of the gondola.

This is a switchback-style trail that winds through the trees. It is relatively steep at certain points.

The views from the top are however worth the effort and once you reach the summit you can warm up in the terminal with a hot chocolate.

Since the trail can be icy during the winter, we advise you to wear ice cleats.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

Leaving from downtown Banff you can follow the signs for the Banff Upper Hot Springs or the Banff Gondola.

Both are relatively close to each other and have a large parking lot.

Where to start the Sulphur Mountain hike

The trailhead is located at the Upper Hot Springs parking area.

What people are saying about this trail

It’s quite a challenging steep hike. But once you reach the summit, it feels like you are on top of the world. The breathtaking views of the mountains are phenomenal.

The fact that you can take the Gondola down for free is a nice perk at the end of a long walk.

Conclusion

The relative steepness makes this trail a little challenging but once you reach the top the amazing views make up for all your hard work.

The Johnston Canyon walk is one of the best hikes in Banff in Winter
The Johnston Canyon walk is one of the best hikes in Banff in Winter


Johnston Canyon Ice walk

  • Distance: Lower Falls: 1.2 km one way, Upper Falls: 2.5 km one way
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 2-3 hours round trip
  • Elevation gain: Lower falls: 50m, Upper falls: 120m
  • Route type: out & back
  • Highlights: Amazing frozen waterfalls

Short description of the trail

Johnston Canyon is the most sought after destination in the Banff area.

In summer, it is among the most crowded destinations.

In winter, visitors rush to this place to get the rare opportunity to see the waterfalls, all frozen. And it’s easy to see why. The views of the frozen falls are breathtaking.

The trail is the same in summer and winter. Here’s a complete description of the trail in our 3 day Banff itinerary.

The entrance is narrow and at the start, you will follow several consecutive metal catwalks that are fixed to the limestone cliffs to penetrate the canyon. Along the way, you can already enjoy some spectacular sights of Johnston Canyon.

The trail quickly moves towards the first falls. Don’t miss the viewing platform at the other edge of the cave. Passing through the cave, you get really close to the frozen Lower Canyon Falls and can see the water that drops below the frozen falls.

The upper falls in the Johnston Canyon in the winter
The frozen upper falls in the Johnston Canyon

This part of the hike will take approximately 30 minutes and is almost flat. Don’t stop here though, the upper falls are even more impressive.

As you continue hiking from the Lower Falls the trail enters the woods. You will feel that there is a round of elevation gain to the Upper Canyon Falls.

There are 2 separate viewing areas that both offer amazing views of the upper falls.

The first is a platform over the river which takes you closer to the bottom of the falls. A short and steep climb takes you to a second platform overhanging the gorge roughly at the same height as the top of the falls.

If you do not take your snowshoes, it’s advisable to use microspikes to tackle the slippery trail. Most of the sights of Johnston Canyon are spectacular.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

Johnston Canyon is situated 25 kilometers from Banff. You will reach the Canyon in 30 minutes by car.

It is 33 km from Lake Louise along the Bow Valley Highway.

There is a large parking lot and you should not have problems finding parking space in winter.

Insider tip:  Check if the road is open.

The road is closed to most traffic due to COVID, if you make a reservation at the Blackswiff Bistro, you will be allowed to drive up from Castle Mountain when showing the park staff your email confirmation. Another option is joining an organized tour.

Otherwise, you have to walk 6 km to reach the trail.

Where to start the Johnston Canyon Hike

The trail starts at the northern end of the parking lot.

What people are saying about this trail

Seeing the frozen waterfalls was one of the highlight of our visit to Banff in winter. Although we saw people walking with normal hiking boots, we advise you to wear ice cleats.

Conclusion

This is one of the most beautiful hikes we did during our winter visit to Banff. The winter scenery of the canyon with the frozen falls really shows how beautiful nature can be in winter.

Highly recommended!

Although you can easily do this hike on your own, as an alternative, you can join an organized tour.

