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9 Exciting Experiences You Must Do This Winter in Banff and Lake Louise

by | Feb 10, 2022

Banff and Lake Louise are in the heart of the picturesque Canadian Rocky Mountains, where Banff National Park provides a picture-perfect backdrop that makes every winter holiday experience unforgettable. The national park is one of the most picturesque locations on earth, located in Alberta, Canada, just a short drive west of Calgary.

A bridge over a frozen pond on a clear, blue winter day in Banff, Alberta.

In Banff and Lake Louise, nature is on its best display during the Canadian winter months. You’ll be surrounded by the rugged, snow-capped peaks, frozen lakes, silent forests blanketed in snow, and find an abundance of wildlife. At every turn, and on every outing, you will discover beautiful scenery, and plenty of Instagram-worthy moments that will have your followers memorized. 

A man taking a selfie on a winter day, while standing on a bridge crossing the Bow River in Banff, Alberta.

Let’s be perfectly queer – Banff and Lake Louise are LGBTQ+ friendly destinations. Know that when you visit, you will be welcomed with open arms. From gay-friendly accommodations like The Moose Hotel and Suites, to the annual Banff Pride, this is a year-round destination that you can safely be out and proud. 

A man standing on Banff Avenue in Banff, Alberta, on a winter day.
Photo credit: Javier Frutos, Canadian Geographic

Banff is full of hidden gems and iconic Canadian activities that allow you to experience get outside and enjoy the magic of winter. HomoCulture has put together these nine experiences that you can only find and do in Banff National Park this winter, so your trip will be one for the history books.

A winter landscape in Banff, Alberta.

1.   Ice Skating at Lake Louise

Skating on a natural, frozen lake is a truly magical experience. Visitors can skate on Lake Louise, surrounded by the snow-capped, jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, with the historic Chateau Lake Louise in the background. Learn to skate, pick up a game of shiny, or show off your double-lutz. 

Ice skating on Lake Louise is free. You can bring your skates or rent ice skates from Chateau Ski & Snow, located in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.Remember to bring your scarf, toque, and mittens!

Ice skating on Lake Louise.

2.   Snowshoeing in Banff National Park

If you love hiking and the great outdoors, you need try snowshoeing in the winter. It’s an excellent way to trek through the snow-covered mountains, enjoy the quiet forests and discover natural wonders of winter. 

Great Divide Nature Interpretation offers guided snowshoeing trips in Banff National Park. Designed for both beginner and experienced snowshoers, professional guide Joel Hagen crafts immersive experiences in nature that are memorable, fun, and rich with storytelling and knowledge. You will be enriched with knowledge, awakened with fresh mountain air, and energized after a fun workout. 

Snowshoeing with Great Divide Nature Interpretation in Lake Louise, Alberta.

3.   Cross country skiing

From the moment you arrive in Banff, you’ll want to get out and explore. And what better way to do that than by hitting the trails. Get lessons from Bikescape to learn the basics of what you need to know about cross country skiing in under an hour.

Cross country ski lessons with Bikescape in Banff, Alberta.

If you’ve never tried it, it may seem a little intimidating, but cross-country skiing is incredibly fun and safe. Even if you don’t have any experience with winter sports, the experienced guides at Bikescape will make sure that you’re prepared for a day on the classic track-set trails. You’ll also be treated to a unique perspective of the beautiful Canadian Rockies as you peacefully glide along the undulating hills on skis.

A sunny, winter's day view of the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

4.   Nightrise at Banff Gondola 

The gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain is one of the most breath-taking experiences in Banff. The view from the summit includes the Bow Valley, six stunning mountain ranges, the town of Banff, and the Bow Valley below.

The town of Banff, at night, on the ride up the Banff gondola.

At night, during the winter months, it’s even more magical. The Gondola carries passengers up above the valley where you can see the stars sparkle and Banff lit up. 

A night view from the top of the Banff Gondola.

Start with a walk along the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk to learn more about Canada’s first national park, explore the interpretive center, and then enjoy dinner at the mountain-top restaurant, Sky Bistro

A night view of the Sky Bistro at the top of Banff Mountain.

Sulphur Mountain has long inspired wonder, adventure, and absolute awe in visitors. This winter, the Banff Gondola is offering a whole new way to experience the summit after sunset with Nightrise. Nightrise transforms Sulphur Mountain into an immersive, interactive experience after dark through dynamic lights, projections, original soundscapes and more.

At the end of your night, head back down the Banff Gondola, with night view of Banff, while listening to a narrated story, in the dark, set to ambiance lighting in the gondola car. 

5.   Rejuvenate Your Mind, Body, and Soul with Forest Bathing

Forest bathing is the Japanese practice of taking in the medicine of the forest through your senses. A forest bathing experience will help you slow down and tune you’re your senses, recalibrating your body and mind back to a state of calm and ease. Research shows that time spent in forests and nature will help you to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and provide a feeling of wellness and joy. 

Snow covered trees in Banff, Alberta.

Join Forest Fix for a revitalizing, peaceful journey through the forest that will allow you to appreciate your surroundings through all five senses. This experience will enable you to indulge in a mindful connection with nature, which can help rejuvenate your body and mind.

Snow on a pine tree branch.

6.   Take a Medicine Walk Along the Mahikan Trails with a Local First Nations Guide

Mahikan Trails is an Indigenous company offering one-on-one and small group walks in Banff National Park. You will learn about the medicinal uses of local flora and fauna, and traditional perspectives of Canada’s natural environment from an Indigenous guide. The guided tour also includes a demonstration of traditional activities like flint knapping while you enjoy sipping hot, brush tea.

