16 Ways to Have an EPIC Banff Christmas

Christmas time in Banff is one of the best times to visit Banff National Park. Sure December is cold in Banff, but who cares when it literally looks like the inside of a snowglobe!

I love Banff around the holidays, I don’t think I’ve ever spent Christmas somewhere more scenic. Think snow, mountains, and a whole lot of Christmas cheer.

Visitors flock to Banff every year to take part in the magic. There are so many things to do in Banff around Christmas so pack a warm jacket and boots and settle in for these ideas of Banff Christmas activities.


How to Enjoy a Banff Christmas


Ski and Snowboard


Tasha Hiking Lake Louise

Snowboarding at all of the SkiBig3 resorts was our primary reason for heading to Banff in the winter. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts all within Banff National Park. You have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay which are all fantastic and unique ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter. If you are into skiing and snowboarding then December is one of the best times to head here.

If you are lucky enough to come to Banff before December 23rd you’ll likely end up on the mountain with no crowds and only a handful of locals – especially during the weekdays. December is our favorite time to snowboard in the Rockies, before the crowds and the powder is pristine. There’s nothing better than skiing or snowboarding on your Banff Christmas.

There is arguably no ski resort in the world with a better view than Lake Louise Ski Resort, that photo above is what we’re talking about. In between runs screaming down groomers or tackling a bowl Banff National Park provides you some fresh air and stunning landscapes.

We visited thirty resorts in one season and the views from Lake Louise were hands down some of the best in the world. In our opinion, Lake Louise beats out Banff Sunshine and Mt Norquay by leaps and bounds.


Enjoy Hot Cocoa at Lake Louise

Things to do in Banff in the winter

During weekends at Lake Louise you can enjoy a mulled wine at the Banff Ice Bar! The Ice Bar is open from around December 20th to mid-April. They dish up all kinds of hot chocolate goodness and even have special treats for the kids.

Oh, yea and 20 blocks of ice, each weighing 300 lbs, were used to make this bar, so it’s truly a special place to visit in Banff in the winter.


Banff Craft Beer Festival

Christmas in Banff

#BanffBeerfest is considered the World’s Most Beautiful Beer Festival given its a stunning setting in Banff National Park. This sampling event is held the third or fourth week of November at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. It’s a month before Christmas meaning it has a very local feel as many tourists have not arrived in Banff yet.


Banff Christmas Market

Christmas at Banff

The Banff Christmas Market is a super fun event held the last two weeks of November before the holiday craze really starts. It’s located at Banff Trail Riders close to the center of downtown Banff.

It’s the perfect spot to head with friends and family to be merry. Expect Santa, his reindeer, plenty of horses, food vendors, drink vendors, and boutique artisan pop-ups. It’s a great way to start getting into the holiday cheer in November!


Lake Louise World Cup

There’s no better way to kick off winter in the Canadian Rockies than attending the Audi FIS Ski World Cup at Lake Louise. Every year a small army of visitors, volunteers, media, and world-famous athletes descend on the tiny resort town with big mountain terrain. It’s the start of the World Cup speed circuit where the fastest skiers in the world compete to be crowned champ as they travel around the world.

Personally, we couldn’t think of a better spot to kick off winter as it arrives early in the Canadian Rockies. Come November it’s not a question of whether they’ll be ski, but how much and with three ski resorts in the area, we’re spoilt for options. Of course, our personal favorite is Lake Louise and we’re happy to have a season pass every year.


Enjoy Christmas at Banff Springs Hotel

If there’s a hotel that screams Christmas it’s the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff. This hotel is downright gorgeous and sits perfectly in the park. If you are lucky enough to stay here and enjoy all the amenities here then I am super jealous.

However, even if you are not staying at the Banff Springs you can still freely walk in and see all the beautiful Christmas decorations and festivities here. It’s called Christmas at the Castle and last from late November to January, with different events happening the entire season.


Relax at Banff Hot Springs

Things to do in Banff Winter - The World Pursuit - Upper Hot Springs
Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Noel Hendrickson

Enjoying hot water in the cool air is one of the top Banff winter activities to enjoy. Don’t let the frigid Canadian temperatures detract you because there are plenty of ways to warm up around the Banff.

Just outside of the Banff town lies the Banff Upper Hot Springs. These hot springs make for one of the best places to relax those stiff muscles after a ski day. Just be warned afternoons can draw a crowd so head there in the morning for a more quiet experience.


Enjoy the Festivities On Sulphur Mountain

Still, wondering what to do in Banff around Christmas? How about you climb a mountain! What? Just because it’s winter you think you can’t climb a mountain?

Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley.

Due to it’s proximity to Banff town, and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain becomes very busy – but not in the winter! With a pair of crampons and some hiking poles, you’ll be able to tackle the trail up in no time. You can read all about hiking Sulphur Mountain here.

