• Banff Sunshine ski resort

The 8 Best Things To Do In Banff In Winter: Where To Stay, Eat, And Play In Banff National Park

Banff National Park guide

Banff is the ideal home base for snowboarding in Canada’s oldest national park and visiting the nearby SkiBig3 ski resorts.

Beyond the rich history and jaw-dropping natural scenery of Banff National Park, the Bow Valley town holds its own as a year-round destination. The masses make the trek to Banff National Park in the summer to see the soaring peaks and vivid turquoise waters. Yes the high-alpine lakes are positively luminous, but visiting the wildly beautiful area in winter is nothing short of magical, especially for snowboarders, and comes with far fewer tourists. Banff’s ski resorts are truly world class, and Banff Sunshine is top for snowboarders. Snowboarding is just one of the wonder ways to enjoy the wilderness around Banff.

things to do in Banff in winter

Quick Banff Winter Travel Guide

When is the best time to go to Banff? December through April is ski season and all winter activities are on. January/February are the coldest months, but snow is still prime through April when it warms a bit.

How do you get to Banff? Rent a car and drive or take a shuttle from Calgary International Airport. Shuttles run regularly to and from Banff, around the town, and to Banff’s ski resorts nearby.

Travel Tip: Park passes are required for every day in Banff National Park. You can either purchase a pass online or upon entering the park for the duration of your trip. 

Where to stay: Moose Hotel & Suites, Elk+Avenue, The Juniper Hotel, Fairmont Banff Springs, and Sunshine Mountain Lodge.

What to do: Snowboard at Banff Sunshine or Norquay (1), sip your way through Banff’s lively après scene (2), cross country ski Moraine Lake Road (3), learn to dog sled (4), take a dip in the Upper Hot Springs (5), ride the scenic Banff Gondola (6), take sunset or sunrise photo at Vermillion Lakes or Two Jack Lake (7), and book a spa appointment at Moose Hotel & Suites or Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs (8).

What to eat/drink: Breakfast at Wild Flour, lunch at Nourish Bistro or Sky Bistro, apres ski at Banff Ave. Brewing Co., and dinner at Three Ravens or The Bison Restaurant + Terrace.

Banff ski resort Banff sunshine

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Banff

Banff’s accommodations range from campsites and hostels to luxurious rooms in historic properties with exquisite views. Thankfully, high season and high prices come in the summer, with the most visitors descending in July and August. The snowy months, especially late winter and early spring, offer discounted rates and smaller crowds.

In town, hotels like Moose Hotel & Suites, Elk+Avenue, and Mount Royal Hotel put guests within walking distance of top restaurants, bars, and all the excitement of the town. All three are new or newly renovated properties right on Banff Avenue. Moose Hotel & Suites and Mount Royal Hotel have rooftop hot tubs with mountain views, while Elk+Avenue’s modern room décor is made for Instagram (but the hot tub area could use some TLC).

Moose Hotel + Suites
Elk + Avenue Hotel Banff

Quieter options, The Juniper Hotel and Fairmont Banff Springs, lie on the outskirts of town and are better if you’re visiting with a car. The Fairmont, best known as the Castle in the Mountains, dates back to 1888, but the massive property has been renovated on the reg. While we’ve only visited the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont, we stayed at The Juniper Hotel during our last Banff trip. It’s located a few minutes outside of town and right along the wildlife corridor, so opening up your window or patio door to a herd of elk is totally normal. When animals aren’t taking over the scene, panoramic views include the Bow Valley, the Castle in the Mountains, and surrounding peaks. It’s comfortable, chic, and best of all quiet.

Juniper Hotel Banff
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

If you plan to spend most of your days snowboarding at Banff Sunshine Ski Resort, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is your best bet. It is located mid-mountain at the top of the gondola and steps from all the upper mountain lifts with ski-in ski-out access. Luxe loft rooms open up to views of the lifts or a serene forest.

Banff ski resort hotels

Where to Grab Coffee and Tea

If you’re staying in Banff town, swing by Wild Flour (wildflourbakery.ca) to start your day right. There is fresh-baked bread and pastries, local coffees, and lunch to go. Don’t leave without perusing the “vintage” basket, which holds discounted day-old goodies like focaccia and scones perfect for snowboarding pocket snacks. Its sister location, Little Wild Coffee (littlewildcoffee.ca), has an unbeatable daily happy hour with $1 drip coffees from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. and convenient location right on Banff Avenue.

