Things to do in Banff in the snow
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:
- Hoodoos trail along the Bow river
- Johnston Canyon hike (to several waterfalls)
- Plain of Six Glaciers hike (Lake Louise)
- Highline Trail to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive (also Lake Louise)
- Moraine Lake shoreline trail
- Emerald Lake Loop
22 thoughts on “Things to do in Banff in the snow”
We found Banff fascinating – well the family did. I had to sort out a puncture. Still Banff tyre garages are.. erm much like any other.
Lol oh no!! Geoff, you have the best and the worst things happen to you on holidays!! I hope you got to see a bit of the prettiness!
You had me sold at Boozey Hot Chocolates! YUM!
Oooh they were so good! One had some kind of salted caramel liquor, and the other involve kahlua and almond liquors… It might be fun to try to re-create them!
Well you still found lots to do!!!
Hehehe neither of us fancied hiding in our hotel to relax/read. I’m glad we kept exploring. Do you think you’d like a snow day in Banff Ritu?
I do love the snow… Both for the snuggling and reading opportunities, and also for going out and exploring!!!
I don’t know — for me you’re there at the perfect time. I love snow like this that’s not super-heavy and just transforms the world without freezing everything. I like the other kind of snow, too, but this is really enchanting.
You’re right. It also meant it was still easy to walk around!
The only problem was there were so many people unprepared for the snow! We saw cars sliding around that hadn’t got their winter tires yet!
Fab! The photo of the hot springs actually looks like a ring of fire 🔥
Oooh I hadn’t thought of that! It could be a chilly ring of fire! 😉
Aww, we had a few snow flurries in Banff but nothing like this! It was quite a relief coming off the Icefields Parkway to see a town NOT covered in snow and ice 🙂
Ha! We couldn’t even try to go on the icefields parkway! There was 30-45cm of snow in one night up there, so the road was closed!
Banff has been on my travel list for a while now! It looks so amazing there, and those drinks look so good!! I’m going to keep this post in mind for when I eventually visit 🙂
Yeah, it had been on my wish-list for aaages too. I was sooo happy when my husband suggested we just go! You will blooming love it!
Great post, I especially liked the sound and look of the boozy hot chocolate!
Yeees! That was so good! Plus it tastes even better when you are reeeeally cold.
First, I love that park passes can get visitors into museums in Canada! What a great idea. I wish the US would adopt something like that.
Second, those thermal pools – AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL! What I wouldn’t give to take a long soak in those beautiful pools. I’ve been in a few in Costa Rica, and here in the US, but nothing so beautiful as the pools in Banff.
Last, your pictures always make me feel as though I need to move to Canada – the beauty is mesmerizing. Great post, Josy!
Aww Erin thank you! Your comment has just made my morning! I hope your family will be able to come up to Canada at some point. I have a feeling your kids would love exploring here.
It is a bit of a shame that you can no longer soak in those pools, but it was pretty cool seeing a snail that is unique to those waters!!