The main benefit of taking such a tour is that you will be accompanied by a guide who shares tons of information about its history and the many sights.

You also don’t need to worry about ice cleats since they will be provided.

Read reviews and book:
Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

The Vermilion lakes in Winter
You can extend the Fenland trail by hiking to the Vermilion Lakes


Fenland Trail

  • Distance: This is a 2.1 km loop
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 40 minutes
  • Elevation gain: there is no elevation rise
  • Route type: Loop
  • Highlights: Chances to see wildlife such as elk


Short description of the trail

The Fenland Trail winds through a white spruce forest along the banks of Forty Mile Creek.

This trail is quick and easy and you have plenty of chances to spot wildlife.

You can make your hike longer by continuing over to Lake Vermillion.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

The Fenland trail is situated 1,5 km walk from downtown Banff.

It’s about a 20 minutes walk from downtown Banff or 5 minutes from the Fenland Banff Recreation Center.

There is a small parking lot at the trailhead for those who rather come by car.

Where to start the Fenland hike

The trail starts at the parking lot alongside Mt. Norquay Road.

It is situated across the road from the Fenland Banff Recreation center in between the railway tracks and the ramp of the Trans-Canada Highway.

What people are saying about this trail

A great short little walk along a small winding river. Very picturesque during winter. If you are lucky, you might even spot some elk here.

Conclusion

This short pleasant walk which is also popular with the locals. It is perfect if you are looking for an easy winter hike not to far from downtown Banff.

Note that the path can get icy in winter, it is advised to take ice cleats.

Marsh Loop in Banff in the Winter
A view from the Marsh Loop near Banff (photo credits: Jerry Bowley)


Marsh Loop

  • Distance: 2.8 km loop
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 1 hour round trip
  • Elevation gain: minimal elevation gain
  • Route type: Loop
  • Highlights: Good hike for birding

Short description of the trail

Along the bow river is a small marsh formed by the hot springs at the bottom of the Sulphur mountain. The Marsh Loop encircles this wetland and follows the bank of the river.

Because of the warm water the wetlands closest to the mountain remain ice-free in winter and are a popular habitat with otherwise migratory birds that stay in the area year-round.

The trail is often muddy in summer because of its popularity among horse riders.

That is why it is an excellent opportunity to do this beautiful walk in winter.

It offers good views of Mt. Norquay and the Bourgeau Range.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

The trail starts near the Cave and Basin National Historic site. You can follow the signs to these former hot springs.

They will take you from downtown Banff drive across the Bow River bridge where you will need to turn right onto Cave Avenue.

You can use the parking lot at the Cave and Basin National Historic site.

Where to start the Marsh Loop

As said above this trail starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

From the parking lot walk towards the Cave and Basin National Historic site. Continue on the paved walkway passed the center until you see the trailhead kiosk.


What people are saying about this trail

The trail is well tended and clearly marked. It’s an easy walk in a serene environment. Even in winter it is full of life. You will find different species of bird and other wild animals.

It’s a nice break from the touristy Banff.

Conclusion

This is an easy family-friendly walk just outside Banff. If you want to extend your hike you could link up with the Sundance trail which leads to the Sundance canyon.

It’s a great walk suitable for all ages.

Best Winter Hikes in Banff National Park
Sometimes hikers share trails with cross-country skiers

Spray River Loop

  • Distance: 12 km round loop
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 3-4 hours for the whole loop
  • Elevation gain: minimal
  • Route type: Loop
  • Highlights: Fun for the whole family


Short description of the trail

The Spray River loop follows the Spray River upstream for 6 km and loops back on the other side of the Spray Valley.

Both the east and west side trails are lengthy, but the hike is relatively easy. A small scenic bridge connects the trailheads.

There is also a picnic area. In winter, it is a favorite cross-country and convenient ski trail.

Please refrain from walking on the cross-country tracks.  Trail etiquette requires walkers to travel beside the tracks on shared trails.

The east side of the river is less crowded and offers good firm tracks.

