While I had toured British Columbia and Alberta in the height of summer a decade ago, there’s no comparison to what it feels like when you first step foot on Lake Louise or cruise into Banff in winter, the surrounding peaks blanketed with a fresh covering of snow. It might as well be a different country entirely.
Our Canadian trip went a little something like this: one night in Vancouver, one night on the train, two nights in Jasper, one night in Lake Louise and two nights in Banff.
Since Canada by Design fully customizes each experience for your own travel style, you could easily extend this trip to take 10 days to two weeks if you had the time to spare. Many travelers like to tack on 48 hours in Vancouver or Calgary on either or both sides.
I should also note that we purposely planned our trip to be a bit more lax, since we were traveling with our moms. So if you’re the kind of energetic traveler who needs three activities a day on her docket, that’s no problem—we just barely scratched the surface of what there is to do in Canada in winter, and there were other activities like snowshoeing, ice-climbing or dog-sledding we could have used to fill our days.
And if you’re the type of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, go-with-the-flow jetsetter, you might like to follow our schedule, which was based on Canada by Design’s Snow Train to the Rockies tour and the perfect mix of planned and unplanned fun for a foursome with very different travel styles. Here’s a bit of a better idea of what each stop actually entailed.
What to Do in Vancouver
I’d been to Vancouver before, so didn’t feel the need to cram everything in on this visit; activities like Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain had already been checked off of my list. But what I did really want to do was mosey on over to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, so Canada by Design made sure we had vouchers, and we took a free shuttle to the other side of the river in North Vancouver.
This suspension bridge was amazing—the first iteration was built in the 1800s, and it’s been rebuilt and improved over time. The bridge has been under the current ownership since 1983 (the year I was born!) and a destination for 20 years. There’s also a little canopy park on the other side of the bridge, as well as a store and cafe for those who don’t want to cross (like my acrophobic mother!).
We also went to Granville Island, ate lunch at Edible, popped into the brewery for a flight and did a little shopping before arriving at Pacific Central Station in time for our 8:30pm departure on VIA Rail.
Where to Stay in Vancouver
We found a nice hotel, the Georgian Court Hotel, that was near the train station, clean and nice inside, and (most importantly) very friendly, so we were happy with our stay there. We tacked this on in addition to the Snow Train to the Rockies itinerary, and an important thing to note is that your Canada by Design designer can incorporate any ask you have, as well. You basically set your budget, and they’ll give you options for hotels within your price point.
What to Do in Jasper
The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies is a true stunner, rife in outdoor opportunities and wildlife. We hadn’t gone more than two minutes down the road from our hotel before we spotted a herd of elk, numbering at least 50! It was a sight to see, particularly when we spied a baby nursing. Awww!
Within Jasper National Park, there’s plenty to do by way of the outdoors (don’t believe me? check out these winter adventures). We spent an afternoon doing an ice hike into Maligne Canyon, which was epic, but I was under the weather so after the hour hike out to the actual ice canyon, I wasn’t feeling my best, so I listened to my body and stayed put while the rest of the group ventured into the frozen tundra wonderland.
If we were to go back to Jasper with a car, I wouldn’t hesitate in going out to Maligne Lake. You need a clear day and a good weather forecast, but many locals told us it is, bar none, one of the most scenic spots in the Canadian Rockies.
Where to Stay in Jasper
Just like the national park is the reason to visit Jasper, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is the place to stay in town. I’ve yet to meet a Fairmont I didn’t love, and the Jasper property was no exception. It’s surrounded by towering peaks, and the bi-level houses, cabins and rooms (numbering a whopping 440!) are situated around an expansive, 700-acre property. We got upgraded to a Junior Suite Lakeview with our very own fireplace, though the cabins sounded very charming, as well.
What to Do in Lake Louise
As you might expect, the lake is the central attraction in this small town, though there’s some good skiing just beyond this wintry destination. It was so crazy walking out onto a frozen lake of this size; there’s also ice skating, and there were plenty of youth playing pick-up games of ice hockey. I was recovering from a nasty stomach flu, so we spent a good amount of time sipping hot toddies inside the Fairmont, which is open to the public, before taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around the lake.
Where to Stay in Lake Louise
If you’re trying to save money, there are options like the Deer Lodge, where we stayed, that are more no-frills but just a five-minute walk from the lake (this mid-range hotel has an epic hot tub that was unfortunately closed while we were visiting). If you’re going all out baller status, the famed Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the place for you (I stayed here on my first trip to the area).
What to Do in Banff
Banff may very well be my favorite ski town I’ve ever visited, despite the fact that I’ve yet to ski its slopes. There’s an outdoor hot springs perched above the town that’s accessible by the public transportation (pro tip: your hotel key will likely get you free bus fare!). There’s plenty of shopping along Banff Avenue. There’s a decent dining scene, though be sure you make dinner reservations in advance or risk waiting up to two hours for a table.
There’s a distillery with great gin and a filling brunch. There’s Vermilion Lakes, which you need to take a cab out to in order to see some epic sunsets.
And there’s even a retro-themed bowling alley with 48 beers on tap and a sinful selection of pizzas. This is how we ended our last night in Banff, which was also a fitting (and fun!) conclusion to our week-long mother-daughter trip.
Where to Stay in Banff
There are so many cute, lodge-themed inns lining the main boulevard. We stayed at Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa (would you check out that hot tub pool?!), but I have a feeling they’re all quite similar, so pick a budget you’re comfortable spending on lodging and let your trip designer know, so he/she can recommend the perfect place just for you. I can’t tell you how handy it was to have a voucher for every coach, train ride, hotel stay and activity, and not have to plan any of it ourselves!
If you’re feeling spendy, you can’t go wrong with the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Rimrock Hotel, with the best views in town.
For a more thorough look at the area, check out this handy Banff travel guide.
What did I miss? Anything you’d like to know about visiting Jasper, Lake Louise or Banff in winter?
Looking for more tips to planning your winter trip to Canada? Check out my past posts:
- Taking My Mom to Canada: A Dream Winter Vacation in Alberta
- On the VIA Rail: A Train Ride Across Canada’s Rocky Mountains