Have you ever thought about spending Christmas away from home? There's no better place to feel Christmas-in-the-air than in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta. With snow-covered mountain peaks, Christmas light displays, and plenty of outdoor activities, the mountain town transforms into a snow glove bull of holiday cheer and festivities. Not to mention, there's no shortage of places to grab a hot cocoa and cozy up by a fire!
We put together the perfect Christmas activity guide for your holiday in the mountains!
The best part about chilly weather is that all the lakes freeze over and become wild ice skating rinks. If you catch it at the right time, you'll get perfectly glassy conditions before the lakes become snow-covered!
Some of the best ice skating locations include Gap Lake, Goat Pond, and the Canmore pond. However, if you want a really magical wild ice skating experience, a day trip to Banff is definitely worth your while! Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, and Johnson Lake are local favourites nestled in the mountains. If you want an iconic skating experience, be sure to head out to Lake Louise for a huge groomed, and maintained skating ring right on the lake!
***Please be aware that skating on wild ice can come at a risk. These are naturally-occurring ice formations on the surface of a pond, lake, river, or stream, and are not maintained or groomed. The ice thickness may vary, resulting in some spots that may be dangerous to skate or stand on!
Above: Lake Louise Ice Rink
Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise is absolutely magical at Christmas-time. The Fairmont Hotel is enchanting year-round, but the entire Fairmont property transforms into a winter wonderland with horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, ice sculptures, and places to sit-and-sip hot cocoa by a roaring fire. The entire lake is surrounded by trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing: the perfect way to get outside for the day before enjoying winter festivities by night! Not to mention, there is an entire outdoor bar set up if a hot toddy is your beverage of choice!
Above: Lake Louise Sleigh Ride!
Banff Gondola Experience
Around Christmas-time, the Banff Gondola turns into a true winter treat! Fun for the entire family, you'll definitely want to head up the gondola and enjoy a warm beverage from the holiday cocktail bar. At the top of the gondola, you'll find ice sculptures, cookie-decorating, Christmas movies, and a plethora of photo opportunities; it's the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit during the holidays! Be sure to pack your warmest winter jacket and some snow pants; it gets chilly on the top of the mountain. These Christmas events run every weekend from November 20th to December 19th, and every day from December 20th to 30th. Kids' admission is free before noon.
Hot Chocolate Trail
Can you think of a better way to spend the day than sipping on Christmas cheer? Follow the hot chocolate trail through more than 20 restaurants and cafes between Banff and Lake Louise! With flavours as mouth-watering as Chocolate Caramel Avalanche, Cinnamon Spice, and S'mores Explosion, you know you're in for a treat!
Sleigh Ride in Banff
One of the most memorable activities for the entire family is ♫dashing through the snow, in a (2 horse) open sleigh♫! Cozy up with blankets and enjoy a sleigh ride through the snow, followed by some toasted marshmallows!
If a horse-drawn sleigh ride isn't your thing, we've got something for those feeling a little more adventurous. Just outside of Canmore, you'll find Snowy Owl Dogsledding Tours. You'll get a chance to get-to-know your furry dog sled team before spending a few hours exploring winter trails in Kananaskis by sled. You can choose to drive the sled or sit and enjoy the ride, followed by a campfire and baked goods!
Visit Banff's Christmas Store
Did you know that Banff has a Christmas store that's open all year round? Pop into The Spirit of Christmas to pick up a souvenir from your trip to Banff to hang on your tree.
Banff/Canmore Christmas Markets
Looking for the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Banff? Visit Banff's traditional European-style Christmas Market. What you'll find: Over 80 artisan vendors selling everything from soaps, teas, jewelry, clothes, local art prints, and more! Before you leave, be sure to visit Santa's house and his reindeer, or sit by the outdoor firepit and listen to some live music.
Skiing or Snowboarding
Known as one of Canada's best ski locations, why not hit the slopes for a few days and enjoy the fresh December powder during one of the greatest times of the year? There are so many ski hills to choose from within a short drive from Canmore and Banff - Nakiska, Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise.
Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing
The perfect way to spend a day experiencing the mountains when everything is covered in snow. With cross-country and snowshoeing trails located almost everywhere you look, pick your dream location and spend the day exploring!
A popular spot to start for cross-country skiing is the Canmore Nordic Centre, with 65 km of groomed trails. If you're willing to drive a little further and are up for a challenge, head out to Lake Louise for stunning scenic views and a variety of gentle slopes as well as more advanced routes. Both of these locations offer equipment rentals.
Lake Louise is also the perfect place to experience some not-so-challenging hikes that can be done by snowshoe. The little beehive is a 9 km round-trip route, with only a 535 m elevation gain. This is a great winter hike if you've always dreamed of snowshoeing through a snowy forest and you'll be sure to discover epic mountain views along the entire trail.
Note: Much of Lake Louise has signs posted for avalanche risk. Be sure to do your research, and keep an eye out for seasonal trail closures before setting out on any winter hikes!
You are never at a loss for fun winter activities to try in the Canadian Rockies. We hope that you have a wonderful time adventuring in this beautiful part of Alberta, Canada, during such a dynamic season!