Visiting the Canadian Rockies and looking for a fun, yet cheap, winter activity? Well look no further than ice skating in Banff!
Yes, Banff National Park is one of those rare places in the world where the lakes freeze, offering that once in a lifetime opportunity to actually skate on top of natural ice!
So which are the best lakes to skate on in Banff?
This post is a comprehensive list of all the accessible places in Banff where you can don your skates and go fer’ a rip!.. As well as where you can rent or buy skates in Banff.
Important things to know about skating on frozen lakes
Ice Skating on lakes is weather dependent
Before you plan your trip too specifically though, a word of warning that some of these places are extremely time and weather dependent.
Often to actually skate on a natural frozen lake, your timing has to be absolutely perfect. This means that you have to visit the lake between the time it froze and the next snowstorm. Sometimes the window can be a week, sometimes just a day or two. Set your expectations at the right level!
Fortunately there are still some places in the Rocky Mountains that are always managed and cleared, meaning you’ll always be able to skate somewhere in winter!
How thick does ice need to be to skate on?
Before we get into the locations, another quick word on safety.
You may be wondering, is this ice thick enough to skate on? If the lake has just frozen and you find yourself being the first one out on the lake, you really want to avoid becoming a statistic or a candidate for the Darwin awards.
General rule of thumb is this:
- 4 inches thick supports a person
- 5 inches supports a snowmobile
- 8 inches supports a vehicle
If it’s less than 4 inches thick, strongly reconsider. Also remember that ice isn’t always the same thickness everywhere and that areas with cracks are the weakest. Avoid anywhere that looks wet or has liquid on the surface.
Assuming you won’t have a drill or auger to measure the ice thickness, take caution, check the conditions and if you don’t see anyone else on the ice it’s probably a good sign to avoid or be cautious.
11 of the Best Places to Ice Skate in Banff National Park
Maintained Outdoor Rinks
Lake Louise is by far the most famous and most popular place to go outdoor Ice Skating in Banff (or in Canada!). If you’ve ever wanted to skate on a real lake, this place is the ultimate.
Not only do you have two enormous skating rinks that are meticulously managed by the hotel (one for skating, one for hockey), you also have access to a number of other fantastic winter activities like Bavarian Ice Curling, sleigh rides, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and let’s not forget downhill skiing across the valley!
There’s also the Winter Ice Magic Festival that includes various ice sculptures, there’s an ice castle, an ice bar and plenty of great restaurants inside Chateau Lake Louise. You can read more about Winter in Lake Louise here.
This year (2019/20 Winter) Lake Louise was frozen by the first weekend of November. We had a few days of incredible skating before the snow dumped down. Then it was a few weeks until the snow was cleared and the rink was made. Expect the rink to be fully accessible in the first week of December.
Realistically, the Lake Louise skating season runs from Early December to around March or April, depending on how early spring sets in.
You can rent skates from the Fairmont for $20 per 2 hours or from Wilson Sports in Lake Louise Village for $12 per day.
Fairmont Banff Springs – Observation Deck – AKA Vermillion Lounge Skating Rink
This one is a big maybe because I’m not entirely sure if this is open to the public or guests only…but we’ve skated there plenty of times with no trouble; it’s definitely the cheekiest place to ice skate in Banff, that’s for sure!
This is the first man made rink on our list, and it’s a tiny, tiny one that’s perfect for beginners. This is where I came when I was first learning to skate. It’s super easy to find and is on the viewing deck of the Banff Springs Hotel, slap bang on top of the croquet lawn.
Only downside is that you’re right in front of the Vermillion Lounge dining room, so expect an audience!
Fairmont Banff Springs – Waldhaus
This rink is much bigger than the other and is located down by the Waldhaus restuarant and Bow Falls. When it hasn’t been covered by snow, this is another maintained, man made ice rink and is a fantastic place to skate in winter. There’s usually even a fire pit to warm up as well!
This is also the best place to go sledding in Banff. We came here on Boxing day this year and it’s absolutely THE place to go. You will go flying!
Only thing to note is that this rink is right by a river that has been prone to flooding in the past. Keep your wits about you if you’re skating here!
Banff Community High School
This is the most obvious place to go skating in Banff, because you can’t miss it as you drive down Banff Avenue. What’s normally a sports pitch in summer is hosed down as the temperature drops and becomes a beautiful skating rink in winter.
If you don’t fancy heading into the frozen wilderness, this is a great place to skate, just a stone’s throw from most of the hotels.
Fun fact of the day:
A Canadian hockey slang word for a loser is a “hoser”, which comes from the old days when the losing hockey team would have to hose down the skating rink to keep it fresh.
Every year, the town clears an oval on the Bow River for ice skating. This oval runs parallel to the town and can be found by the Banff Canoe Club. It’s a nice place to skate that’s just minutes from town and a hot cup of hot chocolate!
This is another awesome lake skate on, with a magnificent backdrop.
