Thinking about what to do in Banff at Christmas time?
Like I was, you’re likely curious about what to do in Banff in December and how to spend the festive season. It’s always interesting to see how someone else has enjoyed their Christmas and December in this winter wonderland.
From outdoor adventures like snowshoeing and wildlife viewing to the simple joy of a hot chocolate trail, Banff offers a range of experiences that I’ve personally explored and can’t wait to share with you.
Spending Christmas in Banff
Christmas in Banff, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, was a childhood dream come true — a magical wilderness of mountain peaks, frozen lakes, wildlife encounters, and fairytale forests.
There are so many things to do in Banff, and the National Park, covered in a blanket of snow and twinkling lights, captured our hearts and gave us memories that will stay with us forever.
A magical white Christmas in the heart of Banff National Park would have to be one of the best ways to spend Christmas. I say one of the best because Christmas in the Swiss Alps and all the amazing Christmas markets in Switzerland are definitely up there on par.
To be surrounded by majestic mountains and snow-crusted pine trees while snuggled in a cosy log cabin made for a very special white Christmas indeed.
So, let’s get straight into what to do in Banff at Christmas time.
Things to do in Banff at Christmas: OVERVIEW
- EXPLORE BANFF TOWN
- SIP YOUR WAY THROUGH THE HOT CHOCOLATE TRAIL
- TAKE A SNOWY SLEIGH RIDE THROUGH BANFF
- INDULGE IN A FABULOUS FONDUE AT THE GRIZZLY HOUSE
- VISIT THE FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
- BE ENTHRALLED BY THE ‘SEARCH OF CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
- VISIT THE BANFF CHRISTMAS MARKETS
- SOOTHE YOURSELF IN THE BANFF HOT SPRINGS
- VISIT THE LAKE OF THE SPIRITS, BANFF’S LAKE MINNEWANKA
- TAKE A BANFF WILDLIFE TOUR
- ESCAPE TO THE HOODOOS
- VISIT YAMNUSKA WOLFDOG SANCTUARY
- EXPLORE LAKE LOUISE BY HORSE AND SLEIGH
- HAVE HIGH TEA AT THE FAIRMONT CHATEAU
- HIKE TUNNEL MOUNTAIN
- SOAR THE HEIGHTS ON A BANFF GONDOLA RIDE
- HAVE FUN ICE SKATING
- SPEND CHRISTMAS IN A LOG CABIN IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
- SNOW-SHOE THROUGH THE FOREST
MAP – CHRISTMAS IN BANFF
THINGS TO DO AT CHRISTMAS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Beautiful in all seasons, but in winter, and especially at Christmas, Banff National Park transforms into a pristine, magical winter wonderland. And there are so many things to do in Banff at Christmas
In this post, I highlight the best places, experiences and sights to see both in the town of Banff and the beautiful Banff National Park at Christmas time.
For the best selection of full-day, half-day, private and unique guided tours, head over to our detailed post on Banff’s best winter tours.
Banff National Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers over 6,000 square kilometres and is home to glaciers, mountain peaks and valleys, stunning glacial-fed lakes and abundant wildlife such as wolves, buffalo, elk, moose, deer and bears.
A wonderful natural wilderness to wander and explore.
Banff National Park took second place in the ranking of the most peaceful National Parks in the world that were considered to positively impact well-being and mental health.
1. EXPLORE BANFF TOWN
Banff, within Banff National Park, is a popular resort town in winter where you’ll find many ski and winter sports enthusiasts indulging in the infectious Banff Christmas spirit.
The streets of Banff during Christmas, are lined with tempting boutiques and the tantalising smells drifting from the restaurants compete to draw you inside. Come evening, the street snow glistens reflecting the Christmas fairy lights sparkling with festive spirit and the bars come alive with the aprés-ski crowd.
We began our stay at the Fox Hotel and Suites, as it was right in town, had underground parking and a great buffet breakfast.
Wandering around the twinkling streets of this winter wonderland, you can spot deer foraging for food, which adds just that extra special little Christmassy touch.
2. SIP YOUR WAY THROUGH A FESTIVE HOT CHOCOLATE TRAIL
What better way to warm up and start your Christmas in Banff than on a Hot Chocolate Trail?
Twenty-four of the cafes and restaurants in Banff and Lake Louise offer festive-themed hot chocolate.
