Banff National Park and Jasper National Park—two beloved parks in Canada’s Alberta province—experience their peak season during summer and fall, with an estimated 5 million people flocking here to see brilliantly hued foliage and Lake Louise’s icy-blue lake.
But guess what? As locals already know, that same natural terrain is also ideal for outdoor adventure when the temperature drops. Along with cozy tea houses and luxe lodging (a combination of glamping and castle-like Fairmont properties), winter is turning into the new season to travel here. An added bonus: the crowds have thinned, so you don’t have to fight for a hotel or dinner reservation.
With a backdrop of Dark Skies and pine-scented forests activities on offer that include forest bathing, stargazing, skiing, ice skating, wildlife viewing, and e-biking—all soft-adventure activities that get the blood flowing and aren’t just for pro athletes—you can embrace the cold and breathe in all that fresh air among the Canadian Rockies. Then, at night, kick back with comfort foods like fondue and some of the country’s best Japanese food for the ultimate apres-ski experience, even if you didn’t snap into skis that day.
Where to Stay
This family-owned lodge in Kananaskis recently debuted six safari-style platform tents with gas stoves—and no TVs or WiFi to truly unplug. Guests are greeted upon arrival with a cheese and charcuterie board and have full access to an herbal tea bar stocked with Baff Tea Co. teas. Rates fold in breakfast and dinner at the lodge, both hearty multi-course meals paired with cocktails, beer, and wine if you wish. On-site are opportunities to snowshoe and stargaze. Plus, the tents’ toiletries are from local bath-and-body fave Rocky Mountain Soap Company, which has shops in Camden and Banff and is the Canadian version of Lush, a British retailer.
When Lake Louise freezes over, you can ice skate or walk on it. Guides in the rental shop can take you on a nature walk, cross-country ski trek, or a showshoe hike, and a 10-minute shuttle gets you to the slopes for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Later this year, the resort will reveal a new thermal wellness facility, revamped spa, and guest-room design tweaks. In the meantime, enjoy indulgent perks like afternoon tea with a mountain view and fondue at Walliser Stube; and pillowy, buttery croissants at the to-go café. Love to send postcards and shop for rare books? Mountain Lights (one of the resort’s shops) is a gem.
With a rooftop hot tub framing mountain views, plus an indoor pool, fitness center, spa with 10 treatment rooms, and a cozy fireplace in the lodge, this wellness-oriented property debuted in 2016. Guestroom décor is awash in nature-inspired, light hues. From here you can easily walk into the town of Banff or opt to “stay in” for all-day dining at the hotel’s Pacini Italian Restaurant.
Where to Eat and Drink
In a cozy little dining space in downtown Camden with macrame and plants, two seasonally driven tasting menus are served—“the hunter” (includes meats) and “the gatherer” (vegetarian). Most of the ingredients are sourced locally. Every course is social-media friendly, with playful and whimsical plating and presentation, and there’s even a fresh-juice pairing option (in lieu of cocktails or wine).
Not all ski towns are known for Japanese food, but because Banff welcomes so many Japanese visitors, this izakaya-style pub—which opened in 2021—is a delicious exception. Pair sushi, miso black cod, Korean fried chicken, Tokyo fries (fries dusted with nori and served with takoyaki sauce and smoked bonito shavings), skewers, steamed bao buns, and more with sake- and plum-infused cocktails, like the Bloody Mari and The Last Samurai.
This longtime downtown Banff restaurant known for Alberta beef and game and its Farmers Breakfast recently launched an indigenous chef series, featuring Chef Shane Chartrand. Born to Cree parents and raised by a Metis father and Mi’kmaq-British mother, his dishes include a cinnamon-cured salmon appetizer in sweet mustard broth and—for the entrée—a choice of bison tenderloin and marrow, or cornmeal-crusted rainbow trout. Canadian wines are also prevalent.
This purveyor’s organic, hand-blended teas number around 60 (mostly loose leaf with some sachets available) and are sold at the adorable cabin-like downtown Banff shop. Two brewed varieties are always available for tasting. Founder Jolene Brewster’s family’s Banff roots go back to the early 1900s and she’s also a rodeo queen, with one of her saddles proudly displayed in the shop. For a sip of Canada, check out the Maple line: three teas featuring maple sugar and maple flavors.
Open since September of 2022, this eatery (with daily brunch and fondue happy hour) tucked into an Alpine-style building features midcentury-modern-chic décor emulating a ski chalet, like a suspended fireplace and wood-paneled walls. While marketed as a wood-fired steakhouse, serving up Alberta steaks and a Sunday-night steak special, you can also start the day with souffle pancakes or enjoy oysters with dinner.