Banff National Park in Winter: The Ultimate 3 Day Itinerary

Banff in Winter

Are you visiting Banff National Park in winter? Explore the highlights of this beautiful park and its surroundings with this 3 days Banff National Park itinerary.

banff national park canada

Located in the province of Alberta, Canada, most visitors make their way to Banff National Park in the summer months. Glacial lakes sparkle in the sunlight; there is a seemingly infinite number of hiking trails to explore.

Yet, as wonderful as Banff is in the summer, I believe the park truly shines in its winter months. The mountains are covered in snow; frozen waterfalls are waiting to be climbed. And there are far fewer people.

If I’ve convinced you to make a trip to this winter wonderland, here is a 3 day itinerary for Banff National Park to help you plan your trip.

Banff in Winter – When to Go

Banff has its winter months from November to March. Days are short, temperatures range from cold to very cold, but there are many Banff National Park activities to do in wintertime!

I’ve been to Banff four times in the winter, and I think later January / February is the best time to visit Banff National Park.

Vermillion Lakes

I found it to be less busy at the end of January (few people taking vacation so closely after Christmas), but still a snow-covered winter wonderland. And if you visit Banff National Park in December, you must know is a beautiful Christmas destination!

Where to Stay in Banff during Winter

There are a lot of options for accommodation in Banff and Lake Louise (almost an overwhelming number of options).

Banff National Park Hotels

I’ve stayed at 10 different places in the area, and I’ve personally stayed at all of the options recommended below (with the exception of the Lake Louise Inn). You can read my review of each of them here.

Banff National Park Accommodation

Lake Louise Accommodation

Top Things to do in Banff National Park in Winter in 3 Days

banff canada winter

Day 1: Get to Banff National Park & Sulphur Mountain

Morning Activity: Driving to Banff National Park

If you are getting to Banff National Park from Vancouver, you must know that the closest airport is Calgary International Airport.

Pick up your rental car from the Calgary Airport and drive from Calgary to Banff National Park. The drive takes 1.5 hours.

Roadtrip Alberta Canada

If you will be staying at a hostel / Airbnb and preparing your own meals, stop at the IGA in Canmore. I’ve found the prices here to be cheaper than in Banff.

Save money staying in the most beautiful Airbnb cabins in Banff National Park! Get a FREE $40 Airbnb coupon by using my code when you book.

Shortly after leaving Canmore you’ll come to the boundaries for Banff National Park.

During the day there is a park staff member to collect your park entrance fees. They will give you a pass to tape to your windshield while you’re in the park.

There is a daily Banff National Park entrance fee ($10 per adult). If you’re planning to explore other National Parks in Canada, you can buy the Banff National Park pass called Parks Canada Discovery Pass ($69.19 per adult) valid for a full year. There is free admission for 17-year-old and under.

Afternoon Activity: Gondola to Sulphur Mountain

The Banff Gondola takes you to a visitor center / restaurant. From there you can take the boardwalk to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Gondola to Sulphur Mountain at Banff National park

The views from the top of Sulphur Mountain are stunning. You see the surrounding mountains with the town of Banff nestled in the middle. One of the best things to see in Banff National Park!

Tip: Save money and time by buying your gondola ticket in advance. There’s also an option to add on a buffet lunch. We did and it was delicious (and had awesome views!).

Optional Evening Activity: Hot Pools Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs

If you are staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs, you should definitely spend some time at the Hot Pools. There is a single-gender whirlpool and sauna, as well as several go-gendered pools and hot pools (one hot pool is outside).

Note: Even if you are a guest, you still have to buy a day pass to the Hot Pools.

If you aren’t staying at the Fairmont, you can buy a day pass to the Hot Pools Spa on weekdays. On weekends it is reserved for hotel guests.

Alternatively, you could go to the public Banff Hot Springs. I personally didn’t like this hot spring as it was super busy.

Day 2: Explore Johnston Canyon in winter & Banff National Park Lakes

Morning Activity: Ice Walk in Johnston Canyon

Take a guided (or self-guided) walk through Johnston Canyon in winter. You’ll stroll along a boardwalk touching the canyons walls, capture glimpses of mountains and see many frozen waterfalls. One of the best things to do in Banff in winter!

» » Explore Johnston Canyon with this 4-hour guided tour. « «

Your tour guide will pick you up bright and early, and in most cases, right from your accommodations. Despite the early start (~8:15 am), taking the morning tour will help you avoid the majority of the crowds.

There’s one point where you can walk through a tunnel for a great view of a semi frozen waterfall. This was my favorite stop on the tour.

Pro Tip: Your guide will provide you with ice cleats, but if you go on your own you should get yourself a pair. If you choose not to use ice cleats, wear a pair of sturdy winter / hiking boots.

Foodie Tip: After the tour, head to Tooloulou’s for food. Locals swear by it, Tooloulou’s is the best place for a filling, post-activity brunch. My seemingly-never-full boyfriend agrees; this place is delicious and offers generous portions.

