There’s nothing like a winter getaway and the Canadian Rockies offer one of the most impressive snowscapes worldwide — with plenty of opportunities to experience the best of the cozy season.
“Unlike many winter resorts, the Canadian Rockies are pretty relaxed and quiet in the winter, making your time seem ultra-personal,” says Katherine Foxcroft, product manager with FreshTracks Canada. “I think it’s how most people imagine their ‘winter wonderland’ trip. It’s all frozen waterfalls, snowy solitude, cozy fireside moments and snow hanging thick from the evergreen forests.”
To help you make the most of your time, here are eight of the region’s most exhilarating, exclusive and unique experiences — from dog sledding and ice walking, to heli tours and hidden-gem pubs. Personalize your Canadian rail vacation with one or more of these Rocky Mountain activities when you book with Fresh Tracks Canada.
Snowshoe through a Rocky Mountain winter wonderland
Snowshoeing in the Rockies allows you to trek through spectacular mountain scenery in areas that would be difficult to get to by hiking alone. There are many guided options, suitable for both beginners and experts alike. The Paint Pots Snowshoe Tour by Banff Tours offers a two-mile hike through crisp snow, framed by the Rockies’ stunning natural beauty. Along the way, adventurers enjoy some uniquely Canadian treats, like hot maple taffy poured onto snow.
“This is a cultural treasure within our National Park,” says Bryony Hawkins, Reservations Supervisor with Banff Tours. “You can learn about the history of the fur trade as you explore the fascinating Paint Pots, which are mineral deposits once used by First Nations people for rock painting.”
Quick facts: This activity runs December to mid-April, and requires a moderate fitness level.
Dog sledding is an iconic Canadian Rockies experience
Traveling by dog sled is one of the most traditional winter experiences the Rockies have to offer. Various tours are offered in Banff and Jasper, where you’ll take in the snowy scenery and crisp mountain air while learning about the history of the area and its people. Some tours include lunch cooked over an open campfire, with hot apple cider and homemade treats.
“This is an authentic northern experience,” says Foxcroft. “As you glide behind your team of huskies through the beautiful frozen landscape, you’ll be amazed by how much these dogs love to pull. Spending time cuddling with your team is almost as good as the ride itself.”
Quick facts: This activity runs December to mid-April, and ranges from leisurely to active, depending on the tour.
Capture your winter Rocky Mountain vacation with a sunrise tour
The stunning sunrises are one of Banff’s best held secrets. Photographers will wake early and venture out to experience Banff National Park during golden hour. On this private tour, a guide will teach you how to take great photos, a trip ideal for amateurs and enthusiasts.
“The Canadian Rockies are like something straight out of a fairytale in the winter time,” says Dani Lefrancois, Banff Photo Workshops Guide. “The towering mountain peaks and beautiful pine trees, all covered in snow, are truly magical. Taking a landscape photography tour during the winter in the Rockies is the best way to get off the beaten path and see the beautiful first morning rays of pink light hit the snow and ice.”
Quick facts: This tour runs year round and lasts around three hours. It does require some walking.
Experience a dramatic frozen landscape on a Canadian Rockies Ice Walk
Surround yourself with the magic of the Rockies while participating in a guided ice walk — a tour that will lead you past water and ice falls to breathtaking scenery.
“You can explore nature’s eerie ice sculptures on a guided walk,” says Foxcroft. “You’ll see tumbling waterfalls stilled by the cold, as you weave through twisting limestone formations and blue ice-columns. For those who’ve seen the canyons raging with emerald green water in the summer, being on the canyon floor in winter is an extra thrill.”
In the Johnston Canyon Icewalk Tour, travelers will take a three-mile trek through a wildlife habitat to learn how the canyon was formed, or can opt for a night icewalk instead. Those who choose the Maligne Canyon Icewalk Tour will strap on ice cleats and venture beneath the frozen surface of the Maligne River into a magical world of ice formations and shelves on this two-mile walk.
Quick facts: These tours run from December to mid-March/mid-April, and require a moderate fitness level.
Snuggle up on a magical sleigh ride through Lake Louise
Nothing could be more picturesque than taking a horse-drawn sleigh through the real-life snow globe that is Lake Louise in the winter.
“Taking a sleigh ride in Lake Louise is magical,” says Kevin Stanton of Brewster Adventures. “We are one of the largest operators of this type of experience in the world, and it’s a bucket-list experience for many.”
As the only snowy sleigh ride of its kind in Canada, this adventure lets you take in the snowy sights from your cozy ride, where upholstered seats and blankets keep you warm throughout the trip.
Quick Facts: The season for sleigh rides starts mid-December and goes to early April, weather and snow cover permitting.
Spend a cozy evening in an upscale Rocky Mountain pub
A true winter hideaway can be found at the intimate Walliser Stube restaurant and wine bar in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. With its innovative European cuisine, guests can experience an authentic Swiss fondue to pay homage to the Fairmont’s Swiss heritage. Stay a while to enjoy a selection or two from the floor-to-ceiling wine library, which houses more than 500 bottles to pick from.
"The Walliser Stube is best known for the fondue, both cheese and chocolate, alongside a tempting variety of classic Swiss, German and Alpine dishes influenced by regional styles," says Mei Uthoff, food and beverage coordinator with Fairmont. "The restaurant has a cozy Swiss cabin atmosphere and is wonderful for an intimate, romantic dinner.”
Quick Facts: This offering runs year round.
Get your thrills with a heli safari in the Canadian Rockies
Get ready for the tour of a lifetime with the Abraham Lake Winter Heli Safari Experience — a thrilling 20-minute helicopter tour, high over the frozen landscape of the Canadian Rockies. After the tour, adventurers will touch down in the wilderness and embark on a one-hour snowshoeing adventure through pristine snow. You’ll have plenty of time to photograph Abraham Lake’s naturally occurring bubbles trapped deep within the ice, then enjoy a hot lunch. No prior snowshoeing or hiking experience is required.
Quick facts: These tours run from November through March, and require a moderate fitness level.
Go on a wildlife tour in the Canadian Rockies
Wildlife enthusiasts will love the chance to experience mystical Banff National Park in winter on a Banff Sightseeing Tour. A local guide will lead you through the icy wilderness, educating you about the natural environment, historic sights and the survival habits of the region’s wildlife. Keep your eyes and cameras ready to spot deer, elk, big-horned sheep and other creatures.
“Build a connection to our world heritage site, learn its history and view wildlife in their natural winter habitat,” says Hawkins about this rare experience. “This area transforms into a real-life snow globe in the winter that has to be seen to be believed.”
Quick Facts: This tour runs year round.