A guided tour along the Mahican Trails in Banff National Park.

It is a guided experience where you can connect with nature, enjoy the snowy landscape of the national park, and understand the important history of the First Nations people in the region.

Snow covered trees and Banff Mountain in Banff National Park.

7.   Explore the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and Hot Springs

Cave and Basin has been a special place for Indigenous peoples since prehistoric times. The healing powers of the natural hot springs have attracted people for thousands of years. The hot springs were originally sacred ceremonial site for First Nations peoples, who would come to the area to harvest local medicinal plants.

The national hot springs at Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff National Park.

In 1883, three railway workers stumbled upon the thermal springs, sparking a series of events that led to the creation of Canada’s first national park. Today, the site is a gathering place for sharing stories about conservation and the connection between people and the land in Parks Canada administered places. Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and learn about the natural and cultural history of the mountains. Discover the hot water that seeps from the rocks, smell the minerals, and explore the trails.

The national hot springs at Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff National Park.

8.   Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs

During the late 19th century craze for the ‘water cure; commercial operations were established, and people flocked to Banff to ‘take the waters’ and enjoy the soothing and reputedly healing properties of the mineral-rich springs. The natural hot springs were given to settlers as early as 1885, and residents began to build on top of them when it was discovered that the water’s high mineral content was suitable for skin and hair. Visitors today can enjoy the same experience with crystal-clear water heated to just below boiling point. 

Located in the Banff National Park, the Upper Hot Springs still retain their original charm. The Upper Hot Springs are open to the public and are a great way to relax after a long day of exploring Banff National Park, especially during the winter months on days when the snow is falling.

9.   Banff Park Museum

This museum is for more than just history buffs. It’s an incredible, historical experience. Built in 1903, the Banff Park Museum is the oldest surviving federal building in Canada’s national park system. The building is incredible – a stately masterpiece with beautiful architectural design features. 

Banff Park Museum in Banff, Alberta.

Operated by Parks Canada, the Victorian-era “University of the Hills” natural history museum is home to over 5,000 species of plants, animals, and minerals that have been collected throughout its history. The museum offers an educational experience like no other where you’ll learn about the Rocky Mountains diverse wildlife and natural history.

Animal specimens on display in the Banff Park Museum.

Queer Friendly Banff and Lake Louise 

All the activities in Banff and Lake Louise highlighted here understand the sensitivities of queer travel and will make you feel safe and comfortable. Tour guides are professional, warm, and friendly, and are excited to show you the wonderful adventures that await in Banff National Park.

Friends holding Pride flags on a winter day in Banff National Park.

Getting Around Banff 

Your visit to Banff and Lake Louise doesn’t require you to have your own vehicle or to rent a car. Brewster Express Shuttle operates daily between Calgary International Airport and Banff and has a convenient schedule. 

Once you are in Banff, Discover Banff Tours can get you to and from these and other great adventures that await your ultimate winter vacation in Banff National Park.   

A driver in front of a Discover Banff Tours tour bus on a winter day in Banff National Park.

Book Your Stay

Queer travellers are cautious on the destinations they choose to visit, and carefully consider their accommodation choices, ensuring it is a safe space. Most accommodations in Banff are LGBTQ+ friendly, and in Banff the Moose Hotel and Suites welcomes gay travellers with open arms. 

The Moose Hotel and Suites on Banff Avenue with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Located in heart of downtown Banff, along the main street of Banff Avenue, the Moose Hotel is a 4-star property. With 174 air-conditioned rooms, the Moose Hotel has a range of accommodations, from studio suites to one and two-bedroom suites. Rest your head where you will feel warm and comfortable, and be yourself, in authentic Canadian mountain luxury – at The Moose Hotel and Suites

The sitting room in a guest room at the Moose Hotel and Suites in Banff, Alberta.

Plan Your Trip to Banff and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Now that you have been inspired by the magic of a winter vacation in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it’s time to start planning your visit to Banff and Lake Louise. It is a place where the elements that make it one of the world’s most sought-after travel destinations all come together as one — where legendary tales of adventure and exploration live on, and where every season has its own fairy-tale feel.

Steam rises off a river on a sunny, winter day, in Banff National Park

Founded by railway workers who discovered hot springs while on a hike, Banff was the first national park in Canada, established in 1885. Today, it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is prime real estate for some of the best skiing and outdoor winter adventure in North America.

Deer on a ridge on a winter day in Banff, with the Banff Springs Hotel in the background.

Start planning your trip to Banff and Lake Louise now!

Banff Pride 

Head at the beginning of October, Banff Pride has a fantastic line-up of events and activities in the backdrop of the picturesque Canadian Rocky Mountains.  The week-long event celebrates diversity, kindness, and love. Read more.

A group of people walking with Pride flags down Banff Avenue during Banff Pride.

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Brian Webb

Brian Webb

Author

Brian Webb is the founder and editor-in-chief of HomoCulture, a celebrated content creator, and winner of the prestigious Mr. Gay Canada – People’s Choice award.An avid traveler, Brian attends Pride events, festivals, street fairs, and LGBTQ friendly destinations through the HomoCulture Tour. He has developed a passion for discovering and sharing authentic lived experiences, educating about the LGBTQ community, and using both his photography and storytelling to produce inspiring content.Originally from the beautiful Okanagan Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia, Brian now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. His personal interests include travel, photography, physical fitness, mixology, drag shows.
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