Why not try a Chocolate Caramel Avalanche, a Black Forest, a S’mores Explosion, or a Snowflake? The tantalising flavours, toppings and ‘cocktailish’ names are enough to entice you out for a comforting Christmas tipple — with many having warming ingredients that come with the ‘Adults Only’ label too.
2024 DATES: This year’s Hot Chocolate Trail: TBC
3. EXPERIENCE A QUINTESSENTIAL COSY SNOWY SLEIGH RIDE THROUGH THE BANFF NATIONAL PARK
This tour leaves Banff and takes you on a winter wonderland wander through the Banff National Park. You can cosy up under winter blankets and enjoy toasting marshmallows as the finale.
❄️ Book for a family of four, or choose a romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride for two
4. ENJOY A FONDUE AT THE FAMOUS GRIZZLY HOUSE FONDUE RESTAURANT
Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the famous fondue restaurant, Grizzly House, in the centre of Banff. Operating since 1967, this eclectic and rustic restaurant is renowned for its fondue and sizzling hot plates.
The menu includes meats that aren’t your everyday fares, such as caribou, elk, buffalo, alligator and rattlesnake. Enjoy a cheese fondue to start, a selection of exotic meats on a hot plate and finish off with a fruit dipped in chocolate fondue.
An indulgent meal — but that’s just what cozy winter food is all about.
5. VISIT FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
The Fairmont Banff Springs luxury hotel is nestled in the mountains overlooking the town. The original hotel was built in 1888 as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway hotel network.
The hotel gets its name because it is near the famous Cave and Basin Hot Springs, discovered in 1883 by three Canadian Pacific Railway workers at the foot of Sulphur Mountain. The discovery captured the attention of the nation and thus led to the creation of Banff National Park.
The Fairmont Springs has special Christmas at the Castle activities planned over the season, with events such as a magical Winter Wonderland area with fire pits, an ice rink, s’mores and outside dining.
The castle also hosts a Banff Food Tour — a designated Canadian Signature Experience.
Experience royal treatment on this food tour and learn about the history of one of the world’s most iconic hotels in a National Historic Site in a world UNESCO setting.
⭐️ 4.5/5 Star Reviews | ⏰ 3 hours
6. BE ENTHRALLED BY THE SEARCH OF CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
Banff & Lake Louise Tourism presents ‘Search of Christmas Spirit’, a FREE sensory extravaganza of light and sound.
The experience celebrates the incredible animals who live in Banff National Park, reflecting this land’s cherished healing and restorative powers, and tells an inspiring story of hope and unity.
2024 DATES: TBC
7. MAKE MERRY AT THE BANFF CHRISTMAS MARKETS
The Banff Christmas Market and the Banff Santa Claus Celebration of Lights are sure to be a winner.
The Christmas Market at Warner Stables is packed with about 100 artisanal stalls selling jewellery, art, clothing, decor, food and drinks. You’ll also find Santa’s house and reindeer stables here, with live music and an outdoor fire pit.
You must pre-buy your tickets for $15.75; children under 10 are free.
The Banff Christmas Markets 2024 opening times are:
If you are in Banff in mid-November, you won’t be able to miss the Banff Santa Claus Celebration of Lights. Held on a date TBC in 2024, it’s a day of festive fun for all the family.
8. REJUVENATE IN BANFF HOT SPRINGS
You can also take a trip to the rejuvenating Banff Hot Springs, Upper Hot Springs, especially if you have been skiing on the many slopes in the area — something to soothe the aching muscles.
The spring is operated on a first-come, first-served policy, and you can make a reservation.
Banff Springs is open from Friday to Tuesday (Closed Wed/Thursday).
Check the Banff Hot Springs website for opening times.
9. VISIT LAKE MINNEWANKA, BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Five kilometres from Banff is Lake Minnewanka, a large, glacial lake where the stark mountains stand like sentinels guarding this precious resource. The indigenous people called it Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits), and early European settlers later named it Devil’s Lake.
It now conceals a ghost town, deep in its depths – a hidden, buried village that only scuba divers get to visit.
With the lake frozen in winter, an eerie stillness wraps around you.
We crunched our way over ice and snow to the very edge of the frozen lake.
With the cold nipping fiercely at our exposed skin, we looked out across the vast expanse of mystical Lake Minnewanke. The immense beauty of this austere Banff winter landscape will take your breath away.
