A winter vacation in the Canadian Rockies guarantees lots of fun in the snow and riding a snowmobile in Banff might be the best among a wide range for activities to please both the intrepid traveler as those that come to settle in the mountains to find peace.
The two weeks we spent in this winter wonderland were hardly enough to get a taste of all that can be done. We went skiing, snowshoe hiking, and ice skating, among other things.
But, the real fun is of course doing something new and checking things off your bucket list.
That’s why we also went on that epic Banff snowmobile tour.
Snowmobiling was already on our bucket list for a long time and the rugged mountains around Banff were the perfect backdrop for this adventure.
Are you traveling to Banff this winter and do you want to add a little bit of adrenaline, action and adventure?
A ride on a snowmobile in the mountains surrounding Banff can do exactly that.
In this post, we will try to answer every question you might have about snowmobiling in Banff.
Can you snowmobile in Banff or Lake Louise?
Snowmobiling is strictly prohibited within the boundaries of Banff National Park.
Banff snowmobile tours
Therefore, all tours take place around the park and provide transport from Banff to their respective starting location.
This does not take away from the experience, the stunning landscape of Banff National Park does not suddenly stop at its borders.
It does mean that you will spend time on a shuttle before you can hop on your steel snow horse.
If you want to minimize the commuting time and maximize the fun time you should opt for the tour from Golden that we describe in more detail below.
Other Banff snowmobile tours operate from Panorama Mountain Resort or the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
Snowmobiling in Lake Louise
Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada is located within Banff National Park so snowmobiling in this area is not possible.
If you’re staying in the Lake Louise area the closest place to go snowmobiling is Golden.
Kicking Horse is a slightly further and Panorama would mean a 2-hour one-way journey from Lake Louise.
Should I join a tour or can I rent a snowmobile in Banff
If this is your first time riding a snowmobile, we definitely advise you to join a snowmobile tour. You will get usefull information and driving tips that will make your tour much more enjoyable as well as safer.
Which Banff snowmobile tours exist?
Three companies organize snowmobile tours around Banff National Park.
Here are the important things to look for when choosing your snowmobile tour.
Half or Full Day tours
All locations operate several tours.
There’s always the choice between half and full-day tours where the full-day tours include a BBQ-lunch half-way.
Experienced drivers can opt for an advanced trip where you ride a more powerful sled and hit the powder snow.
In addition to these you can also opt for a sunset tour in Golden and Kicking Horse.
If you’re afraid you won’t be comfortable riding a snowmobile you can choose a 1-hour tour that gives you a taste of what it is. Such a short tour is only available in Panorama.
Price of the snowmobile tour
Prices for a full-day snowmobile tour vary between $270-$289 for drivers. Passengers pay around $145 and $150. Children pay around $95-$99.
All tour locations are roughly 1 to 2 hours apart so the scenery should be more or less the same in between all of them.
Our trip in Golden took us to an elevation of 7000ft and took us along several excellent trails with beautiful views along the flank of the mountain.
The views would have been even more impressive if weather would have been on our side.
The tour in Panaroma climbs a little higher to 8000ft. Tours in Kicking horse only go up to 3000ft.
Grave accidents seldom happen but snowmobiles are expensive toys so it’s important to consider insurance.
Our guide from White N’ Wild tours based in Golden gave us an extensive safety briefing at the start followed by short stops at the first tricky corners and other places along the route that required special attention.
Thanks to the many riding tips we got we felt confident and comfortable riding the machine.
I’m pretty sure that no serious accidents will happen as long as you don’t take unnecessary risks.
- All White N’ Wild tours also include insurance that covers up to CAD 250, enough to cover basic scratches. They don’t require a security deposit.
- At Toby Creek Adventures based in Panorama, you can take out optional insurance for CAD 25 which will cover damages up to CAD 500. They also require a security deposit of CAD 1200 per sled.
- Lastly, Rocky Mountain Riders based in Kicking Horse offers a CAD 25 or CAD 50 insurance option which will respectively cover damages up to CAD 300 or cover all damages with a franchise of CAD 3.500.
We also looked at the reviews of all three operators.
That cannot be said for Rocky Mountain Riders. We found some disturbing reviews about overly expensive repairs for minor scratches and damages that, according to the riders, were already present at the machine when they got it.
Other reviews mention bad conditions of the trails and snowmobiles that were half-heartedly repaired with duct-tape. Since we didn’t rent with them ourselves we cannot say if this true or false. We just advise you to do your research before booking.