Once at the top is a “Mountaintop Christmas Wonderland.” You’ll find Christmas cheer, Santa’s bakeshop, Santa, and other jingle bells and whistles all in the most magical setting. Also – whether you take the gondola up or hike up, the gondola down is free in the winter!


Ice Skate the Canadian Way

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more scenic ice rink than in the Canadian Rockies. Every year at Lake Louise the lake freezes over and the Chateau Lake Louise marks out multiple ice rinks made for families, figure skating, and hockey.

Nothing is more Canadian than playing hockey on a frozen lake. There are a number of places around that offer ice skates for rent, including Chateau Lake Louise.

Another option is Lake Minnewanka if it’s early season and you get lucky with a clear lake you can also skate here! This is one of the best things to do in Banff!


Carols in the Park

This mountain Canadian Christmas concert in Banff Avenue Square is held multiple times in November and December and is where you can come with family and be merry while listening to Christmas music. The concerts are all free, but dress warmly as it will be chilly!


Go Dog Sledding

Dog-Sledding-in-Spray-Valley-Alberta

Discover Banff Tours runs dog sledding adventures at Lake Louise and in Canmore. We’ve done this four separate times and it’s always an amazing experience. What I particularly love is how quiet the ride is with only the sound of the dog teams steps against the snow


Snowshoe Around Lake Louise

things to do in Banff in the Winter

A great thing to do for families visiting Banff around Christmas is snowshoe! Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t leave the well-trodden path. You might not be able to walk through the snow on foot, but a quality pair of snowshoes allow you to float across the snow.

They’re super easy to get the hang of and you’ll be moving along in no time. Two popular snowshoe hikes are to the Paint Pots or Marble Canyon, but you’re free to explore the wilderness on your own if you rent a pair and are confident!


Hike Tunnel Mountain

Things to do in Banff in the winter

I recommend Tunnel Mountain on every Banff itinerary. Tunnel Mountain is right in the heart of Banff. It’s beloved by locals for its accessibility and you can hike it year-round. It may be one of the smallest mountains in Banff National Park, but it still offers tremendous views of the surrounding valleys and Mount Rundle.

The hike moves slowly up the mountain through a number of switchbacks and offers various viewpoints out into the Bow and Spray Valleys. It’s great for sunrise or sunset and it rarely disappoints. The best part is it’s only 4.5 km round trip and shouldn’t take more than one hour up. It’s one of the easiest winter hikes you can do with only 266 meters of elevation gain.

We did this last Christmas Eve before the festivities began and it was a great short hike to get in before we gained a bunch of Christmas weight. The whole family was able to join as it’s a pretty tame hike! You can read more in depth about this hike here.


Head to Canmore

Canmore

Okay, this isn’t really a thing to do in Banff as it’s a 15-minute drive away. We may be biased to our home base, but we think Canmore is the bee’s knees.

Canmore is another mountain town just outside of Banff National Park. It’s not nearly as touristy or popular as Banff meaning it’s much more enjoyable.

You can walk down the main street here without fighting through crowds and there are plenty of great restaurants, bars, and shops to venture into. The views are just as amazing as well, and Christmas time here is still on point. Make sure to check out The Three Sisters!


Browse the Storefronts Around Banff Ave

Banff-in-The-Winter

Late November marks the beginning of Christmas time in Banff town. From now until Christmas Banff Ave is lined with cheer and it’s full-on shopping time.

I love cruising in and out of the stores even if I’m not buying anything. There is a special feeling in the air in the mountains around Christmas that nothing can replace. Make sure to check out The Spirit of Christmas store for all things Banff Christmas!


Banff Hot Chocolate Trail

Things to do in Banff Winter Whitebark Cafe
Noel Hendrickson

Around Christmas times all the best cafes in Banff come together to create the “Hot Chocolate Trail.” Cafes like Wild Flour, Stock, Park Disterilly, Good Earth and many more all make their own signature hot chocolates to try – yes some of them are alcoholic drinks for the adults.


Booking Hotels Around the Holidays


I highly recommend booking your hotels well in advance around the holidays. Banff is a popular destination, even in the winter. For the best deals and options, you should start looking at hotels during the Fall or before that.

If you do find yourself priced out of options in Banff don’t forget to start checking around Canmore!


Where to Stay in Banff


Elk+Avenue

The first time we visited Banff we stayed at Elk+Avenue hotel in Banff which had a great location right on the main street and across from a grocery store. Rooms here are comfortable and spacious. 


Fairmont Banff Springs

This is easily the most luxurious (and expensive) place to stay in Banff. It’s situated in a secluded spot in the forest and provides guests with amazing views.


Restaurant Reservations Around the Holidays


If you have a large group or want special Christmas Eve restaurant plans you should definitely make reservations. Here’s a few of our favorite places to eat in Banff.


