Banff is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada. For van-dwellers and full-time RVers, spending the winter in Banff ranks highly on their bucket list. These people also make up a big part of the tourist crowd. Still, they aren’t the only tourists who are eager to try out Banff skiing or see the local wildlife.
By now, you may be wondering why anyone would ever want to visit the northernmost country in the Americas during its coldest season. However, once you’ve visited this winter wonderland, you might have a hard time settling for warm Decembers.
The Best Things About Winter in Banff
There’s a lot to love about spending the winter in Banff, Alberta. Here are just some of the many that keep people coming back. The first thing to note is that Canada is a pricey vacation spot. This often puts it out of the reach of most budget travelers, but not if you visit during the wintertime. If you shop around, you can score amazing off-season deals for your accommodation and local attractions.
With much smaller crowds flocking to the location, you also get to enjoy more of nature’s unspoiled wilderness all to yourself. When there are fewer children playing in the snow and not as many adults trying to take wildlife selfies, the animals tend to stick around longer. The quiet serenity is also unmatched.
Finally, there’s the snow. While it’s the reason many people would never set foot in Banff during the winter, it’s the pull factor for others. Keep in mind that there are several activities that are only fun when the snow has settled on the ground.
Banff Things To Do
So, what can you do in Canada when you save more money, bump into fewer people and head out into the snowy outdoors? The list is endless. Here are a few activities to get you started:
Visit National Parks: Canada established Banff National Park in 1885, making it the country’s very first. Since then, many other parks have sprung up nearby. These include Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Kootenay National Park and Jasper National Park.
Take in Mountain Views: If you enjoy scenic views or love to take beautiful pictures, you’ll fall in love with the mountains in Banff. Nearby is Mount Robson, which forms part of the Canadian Rockies and is the highest peak. If you want to get a good look at Banff from up high, consider the Banff Gondola or book a ride via helicopter.
Try Winter Sports: Skiing, ice skating, hockey and snowboarding are the most common winter-only activities you can enjoy in the great outdoors. Some people even go snowshoeing on the trails. While it can end up snowing any month of the year in Banff, the real winter sports snow doesn’t quite settle until later into the winter.
Visit Lake Louise: This attraction combines winter activities with mountain views. You can ice skate on the frozen lake, which is well-maintained by local staff. You also get to enjoy the view of snow capped mountains in the background. Find the best hikes for you, no matter how inexperienced you may be.
See the Northern Lights: Another opportunity to enjoy nature and snap an Instagram-worthy photo becomes possible on very clear nights. Few people ever get to see the Northern Lights. Many who do describe it as a surreal experience. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few!
Take a Ride: There are three ways to enjoy a memorable ride in Banff. These include dog sledding, horseback riding and horse sleighing. You can book these and more through Banff Tours. Always check their deals page before deciding on what to do.
Horse Sleighing in the Wild
Soak in the Hot Springs: Just in case you thought you would spend your entire vacation in freezing temperatures, consider the hot springs. Whether you want to take advantage of the many health benefits or just relax, you’ll be even more grateful for the smaller crowds.
See Banff Wildlife: Less foot traffic also allows you to get a better glimpse of nature without people scaring the wildlife away. Some of the animals you might come across while exploring include mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk and coyotes.
See Some Art: If you appreciate good music or like to take in some visual arts, the Banff Center will cater to that need. The venue often hosts local art exhibits and lectures. Musicians also tend to hang around the area.
Ice Magic Festival: For this festival, artists create their frozen architectural and lifelike marvels. The event takes place from January 20 to January 31 for 2021 and is an annual event. Ticket prices range from free to $35.
Ice Magic Festival Castle Sculpture
Banff National Park and Wildlife Tips
Few people go to Banff without visiting their national park. Even if you decide to ditch the stereotypical attractions and check out other nearby parks, you are likely to come across wildlife. How you handle these moments can make them memorable for either the wrong or the right reasons.
Getting a good view of the wildlife is mostly up to luck. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you could see anything from wolves to porcupines. You’ll have more luck on your side if you get up really early and head into the mountains. If your cabin is already in the mountains, even better.
One thing to keep in mind is that most wild animals are better viewed from afar. Trying to get up close to wolves, coyotes and other sharp-toothed animals for any reason could lead to an attack. However, if you keep a respectful distance, the animals usually do the same.
Encounter Wild Animals Grazing
How To Get to Banff
There are many ways to visit this winter wonderland, but flying is the easiest. Your best bet is to fly into the Alberta International Airport in Calgary. You then have another two hours or so of driving to consider. One good option is to take the Brewster Express Shuttle from the airport into Banff. It should cost you between $40 and $75 for a ticket, depending on your age.
Another option is to rent a car and drive to Banff from the airport. This allows you more freedom to explore the area and visit nearby attractions. There are several rental options at the airport, but Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the most highly rated. If you’ve never driven in ice or snow before, you’ll be happy to know that Alberta keeps tourists just like you in mind and ensures the roads are clear. Still, there are some easy tips to stay safe on the road that you can follow.
The first is to check the weather conditions shortly before you leave and plan accordingly. Then, visit nearby stores to stock up on supplies just in case you get snowed in on the roads. Water, batteries, a flashlight and blankets are a great starting point. Try not to let your fuel dip too low, and whatever you do, don’t turn on cruise control on icy roads.
Mountain Cabin by the Emerald Lake
What To Pack for the Trip
When vacationing in cold climates, how well you pack is crucial to a successful vacation. Some things come down to preferences and the type of accommodation you choose. Still, these basics will help you get started:
Warm Clothes: This should go without saying, but many people fail to pack warm enough. It gets as cold as 5°F (-15°C) during the winter months, particularly in January. Prioritize thicker, warmer clothing. Include gloves, scarves, head covers, fleece tights, jeans and very thick socks. You should also choose the coat you decide to bring carefully. Make sure you bring the warmest one possible.
Heat Accessories: Depending on how much time you plan to spend outdoors, your warm clothes could use a boost. Consider getting hand warmers and heated socks to keep your extremities warm. A heated blanket for snuggling on the couch or in bed might also come in handy.
Tickets and Passes: Even though it is the off-season, it’s a good idea to get your tickets beforehand. This prevents you from waiting in lines or dealing with potentially bad WiFi connections at your cabin, hotel or Airbnb. Several companies sell ski tickets if this is on your list. Ski Big 3 passes seem to be among the most popular.
Remember to wear your bulkiest clothes while traveling so that you’ll have room for everything else in your suitcases.
Booking the Trip
Banff is one of the most magical holiday experiences you’ll ever share. Whether you visit alone, as a couple or part of a big family, there’s plenty to do and lots to see. You’ll also appreciate cuddling up in your cabin with a warm blanket after a long day of exploring.
Reading by the Fireplace at a Lodge
Before heading off to Banff, one obstacle travelers need to overcome is cost. The further away you are from the Canadian border, the higher the numbers climb. Because of this, many people turn to crowdfunding opportunities to finance their vacations.
One such option is Skyhour. Instead of asking for physical gifts, ask for the gift of an amazing travel experience. Even better, people can purchase as little as half an hour of flight time. The more flight time you have in your travel balance, the further you can go. You can then book your trip to Banff and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.