On the other hand, the west side has a good number of small hills, but it is fun to climb. Some hikers said they felt like they were in the movie Frozen.

The West trail is sometimes reserved for cross country skiing. If that is the case, you can still hike the east trail and come back the same way.

If 12km sounds like too much you can also only do a part of the trail and return the same way.

Check the trail conditions before you go. If there is a lot of snow, we advise you to wear snowshoes for this trail.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

Drive past the Banff Springs Hotel and continue straight past the parkade for about 100 meters.

Park your vehicle at the Bow Falls Day-use Area.


Where to start the Spray Loop

At first, cross the bridge. The loop begins either from the Golf Course Road at the end of the 15th hole or from the Spray River Trailhead located just past the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel park area.


What people are saying about this trail

The Spray River loop doesn’t offer drop-dead mountain views but it’s a good place to get out and see a bit of the wilderness. If you are lucky you might even see ice climbers on a frozen waterfall.

Conclusion

Easy going trail, perfect to spend a few hours in this magnificent wilderness.

Winter in Stewart Canyon Banff National Park
Stewart Canyon (photo credits: Nancy Mcmillan)


Stewart Canyon

  • Distance: 1.5 km one way
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: about 1 hour round trip
  • Elevation gain: minimal elevation gain
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: The river canyon, ice skating on the lake, and the possibility to see wildlife


Short description of the trail

The Stewart Canyon hike is an easy short scenic hike along the shores of Lake Minnewanka.

The path winds through the trees beside the lake and takes you after about 1,5 km walking to a bridge that spans the walls of the Stewart Canyon.

You can bring your ice skates as you can skate on the lake in the winter. Ask the park rangers in advance if the ice it thick enough.

Note that this trail can be very icy, especially during spring. We therefore advise you to wear ice cleats.

If you follow the trail in the other direction, keeping the lake on your left, it will take you to two Jack lake.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

From downtown Banff, head north on Banff Ave and then continue onto Lake Minnewanka Scenic drive to reach the lake.

There is a parking lot at the Lake Minnewanka Day-use area.


Where to start the Stewart Canyon hike

The trailhead is located at the Lake Minnewanka Day-use Area, more specifically at the kiosk at the far end of the picnic area


What people are saying about this trail

In winter, this place is fully packed with snow. Hence wear a good pair of boots and take hiking pools with you. Cleats wouldn’t hurt but are not needed.

Conclusion

Easy trail with only a little elevation gain. A good place for a short winter hike.

The view of the town of Banff from Tunnel Mountain
The view of the town of Banff from Tunnel Mountain


Tunnel Mountain Summit

  • Distance: 2,4 km one way
  • Difficulty level: Moderate since it’s quite steep
  • Time needed: about 2-3 hours round trip
  • Elevation gain: 260 meters
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Amazing views of Banff and the surrounding area


Short description of the trail

This beautiful trail starts at the tunnel mountain drive and takes you to the summit of Mt. Rundle.

The Banff townsite and adjacent mountains can be viewed all along the walk.

The noise of the roads quickly disappears, and you will distinctly hear the sounds of rushing chipmunks, squirrels, and birds.

You will find yourself snapping away at the amazing views on your way to the top.

Finally, when you reach the summit, the views of the Bow Valley to Mount Rundle will mesmerize you.

Note that the trail is heavily trafficked and can get very icy. We therefore advise you to wear ice cleats and bring hiking poles.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

The trail can be found 1 km from downtown Banff. It’s a short 15 minute walk.

From downtown, take Wolf Street east until the end and then turn right.

Where to start

Start at the lower parking area on St. Julien Road.

What people are saying about this trail?

Tunnel Mountain is Banff’s lowest summit. The hike was not particularly hard. It was overwhelmingly beautiful at the top with 360- degree views of the townsite, the Spray and Bow River valleys, the Golf Course, the Banff Springs and surrounding peaks. 