Banff Tea Co serves herbal, fruit, and classic blends in an ever-changing menu. For a sit-down breakfast, pop over to Juniper Hotel Bistro. Conveniently located in the Juniper Hotel, it has a wall of windows overlooking the town of Banff and out to Sulphur Mountain. The Juniper Benny with braised rabbit and the Shakshuka will satisfy the biggest appetites.

Best coffee in Banff Wildflour

Where to Après (Best Drinks and Deals)

Cheers to a powder-packed day at Banff Sunshine, Norquay, or Lake Louise ski resorts in Banff town. Banff lives up to its reputation as a party town, with a lively après scene that starts after the last run and extends well beyond sunset. No matter which watering hole you choose, the mountains are rarely out of sight.

The Bison Restaurant + Terrace has a carefully curated selection of British Columbian wines by the glass and by the bottle. Sample varietals from the Okanagan Valley unavailable in the U.S. When it comes to suds, a flight from Banff Ave. Brewing Co. is a great way to taste your way through the local craft scene or come for the local favorite stein night on Thursdays. Get a deal on a beer as big as your face to cap off a ski your face off day. Park Distillery mixes up craft cocktails and Earl’s is the spot for cheap/quick booze and discounted pub food.

For teetotalers, Nourish Bistro offers kombucha on tap with flavors changing daily, and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Lakeview Lounge uses Seedlip’s non-alcoholic distilled spirits for mix-and-match mocktails.

Where to Eat a Delicious Meal

Banff Avenue and Bear Street are lined with restaurants. Some are admittedly tourist-traps, but most serve up delicious dishes from award-winning, local chefs.

The Bison Restaurant + Terrace serves elevated Canadian cuisine with dishes like elk tartare and bison short ribs. A map on the menu notes the origin of every ingredient, three walls of windows offer mountain views, and chefs cook in a copper-accented open-concept kitchen. For more casual fare, head downstairs to The Bear Street Tavern, a local favorite for pizza and homemade sauces.

Down the block, Nourish Bistro manages to make meat-eaters crave its raw, vegan, and vegetarian fare. The colossal house-made veggie burger requires a knife and fork to conquer and num num nachos are a must must.

Banff Ave. Brewing Co. is known for beers, but the food is worth staying for long after happy deals end. Top picks like all-Alberta beef and bison burgers, a poutine with Quebec cheese curds, and pizzas are the perfect hearty way to refuel after a day in the wilderness.

For fine dining with an artistic twist, make a reservation at Three Ravens at the Banff Centre. Executive Chef Sébastien Tessier’s passion shows through his fresh, inventive cuisine. Ingredients are as local as possible, including micro-greens and herbs grown on campus. Feel good about splurging on a dinner here, the proceeds from dining also help support the artists at the Banff Centre. For another lofty option, hop on another gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Here, Sky Bistro boasts views of six mountain ranges from 7,510 feet and a handpicked selection of regionally-sourced farm-to-summit ingredients are artfully prepared by chef Scott Hergott.

Banff Avenue Banff guide

Things to Do in Banff in Winter: Worthwhile Attractions Off the Slopes

The absolute must-do in Banff is visit Banff Sunshine and snowboard. The ski resort has 3,358 acres of terrain and receives over 360 inches of annual snowfall, so there’s plenty within the boundaries to fill a week. There are miles of glorious trails for all abilities to explore at the SkiBig3 resort of Banff Sunshine. {Check our complete guide to snowboarding at Banff Sunshine for the best runs and local secrets.}

The natural complement to snowboarding and skiing is a soak in the natural hot springs. From its very start, Banff has paired adventure and relaxation. In fact, Banff was founded after three railroad workers discovered natural hot springs at the site now known as Cave and Basin. While visitors aren’t allowed to take a dip in Cave and Basin, nearby the healing waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs and other local pools offer relief for sore muscles and long days on the slopes and the trails. Try a soak in the mineral pool at the Grotto Spa at Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, or one of the rooftop pools at the Moose Hotel & Suites or Mount Royal Hotel. For muscles that need more than a soak, book a spa appointment at the Moose Hotel & Suite or the Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs for a head-to-toe rejuvenation. The Willow Stream Spa includes access to the many mineral pools with any service, so plan to linger longer.

