Best Winter Hikes in Banff

Frozen Beauty: Uncovering the Best Winter Hikes in Banff

Welcome to the heart of the Canadian Rockies, where Banff National Park transforms into a winter wonderland, offering some of the most picturesque hiking trails in the world. In this post, we’ll delve into the best winter hikes in Banff, showcasing trails that promise both adventure and awe-inspiring beauty.

Hiking in the winter is one of my favorite things to do in the colder months. Some people don’t want to venture outside when it’s cold and snowy, but it can be some of the best winter exercise and connections with nature you will find.

Whether you are thinking of starting hiking in the winter or you are more experienced, below you will find some of the best winter hikes in Banff.

Disclaimer: This post may include affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Getting to Banff

If you are traveling to Banff for the day from Calgary, be prepared for at least a 90 minute drive through the mountains to get to the park, and maybe a bit further, depending which trail you are choosing to do.

Some people make a weekend out of a visit to the mountains. There are many places to stay in Banff; or you can stay in Canmore, a short 20 minute drive from Banff. If you decide to add an additional day in Banff or day in Canmore, you can spend a fun-filled time enjoying the outdoors. 

All of the hikes below are dog-friendly, as long as they are on leash. Respect the land and the wildlife and keep everyone safe.

Park Fees

The below hikes are all located within Banff National Park, which means you will have to purchase a park pass. The cost is $11 per person or maximum of $22 per vehicle. To avoid the lines, purchase your pass in advance online.

Best Winter Hikes in Banff

Johnston Canyon

Take a 30 minute drive from the town of Banff on Highway the Bow Valley Parkway (1A), to the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, which is an iconic Banff experience. Some people think that the Maligne Canyon hike in Jasper National Park is comparable, however it is special in its own way. During winter, the waterfalls within the canyon freeze into spectacular ice pillars. This hike has well-maintained trails and steel catwalks built into the canyon walls. This was one of the best winter hikes in Banff that I have done.

There are three different hikes you could do here, depending on how far you want to go, that I have broken down below.

Johnston Canyon Trail Sign

Johnston Canyon to Lower Falls

| Distance: 2.3 kms (1.4 miles) | Difficulty: Easy – Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back Route | Elevation: 143 metres (469 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

The highlight is the massive frozen waterfall at the Lower Falls. When you get to the lower falls, you can see the falls there. But if you veer off the trail on the path, you have to go through the little ‘cave’ to see the falls on the other side.

Cave to Lower Falls

 There is a good chance there may be a line to go through the cave, but I promise it is worth it!

Once you’ve checked out the falls, this is when you can decide if you want to turn and head back or keep going to the Upper Falls.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls

| Distance: 5.5 kms (3.4 miles) | Difficulty: Easy – Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back Route | Elevation: 274 metres (900 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

Most people will continue to the Upper Falls after stopping at the Lower Falls. Continue along the trail and watch your step. The trails may be icy but they are mostly steel grates that you walk on and there are railings.

Enjoy the views as you take the trail.The iced up waterfalls and scenery are a beautiful site to see from the lookout. You are once again at a point to decide if you want to keep going to the Ink Pots or turn back.

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots

| Distance: 11.3 kms (7.0 miles) | Difficulty: Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back Route | Elevation: 579 metres (1900 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

If you decide to continue to the Ink Pots from the Upper Falls, you will travel for an additional hour until you reach the Ink Pots. Your elevation gain will be an additional 300 metres (984 feet).

At this point you will find that the number of hikers/tourists will thin out considerably and your hike will become a bit quieter. The trail is usually packed down, but can be slippery. Microspikes / crampons are definitely recommended.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots

Tunnel Mountain

For a hike that combines ease of access with rewarding views, Tunnel Mountain is your go-to. This short hike leads you to the summit, offering an expansive view of Banff and its stunning mountainous surroundings. It’s a great option if you’re staying in Banff town and want to experience the Rockies without venturing too far.

There are two ways to access the trail that takes you to the top. One is by starting on the Tunnel Mountain Hoodoos trail by the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The second trail is via the Tunnel Mountain Summit Trail. That is the trail that we took.

