If there’s one thing we have a lot of here in Banff, it’s winter. We start to see snow in October (well, anytime of year really), and it lasts well into the spring time. If you want to find snow in the middle of July, it’s definitely possible. For those who love to hike, summertime is full of options to explore. However, hiking definitely becomes more of a challenge in the winter due to the snow and avalanche risk. If you’re looking to stretch those hiking legs mid-winter it’s definitely possible, you just need to know where to go to stay safe. So, here is a list of winter-friendly hikes to check out next time you’re in the Bow Valley!
Distance: 5.5km (one way)
Elevation Gain: 655m
Trailhead: Upper Hot Springs Parking Lot
Disclaimer: The Upper Hot Springs are currently closed due to COVID-19.
Known for the gondola that goes right up the mountain, hikers might enjoy using their own two feet to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain instead. This trail goes from the upper hot springs all the way to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The views from the top are incredible and truly show off the beauty of Banff. Best part? Get a meal or a hot drink at the top before heading back down!
Distance: 2.4km (one way)
Elevation Gain: 260m
Trailhead: Lower Parking Lot on St. Julien Road
A Banff classic, Tunnel Mountain is a winter favourite among the locals too. This trail will give you great views over the town and also offers views over the other side of the valley as well, looking out over the famous Fairmont golf course. This trail is packed down throughout the winter season due to its high-use, but the compact snow can get slippery at times. Spikes are recommended!
Distance: 2.5km (one way, to upper falls)
Elevation Gain: 120m
Trailhead: Johnston Canyon Day Use
Disclaimer: The section of the 1A east of Castle Junction is currently closed. It is possible to park at Castle Junction and walk (or fat bike!) to Johnston Canyon, however this will add 6.4km each way to your trip.
If you want to see frozen waterfalls, this is the hike for you. Hiking up through Johnston Canyon to the Upper Falls gives you magical views of the falls and you’ll probably see ice climbers too! This trail is also packed down in the winter months, so don’t forget to bring your spikes on this hike too. This busy summer trail has a different magic in the winter months that shouldn’t be missed.
Distance: 4.8km (one way)
Elevation Gain: 115m
Trailhead: Surprise Corner
Hoodoos? What are those? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself by exploring this trail. Starting from Surprise Corner (don’t miss the views of the Fairmont Banff Springs), this trail takes you down below Tunnel Mountain and back up to the Hoodoos viewpoint. Take in the gorgeous views of Mount Rundle and learn for yourself what exactly Hoodoos are.
Montane Traverse Trail
Distance: up to 10km (out and back)
Elevation Gain: up to 300m
Trailhead: Cougar Creek
If you’re visiting Banff you should spend a day exploring Canmore too. This trail, located just 20 minutes down the highway in Canmore, is a beautiful, rolling trail with views all the way down the Bow Valley. This trail goes all the way from Canmore to Harvie Heights so you can explore as far down the trail as you’d like. Make it quick few kilometres or head out for a longer day. At the end of the day, make sure you stop by Fergie’s Bakery located just minutes from the trailhead. They have the best apple fritters you might just ever have.
Lake Louise Lakeshore
Distance: 2km (one way)
Elevation Gain: minimal
Trailhead: Lake Louise
If it’s rest day from the ski hills, this walk along the Lake Louise Lakeshore is an easy way to stretch your legs without committing to a long hike. This trail goes all the way from the Lake Louise Parking lot to the back of the lake. However, 2km down the trail you enter avalanche terrain so make sure to watch for signs and don’t hike past this point. This walk takes you along the side of the world-famous Lake Louise. You’ll see ice climbers on Louise Falls and views of Mount Victoria and the surrounding peaks. If it’s a beautiful day, consider strapping on some skates at the end of your walk and going for a skate out on the lake.
Distance: up to 16km (roundtrip)
Elevation gain: up to 300m
Trailhead: Lake Minnewanka Day Use
Just outside of the Banff townsite is Lake Minnewanka. It is a large, glacial lake that stretches for 21km in length. It’s also a great spot to check out at night for a chance to see the Northern Lights. From the Day Use Parking, follow the trail along the lake following signs for Almyer Lookout. You won’t be heading up the lookout, but follow along this trail as it winds besides the lake for some of the most beautiful winter views. If you’re quiet and listen carefully, you can even hear the ice moving and expanding.
Hiking may be different in the winter, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Exploring these trails in the winter is a completely different experience then in the summer. Trails are quieter, the snow makes everything sparkle and it truly is a magical, Rockies experience. Before heading out on winter trails, make sure to do your research. When in doubt, go visit the kind staff at the Parks Canada Visitor Centre in town. They will be happy to share their knowledge with you and point you in the direction of winter friendly trails. Now it’s time to grab your puffy coat, toasty mittens, and don’t forget the sunscreen! It’s time to experience the magic that is winter here in Banff National Park.