We had an amazing experience with White N’ Wild. The trails were well-groomed and all machines looked brand new and were in perfect condition.
Review of our Banff Snowmobile tour
As said above, we did a snowmobile tour with White ‘N’ Wild in Golden. Their season starts in November and runs till April.
They offer 5 different guided snowmobile packages in the Canadian Rockies.
Half-day tours last 2 hours and a half and leave either at 10 AM or 1 PM. The full-day tour leaves at 10 AM, returns around 2.30 PM and includes a hearty BBQ lunch.
Groups of 4 or more can opt for a private version of this tour.
If you want a shorter trip but don’t want to miss a juicy mountainside BBQ and the chance to create your own S’Mores you can join the Express Tour. This tour leaves at 10 AM and returns at 1 PM.
The fifth and last tour is the Twilight tour which leaves late in the afternoon in daylight and returns about 2 hours later after sunset.
Not knowing what to expect, we at first had a slight preference for the half day tour because we thought 4 hours would be too long for a first ride. What convinced us to go for the full-day tour was that we learned we could share a sled and take turns driving.
This made the full-day tour a great way to spend some more quality time on the snowmobile and enjoy a delicious BBQ on top.
In hindsight riding the snowmobile wasn’t as intense as we first thought so even novice riders should be able to enjoy the full day tour without any problems.
Here is our experience about our tour.
Early pick up at your hotel
Early breakfast and an early start of the day today, White ‘N’ Wild offers a free shuttle and we needed to be ready around 8 AM.
I would be lying if I would say that we weren’t excited about this day. We didn’t know what exactly to expect but a snowmobile tour was something we wanted to do for years. That adrenaline rush ensured that we were ready in plenty of time and had been waiting for a while when the shuttle arrived at the scheduled time.
The shuttle starts in Canmore before heading to Banff and Lake Louise to finally make its way to Golden. The trip from Banff takes 1,5 to 2 hours, plenty of time for a nap or to enjoy the beautiful scenery as we tried to do.
Unfortunately, a dreadful sleet stopped made the view less appealing but from what we could see the ride will be truly impressive when the sun isn’t hiding behind snowy clouds.
Once we had picked up our last guests in Lake Louise the driver already passed the waiver so the paperwork could be taken care of before our arrival.
Such a waiver is common practice with all snowmobile tours. The ride gives you plenty of time to through it and you can also find it at the White ‘N’ Wild website.
And then finally there was the cheerful voice of our driver to announce that we were almost at our final destination.
By the time we pulled up the driveway of White ‘N’ Wild he had given us all the info so we knew what to do and where to go the get outfitted.
The complete crew was ready to take care of our outfit when we arrived at the office. It is truly a happy and professional team.
Because of the wintry weather they provided us with extra neck-warmers, and balaclavas so we wouldn’t get cold during our excursion. We also got a pair of ski-goggles as we only have sunglasses.
This is what White ‘N’ Wild recommends to wear: We recommend you bring your own fingered-gloves for drivers [mittens are fine for passengers] and ski-goggles or sunglassses. Dress in typical ski-wear- ski jacket and pants, snow boots or snowboard boots, warm base-layers, and bring an extra pair of warm, dry socks.
Neck-warmers or infinity scarves are fine, but long scarves are not recommended. We do have boots [your own snowboard boots are fine too!], helmets and even snowsuits for you to borrow! Our guides will check with you before we go on our trip to make sure you have everything to stay warm & dry!
There’s no need to bring your own ski helmet as regulations require that you wear specialized DOT approved snowmobile helmets. These will be provided on-site.
If you’re missing anything in your outfit the crew will happily lend it to you for free. They can provide you with gloves, scarfs and boots right down to ski suits and socks.
A few minutes later we were ready to jump on our snowmobile.
It would be a little reckless to just hit the road if you’ve never driven a snowmobile before. That’s why started with a brief and informative 10-minutes safety talk about how to operate these machines.
Because this safety talk is all that is stopping you from starting with the fun part of the tour it is kept really short and most of the driving tips are provided along the trail. This part covers the basics such as how to start and stop, brake and accelerate and what to do in an emergency.
After we had ridden a very small stretch to ensure that we understood how to operate the sled we were split in small groups and off we went.
Our snowmobile tour
Our snowmobile guide took good care of us from the very first minute. He made sure nobody was left behind and arranged our group in such way that those who wanted to go a little faster were at the front of the group.
