A Guide to Visiting Banff National Park in Winter

If you are looking for the ultimate outdoor adventure, the quintessential winter wonderland and the most memorable snow-topped landscapes around, then you need to visit the Banff National Park in winter.

Not only is this time of year the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies but there are so many sparkling, snow-dusted adventures to be had.

So, get comfortable and bookmark this blog as we offer you the ultimate guide to visiting Banff National Park in Winter.

Taking a deeper look at Banff National Park

For those unfamiliar with this picturesque location, the Banff National part is actually Canada’s first national park. It is made up of emerald lakes and rivers, snow white glaciers and pristine wilderness that surrounds the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, Canada.

This incredible getaway is not adored for its winter themed experiences but the mere fact that this little escape is known for only having 4% of its natural terrains accessible by road. This means that wherever you are able to drive, you know that you will be surrounded by untouched, unspoiled nature in all of its wintery glory!

Banff National Park in winter
Scenic winter mountain landscape in Canadian Rockies – depositphotos.com

When is it winter in Banff National Park?

The region’s winters fall between the months of January and March with the air being noticeably cold and dry. That being said, it is significantly warmer than similar mountainous areas in Alberta with the area only receiving a moderate amount of snow – unless you are on high ski hills. Despite the cold, there’s plenty of sunshine and not a lot of wind.

It is important to keep in mind that January is by far the coldest month in Banff National Park, with an average low of about -15°C (5°F). While January may be the coldest time of the year it is the best time to visit this location. Not only will you experience the full snow-draped experience, but it is also less busy at the end of January as many people are returning home from their trips.

How to get to Banff National Park

If you are preparing for your Banff winter trip you will most likely be flying into Calgary International Airport. Once you’ve landed you will then embark on an incredibly scenic 1.5 hour drive down the TransCanada Highway that will take you through the heart of the park. You will then continue west until you reach the mountains of Banff.

How to travel around Banff National Park in Winter

When it comes to any vacation, it is natural to want to rent a car. If you are looking to have a little more freedom to go and do whatever you want at a time of your choosing, renting a car is a great idea. Keep in mind that there are heavy snowfalls, so you will want to have some experience driving during or right after a snowstorm.

There are also a number of car rental providers in the town including Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise – all of which have offices in the area. You can search across all car rental providers here.

Alternatively, you could skip the renting of a car all together and opt for local transportation options. Even during the winter, they are fully operational and incredibly affordable too. There are a number of shuttle options available that can take you from the airport to your accommodation and take you around the entire area. There are also notable eco-friendly bus options that can easily take you to your next activity.

What to wear when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter

Naturally, you will be packing all of your regular essentials from your toiletries to your electronics and chargers, passports and all. However, given the fact that you will be experiencing some pretty cold bouts of weather it is essential that the following items are in your suitcase.

  1. Layers. You will without a doubt be layering for most of your trip as a way to insulate yourself. Try to get as many long-sleeved cotton shirts and leggings as possible. Read more about why Merino Wool clothes are perfect for layering!
  2. Winter boots. Nevermind aesthetics, you will need functional, warm boots that can handle the snow, water and mud. If they have some grip, even better!
  3. Woollen socks. It is common for tourists to get frostbite in their toes due to a lack of proper, adequate socks. Keep those toes warm and as dry as possible with THICK Merino Wool socks.
  4. A hat. This may seem strange given that it is winter but keep in mind that the sun is very much still present and oh so harsh, so make sure to bring a hat that not only protects you from the sun but can keep your head nice and warm.
  5. Ice cleats. On the topic of being able to trudge your way through the snow, purchasing/ renting high quality ice cleats is an absolute must.
  6. Mitten. Here comes the frostbite again. It is so easy to lose feeling in your fingers given the cold. Keep your hands protected with the help of insulating mittens that can keep you warm even in the harshest of winter weather. Don’t forget your scarves and beanies too!

If you’re going hiking in Banff National Park (in winter or summer) – check out these hiking sunglasses.

Winter in Banff National Park
Magnificent Winter View of Bow River Valley in Banff National Park on a Snowy Day.

Where to stay when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter

Fairmont Banff Springs

If you are looking to experience a world class winter escape then look no further than the Fairmont Banff Springs. This gorgeous resort has a 32 m lap pool and a 20 m heated outdoor pool. Better yet, after a long day taking in all of the activities on offer, you can make use of the resort’s Willow Stream Spa that has 27 treatment areas and offers a variety of relaxing massages and beauty treatments. Other on-site activities for guests include bowling, tennis, horseback riding, and golfing.

Rimrock Resort Hotel

If you are looking to live in a lap of luxury then the Rimrock Resort Hotel is your ideal accommodation spot. Not only does it offer all guests access to the exclusive indoor pool and a hot tub, but Rimrock Resort Hotel is located 6-minute drive from Banff centre and near the Upper Hot Springs. There is also a renowned on-site restaurant that has a number of decadent dishes and local cuisines on offer.