Standing on its shores, knowing that for hundreds of centuries, people have stood here before you, is very humbling.
10. TAKE A BANFF WILDLIFE TOUR
Banff has an abundance of wildlife, including mule deer, elk, moose, white-tailed deer, coyotes, wolves, big-horn sheep and bears.
You will see some of the deer in the streets of Banff, but to search for more of its wildlife, we’d recommend taking a tour around the area.
🦌 We thoroughly enjoyed the Banff Wildlife Tour we took, which included the main landmarks around Banff and an interesting commentary about the wildlife and their habits | ⭐️ 4.6/5 star reviews| ⏰ 3 hours | Book tour here
If you are interested in wildlife, we’d also recommend visiting the Banff Park Museum in the town. It is a National Historic site and is the oldest natural history museum in Western Canada.
11. VISIT BANFF HOODOOS – CHIMINÉES DE FÉES
Christmas in Banff can be a little hectic, but an escape awaits you close by. The Hoodoos. A fascinating name for these pillars of rock formed from years of erosion. What really sets them apart is the spectacular scenery around them.
With the snow-covered Mount Rundle as the backdrop and the swirly Bow River below, this winter scene is pretty much picture-perfect.
12. VISIT YAMNUSKA WOLFDOG SANCTUARY
About an hour’s drive east of Banff, you’ll find the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Winter is one of the best times to visit, when the wolves are at their most active, enjoying the cold, snowy conditions.
We decided to do the interactive tour, which cost about $54 each and required prior booking. It was well worth it, though, as you can get up close and personal with the wolfdogs and even hand-feed them. Being so close to these amazing animals was a privilege and an absolute wonder
🐾 Book to Visit the Wolves or find out more info here | ⭐️ 5/5 Star Reviews
“Excellent, meaningful, and fun with dedicated staff. I would go again! “
— US Visitor- Sept 2022
13. EXPLORE LAKE LOUISE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Within Banff National Park, about a 40-minute drive from the town of Banff, you arrive at the fairytale village of Lake Louise. Here, you’ll find the luxury mountain resort Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
However, the main attraction must be Lake Louise itself, a bewilderingly beautiful glacial Lake.
Its summer splendour is often seen adorning magazines and Instagram, but its winter wonder is just as captivating.
It’s free to ice skate on the lake, and what better way to remember your Christmas in Banff than by grabbing a ride with a horse and sleigh?
14. INDULGE IN A CHRISTMAS HIGH TEA AT FAIRMONT CHATEAU – LAKE LOUISE
If a winter stay at the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Hotel doesn’t fit into your budget, why not treat yourself to a decadent high tea? We did, and it was truly delicious. A perfect afternoon Christmas treat.
Make sure to pre-book. Lake Louise tourism, in general, is busy, but around Christmas, it is a super popular spot.
Reserve an afternoon high tea here.
We could see Lake Louise through the window, and as we devoured these delicacies, we watched a winter wedding down by the lake.
The bride must have been freezing as she had a short-sleeve wedding dress. Guests were sat with blankets in this unforgettable setting, but I imagine they were pretty chilly — I think it was about minus 15 degrees C!
15. HIKE TUNNEL MOUNTAIN, BANFF
View from Tunnel Mountain, Banff
Tunnel Mountain, one of Banff’s most popular mountains, is amidst the majestic Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park.
The hike up the mountain is an easy 4.3-kilometre round trip, starting from downtown Banff. The trail takes you through pine and fir trees and rewards you with amazing views across Mount Rundle.
Keep your eyes out for wildlife; we were lucky to spot several deer on our hike.
💡Readers Tips: You can get more information about this hike and other popular Banff hikes at Parks Canada, where you can also download the Winter trails map. It will also be useful to download the Alltrails App and remember to check for the trail conditions and any closures before setting out. closures
16. TAKE A BANFF GONDOLA TRIP
Banff has its own gondola ride that takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain. From here, you have an incredible view back down to the town and across the mountain ranges.
Stroll along the ridge-top boardwalk and take in the spectacular, breathtaking vista. It can get pretty cold up there, so wrap up warm.
It was so chilly that both of our iPhones shut down just after this photo. You can understand why — it was minus 25 degrees C.
Discover the Height of Winter Fun at the Banff Gondola
Join the holiday festivities at Sulphur Mountain’s Mountaintop Christmas.