Initially, we stopped several times so he could explain us the proper technique for switchbacks, dips, and other things that crossed our path.
Later on the stops were further apart so that everybody could enjoy some quality time riding the sled at his own pace. Every few 100 meters or so our guide would make sure that everybody was still there and would stop so that slower riders could catch up.
We first headed to a mountaintop where we could warm up with hot chocolate and cookies while taking in stunning views in all directions. From here we headed to the other side of the valley for our BBQ lunch.
We have already done many excursions with lunch and we have learned not to have too high expectations for the included meals. The BBQ lunch called Dawn’s dinner proved us wrong.
The setting is an original trapper’s cabin and there was soup, hot dogs and hamburgers to feed a whole army. We warmed up by the cozy crackling fire and had a go at creating our own s’mores.
Despite all of us having good appetites thanks to the healthy fresh mountain air, there were plenty of burgers and sausages left when we were ready to go again.
Part 2 of our snowmobile adventure
The second leg of our snowmobile adventure took us along more stunning picture-postcard vistas and included one wide and long straight stretch where you could test your machine and go full throttle if you wanted.
When we got back to the office a little after 4 PM we felt like we could have happily spent a few more hours on the snowmobile. What a difference with our initial thought that 3 hours would have been enough.
We reluctantly got off our snowmobiles, dropped our gear with the crew and boarded the shuttle to get back to Banff.
This was an excellent day that we will remember for years to come. We can’t wait to go back and take another ride.
We may have been somewhat over-cautious in the beginning but our guide really put us at ease. It really helped that our guide made sure we never felt rushed even though others in our group had prior experience and went faster at first.
This tour is exhilarating and takes you to beautiful places where you otherwise wouldn’t come. The scenery is truly amazing even when the weather is not 100% perfect. I can only imagine what a thrill this must be on a sunny day.
Renting 1 snowmobile for both of us turned out perfect. We took turns driving and one enjoyed the scenery while the other kept his eyes on the trail and had fun riding the sled.
Pros and cons about joining the White ‘N’ Wild Snowmobile Tours
- Very friendly and professional staff
- Small groups
- Eco-friendly snowmobiles in excellent condition
- Amazing BBQ-lunch
- Long drive back to Banff but it is still the closest option to Banff
FAQ questions you might have about the Wild N’ Wild snowmobile tour
What is the minimum age for drivers and passengers?
16 years for drivers. Passengers: 5 years and older
All tour operators have the same minimum ages.
Do you need to have experience?
We didn’t have any experience and thanks to our guide’s driving tips it didn’t take long for us to feel comfortable on the snowmobile.
All novice riders will be able to enjoy the guided snowmobile tour we did with White ‘N’ Wild.
Some operators also offer advanced versions of the tour where you hit the powder snow. Although some are supposedly open to all levels of ability we do suggest to start with a trip that sticks to the groomed trails.
Driving in powder snow is something completely different, we speak from experience :-).
Which tour do you need to book?
Based on our experience we highly encourage you to book a full-day tour. This was about the right amount of time to get acquainted with the sled first and then really enjoy the experience.
Do you need to give a damage deposit at the time of booking?
White ‘N’ Wild does not require a damage deposit and their tour fees already include insurance for damages up to CAD 250.
The trails are well-marked and signs warn you about sharp turns and other places where you need to slow down. The guide also encourages you to go at your own pace so that you feel comfortable and can enjoy the trip.
Accidents seldom happen and this insurance should be sufficient to cover minor damages.
Other operators do require such a deposit.
What happens if you crash your snowmobile
The trail is well-marked and well-groomed.
Crashing your snowmobile is unlikely to happen if you follow the guide’s tips and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Would you do so then any damage exceeding CAD 250 will be your responsibility.
Just take care driving and pay attention to the tips given and you’re all good!
Do you need to sign a liability waver?
All operators indeed do require you to sign such a waiver.
Do you need to book your snowmobile tour in advance?
Snowmobile tours in Banff are quite popular. We therefore advise you not to wait too long to book. Especially if your agenda is fixed.
Banff’s impressive snow-covered peaks just call for a thrilling snow escape. There are many fun winter activities in Banff but snowmobiling was by far the best for us.
The well-groomed trails made it relatively easy and that little bit of anxiousness that we had at the start soon gave way to a feeling of excitement.
A snow mobile tour is worth every penny, it’s an experience you will be talking about for years.