Afternoon Activity: Photograph Mountains & Frozen Lakes

A short drive from Banff (the town) are two beautiful lakes: Two Jack Lake and Minnewanka Lake. They’re both on the same road.

Banff Lakes in Winter

Driving down the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr (any road with that name is going to be a good time), you’ll first come to Two Jack Lake. It’s common to see people skating here, so bring your skates if you have a pair. It’s one of the best Banff winter activities!

Next you will come to Lake Minnewanka. When the lake is frozen you can walk all the way out to a little house in the middle of the lake (however my favorite views are from above the lake).

Banff in Winter Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake in winter

Stick around for golden hour and sunset and you’ll be treated to some beautiful lighting.

Day 3: Discover Vermillion Lakes, Icefields Parkway & Lake Louise

Early Morning Activity: Sunrise at Vermillion Lakes

It’s cliché, but Vermillion Lakes is my favorite place to watch the sunrise. You can drive right to the viewpoint (which means you can avoid hiking in the cold, wee hours of the morning).

Vermillion Lakes sunrise

There will always be other people there (specifically photographers) but this can be great because everyone is so friendly.

I’ve gotten tons of photography tips and recommendations for places to go from these photographers.

Morning Activity: Drive the Icefields Parkway for Scenic Views

Following sunrise, check out from your Banff accommodations, grab your camera and hit the road for some stunning mountain views.

Banff National Park Pine Trees and Mountains

From Banff, take the scenic Highway 1A north toward Lake Louise. This will bring you to Castle Junction, after which you can return to the main highway. Continue driving north beyond Lake Louise and onto the Columbia Icefields Parkway.

Tip: This part of the highway isn’t well maintained in the winter, so your car should have snow tires if you want to drive here.

Bow Lake at Banff National Park Canada

From Banff north, here are some places to stop for photos:

  • Castle Junction
  • Morant’s Curve
  • Bow Lake
  • Bow Summit, and
  • Peyto Lake (one of the best places to visit in Banff National Park all year around!)

Afternoon Activity: Explore the Magical Lake Louise

Once you’re satisfied with the Icefields Parkway, make your way to Lake Louise, one of the Banff National Park attractions you can’t miss!

Lake Louise is an absolutely stunning place. The mountains touch right down to the frozen lake, where you can rent skates and skate on.

Banff Lake Louise Ice Castle

Outside there’s also an ice bar and, of course, the well-photographed ice castle. You can also take a horse carriage around the lake or rent snowshoes.

» » Learn how to to cross-country ski at Lake Louise with this 5-hour tour. « «

Note: You could do Lake Louise in the morning and the Icefields Parkway in the afternoon if you prefer. The Lake Louise parking lot can get really busy, even in the winter, so going in the morning can make parking easier.

And if there is one place you splurge on a nice hotel room, let it be at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Then parking becomes a non-issue and you can warm up in one of their many lounges after checking out the lake. (Most of their lounges are only for hotel guests and therefore never busy).

Lake Louise in winter

If you’re feeling a little fancy but don’t want to spend the night at the hotel, you could also get dinner at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Oh my goodness, my meal here was one of the best I’ve ever had!

We sat in the Fairview Bar & Restaurant (which offers stunning views of the lake and mountains). You should definitely make a reservation in advance (especially if you are not a hotel guest, as they prioritize hotel guests when it gets busy).

The following morning you will depart from Lake Louise and begin your drive back to Calgary.

Banff in the Winter – Additional Tips & Tricks

How to get to Banff National Park

There is a shuttle from the Calgary Airport to Banff, and a bus from Banff to Lake Louise, so you don’t need a car. However, it makes stopping for photos and getting to the lakes difficult.

If you travel from Vancouver to Banff National Park, renting a car is the best option.

What to Wear in Banff in Winter

For your winter trip to Banff National Park, you want to have a good base layer, warm mid-layer and a waterproof shell (if you aren’t familiar with layering clothing, you can read about it here).

Snow tires are a great idea

As I said above, snow tires are definitely recommended if you will be driving on the Icefields Parkway.

Respect wildlife

Wildlife sightings in the main destinations in Banff aren’t super common, but it’s always a possibility. Give wildlife space and never try to feed / touch them.

Remember, Canada is one of the best wildlife holidays in the world, and if you travel to Banff National Park, you can watch deer & bears in Banff National Park!

Map – What to do at Banff National Park in Winter

If you are a more visual person, don’t worry! I created this Banff National Park 3-day itinerary map so you can see where you will be heading during your 3 days in Banff in winter!

Best Banff National Park Tours

There are so many wonderful day tours that you can take from Banff if you don’t want to drive. Here you have the best tours in Banff National Park in winter:

Ready for a winter adventure in Banff National Park?

I hope this Banff National Park winter itinerary has been helpful for planning your winter trip to Banff. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or reach out to me.

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Authored by Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper

Mikaela is the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, a blog dedicated to outdoor adventure travel. After several seasons working as a hiking and canoeing guide throughout Canada, Mikaela now balances weekend adventuring with a full time job, and writes stories, resources and travel guides for her blog.

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