The Rocky Mountains are synonymous with Canada and while they are just a sliver in the vast Canadian landscape, they offer a spectacular variety of scenery and adventure no matter the season.
I took my two boys to the mountains just an hour west of Calgary for 2 and a half of days of adventure and relaxation. You can do both with this easy winter weekend itinerary in Banff for families.We stayed at the Fox Suites Hotel. Just a few blocks east of the center of the mountain village, it’s easy to walk to any sights you may want to explore in town. The kitchenette in the suites is a small bar fridge, microwave, and toaster. So it’s easy to make quick meals and snacks, but nothing more than that. Breakfast is included with your room rate, and that’s provided with a self-serve buffet in the Chili’s restaurant. Waffles, cereal, toast, pastries, juice, fruit, and yogurt are easy to find.
The Fox Suites Hotel also has a unique hot tub in their center courtyard celebrating the roots of Banff National Park. An open air hot tub / grotto is below the courtyard where you can soak after a day on the slopes or hiking the trails. The kids loved it as part of our weekend away in Banff.
Here’s what we did:
Morning at Lake Minnewanka
While I was hoping to go for a skate on Lake Minnewanka, I just wasn’t convinced it was safe. The area had been warm the past few weeks, and we could hear creaks coming from near the dam.
Still, others have skated the 28km length of the reservoir in recent weeks capturing amazing photos of the mysterious methane bubbles beneath the surface. I chose a stop at Minnewanka to find these “frozen jellyfish” but had to settle for throwing rocks and ice chunks from the beach.
Just 10 minutes from Banff, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Johnson Lake offer great frozen lake experiences right near town without going all the way up to Lake Louise.
We could have easily grabbed one of the empty tables and had a lakeside picnic, but our hotel was available for an early check-in, so we dumped our gear and made some sandwiches in our room.
Afternoon Tubing at Mt Norquay
In the afternoon we made the trek back across the Trans Canada highway and up the twisty turns to Mount Norquay. Again, just a few minutes from town and you felt like you were right in the heart of the Rockies.
My youngest barely scraped over the 42″ height restrictions for the tube park, and we headed over to the hill. You have a choice of dragging a tube up the hill on your own, or riding a moving sidewalk. Once at the top you can ride on your own or be linked up with a friend.
Our visit was particularly sunny and icy with the operator at the bottom estimating speeds were hitting 65 km/h. That’s fast. I’d recommend bringing a helmet as you feel helpless sliding down the gully.
The boys had a blast on a number of runs before doing our après thing at the tube park patio.
We chose an easy dinner in our hotel Chili’s. We could have just as easily gone into town to Earl’s, The Balkan, Old Spaghetti Factory, or many other easy family places.
Morning: Upper Hot Springs
At the hotel breakfast bar, many were up and in their ski gear already. We were taking a relaxing approach to the morning. We pulled in to the Banff Upper Hot Springs just at the 10a opening and had the place to ourselves.
The sunrise was dancing through the tall trees and streaming through the rising steam of the outdoor pool. It was a great way to quietly start the day.
We went back to the room again for lunch. This is what I love about this winter weekend itinerary in Banff: everything is close. It’s 5-10 minutes to get anywhere, and our excursions were only an hour or two each. So we did a lot of things, but never really felt like we were go, go, go. Having downtime with kids is just as important has having fun.
Afternoon: Ski Lessons
Mt Norquay offers many different types of ski lessons from private instruction to groups, from beginner to racers. If the kids don’t feel like skiing and you do, they also have a daycare where you can drop them off. They really cater to all.
For our afternoon, the boys had an instructor on the bunny hill, while I had one to help me bang off 15 years of rust since I had last ridden. After getting the boys going, I took off to pull down half a dozen runs along the long blue and green runs.
In 30 minutes we covered 8 km of trails and my rust was removed to have me hitting speeds of nearly 50km/h. Tracking our turns on Strava was cool.
Thighs sufficiently burned, we circled back to check in on the boys and I was thrilled to see them progress enough to take their first bona fide chair lift rides.
After a couple of hours on the hill and a hot chocolate in the lodge, we headed back down to get ready for dinner.
Dinner: Bear St Tavern
The Bear St Tavern brags that it is the home of ‘ridiculously good pizza,’ and the crowds believe it. The boys doodled and drew while we waited for their cheese pizzas and I nibbled on a bowl of Banff Roughage. The salad is a mix of quinoa, greens, and grilled vegetables. Then I had The Wheeler Hut, a pizza drizzled with pesto and some extra smoked bison.
It was all too much and half was brought home in a box the next day for lunch and was even better. Next visit I’m up for the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese, good enough to earn a spot on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here.
Ideas For A Weekend Itinerary In Banff
Our winter weekend itinerary in Banff was both relaxed and busy. We did a number of short activities that each had breaks built in to relax at the hotel. This gave the boys time to recoup, have fun playing Minecraft in the hotel, and still see a lot of what the Rockies have to offer.
Despite all the activities, we still could have done more.
There’s skiing at Lake Louise and Sunshine Village just a 30 minute drive away. You can hike up Johnston Canyon, 20 minutes down the Bow Valley Parkway and see dramatic frozen water falls.
"Going to Johnston Canyon in the winter when the waterfalls are frozen should be on everyone's list." – @mxleox pic.twitter.com/SDsUuLPyRB
— Travel Alberta (@TravelAlberta) January 7, 2015
Before your soak at the Upper Springs, you could climb the trail up Sulphur Mountain, or maybe just ride the gondola to the top and take in the world class view.
If you pack along your skates, you can hit the ice behind the Banff Springs Hotel, skate at Lake Louise, or at the rink in the center of Banff.
There’s also great snowshoeing, dogsledding, and well.. you get the idea. A winter weekend itinerary in Banff can be as packed or as relaxed as you want it to be, and it will be just perfect.
Thanks to the Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau for hosting us for this trip.
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Three time Guinness World Record Holder.
I run the world for Team Diabetes.