Located in the province of Alberta, just one and a half hours from Calgary International Airport, Banff National Park is smack bang in the middle of the Canadian Rockies and is surrounded by some of the world’s most awe-inspiring scenery. All year round you can enjoy a huge range of epic adventures in unspoiled wilderness.
So while you might have enjoyed an ice hockey game (or two) and attempted their, quite frankly, hilarious accent after a few bevvies, the best way to really do this part of the world is to get outside (and out of your comfort zone). Here are five wilderness experiences in Banff National Park that you’ll never forget.
1. Ski the Big Three
Not mentioning skiing in a story about Banff and Lake Louise is akin to neglecting vegemite on your toast. Unimaginable. Unconscionable. Indefensible. So of course, we’ll make our number one suggestion. Banff and Lake Louise are home to three mountain resorts – Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay. Combined, these spots boast nearly 8,000 acres and over nine metres of some of the best powder in the world, plus views that will blow your thermal socks off. If carving up the slopes isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to get acquainted with the cold stuff, why not try tubing and tobogganing down the slopes instead? Mt. Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort have specific, groomed lanes that’ll help you get some speed while staying somewhat horizontal. And while it’s a bit more luxurious than adventurous, we have to suggest a post-ski soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
2. Hike through Johnston Canyon
FYI – hiking isn’t solely a summer activity in this part of the world. Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular (and picturesque) attractions in Banff National Park and witnessing it in winter is a bucket list essential. When the temps drop, the thundering falls that usually flow through the iconic canyon are frozen solid, creating breathtaking natural ice sculptures that tower 30 metres overhead. As you follow the snow-covered network of steel catwalks built into the canyon walls, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia. While you can take on the trek sans guide, a certified Canadian Signature Experience tour will cover your gear (ice cleats and hiking poles are essential) plus provide a wealth of local knowledge about the incredible area. Oh, plus a cheeky hot chocolate at the end to thaw out chilly limbs.
3. Dash through the snow on dog sleds
Flying through the snowy slopes behind a pack of huskies has got to be one of the most unforgettable ways to explore the Canadian Rockies wilderness. Dog sledding is a quintessentially Canadian activity and a must-do for all intrepid travellers. Snowy Owl offers tours ranging between two hours and two days in duration, in which you’ll learn how to safely guide a team of “powder hounds” before they lead you through some of Canada’s most jaw-dropping landscapes. You’ll also get time to fill your camera roll with selfies featuring your fluffy new friends as you chill by a campfire post-sled. Snowy Owl is obsessive about the humane treatment of their “hero huskies” so you can be rest assured that your four-legged form of transportation is 100 percent happy and healthy.
4. Ice skate on Lake Louise
As soon as Lake Louise has frozen solid, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise turns it into the world’s best ice-skating rink. Gliding across the ice against the breathtaking backdrop of Victoria Glacier, it truly feels like something out of a Disney movie. Plus, the rink is open well into the evening so you can skate under a dazzling night sky. Skates can be hired from the Fairmont hotel and fire pits are set up alongside the ice so you can warm up. While skating is available from December to March, the best time to go is during the Ice Magic Festival in January. It features ice castles, ice bars, and ice sculptures – i.e. stunning Instagram material.
5. See the scenery from Sulphur Mountain summit
If all of these other adventures sound a little too arduous but you still want to see some incredible scenery, then rug up and book a ride on the Banff Gondola. Once you zip up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, you’ll have 360-degree views of six magnificent mountain ranges and the Bow Valley below you. One of the best times to go is at dusk so you can watch the sun set over the Rockies before sitting down to dinner at one of the summit’s two delish restaurants.