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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Guide to Banff in the winter - itinerary, tips, video, and cost

Turning 30 in Banff National Park

The last post of a series is always the best and saddest.  It's the best because I have already spent weeks recapping an amazing trip, detail by detail from what I did to what I ate.  I also get to share a fun video so you can see for yourself just how amazing these places are.  Sad because I can no longer talk about this beautiful destination and the amazing outdoor activities in the area.  But with one return flight home comes another trip planned somewhere else and this month was no different.  After landing back in the U.S. A I was on a plane next week for the American Southwest.  But before we get into saguaros and sunshine, let's talk about snowy Banff National Park one last time.

Visiting Banff National Park

I bet you now by know my trip to Banff National Park in the wintry month of February was purposely planned to celebrate my 30th birthday.  I wanted a unique destination, affordable pricing, and to see somewhere as beautiful (and popular) as Banff in one of its quieter seasons.  If you still need some convincing as to why you should head to Canada in one of her coldest months, then here are six reasons why.   If you are sold and want to see the beauty of Banff under a thick layer of snow, keep reading as I share fun facts on the park and area, information on getting to Banff, need to know details, and what I spent for 6 days, 7 nights in Alberta. 

Interactive Map

Icefields Parkway 
  • Five national parks are located within the Canadian Rockies.  Four of these parks, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, are all adjacent to each other. So many National Parks, so little time
  • The park covers 6,000 square kilometers  and Banff sees over three million visitors a year
  • Banff National Park was established in 1885 and is considered one of the oldest National Parks -  in fact, it is THE oldest in Canada -it is often called the flagship of the National Park System
  • Banff was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site 1984
  • The town of Banff is actually inside the National Park - the railway arrived to town and the Basin Hot Springs was discovered shortly after - in 1911, a road reached the town and tourism has been on the rise ever since
  • Because this is a town IN the National Park, new development  has ceased and the federal government owns all the land
  • The neighboring town Canmore located 26 km from Banff is a former coal mining town 

Lake Louise 
Getting to Banff is relatively easy. We flew into Calgary Airport and rented a car (for cheaper than it would be to take a shuttle). I highly, HIGHLY suggest renting a car that way you can access all of the great hiking, snowshoeing and skiing areas without having to rely on tour guides, cabs or shuttle services.   Our car rental through Budget denying all insurances and including gas was less than $400 for the week.  If you prefer to shuttle, there are several options including the Banff Airporter for round trip shuttle service from the airport to the town of Banff. Expect the trek from the airport to Banff to take about 1.5 hours.

  • Provinces:  Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories.  Banff borders two of those provinces, Alberta and British Columbia.  You will be spending your time in the province of Alberta.  On our dogsledding tour, we had the chance to leave the province of Alberta at the Continental Divide and enter into British Columbia for a brief while before turning the dogs around. 
  • Park Pass:  One day park entry costs $9.80 and is good until 4pm next day.  Whether you are staying at a hotel in the town for a week, or just visiting for the day, you will need to pay for an entry tag for the entire length of your stay.  This is not included in your hotel costs or tour guides.  There are two main entry gates for the park at the west and east ends.  If you're entering the park through the west gate you will have t pick up your parks pass at the visitor information center in the towns of Banff or Lake Louise.  The park's east gate has a booth where you can pick up your pass. To give you an idea, It costs us $78.64 (US) to stay in the park for the week(ish).  You will receive a receipt you tape to your windshield. You can also buy an annual pass (discovery pass), good for the year if you plan on staying more than a week or going back sometime that year.  
  • Visitor's Center/Conditions:  Talk to the rangers in the visitors center, they are happy to provide you with trail updates, conditions, and recommendations.  It is very important to check the trail conditions before you head out. If you don't feel like heading to the visitor's center, check this website.  
  • Wildlife:  The Candian Rockies "Big Five" includes deer, elk moose, wolf, and bears.  Use caution when traveling through the park. Obey the speed limit signs and be aware of wildlife, especially in the summer.  Also - do not feed the wildlife (especially those larger than life curious ravens). 
  • Busy Season:  Peak season is the summer months of July and August, expect more crowds and higher costs this time of year (another reason to visit in the winter).  
  • Schedule:  You need at least 5 days to experience Banff.  We packed a lot in 6 full days and felt like we saw the highlight reel and then some.  
  • Bundle Up:  Bring all the layers you own (I am only slightly kidding).  Warm clothing including hats, mittens, ski socks, thermals and scarves is mandatory.  Canada is cold, kids. 

