Sunrise on the Icefields Parkway in Canada's Alberta provinceSunrise on the Icefields Parkway in Canada’s Alberta province — Photo courtesy of Tourism Jasper

Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada’s beautiful Rocky Mountains are glorious in the wintertime, with lots of snowy fun to enjoy. When the weather turns chilly and the snow falls in these Alberta towns, everyone breaks out their skis, snowboards, sleds, crampons, ice skates, snowshoes, and heavy winter clothes.

Visitors can join in all the outdoor activities, plus discover the fascinating museums, delectable restaurants, and sophisticated shopping — especially in Banff. And there’s this little thing called the northern lights that dance around the night sky, a sight to behold for sure.

Here’s where to go and what to see in Banff and Jasper, plus highlights in the national parks, on the mountain peaks, and more.

Where is Banff?

Banff's wintertime beauty is simply spectacularBanff’s wintertime beauty is simply spectacular — Photo courtesy of Travel Alberta

The town of Banff is nestled in the southern end of the Canadian Rockies inside Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, established in 1885. It’s the first of seven protected areas that stretch to the north and make up the Canadian National Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The easiest way to get to Banff is to fly into Calgary International Airport, then drive west into the mountains by shuttle service or rental car. The town is full of chalet-style hotels, pretty shops, shopping and dining.

Where to stay in Banff

Banff hotels include the venerable Mount Royal Hotel, which opened in 1908 and remains a vibrant spot. The hotel restaurant, Brazen, is lively for hotel guests, locals, and other visitors.

Just outside of town is the spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs, a gorgeous alpine resort that’s been welcoming adventurers to Banff National Park since 1888. The stunning 739-room hotel features a golf course for the summer months and exceptional skiing in the winter.

What to do in Banff

Sledding fun at the Banff SnowDays Festival in Canada's Alberta provinceSledding fun at the Banff SnowDays Festival in Canada’s Alberta province — Photo courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism/Will Lambert

There’s plenty to do all winter long in Banff National Park, especially when it’s all about getting outside. Three nearby ski and snowboard resorts — including Banff Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort, Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola, and Mount Norquay — offer fresh powder and incredible views at every turn.

Bring your own or rent all your winter equipment at the resorts (and many other places in Banff). Beyond skiing, there’s ice climbing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and dog sledding. Guided tours and lessons are also easy to book. Winter is the ideal time to see the northern lights, too.

The annual Banff SnowDays Festival in January features huge ice and snow sculptures, sledding runs, and much more. Events include ice skating on Lake Louise, sleigh rides through the snow, or taking the famed Banff Gondola to the top of Mount Sulphur for the cool after-dark Nightrise experience.

Banff shopping and dining

When it comes to indoor fun, stroll along Banff Avenue and dip into quintessentially Canadian shops like Roots Canada and Canada Goose, plus art galleries, jewelry stores, and a huge Smartwool shop.

Take the time to check out Banff Park Museum, built in 1903, which is chockablock with thousands of botanical and zoological specimens from past and present. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies features artwork and beautiful cultural and historical items.

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Banff has a great restaurant scene, including popular spots like The Bison, Farm & Fire, and Eden at the Rimrock Resort.

The epic Icefields Parkway

Driving on the Icefields Parkway is winter blissDriving on the Icefields Parkway is winter bliss — Photo courtesy of Travel Alberta

Continue this incredible Canadian Rockies adventure with a road trip up the Icefields Parkway. This two-lane road that stretches through Banff and Jasper national parks becomes quieter in winter months, as Highway 93 becomes cloaked in snow. However, any time of year, it’s a road trip of a lifetime.

Following the Continental Divide, winding through the Rockies past the Athabasca Glacier and falls, the wintry landscape along Icefields Parkway is stunning. Watch for bighorn sheep and elk along the way, but don’t expect to see any bears during the wintery hibernation season.

Winter adventure activities include snowshoeing on lakes Bow or Peyto or skiing down Nigel Pass. You’ll need your own equipment for those adventures, and please don’t go it alone. And keep this in mind, too: You won’t have cell phone service while driving the parkway, as there are no cell phone towers in this neck of the woods.

Where to stay in Jasper National Park

The quaint town of Jasper truly epitomizes the northern Canada experienceThe quaint town of Jasper truly epitomizes the northern Canada experience — Photo courtesy of Tourism Jasper

The scenic drive along Icefields Parkway ends at the city of Jasper within the national park. Jasper National Park is Canada’s largest national park, the second most-visited park (after Banff), and the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world. When you think of getting away from it all, this is the place.

This mountain town is smaller than Banff but equally picturesque. Here, you can walk out the door of your hotel, like the Forest Park Hotel, and find a herd of elk sitting on the front lawn. Or venture farther out to find another luxurious Fairmont, the more secluded Jasper Park Lodge, set on 700 acres along the shore of Lac Beauvert, a perfect place to see the northern lights.

What to do in Jasper National Park

Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park is famous for its winter icewalksMaligne Canyon in Jasper National Park is famous for its winter icewalks — Photo courtesy of Pursuit Collection/Becky Chittick

Visit the famed Maligne Canyon, where ice forms early in the winter and creates otherworldly visions as you tramp along in rented crampons and boots. You’ll see wild ice formations and deep river gorges and eventually end up inside ice caves. That’s a hike you’ll never forget, but a word to the wise: Don’t forget your wool socks, hat, or gloves!

Later, ice skate onto Pyramid Lake, where you can join an impromptu ice hockey game or just glide on the groomed outer ring. When you’re tuckered out, settle beside one of the outdoor fire pits, with a luscious hot chocolate from Pyramid Lake Lodge nearby. It’s a quintessential Canadian Rockies experience you’ll want to do more than once.

If you’ve worked up an appetite, snag a table at Terra, where talented chefs create locally sourced and foraged, seasonally changing fare that tastes like big-city dining.

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