Moose Hotel and Suites

If you are looking for a warm ambient experience that delicately balances outstanding architecture with spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes, then the Moose Hotel Suites are perfect for you. The design of the Moose is a combination of modern elegance with warm, rich, natural materials that replicate its surroundings. It is also located a 1-minute walk from the heart of downtown Banff, meaning you are nearby all of the hustle and bustle!

What to keep in mind when visiting Banff National Park in winter

Since Banff National Park is a popular place for tourists to visit, you will notice that the most common language spoken in this town is English. That said many locals do speak French, so expect to encounter a lot of strong, heavy French accents along the way. You will also notice that many of the signs around the area are written in both English and French.

If you are visiting Banff in the middle of winter you’re very fortunate that unlike many other mountainous areas, you have a significant amount of daytime. In fact, you can expect sunshine and daylight for about 10 hours of the day which is quite a win in comparison.

Remember to also exchange your current money for Canadian Dollars as that is the currency used throughout the town. Very rarely will any of the locals except any other currency, so make sure to exchange your money prior to jetting off on your vacation.

Winter activities in Banff National Park

Upper Hot Springs

Take a dip in the gorgeously geothermally heated and bubbling mineral water of the Upper Hot Springs. This incredibly rejuvenating water flows from the Earth’s crust through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault. Whilst you enjoy its warmth you can take in all of the panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains as the blue waters soothe your body. Once you are done, you can grab a quick bite to eat at the café at Upper Hot Springs.

Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking

Get some dirt under those shoes and explore the incredible terrains of the Banff National park by joining in on their Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking experience. When it comes to figuring out what to do Banff in the winter, you cannot begin your adventure without adding a hike onto your list – especially at this location. A number of professional guides will take you through the various seasonal trains where you will have a number of memorable wildlife sightings.

Go snowshoeing in Tunnel Mountain

Pump some adrenaline and get your heart racing at Tunnel Mountain. This is a particularly great snowshoeing spot as it’s right in the heart of Banff. It is also beloved by locals given its accessibility and proximity to other activities in the area. It is also really great for all skill levels too and offers amazing views too.

See also Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint on a Winter Sports Trip

Try the Fairview Loop Banff Cross Country skiing trail

Are you ready to glide your way through the spectacular landscapes of Banff National Park in winter? Then you need to make sure that you take part in some good old Banff cross country skiing at the Fairview Loop. Not only is this a much-loved sport in the country, but it is a great way to explore the surrounding areas. Just keep in mind that the general cross country season runs between mid-November and March.

Go Skating at Lake Louise

Canada is known for its scenic and charming lakes, but one that continues to reign supreme is the one and only Lake Louise. It is easily one of the most popular destinations for great skating in Banff moment. It has so much winter charm and there are a number of fun ice sculptures, horse-drawn carriages and a little ‘ice bar’ that serves a number of decadent drinks too!

You can also do a day trip to Lake Louise.

Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada
Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada – depositphotos.com

Take the Gondola Up Sulphur Mountain

Yes, indeed Canada has gondolas, and they are fantastic, especially when taking it up Sulphur Mountain. Gondolas in Banff are common and offer you the most goosebump-inducing experiences as you nestle your way through the forestry. Once you get to the very top, they serve an incredible lunch buffet for you to indulge in.

Just keep in mind that it is best if you book your tickets in advance. Not only is it cheaper than purchasing it at the ticket stand but it will also mean that you get to skip the line and head on straight to the gondola from the moment it arrives.

General tips for when you visit Banff National Park in winter

Definitely get a park pass.

It is crucial that you understand that the only way to get into Banff National Park is via a paid permit system, which supports the preservation of the park. You can opt for a day pass of the Discovery Pass which allows you to go to any park in Canada. Passes are available at the park gates, online and at visitor centres.

Leave open spaces in your schedule

It is easy to get overly excited about your trip and figuring out things to do in Banff that you overwhelm yourself. Give yourself time to wander through this vibrant town and see what’s on offer. You don’t have to plan everything until the last second.

Practice your French

Whether you are French speaking or a beginner, Banff is the perfect place to begin learning a new language. Not only are the locals friendly but they appreciate the efforts too. It is a sweet gesture that goes a long way, so try to download language learning apps or make use of free YouTube videos online.

The reality is that visiting Banff National Park in winter is an experience that you will never forget. Embarking on this winter wonderland escape will definitely be a story you share for years to come!


Reasons to Visit Yellowstone National Park in Winter

Home to a great collection of geothermal features, an abundance of wildlife, the most spectacular views and a thick blanket of snow – Yellowstone National Park in winter is an adventurer’s dream.

Plus, there’s less visitors – so you get to experience the true beauty of the park without the crowds!

So, if you’re brave enough to face the cold, windy and snowy days during the months of November through to April, you’re in a for a treat.