Sulphur Mountain, right on the edge of town, boasts a renovated summit area complete with boardwalks and 360-degree panoramas. Consider giving your tired legs a rest and paying for the scenic Banff Gondola ride to the top. Come on a clear day to soak in views of all the peaks around Banff National Park. Plus, Wednesday through Sunday evenings, the Banff Gondola viewpoint offers stargazing. An evening excursion on a cloudless night may reward you with glimpse of the Milky Way, constellations, and the Northern Lights. (The Banff Gondola starts running at 10:00 a.m. and continues all day. The last gondola of the day heads up at 4:00 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and 8:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.)

Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours offers dog-sledding tours and lessons so guests can take the reins and guide the dogs through a winter wonderland of trails. If you want to explore under your own power, click into a set of cross country skis. In winter, Moraine Lake Road is closed to motorized vehicles and transforms into a cross country skiing mecca. Rent skis and boots in town to enjoy the most scenic, and intense, workout.

While the lakes aren’t the iconic gatorade blue hue in winter, they are just as picturesque covered in ice and snow. Set up for a sunset or sunrise photo at Vermillion Lakes or Two Jack Lake to see them at their best.

Banff Scenic gondola
Banff Gondola Sulphur Mountain

Getting There & Around

Banff is located right off the Trans-Canada Highway and about a 90-minute drive from Calgary International Airport. The interstate winds through stunning mountains, just a preview of the beauty that’s to come deeper in Banff National Park.

The earliest visitors came via the Canadian Pacific Railway to explore the newly minted Banff National Park, but it’s easily accessible by car, bus, today. Heavy snowfall can make roads treacherous, so come prepared with a vehicle equipped to handle winter conditions. Snow tires, experience driving in snow and ice, and AWD or 4WD will make navigating Banff and Banff National Park safe and enjoyable.

Weather in Banff in Winter

Banff experiences the coldest temperatures in January. The average temps drop to -15°C/5°F and wind chill can make it feel much colder. Banff Sunshine and the other SkiBig3 ski resorts are at a higher elevation than the town, so expect colder temperatures. You came for the snow and it falls early and often in the winter. It blankets the slopes and the streets around town. You can expect just as many sunny bluebird days as cloudy snowy ones, though.

What to Pack for Banff in Winter

In addition to your snowboard gear, bring warm layers to wear on down days exploring the town. A wool hat, oversized scarf, wool socks, and winter boots with solid tread all come in handy. Hand and toe warmers are also life savers on and off the slopes, especially if your extremities tend to get cold. Then, start any outfit with your usual snowboarding base layers to ensure chilly temps don’t derail any adventures. If you plan to hike (and you should) rent a set of crampons and/or micro-spikes to help you stay stable on icy paths. Always throw in a swimsuit so you don’t miss out on clutch recovery time in the hot tubs and hot springs.

Banff History

Adventurous travelers have been coming to Banff for more than 125 years to check the Bow Valley town off their bucket lists, and iconic images of snow-capped peaks with the promise of expert skiing terrain should convince anyone to follow suit.

Jennifer Nied
Jennifer Nied

Jennifer Nied has more than 10 years of writing and editing experience specializing in adventure and wellness travel, fitness, and spa. A Colorado native, Jennifer has been snowboarding for more than 23 years. She is a contributing writer for Women’s Health and her work has appeared in Budget Travel, American Spa, Good Housekeeping, Apartment Therapy, and more.

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  1. Tina
    January 5, 2021 / 10:35 pm

    Beautiful pictures! We are planning a trip to Banff (fingers crossed) this summer, where is the the BANFF sign that you are sitting on at the top of the page?

    • snowboard traveler
      January 8, 2021 / 10:21 am

      The Banff sign is just outside of town on Mt. Norquay road across from the rec center. If you zoom in on google maps it’s pinned as ‘Banff Town Sign’. Hopefully you are able to visit!

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