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5 Things to Do in Banff (other than skiing)

Published 30 March 2016

Garden of Innovations Section - Montreal Botanical Gardens

Alexa Gordon

Nestled in Canada’s famed Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park usually conjures up images of expert skiers navigating their way through breathtaking terrain. If, however, like me you have never even laid eyes on a pair of skis, let alone whizzed along at breakneck speed, there are plenty of equally fun things to do in Banff. The simple pleasures of sipping a delicious hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire and soaking tired muscles in a steaming hot pool is not to be underestimated. Trekking through postcard perfect scenery and glimpsing magnificent creatures in the wild will also ensure a memorable trip without putting on a single pair of skis.

Hiking in the snow, Banff

image: Alexa Gordon

Hike through the snow

As an avid hiker, trekking through the snow-covered trails throughout Banff was a goal I thoroughly enjoyed ticking off my bucket list. You don’t need to be super fit to explore this Rocky Mountain hotspot – you just need a sense of adventure.

I found with the right equipment and a dash of common sense, exploring on my own without a guide was very doable. Besides from rugging up in warm clothing – Banff can get down to -26°C on a ‘mild’ winter’s day, clipping a pair of snow cleats onto your boots is a life saver. Their purpose is to help you keep traction on snow and ice so you spend more time upright and less time on the ground. Two easy and enjoyable walks, and my personal favourites, are the Johnston Canyon Icewalk and trekking across Lake Louise. The iconic emerald blue lake freezes over in winter, opening up a 4km trek, a round trip that ends at the base of a stunning 100 metre-high frozen waterfall.

Sleigh Ride, Banff

image: Alexa Gordon

Take a ride on a horse sleigh

I must confess, ever since Carrie took Big on a romantic ride in a horse drawn carriage in cult hit Sex and the City, I have been slightly obsessed in recreating the much loved moment. If any background scenery would have a chance at taking on Central Park it would be the white cold beauty that encases Banff throughout winter. Sitting back and relaxing while magnificent creatures take you through incredible landscapes is a truly memorable experience. I highly recommend a sleigh ride as a unique way of seeing Banff without having to use your own steam-power. Just keep in mind it is a little bumpy at times and take advantage of the blankets offered by the driver – it can get quite chilly.

Hot tub, Banff

image: Alexa Gordon

Soak in the hot springs

It might sound counterintuitive when it is -26°C outside, but bringing your cossie to Banff in the dead of winter is a must. There is something magical about sitting in deliciously hot water, the air around you Arctic-cold, the steam blowing up from the water, the majestic mountains nestled in the background…have I convinced you yet? Banff Upper Hot Springs is a haven and offers nutrient filled water for sore, tired muscles. Just make sure to avoid peak times otherwise you will find yourself sharing the space with many other travellers. There are also several hotels in and around Banff that offer rooftop hot tubs – I found my favorite spot in all of Banff lounging in the hot tub on top of Deer Lodge at Lake Louise.

Banff, Canada

image: Alexa Gordon

Sip hot chocolate by a fireplace

After spending all day outside in sub-zero temperatures, the best reward I found was rushing back inside to plonk myself down in front of a roaring fireplace. Cup of hot chocolate in one hand, magazine in the other, the feeling of warmth slowly seeping through your body is divine. Looking out from your cozy spot in front of the fire to the glittery snow falling down outside brings a feeling of sweet content. If you’re anything like me, within 10 minutes of finishing your hot chocolate, you will be snoozing away.

Elk in the snow, Banff

image: Alexa Gordon

Go on a wildlife safari

Bear spotting is almost a sacred right for tourists visiting Canada’s first National Park, and for most a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To avoid starring in a headline in the local paper featuring an unwitting visitor ending up as bear dinner, I recommend booking an evening wildlife safari with Discover Banff Tours. The guided tour allows you to get up close and personal with a wide variety of wildlife from the safety and comfort of a heated bus. For two hours you will play eye-spy in the hope of catching a glimpse of some of Banff’s majestic fauna, including black and grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes and eagles. The first time I spotted an elk, nudging its nose along the frozen ground in search for food, was a wonderful moment I will not forget in a hurry.


Stay in Banff with Round the World Experts’ Rocky Mountaineer Journey.


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