Key highlights include:
- Santa Claus Photos: Available on Saturdays and Sundays with dates and times TBC.
- Christmas Crafts and Holiday Films: Engage in crafts and watch movies during the same dates and times as Santa visits.
- Kids Go Free: Each morning before noon, kids are admitted free with a paying adult.
- Festive Dining: Enjoy special meals at Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen and Sky Bistro, including a New Year’s Eve dinner.
For more information, visit Mountaintop Christmas at Banff Gondola.
Banff Gondola Lightshow: Experience the Magic of Nightrise on Sulphur Mountain
If you’re looking for something truly unique in Banff this Christmas season, don’t miss Nightrise on Sulphur Mountain.
This immersive event transforms the mountain’s summit into a digital art wonderland. Created in collaboration with the Stoney Nakoda Nation and presented by Banff Gondola, Nightrise offers a blend of vibrant lighting, multimedia effects, and original soundscapes.
As you ascend over 2,000 feet in a gondola filled with music and narration, you’ll be introduced to the Four Wonders—Cosmic Rays, Diamond Dust, Alpenglow, and Frosted Waves. These are interactive stations that invite you to engage with light, sound, and projections in a whole new way.
It’s not just about the view; it’s about experiencing the mountain in a way that honours its sacred history and natural beauty.
💡Tip: This is a perfect evening activity to add a touch of magic and wonder to your Banff Christmas itinerary. It’s also a great way to connect with the mountain and its cultural significance.
The new “Nightrise” experience is included with your gondola ticket from November 18, 2023, to March 30, 2024.
17. HAVE FUN ICE SKATING
There are several options for ice skating, and most are free. The great thing is that you don’t have to go all the way to Lake Louise to experience the slip-sliding fun.
There are a few options in Banff:
- Bear Street Ice rink
- Banff High School Rink
- Fenlands Recreational Centre (inside)
You can easily hire skates in the town.
18. SPEND CHRISTMAS IN A BANFF NATIONAL PARK LOG CABIN
We planned the perfect romantic retreat for Christmas Eve. A snow-covered log cabin in the middle of the forest. You can’t get much more enchanting than that.
We chose Storm Mountain Lodge, halfway between Banff and Lake Louise, and it was delightful. We snuggled down in our cozy log cabin with a crackling fire and hot mulled wine.
Below the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, in the pristine wilderness of Banff National Park, surrounded by glistening snow and hundreds of white-tipped pine trees — We were in paradise.
19. SNOWSHOE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
We woke on Christmas morning to find that Santa had brought clear blue skies and sunshine to Banff National Park. The perfect day to have a snowshoe trip through the forest.
The lodge provides free snowshoes, and a return trail takes you through the forest.
Afterwards, we settled ourselves in front of the roaring fire in the restaurant lobby to warm up, followed by a sumptuous Christmas dinner. We might have had a couple of hot toddies, too… it was Christmas, after all.
The perfect end to a wondrous winter trip in Banff National Park.
Our Christmas in Banff National Park, with its incredible nature and wildlife, had us thinking about a return to explore the area in the summer sometime in the future.
OTHER BANFF WINTER ACTIVITIES
Other activities, including day trips and tours that you might like to include on your visit to Banff National Park:
Banff For Photographers
A National Geographic award-winning photographer takes this winter photography tour to capture Abraham Lake’s phenomenal ice bubbles and other iconic landmarks.| ⭐️ 5/5 star reviews| ⏰ 12 hours | Find Price here
Banff For Hikers
Enjoy the Johnstone Canyon Ice walk with a professional guide, visit the beautiful lower and upper waterfalls, and learn how the canyon was formed. The excursion includes round-trip transport, ice cleats, a hiking pole, a light snack, and hot chocolate. There is also a nighttime ice walk available | ⭐️ 5/5 star reviews| ⏰ 4 hours | Find Price
Banff For Stargazers
Try this Banff Sunsets and Stars Evening Walking Tour — watch a stunning mountain sunset, and then the stars appear while experiencing nature at remote trail locations. | ⭐️ 5/5 star reviews| ⏰ 2 hours | Find Price
Athabasca Glacier, Rocky Mountain peaks, Glaciers, Waterfalls, and Emerald Lakes.