Conclusion

This is a popular winter hike and we completely understand why. The views from the summit are incredibly beautiful and absolutely worth it.

It is advisable to check the trail conditions before you start because in winter the trail gets both icy and treacherous.

The frozen over Bow river seen from the Sundance Canyon Trail
The frozen over Bow river seen from the Sundance Canyon Trail (Photo Credits: John Vetterli)


Sundance Trail and Sundance Canyon

  • Distance: 3.7 km one way from trailhead plus 1.6 km moderate loop
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: Approximately 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 155 m, elevation loss 60 m
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Beautiful views of Bow River

Short description of the trail

This is another beautiful and moderate hike really close to the town of Banff. It’s a short hike with stairs and footbridges.

The first two km of the Sundance Canyon trail is reasonably flat and treed. However, views get exciting as you approach the Bow River.

While trailing along, you can enjoy the sight of the Sawback Mountain Range.

After a gentle yet steady climb away from the river, the paved section ends and a moderately hard trail loops through the frozen canyon.

The trail can be icy during winter. We, therefore, advise you to wear ice cleats.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

The hike starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

From downtown Banff drive over the Bow River bridge and turn right onto Cave Avenue.

You can park at the parking lot of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Where to start the Sundance Canyon hike

As said above, this trail starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

From the parking lot walk towards the Cave and Basin National Historic site. Continue on the paved walkway passed the center until you see the trailhead kiosk.

What people are saying about this trail

The trail is paved and moderately difficult. The first half was easy, but as the trail continued up to the canyon it became really icy. So definitely bring ice cleats.

If there is a lot of snow, it might be better to wear snowshoes.

Conclusion

A beautiful and really enjoyable hike with beautiful views.

Ice Skating in Lake Louise
Ice Skating in Lake Louise


Best Lake Louise winter hikes

The beautiful area around Lake Louise also offers amazing opportunities for great hikes for every level.


Lake Louise Lakeshore

  • Distance: 2 km one way
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: around 1 h
  • Elevation gain: no elevation gain
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Family-friendly hike with views of the lake and a frozen waterfall.


Short description of the trail

This is a super easy hike along the lakeside.

The trail is one of the most accessible during winter in the Lake Louise area and you probably won’t need ice cleats.

As you walk along the shore, the view of the beautiful frozen lake nestled in the imposing mountains will likely give you goosebumps. It’s one of the most iconic sights of the park.

During summer, the lake is the busiest place in Banff. In winter, luckily there are fewer crowds.

The trail ends at a 100 meter tall frozen waterfall.

Be aware that the trail beyond the end of the lake leads to dangerous avalanche terrain. No traveling beyond the lake is allowed without avalanche training and equipment.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

From Lake Louise Village head to the Upper Lake Louise parking area, near Chateau Lake Louise, which is situated 4 kilometers from the hamlet.

Where to start

The trail starts in front of the Chateau Lake Louise.

What people are saying about this trail

Great trail which follows the shoreline to the falls. The trail is mostly maintained. You can enjoy beautiful views from the mountains.

Conclusion

Super easy trail, this is a manageable walk for every fitness level.

Fairview Lookout in Winter
The view on the Fairmont Chateau and a frozen Lake Louise

Fairview Lookout

  • Distance: 1 km one way
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 45 min-1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 100 meters
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Splendid views of the lake and the Chateau


Short description of the trail

Start by facing the Lake at the World Heritage rock.

From the World Heritage rock, look left and follow the trail signs. You will follow the lakeshore for a very short time but head inlands before you arrive at the Lake Louise boathouse.

A steady incline leads to the Fairview Lookout from where you get a fantastic view overlooking the lake on one side and the grand Chateau Lake Louise hotel on the other.

The view is most worth it on sunny days because it brings out the beautiful colors of the lake even more.

In the summer it is possible to make a loop but in the winter you will need to return the way you came due to the risk of avalanches.

