Travel Chapters: Canadian Rockies Winter Edition
Let’s start in Calgary, because that is where majority of you will fly into. Calgary is about an hour drive from Banff NP. Depending on when you fly in I would start in Kananaskis (Spray Lakes). It is an area before Canmore and Banff which has some stunning Mountain Ranges. You could spend a few days out here hiking and exploring or an afternoon driving through on the Peter-Lougheed Road. I haven’t done much snow shoeing out here but you might be able to find some trails. The views alone can keep me entertained.
After Kananaskis area you can hit Canmore. Typically Canmore is an awesome place to stay and plan activities because you miss the expense and craziness of Banff with only a 10 min drive to Banff. I stay at a place called Stoneridge Resort because they are the best and well priced. Before you book your trip out here you should book this in advance. Also I recommend booking a Dog Sled Tour. It runs about $200.00 per person but so worth it. The dogs are amazing and it is a different way to see the area.
Winter would not be complete without skiing obviously so make sure you book some hill time. You can virtually rent skis almost anywhere either in Canmore, Banff or on the ski hill. Lake Louise ski resort is one of the most scenic ski hills, overlooking famous Lake Louise. Sunshine is a bit more rolling and flat but the powder is typically good and the view is also hard to beat.
All these ski areas are within an hour of Canmore, Lake Louise is about a 50 min drive from Canmore. I personally like staying there because everything is less expensive than in the park. If you ski at Louise don’t forget to visit the Lake. It is frozen so I recommend taking some skates and hot chocolate and ripping it up. The lake is just incredible because it is back-lit with towering mountains. Sledding and dog sledding tours are also here at Lake Louise. You can also take a sleigh ride.
In Banff (Ten minutes from Canmore) You can do a lot out here. Down town is pretty awesome. If I were you I would get Pizza at the Tavern at least once. It is life changing. Wildflower has great coffee and deli food. I also think the restaurant “Park” is also really delicious.
Head to Two Jack and Johnson Lake to see some pretty views. Sunrise at Two Jack is always pretty great. Minnewanka is a short drive up the road with great skating and little hikes. This is also a good spot for Northern Lights if the Lights are going. I would maybe hike up Sulphur Mountain in town if you want some exercise and its open. Hit up Vermillion Lakes for a sunrise or sunset as well. Cascade ponds has fire pits if you want to have a camp fire.
Moraine Lake is closed until the end of May, I know it is depressing. If you want to spend an entire day cross country skiing the 20 miles round trip to Moraine Lake and back, by all means go for it, just check avalanche conditions!
Take the Bow Valley Parkway on your way to Johnston Canyon. This 3 mile hike is well worth fighting the crowd. Try and do it during the week if you can. The Bow Valley parkway is a great road to take because you can pull off and take in the sights, Highway One there is no stopping and the Bow Valley parkway is parallel to Hwy 1. Check out Castle Mountain village and the view of Castle Mountain from the bridge. Morants Curve is just west of Castle Junction as well.
Okay, now you got to head to Jasper. Take the Ice Fields parkway and head toward Jasper. Stop at Herbert lake right off the road for a nice view of some dramatic mountains and continue to Bow Lake. Take a walk around Bow Lake or an ice skate. Peyto is 5 mins away. Peyto Lake is another 15-20 min walk to the view point but well worth it on a clear day. Sorry, no blue wolf this time of year but pretty nothing less.
Continue to the Ice Fields, where you can walk out toward the Glacier (not on the Glacier) and you may see the remains of the ice caves. The caves collapse in summer and freeze again in winter creating some beautiful formations off the edge of the receding glacier. Please be careful however, these are not stable and ice fall is common.
Still heading towards Jasper, pull off where it is safe to take in the mountain Glory. The parkway is super scenic and hopefully the moody weather strays during your travel.
Once in Jasper you should stay with Mountain Park Lodges. They have five lodges around town and have very well kept accommodations.
Stop at “Source for Sports” downtown and grab some micro spikes to rent right away(8$ a day). TRUST ME. I fell on my face in Maligne Canyon and had to get 25 stitches. Then go to Maligne Canyon. You start at Bridge Five and walk up to the right from the bridge. You walk aprox. a kilometre before you go under the fence and towards the opening of the canyon. It should be fairly easy but slippery! Make sure the temperatures have been very low before you walk on the ice, there should be footprints seen. Keep up the canyon until you see the beautiful frozen falls.
After Maligne you can drive toward Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake (about an hour away). Sunset is nice at Medicine Lake. If you have an entire clear day consider cross country skiing down Maligne Lake or snow shoeing, sprit island is about 14km down the lake so it would be a long hard day if you did that. I would make sure it is a clear day to see the valley in it’s glory.
For food: Patricias Deli is the best sandwiches in the entire world. LIKE EVER. It’s a hidden store right on the main street. Get “The Bird”. No regrets. The Bear Paw Bakery’s (there are two) are both great for coffee and sweets if you want to have some joe on your way up to Patricia or Pyramid Lake for Sunrise. Pyramid Lake also has Sleigh Rides, Ice skating and walks around the lake.
Athabasca Falls is also amazing in winter. This massive waterfall canyon combo will blow you away. You can climb down to the canyon if the trail is open (bring micro spikes to all locations) Be cautious of changing ice conditions and be aware in the canyon there is moving water under that ice.
Sunwapta Falls is a bit farther out of Jasper but might be good on your way out of the park. It is worth a look. It is a really big double frozen waterfall. This is what it looks like in summer.
There is so much to do and see in Alberta in Winter so hopefully this list can get you started.