Where To Eat in Banff


Banff Sushi

We love sushi and we love a good deal so Banff Sushi is a slam dunk for us. The novelty of sushi train was definitely appreciated and brought us back to Japan as we nabbed tantalizing bites of sushi off the Canadian train engine. If you like sushi this may be one of the best deals in Banff.

Whitebark Cafe

Hip coffee shop serving delicious coffee and freshly baked treats. It’s the perfect post ski pick me up if you’re not into the apres ski scene!

Park Distillery

Check out the only distillery in a national park in North America. It’s super cool inside with large tables perfect to finish off a winter day in Banff with friends or family.

Nourish Bistro

This healthy cafe is the perfect lunch spot in town with reasonably priced lunch combos and coffee.

Bear Street Tavern

Winter activities often mean you’re burning plenty of calories so if you’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere and some tasty grub head to this tavern to replenish.

The Grizzly Paw Brewing Pub

Our favorite post ski ritual is to check out the local brewery, something you can only find in North America. To find some of the best brews around go to the neighboring town of Canmore.

Christmas Banff

Banff Travel Tips


Download AllTrails

If you plan to do any hiking (including the hikes mentioned on this list) download AllTrails first. Alltrails gives you the latest review of a hike, as well as all the logistical information you may need. If you pay for AllTrails Pro you’ll also be able to download offline trail maps to your phone. We use AllTrails for every hike.


Consider Renting a Car

Being in North America your options for transport are limited. Most visitors to Banff will rent a car in Calgary as this is the easiest way to get around. Renting a car in Canada ensures that you can get to where you want to go on your own schedule.

Depending on the season of your travel car rentals in Calgary can be quite affordable. We’ve rented with Enterprise for less than 20 CAD a day in the winter. However, expect prices to rise during July and August.

In the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires so make sure to check with your car rental agency. If you do decide to drive from Alberta into BC these winter tires are mandatory! You can see road conditions here, which are super helpful between November and late April.

Check Rental Prices Here!

Other Transport Options

You may not feel comfortable driving in Canada and that’s okay! There are other options to get to and from Banff and around the town. However, they are limited so keep that in mind.

To get from YYC to Banff, the Banff Airporter is a good option and costs $138 (CAD) round trip.

Once in Banff, there is the Roam bus system to get around town and in the summer it runs to Lake Louise while in the winter it will easily get you to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine Ski Resort.

In the winter, it’s best to get a car with winter tires so make sure to check with your car rental agency. If you do decide to drive from Alberta into BC these winter tires are mandatory! You can see road conditions here, which are super helpful between November and late April.


Dress for the Mountains

If I had a dollar for every time I saw a visitor wearing poor mountain clothes I would have, like $500. No, but seriously guys come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and hats even in the summer.

The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s extremely important to pack layers, thermals, and HIKING BOOTS.

Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Banff please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a fool, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find my entire list of backpacking essentials here.


Featured Travel Card


Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel Credit Cards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a generous signup bonus of 60,000 points that has plenty of flexibility in redemption options. Chase Rewards are some of our favorite points to earn as they’re high value and can be redeemed in a multitude of ways. We love the Chase Sapphire Preferred as it was one of the first travel rewards we received and it’s well-loved by plenty of others. The awesome sign up offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points which can be redeemed for $750 of free flight if booked through the Chase travel portal.

The other option is to transfer the points to a large selection of airlines such as United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, or Korean Airlines. This is one of the best all-around credit cards for travel! Of course, everyone needs something different so check out our post on the best travel credit cards here or you can learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred on Card Ratings!



Plan Your Trip to Banff


Travel Insurance

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!


Accommodation in Canada

Airbnb

To feel more at home we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here.


Guide Book

Things to do in Jasper

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.


Hiking/Daypack Backpack

Camelbak

You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while you’re traveling around Banff. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. We suggest a backpack around 20-30L for most hikers.


Sunglasses

Beach Packing List Sunglasses

Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Canada. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.

We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.


Sunscreen

Skin cancer is for real, even in the mountains! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Banff. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.

We highly recommend getting an eco-friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. Of course, most people don’t plan on taking a dip in frigid glacial lakes.


Danner Mountain 600 Mens Travel Boots
Hiking Shoes or Boots

If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.

I love my Merrell Moab Ventilators and have been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and we have a post on the best safari boots.


Down Jacket

Best Down Jackets

I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on in the Rockies. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything in the mountains. Even in July, you may still find yourself reaching for a jacket!

Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded JacketPatagonia Down SweaterREI Coop Down Jacket)


Water Bottle

Best Travel Water Bottles

Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourist that buys plastic water bottles in Banff. It’s a waste of money and plastic!


Transport

Move to Canada

The best way to get all around Alberta is with your own rental car. See all our tips on how to rent a car in Canada here.


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