This trail is a little more demanding than the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail but it is very short and persons of all fitness levels should be able to do it. It is usually less crowded than the lakeshore.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

From Lake Louise Village head to the Upper Lake Louise parking area, near Chateau Lake Louise, which is situated 4 kilometers from the hamlet.

Where to start

The starting point is at the Lake Louise lakeshore.

Follow the shore, keeping the lake on your right-hand side, and you will see the signs for the Fairview lookout.


What people are saying about this trail

Fairview Lookout is stunning during the snowy months.

Conclusion

You can look forward to this classic winter trail for an easy hike.

On snowy days, wear ice cleats.

Best Winter Hikes in Lake Louise
The Louise Creek trail makes an easy winter hike near Banff


Louise Creek

  • Distance: 2,8 km one way
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 195 m elevation gain
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Alternative to driving to the lake with great scenery


Short description of the trail

This easy trail starts at the Lake Louise hamlet and follows the Louise creek through thick sub-alpine forest to arrive at the lakeshore.

Surely you will never want to miss the chance of winter hiking in the vicinity of Lake Louise and this is the best pedestrian option to reach the lake from the village.

Hiking lovers should prefer this option over taking the car to the lake.

This is a pleasant hike next to the babbling brook. Once at the lake you can continue to the Fairview lookout or the lakeshore trail. You can also extend this hike with (a part of) the Bow River Loop.

The latter is mainly used by cross-country skiers so please stay off the tracks and walk on the side of the trail.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

Park your car at the Samson Mall.

Where to start

From the Samson Mall walk along Lake Louise Drive towards the Bow River bridge. Cross the bridge, the trailhead is directly after the bridge on your left.

What people are saying about this trail

Louise Creek is the best pedestrian option to walk from the village to the lake. Keep in mind that it is mostly uphill.

Conclusion

Great hike with very nice scenery.

If you don’t want to hike back you can take the bus. It only costs $2 per person to take the bus back to the village.

Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive in the backdrop
Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive in the backdrop


Mirror Lake via Lake Agnes trail

  • Distance: 5.4 km return
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 295m elevation gain
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Highlights: Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive in the backdrop


Short description of the trail

Start your hike from the Chateau Lake Louise and follow the Lake Agnes trail. This trail leads to the right if you’re facing the lake.

In summer it is one of the busiest places, but there are only a few people around in winter.

The trail winds through the forest and you eventually arrive at the frozen Mirror Lake. The famous big beehive is in the backdrop and makes the scene picture-perfect.

Once you arrive at Mirror Lake, you should turn around.

The trail beyond Mirror Lake is rated as Challenging Class 2 terrain for avanlanche exposure. Continuing to the famous Agnes Lake Teahouse requires appropriate training and equipment.

How to reach the starting point of the hike

From Lake Louise Village head to the Upper Lake Louise parking area, near Chateau Lake Louise, which is situated 4 kilometers from the hamlet.

Where to start

The trail starts from Chateau Lake Louise. Make a right facing the lake until you see the signs for the Lake Agnes trail.

What people are saying about this trail

A great trail with beautiful views along the way. Hiking boots and ice cleats recommended.

Conclusion

A pretty hike that offers good views, moderate but not too hard.

Conclusion

Banff, one of Canada’s most beautiful national parks and Lake Louise allow you to indulge in winter hiking in a beautiful scenery with majestic mountains looming in the background.

Hiking in such a winter wonderland has a few challenges, but it is rewarding too.

In winter, for obvious reasons, most of the trails are quiet, you will hear nothing except the sound of the cracking snow beneath your snowshoes.

It will give you an opportunity to do a workout while assessing the beauty of this place in absolute solitude.

For more tips about what to do in Banff, check out our Banff itineraries. Here is a great 3 day Banff itinerary. If you have 4 days in Banff, click here.

Are you wondering where to stay in Banff, take a look at our post about the best Airbnbs in Banff or check out these amazing Airbnbs in nearby Canmore.

If you are looking for more tips about traveling in the Canadian Rockies in winter, click here.

Categories: Canada