More Banff Winter Tours
⭐️ Search for more activities available in and around Banff here ⭐️
GOOD TO KNOW FOR CHRISTMAS IN BANFF 2024
Banff National Park Pass
When you enter a National Park in Canada, you need a Park Pass. The Banff National Park Pass can be bought online, at the park gates if driving to Banff National Park, or in person at the Visitor Centres in Banff and Lake Louise.
Driving in Banff in Winter
You need to be prepared for driving in Driving in Banff during the winter months.
After using Discover Cars to find the best deal, we picked up our hire car from Calgary Airport. Make sure you have winter or snow tyres on the hire car to navigate the snow and possible black ice conditions.
💡Tip: Winter tyres are mandatory on many mountain roads from November 1 to March 31. Look for the snowflake or “M+S” symbol for winter and snow tyres
The roads were generally well-maintained and gritted, especially the highway to Banff and Lake Louise, but we still saw a couple of cars that had slid off the road and were stuck in the side gullies.
Always keep an eye on road conditions and use common sense when deciding to venture out. You can check road conditions at 511 Alberta.
🚍 Reader Tip: f you don’t want to drive, you can order the Banff to Calgary Shuttle, which costs around $170
Mobile Phone Coverage
Mobile phone coverage is unreliable in many areas of Banff National Park. Before heading out hiking, let someone know your plans, including your route, trailhead, vehicle description, when you are leaving and when you expect to return.
How Cold is Banff in December?
If you’re heading to Alberta for a Banff Christmas, you’ll want to know how cold it is in Banff in December.
- Average High Temperature: -5°C
- Average Low Temperature: -14°C
These temperatures mean you’ll definitely want to pack your warmest winter gear. But don’t let the cold deter you. The snowy landscape adds a magical touch to all the activities and events Banff has to offer during the Christmas season.
💡Tip: Layering is key. Make sure to pack thermal underwear, a good quality winter coat, thermal insulated boots and accessories like gloves and a hat to keep warm while exploring.
Where To Stay in Banff
Banff is a small town with many of its hotels on the main road leading into town. We stayed at the Fox Hotel, which was only about a 5-minute walk to the centre of town.
Looking for hotels in Banff? Check out these options in the town below:
- Fox Hotel and Suites: The hotel had free underground parking, and the rooms have a flat-screen TV, free wifi and coffee-making facilities.
It also has a restaurant on-site and a cave-inspired hot pool
🥞 Breakfast included | ⭐️ Guest reviews 8/10 | Book here
- High Country Inn: Has an indoor pool, a dry cedar sauna and a hot tub. Rooms have free Wi-Fi and mountain views. A fridge and tea and coffee-making facilities are included in each room.
⭐️ Guest reviews 8.6/10 | Check availability and price here
If you are in Banff for Christmas, then consider a stay in Storm Mountain Lodges – we arrived on Christmas Eve and had a magical Christmas Dinner in the restaurant the next day. It was the perfect romantic Christmas.
Or, if you are looking for Cabins in the National Park:
- Storm Mountain Lodge: We stayed here, and it was fabulous. 20 miles from Banff Centre | Has a restaurant, room service and free parking |Many cabins have patios.
⭐️ Guest reviews 8/10 | Book here
- Castle Mountain Chalets: 20 miles from Banff centre| Each chalet wooden chalet comes with a sofa, a flat-screen TV, cable channels, a well-fitted kitchen with a dining area, and a private bathroom with free toiletries.
⭐️ Guest reviews 8.6/10 | Find Deal Here
- Baker Creek by Base Camp: Spacious chalets offer living areas with a fireplace. Full kitchenettes are provided in each log cabin design. The resort provides a fitness centre, steam room and sauna during winter.
⭐️ Guest reviews 8.8/10 | Find Price and availability here
What to do in Banff at Christmas … That’s a Wrap
As you can see, there’s no shortage of things to make your Banff Christmas 2024 unforgettable. Hot chocolate trails, magical light trails, and romantic snowy lodges are just the tip of the iceberg. Add in wildlife viewing and snowshoeing through sensational scenery, and you’ve got a holiday that’s hard to beat.
From the heartwarming Christmas Markets to sipping hot chocolate by log fires, Banff is a festive feast for the senses at Christmas time. Don’t forget to explore the unique Banff Christmas events and Banff Christmas activities that add that extra sprinkle of magic to the season.
So, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned visitor, Banff offers a Christmas experience that’s as unique as it is magical.
Your winter wonderland awaits.
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