Everything I had originally planned to do in Banff involved hikes. However, we arrived during a snowstorm with a severe weather warning asking people to avoid unnecessary driving. We’re not silly enough to attempt an Alpine hike during a blizzard, so we decided to spend a day exploring the town of Banff. We found so many fun things to see, that I’d like to share my list of things to do in Banff in the snow.
This would all be fun in the rain too, as long as you can resist the call of the mountains. Everything we visited was free if you have a Parks Canada pass, so if you have one for hiking, bring it along when you visit museums.
Nothing in Banff is very far away, so it’s all walkable (with pretty views when the snow stops!) However, there are also local buses if you’d prefer to keep your feet warm!
Cave and Basic National Monument
I am so glad we visited this! The Cave and Basin is a hot spring that indigenous people have used for thousands of years. Then in 1883 some railway workers “discovered” it and built a shelter so that they could make some money from people who came to soak in the natural bath. However, the Canadian government didn’t allow the entrepreneurs to claim the land here, instead, they created Canada’s first national park. A whole section of land around the hot spring became off-limits for sale or settlement. So this hot spring is the reason for Banff the town and Banff National Park!
Nowadays you cannot bathe in the waters because there is a teeny rare snail that lives here. Smart little snail dudes! Still you can go into the cave, see the pools and smell the sulfur.
There is a hole in the roof of the cave, where the hot water drips down from above.
There is a second pool (called the basin) upstairs fed from the same hot spring. It looks like it would have been a fantastic place to bathe back before the snails were discovered. The waters were warm and steamy, even with snow all around us.
There is a really nice trail up behind the hot spring. You can see where the waters spring up, and meet the teeny snails. It all looks beautiful in the snow.
This is snail-land, up close to the source of the hot spring.
We also loved the outdoor gallery. There were some beautiful prints of Canadian national parks, as well as stunning photos from various people that work in the Rockies.
This was actually the trail we had done the previous evening when the snow storm was just getting started. The path goes through pretty woodland along the Bow river. It’s a lovely place to stretch your legs, and pretty in the snow, even if you cannot see the mountain views. I have a whole post about the hoodoos trail here.
If you google “Bow Falls” and take a look at the images, it doesn’t actually look that impressive; Especially as there are so many spectacular waterfalls in the surrounding national parks. But (as you can probably guess if you’ve read this blog before) if we see a trail, we want to traverse it. So, as the Bow Falls lookout is only 1km away from the Bridge on Banff Avenue, we decided to take a peek.
Bow Falls may not look impressive from the photos on google, but it is great fun to see it in real life! As you approach the waterfall, the river starts to gush, rush and roar! It looked amazing to see Bow river with the pure white background under the snow.
Once you get above the falls, you can see it in all its glory!
This is the view from down below Bow Falls. It’s still kind of cool, but not as spectacular as the view from above.
Drinks at Fairmont Banff Springs
By this time, we had been wandering around in the snow for a few hours. We decided to take a detour to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel to warm up with a drink.
I have to admit, we were not looking particularly posh when we arrived! I was wearing a zillion layers, and had a bright red nose! Still, the staff at the Rundle Lounge welcomed us in anyway. It was a little too early in the season to see their winter cocktail menu, but the super friendly waiter suggested some fantastic sounding boozy hot chocolates. They made my whole world better.
The hot drinks were so good that we stayed for a bit longer, ordering some sea food chowder (it was divine) and more drinks.
There are quite a few cool museums within Banff. We first had a peek at all the taxidermy animals in the Banff Park Museum.
My favourite part was the exhibition about the bison that were reintroduced into Banff National Park in 2017. It was really interesting to learn more about them and why they count as a keystone species.
I also popped my head into the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. Marc didn’t fancy this one, but it did look interesting if you’d like to learn more about the first nations people of the northern plains and Canadian Rockies.
Pop into Banff Visitor Centre
The fantastic thing about the Banff Visitor center is they have knowledgeable staff that are happy to chat to you about your plans and give you advice. We were given really helpful information about which roads were closed, and what hikes might be possible on our return journey to Vancouver.
They also have soooo many maps! I was in mountain map heaven!!
So, that is a few ideas about things to do in Banff in the snow, or rain! There is plenty to see, even if you are unable to go for an epic hike in the alpine areas.
Easy hikes near Banff:
This post wasn’t really a walk, but we did do a bunch of other easy walks near Banff if you are interested: