Banff is a glorious town in Alberta, Canada; only about a half-hour drive from majestic Lake Louise — or around an hour if you take the bus.
We spent three nights in this amazing alpine town in the month of January, where temperatures sat around -15 degrees C. Thermal boots were a requirement, along with a face mask or balaclava, a woollen hat, plenty of layers, and thick gloves!
The cold in Canada is different to any cold we have felt before; it’s dryer and harsher than temperatures in our native New Zealand, but if you are suitably dressed, it is not uncomfortable to walk around in the elements for short periods of time.
Yes, my face was numb, my fingers cold, and my body stiff; but I was in Banff!
How to spend a Winter holiday in Banff
Where to stay
Opting to immerse ourselves in nature, we chose to stay at the Hidden Ridge Resort, which is slightly out of town and surrounded by parkland.
We were lucky enough to get a room upgrade during our stay, offering us a spa overlooking the town, which was spectacular any time of the day. The hotel itself also has a large spa pool that all guests can use.
Our two-storey condo was equipped with a full kitchen, guest bathroom, fireplace, lounge and dining areas, a balcony housing the spa, and upstairs was our bedroom and ensuite.
Downtown was only a 15-20 minute walk away — but would be much less in Summer — thanks to a shortcut that takes you through the neighbouring suburb. The hotel ground is also home to a bus stop, with a downtown bus line coming through every 15 minutes or so throughout the day.
Wild elk and deer roam freely around the parkland, and the town itself; with locals claiming that it’s not uncommon to find them wandering across the main street.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any elk, but we did come across two deer while exploring the surrounding grounds of the hotel, which I got very excited about.
What to do
Because it was so cold, we largely spent our time shopping, relaxing by the fire, or walking around looking for wild animals!
After the fun we had snow-shoeing in Lake Louise, we were very tempted to buy a pair each so we could explore even further, but decided against the idea after contemplating lugging them around for the rest of our holiday.
Because we are crazy kiwis, we decided to walk from our hotel, through town, across the bridge, and up to the Fairmont Springs hotel.
To put this in perspective, it’s about a 3.8km walk in freezing temperatures.
At the base of the hotel grounds is Bow Falls; unfortunately the cliff top is closed during Winter, but we were able to get a good look at the frozen waterfall from the river walk.
We then took the track up to the Fairmont Springs hotel, and popped into the warmth of the Waldhaus Pub and Patio for a much needed warm apple cider.
The pub was like taking a trip back to Bavaria; really cosy and warm, and offered a welcome break from the freezing temperatures outside.
No matter how cold it is, you can’t visit Banff without taking a trip up the Banff Gondola.
The observation deck offers a couple of different eateries, and no matter where you choose to sit, you’ll get an amazing view of Banff and its surrounds.
It’s also home to a Skywalk, which takes you to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site, and Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station. Unfortunately it was far too cold and windy for us to brave this self-guided walkway; but it’s on the list for next time!
A short bus ride from Banff is the town of Canmore.
We initially went to check out The Grizzly Paw Brewery, as we had enjoyed their beverages during our time in Alberta.
While there, we also stumbled upon the most glorious little shop I have ever laid eyes on: O’Canada Soapworks. With its homemade bars of soap, range of skin products, and bath melts galore; this little shop was heaven!
The lady working there was super friendly and helpful, and the products are actually amazing. I swear, their Relief Skin Silk is better for relieving muscle aches and pains than Deep Heat, Nurofen Gel, or any other pain rub I have ever tried before. We will definitely be placing an order for more.
To escape the cold — yes, we did a lot of that in Banff — we popped into Good Earth Coffee House, where we had our first real experience of all the different options available in North America. Did we want full cream, half-and-half, no fat, low fat or nut milk? Our server was a good laugh and had a joke with us, before we settled down to a hot coffee and muffin each.
What’s for eating?
With so many options in Banff, you really are spoilt for choice.
We had heard that Coyotes was a must-visit dining experience, but unfortunately it was either closed or too busy whenever we tried to get a table, so I can’t confirm that for you.
But I can tell you about these three eateries:
Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon: Let me just start by saying you have to try their Crispy Corn Fritters, they are AMAZING. Their menu is full and delicious, with local beers on tap; can’t go wrong.
Boston Pizza: I guess this is classed as a chain restaurant, but the food was good, and as we sat in the bar area, we got to watch sport and drink beer at the same time — winning!
Grizzly House: The dining experience of all dining experiences. We initially tried to get a table at the Grizzly House on our first night after taking one look at it. Unfortunately they were completely booked out, but we managed to book in for our last night instead. It was well worth the wait. Offering a four-course fondue dinner, we had to be rolled out the door by the end of it.
Have I missed anything?
Have you been to Banff before?
What should we add to our list for next time?
If you have any tips for surviving freezing temperatures, we’re all ears!