Rocky Mountain Resort in Banff
After comparing prices, amenities, and location, I book a week at the Rocky Mountain Resort.  This allowed me to stay at a nice resort (hot tub, pool, etc) with a kitchen in the National Park Banff just outside the city center.   It was a quick drive to downtown without being IN the hustle and bustle.  Having a kitchen allowed me to cook meals at the apartment and helped cut down cost.  The rooms were basic but were well maintained and everything we needed for a week in Banff.  We didn't spend a ton of time in the resort but used the room as a home base for our travels and adventures, and a place to soak our sore legs after long days of skiing (hot tub is a mandatory requirement on ski trips). We spent $965 on lodging which included 6 nights here, and one night at a hotel by the airport. 

Cocktails at Nourish

If you know me, you know I wrote an entire post just on eating and drinking around the Banff area.  If you are only here for a week, you don't have any time (or calories) to waste on food that isn't simply amazing.  Follow my guide here so you know where the best deals are, where to find a casual bite, Banff's best happy hour, and where to splurge. 

Entrance to Lake Louise

There is so much to do in this Park and if you are as ambitious as I am and do some planning, you can see a lot of this park in six days.  My plans included skiing three days, snowshoeing/hiking two days, a scenic drive, and an afternoon of dog sledding.  We also left time to see a local museum, try various restaurants and bars, and go back to Lake Louise no less than three times.  My favorite aspects of the trip was skiing Sunshine and Lake Louise, dogsledding through the National Park, and soaking in the charm of Lake Louise.  Here is a list of the sites we saw and my itinerary, with clickable links to find out more. 

Tuesday:  Arrive 12:30 am
Wednesday:  Ski Banff Sunshine
Thursday:  Ski Lake Louise, See the Lake Louise area after 
Friday:  Drive Icefield Parkway, Snowshoe Peyto Lake/Bow Summit and Snowshoe Lake Louise/Mirror Lake
Saturday:  Ski Norquay - Soak in Banff Upper Hotsprings
Sunday: Hike Johnston Canyon and go dogsledding with Kingmik
Monday:  Morning in Banff (Whyte Museum and Cave and Basin Historic Site).  Stop in Canmore and have lunch at the Brewery.  Head towards the airport and stop to see the wolfdogs at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Tuesday:  8am flight out Connecticut 

Skiing at Banff Sunshine Ski Resort

Snowshoeing to Peyto Lake/Bow Summit

Dogsledding with Kingmik Dogsledding Tours

Icecastle at Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise

7 Nights, 6 Days
Including a rental car and gas, 3 days of skiing, dogsledding for 2, snowshoe rentals, 5 days of a National Park Pass, gifts, food, and alcohol.  We had a kitchen in our hotel room and cooked dinner two nights and breakfast every morning.  We packed sandwiches we made in the room most days for lunch. 

  • Flights and fees includes flights and bag fees for two ski bags round trip
  • Rental car and gas includes all taxes and fees but no insurance (check your credit card for insurance!)
  • Park Fee is for 5 days in the park 
  • Gifts included an ornament, post cards, and other small items
  • Tours and Activities includes 3 days of skiing, extra fees at the hot springs, admission to the wolfdog sanctuary, dog sledding, and snowshoe rentals for 2 people 
  • Food includes alcohol, groceries, coffee, snacks, dinners out, etc.

You know my favorite way to wrap up a trip, sharing a video.  It's getting tougher and tougher to make a fun video for you all as youtube has gotten super strict with their music/copyright laws so sorry for the delay (and if this video gets reworked and reposted).  This trip is a 4-minute taste of what a week in Canada looks like. Enjoy!

Happy Traveling, 

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