Vermillion freezes very early on in winter, as the lakes are very shallow. Therefore skating here is generally possible much earlier on in Winter.
Vermillion is generally cleared by locals looking for somewhere to skate, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be clear when you visit. Your best bet is to bring a shovel and clear a patch! It’s minutes from Banff, so well worth a try!
There are some lakes that just naturally appear one day. Parks Canada doesn’t clear them so you just have to be there at the right time. Here are the best ones each year!
Ice Skating on Lake Minnewanka
It’s rare that it’s possible to skate on Lake Minnewanka, but when the opportunity comes up it’s hard to beat!
This year was the first year we’d ever managed to skate here and now it’s easily my favourite place to skate in Banff.
I managed to be one of the first to notice it was ready for skating on this year while I was out on a photoshoot, but by the time I’d come back with my skates there were dozens of people out on the ice tearing it up. Word travels fast here!
Lake Minnewanka is HUGE, so skating here is incredible. With endless ice in front of you, you can really pick up some speed and not have to worry about crashing into barriers or other people. I highly recommend skating here if it’s possible.
This year it was possible to skate on Minnewanka from December 27th until after New Year, but as soon as the next snow fall dropped it all came to an end.
With that being said, the lake tends to freeze in sections, so while one area is covered by snow, the next area might not freeze until later in the season. In which case, game on!
If you want to rent skates for Minnewanka or any of the lakes near the town of Banff, our favourite place to rent is snowtips Bactrax on Bear St.
Skating on Two Jack Lake
Two Jack is right next door to Lake Minnewanka and is another lake that has proved possible to skate on over the past couple of years.
For the past two years, the entire lake has turned into a giant rink and as soon as word gets out people pour into the mountains to skate there. Last year we skated here and it was definitely worth the effort.
If you get there at the right time, you can see tree stumps littering the lake bottom. Walking on the ice is as stunning as it is unnerving, especially in parts where you can’t see how thick the ice is!
Unfortunately, Two Jack Lake’s skating conditions are incredibly hard to predict, and this year’s (winter 2019/2020) opportunity has already passed. In our opinion, the best time for skating at Two Jack is usually early December. In previous years, we skated here Dec 14th, but it honestly just depends on the weather that year.
This isn’t one I’ve skated on personally, but I’ve seen others skate here. Much like Minnewanka, it’s a huge lake so parts may freeze at different times. It’s a bit harder to reach than the others, so it’s a bit more of a gamble heading out there. If you catch it without snow though, the ice skating is world class!
Fenlands Recreational Centre
This is the only place on the list that’s indoors and entirely man made. If you don’t fancy skating on bumpy ice, or ice over frozen water, then this place is guaranteed flat as a pancake and totally safe. You can also try curling here!
This is also the only place on the list that costs money. $6 for over 17’s.
Lake Louise Recreation Centre
This is essentially the Lake Louise version of the Fenlands Recreation Centre. If you’re looking for perfectly polished ice in lake louise then this is the place to come, otherwise I would highly recommend going to actual Lake Louise to skate instead
Places you could try but probably wouldn’t have any luck
Johnson Lake and the Canal (very occasionally)
This is a ‘maybe’ because Johnson Lake is often closed these days. Therefore we haven’t counted it as one of the 11. Unfortunately, they had an outbreak of whirling disease in the lake and most of the year, the road is barricaded.
We drove past a few days ago and the entire road is still closed.
If you can make it down there though and the conditions are right, you’ll most likely have a stunning lake all to yourself!
There’s also a canal that runs from Two Jack Lake to Johnson Lake, and I’ve seen perfect ice here. I’m hesitant to recommend it though because it’s not very well travelled and you have moving water here rather than stationary water. Falling through the ice here would not be a good idea. Skate at your own risk!
The Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway gets a ton of snow, very early on, so even though there are plenty of lakes, trying to skate here is likely to end in failure, unless it’s right at the beginning of the season.
You’re also a long way from help if anything goes wrong. Stick to Banff and Lake Louise and you won’t go wrong!
Where to rent ice skates in Banff
Below is a big list of all the places you can rent skates in Banff and Lake Louise. We don’t generally rent because we own our own skates, but snowtips in Banff and Wilson in Lake Louise are our favourite rental spots. Far cheaper than renting at the Fairmont at least.
Finally, if you’re looking to buy some cheap skates, Canadian Tire always has fantastic deals on cheap but sturdy skates. I bought mine from there a few years ago and they’re still going strong. Obviously if you want something that’s top of the line, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
Banff Skate Rentals
- Explore Rockies Cafe (Banff International Hotel, next to the coffee shop)
- Banff Adventures Unlimited
- Ultimate Sports Downtown
- Ultimate Sports at the Inns of Banff hotel
- Chateau Mountain Sports at the Fairmont
- Fenlands Recreation Centre – only for onsite use
Lake Louise Skate Rentals
- Wilson Mountain Sports (Lake Louise Village)
- Chateau Mountain Sports at the actual Fairmont, inside by the carpark entrance.