If you’re not quite convinced on experiencing a Yellowstone National Park winter, national park located in the western United States, here’s a few reasons why you should.

10 reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park in winter

Yellowstone in winter is a true wonderland.

Here’s why:

1.      The snowy landscapes and geysers

The wintery landscapes in Yellowstone National Park are absolutely breathtaking! From the steam rising up from the geysers and hot springs to the bison trekking through the snow and the frozen streams.

Old Faithful, the nearly 500-year-old geyser in the park, continues to erupt. In winter, the near-boiling water hits the chilly air and falls down in tiny icy crystals and flakes. Watching the geysers erupt against the backdrop of the snow and stunningly blue skies is a sight to behold.

Yellowstone in winter - the geysers
Witness the Yellowstone geysers in winter.

2.      The winter activities

According to the locals, the best way to experience Yellowstone in winter is on a pair of cross-country skis! From cross-country skiing to snowshoeing – there’s plenty of adrenaline pumping winter-based activities to explore in the area.

You’ll find several places nearby who rent gear and several companies specialising in guided trips if you’d rather not go out alone (this is recommend unless you’re extremely experienced in navigating the snowy hills).

3.      Snowmobiling

In mid-December, many of the roads in the park are only open to oversnow travel, meaning that visitors may only enter the park via snowmobile, snowcoach, snowshoe and cross-country ski.

West Yellowstone offers 400 miles of snowmobiling terrain outside Yellowstone National Park on national forest service land. It’s a snowmobilers paradise, with loads of tour companies taking you into the park on the snowmobiles. The terrain caters to all levels, from beginners to experts.

4.      The wildlife

The Yellowstone National Park in winter is still home to a variety of wildlife. The less-crowded park means that you’ll get to observe the wildlife facing the elements of winter without hoards of other tourists surrounding you.

Against the snowy background, the animals are also much easier to spot and you can easily track them in the snow. Expect to see bison, elk, river otters, wolves and other Yellowstone National Park animals.

Plus, you’ll get to see the bison in their winter coats! Huge balls of snow dangle on their beards, making them look even more impressive.

5.      The cozy lodges in Yellowstone National Park

There’s nothing better than curling up on a sofa with a hot drink (or whiskey), a good book, a crackling fireplace nearby and view of a snowy landscape outside. That’s ultimate relaxation, right?

This is exactly what you’ll get when you visit Yellowstone in winter. Note that not all lodges stay open during the winter months (and due to COVID restrictions, a few more might be closed this year). Best is to check out the full list of Yellowstone accommodation to see what is available.

6.      The quiet, peaceful solitude

Not many people visit Yellowstone in winter, which means that you get to truly experience the natural beauty completely on your own. In the winter, the park is nothing but miles of peaceful solitude in the wilderness.

It’s the perfect winter escape if you want to disconnect from humans, unplug your laptop and switch off your phone.

And since the park is primarily accessed via guided oversnow transport, you get experience Yellowstone’s canyons, woods, wildlife and hydrothermal forces in a much more intimate way.

7.      The Yellowstone holiday traditions

If you love the traditions that come with the holidays, then you’ll still get to experience the magic of the season in Yellowstone. Some of the popular traditions include candlelight Christmas Eve services in the Mammoth Chapel, tree lighting on Officer’s Row and festive Christmas dinners held at the local lodges.

If you’re in the area for New Years, then you’ll get to ring in the new year at Old Faithful, where everyone heads out to the geyser viewing area shortly after midnight to watch the first eruption of the year.

8.      Practice your snow photography

With so much natural scenery around you, Yellowstone in winter is an ideal spot to practice your snow photography skills.

The landscapes are filled with contrasts – from clear blue skies to snowy fields, steamy geysers and woolly animals. You can shoot these images on your own or join one of the guide-led photo safaris on offer.

9.      Witness the star-filled night sky

Yellowstone comes alive at night – from the parks most well-known creatures coming out to play to the star-filled sky lighting up the land.

To witness this spectacular scene, you need to join one of the nighttime snowcoach tours. The tours take you past the hissing geysers and passing wildlife and eventually stops for you to get out and witness the beauty above you. The countless stars on display will leave you in awe.

10.  Take a dip in a hot spring

This one is for the true adrenaline junkies, or the people who just want to say ‘I took in a dip in a hot spring in below zero degrees’.

The naturally heated waters of the hot springs won’t freeze, even during the coldest of winters. Which leaves for a fun opportunity to take a dip any time of year! The water is so warm, that no matter how cold it is outside, you’ll be so comfortable that you won’t want to get out.

Look out for the spot where the Boiling River meets the Gardner River, about two miles north of Mammoth. This is a popular swimming spot during the summer months but is sparsely visited in the winter months – making it one of the more unique experiences of a Yellowstone National Park winter.

Ready to start planning your adventure in Yellowstone National Park in winter?