Heading to Banff National Park in the winter? In this guide, we will share how to plan the perfect Banff Christmas Getaway for festive celebrations, winter sports and romantic staycations.
Because we will be discussing Banff Christmas related tips, this post will also help you to plan a trip in the Canadian Rockies in the month of November and December. There are a lot of similarities in activities in these two months and also some stark differences. Let’s see what they are.
Planning the Perfect Banff Christmas Getaway: Things to do in Banff in November and December
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Banff is located in the Canadian Province of Alberta. During winters Banff National Park and the surrounding areas are transformed into a winter wonderland, one that is full of snow and pretty festive decorations adorning a fairytale-like Christmas mountain resort town.
Banff is ONE of the amazing places to spend your holiday season in Canada.
- Banff in November: Banff in November is great for slow travel, romantic outings/dining and festive celebrations (with the Christmas Parade event and beer fests). There is snow in November, but not enough snow for cross country skiing. Late November to early December opens up more winter sports opportunities. When you visit Lake Louise, you will see it covered in snow, however, you won’t be able to skate in November (due to thin ice).
- Banff in December: December brings in more snow and that allows for skiing related activities in the Valley. From Christmas markets, holiday shopping, and festive events like Christmas on MountainTop (Banff Gondola).
- November: 1 deg C/ – 8 deg C (High/Low)
- December: – 5 deg C/ – 14 deg C (High/Low)
It is important to note that many restaurants close early on Christmas Eve.
Banff Winter Packing List
To experience the best time in Banff National Park in winter, it is important to pack appropriately. Here is the packing list for Banff Christmas Season in Winter
- Outerwear – Wear/carry warm outerwear like wool coats or responsible down filled jackets. Keep in mind Banff and Lake Louise get really windy, so definitely I would say stick to a warm jacket with tight cuffs and a high collar. You can carry a wool coat for dining, or any indoor events. Early November you can get away with a wool coat, provided you are layering well, but from mid-November onwards it is super icy cold especially if you are planning a lot of time outdoors!
- Snow pants – Buy my favorite pair one
- Thermals or long johns – Super important to layer. Wear thermals or long johns as a base layer for outdoor events
- Mid Layer – Wear a warm vest, cardigan, light jacket, whichever fits for a mid-layer. I prefer wearing a merino wool cardigan as mid-layer (it is lightweight and super warm). Salil prefers a light fleece jacket as a mid-layer. So wear what’s comfortable for you and keeps you warm!
- Warm Hat or Torque – Wear bright-colored torques for a nice pop of color in your Banff winter photos
- Warm Socks – Check out my favorite pair here
- Snow boots – Wear snow boots with strong threading for better traction on snowy grounds. Here is my favorite from Sorell
- Gloves – You will need a pair of warm, thick pairs of gloves. Get yours here
- Scarf – For styling and functional purposes, wear a wool scarf to keep yourself warm and toasty!
- Other essentials –
- Jeans – For dinners, indoor events
- Shirts or tops
- Swimwear (hot springs or pool in your hotel/resort)
- Eyewear/ sunglasses
- Perfume or Deodorant
Things to do in Banff at Christmas (November & December Visit)
Banff Christmas Parade
Christmas celebrations in Banff National Park starts early in November and not on Christmas Day. In mid November Santa Claus comes to town and kick-starts festivity in the mountains. The Santa Parade is completely free to attend. The event starts in the evening (ensure you bring camping chairs, wear warm clothes) at the city centre or downtown area of Banff.
The parade begins at the Banff Avenue and Elk St intersection and continues down Banff Avenue until the Buffalo Street Intersection. With festive decorations, carols, floats and performers showcasing the best local talents and causes, Banff Christmas Parade is a must if visiting in November.
Don’t forget to buy warm hot chocolate, if you are cold!
Explore Downtown Banff in festive lights
If you missed the Santa Parade, no worries. Banff Downtown glows in festive lights from mid November onwards to January (New Years Events). This is a perfect time for shopping, eating all the delicious comfort food, and just enjoying light events throughout the mountain town.
Banff Christmas Market
Banff Christmas Market takes place at the end of November/beginning of December where you can enjoy locally made souvenirs and decorative items to take back home.
There is an entry fee for Christmas Markets ($7.50 CAD/adult). The event won’t take place in 2020, and is postponed to 2021. However if you wish to shop we have an all year round Banff Christmas Shop where you can purchase festive goodies!
Banff Craft Beer Festival
Want to enjoy a pint of beer in the beautiful mountains? Well, head to Banff for its Craft Beer Festival. This event takes place in November (Nov 26 to 28 2020).