Tunnel Mountain Sign

| Distance: 4.3 kms (2.67 miles) | Difficulty: Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back Route | Elevation: 262 metres (860 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

Make sure you access the trail from the parking lot on St. Julien Road. You start the trail on an incline right away. As you work your way up the mountain, there are many lookouts you will come across until you reach the end of the trail at the top. Enjoy the views along the way and the iconic red chairs.

Best Winter Hikes in Banff - Tunnel Mountain

Sulphur Mountain

Located a short 8 minute drive from the town of Banff, the trail winds through lush forests, leading you to the summit where the iconic Banff Gondola station is located. As you ascend, the pristine wilderness unfolds around you. This hike is not for the faint of heart. It is considered challenging, so be prepared if you decide to take on this mountain!

Sulphur Mountain under Gondola

| Distance: 10.8 kms (6.7 miles) | Difficulty: Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back Route | Elevation: 755 metres (2477 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

Estimated Time: 4.5 hours * depending how long it takes you to get to the top*

Once at the top, a rewarding vista awaits, showcasing the stunning Bow Valley and the town of Banff below. You have the opportunity to enjoy 360 degree views, relax and even have a meal. Whether you choose to hike the well-maintained trail or take the gondola, Sulphur Mountain promises an unforgettable experience in one of Canada’s most picturesque mountain landscapes.

Sulphur Mountain - view from the top

You have the option to take the gondola back down if you do not want to do the hike back down. Check to make sure that the gondola is running (this happened to my friends. It wasn’t running so they had to hike back down). A one-way trip down on the Banff Gondola is available for half the regular price of admission. Also, if you want to take the Gondola up and hike down, then you must purchase a full price ticket. 

NOTE: If you are bringing your dog on this hike, unfortunately (or fortunately) your only option is to hike down as dogs are not allowed on the Gondola.

Johnson Lake

Take a short 15 minute drive across Highway 1, past Lake Minnewanka to Johnson Lake for a serene escape into the Rockies. Snow-capped peaks surround the lake, providing a stunning backdrop for your adventure. 

| Distance: 2.9 kms (1.8 miles) | Difficulty: Easy | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Loop Route | Elevation: 54 metres (177 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

This easy hike around the lake The tranquility of the winter landscape and the chance to spot wildlife tracks in the snow make Johnson Lake an ideal destination for those seeking a peaceful and picturesque easy winter hike in Banff National Park.

Johnson Lake

Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail

If you are up to venture out of Banff, then head 45 minutes west to Lake Louise. The lake is a frozen magical lake to be around. 

| Distance: 4.5 kms (2.8 miles) | Difficulty: Easy | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Loop Route | Elevation: 37 metres (121 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

The Lakeshore Trail offers a gentle hike along the frozen lake, with the Victoria Glacier and surrounding mountains providing a breathtaking backdrop making for a leisurely hike.

Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail

Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Viewpoint

If you are up for a further drive, then take the hour drive up Highway 93 on the Icefields Parkway to Peyto Lake. Though you won’t see the stunning blue waters of the lake, winter definitely offers a different experience. 

| Distance: 6.8 kms (4.22 miles) | Difficulty: Easy – Moderate | Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash |
| Out & Back | Elevation: 287 metres (941 feet) | Washrooms: Yes |

The hike to the Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Viewpoint is a bit more challenging in winter, but the snowy landscape and the peacefulness of the area are well worth the effort. If you do not want to venture all the way to the Summit, you can spend half an hour hiking to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint only (1.3km, 70 metres elevation).

Bow Summit & Peyto Lake Viewpoint

Before embarking on your winter hikes in Banff, it’s crucial to be prepared. Ensure you have the right gear, including hiking bootsmicrospikes or crampons (a must on all these trails) and hiking poles for extra stability. Always check the weather forecast and trail conditions beforehand and enjoy your time in nature.

Download your free winter hiking checklist here:

Banff National Park’s transformation in winter opens up a whole new world of hiking experiences. From serene walks by frozen lakes to awe-inspiring mountain views, the best winter hikes in Banff offer something for every type of hiker. So, bundle up, prepare well, and set out to explore the snowy trails around Banff.

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5 Comments

  1. Hearing about the Banff National Park for the very first time. Sounds like an awesome place to visit. Enjoyed reading about it!

  2. Banff National Park is a dream of mine, so thank you so much for this comprehensive guide that made me want to go even more!

  3. What a wonderful post. The world is full of great places to hike, and the winter often means less crowds. Another place to visit.

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