Winter in the Rocky Mountains is every bit as beautiful as the summer. See the landscape in a sparkling new light, from the blue-hues of frozen rivers to the ghostly greens of the Northern Lights. And with a guaranteed covering of powder snow, winters don’t get more iconic than this.
Banff and Jasper National Parks fill up with incredible experiences in winter, and it’s not all skiing. If you’re not one for hitting the piste, you’ll find dozens of other magical activities on offer from sled rides to heli tours. So get out there and enjoy the great, snowy outdoors on your next holiday to Canada!
These are our top 10 winter wonderland experiences in the Rockies:
1. Ice canyon walks in Banff
Strap on your crampons and feel the snow crunch as you follow the metal walkways through the scenic Johnston Canyon. Snow-sprinkled rock towers on both sides of the canyon, while a partially-frozen river glitters below. At the end of the walk, the real reward is the fairy-tale frozen waterfall which sparkles with icicles and otherworldly ice sculptures.
Just outside Banff, Johnston Canyon and Grotto Canyon are easy to reach with tour groups like Discover Banff Tours.
2. Heli-tours in Kananaskis
The true scale of the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies can only be appreciated from above. Climb aboard a helicopter for a tour like nothing you’ve experienced before. A white wonderland of peaks, forests and frozen lakes spreads out beneath you as you fly. For an extra dose of adventure, choose a tour where you land on a peak and get out of the helicopter for a brief walk or snowshoe.
Helicopter tours are a favourite from Kananaskis – which sits between Calgary and Banff – through companies like Rockies Heli.
3. Snowshoeing in Jasper
Snowshoeing is a completely unique way to enjoy the powder snow. Join a tour to discover the white, silent woods of Jasper National Park. If you fancy some fun, simply start making snowballs and you’ll be entertained for hours! But if you manage to keep quiet, you’ll find the silent snowshoes are perfect for sneaking up on wildlife.
Jasper is a stunning mountain town at the end of the Icefields Parkway, and tours like Sundog offer guided snowshoeing excursions. For extra excitement, try heli-snowshoeing! Get dropped off by a chopper in pristine snow before setting out to explore.
4. Dog sledding in Kananaskis
There is no exhilaration like hurtling behind a dog-sled across the frozen landscape! Meet and greet the lovable huskies before settling into the cosy, lined sled for a ride through stunning surroundings. You can even learn how to mush the team yourself!
Kananaskis County and Canmore are great locations for a husky tour. Companies like Banff Adventures Unlimited provide everything you need for your adventure.
5. Horse-drawn sleigh rides in Lake Louise
Nothing says “winter wonderland” better than a romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride. You really will hear bells jingling as you snuggle into the blankets on the sleigh! One of the most beautiful locations for a sleigh ride is the stunning Lake Louise when it freezes over. Finish off your ride with a hot chocolate at the iconic Fairmont hotel overlooking the lake.
Brewster Adventures run the sleigh rides on Lake Louise which should be top of your winter bucket list.
6. Ice skating on Lake Louise
As Canada freezes over for winter, thousands of natural skating rinks pop up on the solid lakes. While every city has its own designated artificial rink, we think there’s nothing like skating on a natural rink in the open. You can’t beat the stunning location of Lake Louise, looking towards the Victoria Glacier. It was named as one of the “10 most beautiful ice skating rinks in the world” by CNN Travel.
You can hire your skates from inside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and enjoy the hotel’s ice sculptures, too!
7. Northern Lights tours in Jasper
The Jasper Dark Sky Preserve is one of the world’s largest, making it the perfect place to try to spot the Northern Lights. Its latitude and complete lack of night pollution create ideal dark conditions to try to spot the aurora between September and May.
For something a bit different, try a Sundogs Planetarium and Telescope excursion for a close up view of stars, nebulas and the aurora.
8. Hot springs in the snow in Banff
There is nothing like basking in a thermal hot spring while you watch the snow fall around you. The steamy mineral waters in the Banff Hot Springs bubble up naturally to an elevation of 1,585 metres, meaning you get an unbeatable view while you soak.
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is the place to go, but hotels like the Fairmont Banff Springs have their own spas too.
9. Ice fishing in Canmore
We guarantee this will be an experience unlike any other. Live like a local and give ice fishing a try, with some fantastic spots near Canmore at Spray Lake. Learn how the holes are bored and get set up to catch a lake trout!
Banff Fishing Unlimited provide fishing huts when the weather isn’t as good, or outdoor seats for those blue-sky days. Plus, they’ll cook your catch for your lunch afterwards!
10. Winter wildlife in Banff
Bears might be in hibernation during the winter but the still, quiet days bring out all sorts of other wildlife. Look out for elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep, caribou, mountain goats, lynx and wolves for a truly wild experience.
Discover Banff Tours offer guided tours to spot Canada’s incredible winter wildlife.
A little bit of everything
If you think you’re more of a beach person, then think again. A winter holiday in the Rockies offers so many diverse and unique activities that there is something for everyone, so it’s definitely worth a go. Remember, they say: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing”. And when many of these tours provide the thermals, waterproofs and hot chocolate to keep you warm and happy, there’s no excuse!
Take a look at our Canadian winter holidays to start planning.