Banff Craft Beer Festival brings in Alberta’s top craft beers under one roof/one event. The event takes place at the stunning Banff’s Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Tickets start at $29.99 CAD per adult. Ensure you carry your government issued ID. Free shuttle services are available. Shuttle Service pick-up and drop-off behind Banff Ave Brew Pub at the parking lot and they will run approximately every 15 minutes. We do recommend checking the current schedule before starting.
Christmas on Mountaintop
This is one of our favorite ways to celebrate Christmas in Banff. We enjoy our rides on the Sulphur Banff Gondola, and during winters it is super special. Included in the Banff Gondola Admission ticket is the Christmas on Mountaintop event, this is where you can meet with Santa, take pictures and just soak in stunning views of mountains and the Banff Valley.
It gets really windy on the mountaintop so dress warmly, and wear sturdy boots. In late December to April, you can also enjoy their once a year Stargazing event!
The Sky Bistro (restaurant at Banff Gondola) is all decorated for the festive season, and with a seasonal menu, so don’t miss that!
Staycation in Banff
Every year in November and December we head to Banff to enjoy our winters. We live in Edmonton and it is COLD too, but we have a thing for mountains and so we drive down to the mountains every year.
In November we celebrate birthdays and in December we ring in Christmas and the New Year! Imagine driving into Banff town and the entire place celebrating with you with sparkling lights and snowy mountains.
A weekend staycation is Banff will surely pamper you and make you fall in love with winter! Book an awesome hotel or resort – one with hot tub or spa services. And all you should do is eat – sleep – soak in mountain views – repeat! Your heart will thank you!
Top Hotel Picks in Banff and surrounding areas for a staycation
- Fairmont Banff Springs: Heritage 5-star hotel where you will feel like royalty! Delicious food with stunning views, spa packages for couples, and lavish suites, you can’t go wrong by booking your stay at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
- Falcon Crest Lodge: Amazing spot in Canmore where you can take in mountain views from a hot tub. Located only 20 minutes from Banff town, Canmore has a host of affordable accommodation to choose from. This lodge has been a favorite for years. Check prices and availability here
- Elk + Avenue Hotel: Love this hotel in the downtown area. We have walked from this hotel to downtown when it’s not super cold. But you don’t have to – there are restaurants on-site and along with that area before you hit downtown. Stay at Elk + Avenue hotel
- Buffalo Mountain Lodge: Cozy cabins and fireplaces welcome you and your family (or groups to this wonderful lodge. If you are traveling with pets, this is a great spot to stay in. Find rooms and availability here
- Or check out our picks for Best Airbnbs in Banff National Park
Banff Ski Resort Activities
For winter sports lovers Banff is heaven! Mid-December is when the valley is really filled with snow and it’s great for cross country skiing and outdoor skating. Many agencies organize ice walks and winter hiking tours during winters. You can check them out there
Banff Ski Resort offers shuttle pick ups/drop offs, and you can also rent ski equipment in Banff town.
Lake Louise Banff Christmas Celebrations
One of the best places to spend Christmas is Lake Louise. The lake is filled with snow in November and by late December it is perfect to skate in the natural ice rink and enjoy a wonderful Christmas getaway.
Chateau Lake Louise hotel located near the lake offers ski rentals, a delicious menu, and a warm stay for those looking for a hotel in Lake Louise. There is an indoor ice rink too if you prefer that. Find more hotels in Lake Louise here
Lake Louise Ski Resort is your spot for skiing in the area. Shuttle buses are available from the Lake Louise town area. Lake Louise Tourism offers more events in the winter from December to February including the Ice sculpture festival. Get our detailed guide to Lake Louise winter
Scenic Drive on the Icefields Parkway
We like enjoying snowy wintery drives. And what better views than the Icefields Parkway. This is a 227 km of scenic mountain road connecting Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
The Icefields Parkway is named after the Columbia Icefields. From TransCanada Hwy #1 the highway travels through Banff National Park for 122 kilometres, and travels north to Jasper National Park.
Keep in mind winter driving requires patience and practice. This route is equally stunning in the summer when all of the attractions are open (many sites closed for the winter season), so if you are not comfortable with winter driving don’t embark on this route during Christmas and New Years.
Wildlife Adventures in Banff Winter
Banff National Park becomes a hot spot for sighting wildlife in winter. You will find them while embarking on light winter hikes like the Tunnel Mountain Trail. The hike up is an easy 4.3 kilometre round trip, starting in downtown Banff, and it takes you through pine and fir trees to welcome you to amazing views of Mount Rundle.
There are many adventure tours conducted in Banff for wildlife sighting. You can check them out here
Banff is a delightful place to spend your Christmas vacation! It has something for everybody – from relaxed snowy getaway to adrenaline filled sports – don’t miss out on this heaven on earth in winters!
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