Hibernation is for bears, not people…
It might be tempting to stay in bed when it’s so cold outside, but with so many incredibly diverse winter activities at your fingertips, there’s really no excuse for hiding indoors.
While many of the ‘winter activities in Alberta’ blog posts you’ll find are about outdoor adventures and winter sports, we’ve done our best to make this a bit broader.
Whether you love outdoor adventures, curling up by a crackling fire or immersing yourself in soothing hot springs, there’s something for everyone in our top 13 Winter Activities in Alberta!
Get yourself into hot water
I’m starting with my personal favourite, because there’s nothing I love more than soaking in hot water when it’s cold outside.
We’re lucky to be spoiled by many different options in Alberta, with the Kananaskis Nordic Spa finding itself at the absolute top of my list.
If you’ve never been, I urge you to grab your partner, or a few friends, and spend the day lounging and rejuvenating your mind, body and soul. The Nordic Spa ritual is simple: Hot. Warm. Cold. Rest. Repeat.
With multiple pools at different temperatures, varying steam rooms/saunas, and rest areas like the heated hammocks and fire pits, you can easily lose hours going through the cycle.
A day pass to the Spa costs $85 and is an adults only space.
If it’s natural hot springs you’re after, the Albertan side of the Canadian Rockies have a couple of options (Banff Upper Hot Springs and Mist Mountain). With that being said though, you’ll find most across the border in British Columbia.
Ice skating on (sometimes clear!) frozen lakes
If you visit Alberta in Winter, there’s nothing more quintessentially Canadian than skating on a frozen lake or river.
Alberta is littered with beautiful frozen lakes and rivers in Winter, and you can find them in virtually every town or city. Banff, for example, has at least 11 places that you can skate in Winter!
Some skating rinks appear literally overnight with the most stunning transparent ice and only last for a few days. Others are maintained all winter, like Lake Louise in Banff or William Hawrelak Park in Edmonton.
For one of the most interesting Ice rinks, head to Bowness Park in Calgary and skate the ice lagoon.
Either way, make sure you get out there and experience something truly Canadian!
Explore frozen waterfalls and canyon ice walks
There are a number of great winter walks in Alberta worth exploring. Grab your ice spikes and walk up a frozen river, or through a frozen slot canyon.
The most popular adventures near Banff are Johnston Canyon (definitely need ice spikes for this one), Bow Falls and Grotto Canyon. You can even go ice climbing on many of these waterfalls with the correct gear!
If those popular spots are too busy for you, you can also try hiking to Troll Falls or Elbow Falls in Kananaskis, Lundbreck Falls in Southern Alberta, or head up to Jasper National Park to explore Maligne Canyon.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and you have a winter capable car, Panther Falls on the Icefields Parkway (again, crampons are a great idea), or Crescent Falls in Nordegg are great options.
The Ice Magic Festival at Lake Louise
Hosted at Lake Louise, the Ice Magic Festival is a once a year spectacle where world-renowned ice carvers compete to create the most beautiful and intricate ice sculptures.
The Ice Magic Festival is so much more than just viewing the ice sculptures, though. You can also can skate around the enormous ice castle on the lake, hop on a sleigh ride or duck into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Walliser Stube for the most incredible fondue dinner on earth (objectively:D).
Check out our post on the top things to do in Lake Louise in Winter to learn more!
Cross-country skiing on Moraine Lake Road
Winter visitors to Alberta are sometimes disappointed to learn that Moraine Lake Road is closed in Winter, and that the lake is inaccessible until Spring.
That may be the case, but you can still enjoy the breathtaking views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks with cross-country skis!
In Winter, the Moraine Lake Road is track set for cross country skis, which you can follow until you almost get to Moraine Lake.
Unfortunately the last couple of kilometres are an avalanche hazard so you can’t quite make it to Moraine itself, but the views are breathtaking nonetheless.
Cross country skiing is an amazing workout, and taking on the Moraine Lake Road in Winter is one of the few times you can experience it without the crowds. You won’t regret it!
Enjoy the world famous ski resorts
World class skiing is right at your doorstep in Alberta and it always amazes us how many people don’t take advantage of it!
My favourite ski resort in Alberta is Lake Louise because you honestly can’t beat the views, but Robin always argues that Sunshine has the best terrain.
The great thing about the Big 3 resorts in Banff is that they’re only 30 minutes apart from one another. That means you can wake up in the morning and just head to the mountain that’s had the most snow overnight!
Notable mentions: while these may not be in Alberta, they’re close enough to get a mention – Kicking Horse, Castle Mountain and Fernie are all world class ski resorts. There are few places in the world with better, fluffier powder.
Ask any local and their best powder day will have almost certainly come from one of these three resorts.
Go Tubing at one of Alberta’s many ski resorts
Tubing is an awesome Winter activity that’s suitable for all ages. Grab a big inflatable tube and rocket down a specially designed snow chute. Anyone can do it, and in fact, multiple people can often fly down together.
The best place to do it has got to be Mt. Norquay in Banff National Park. They have the biggest chutes and tubes, so you can really work up some speed.
Norquay’s views are out of this world (not that you can appreciate it when you’re spinning at high velocity), and it’s only minutes from the town of Banff.
But it’s not just limited to Norquay. Virtually all the ski hills have tubing parks these days. Marmot Basin in Jasper has one, Sunridge Ski Area in Edmonton has one, even Winsport (formerly known as COP) in Calgary has one.
There’s literally no excuse to visit Alberta and not go tubing.
Go for Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont
Afternoon Tea, although very British, has become synonymous with Alberta. And nowhere more so than with the Fairmont Hotel chain.
Over the years, we’ve had the chance to experience all the Fairmont afternoon teas in Alberta, and can say now with absolute certainty that our favourite is at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton.
The scones, particularly the lavender scones, are unbelievably good, and the decision to use berry compote instead of jam is inspired. They even have a special one harvest per year, hand rolled Jasmine tea on their tea menu.
Go for afternoon “Royal Tea” (geddit?) at the Fairmont MacDonald, and they’ll throw in a guided tour of the hotel afterwards for free. This includes a tour of the royal suite, where Queen Elizabeth stayed, and strangely, where Lady Gaga replaced all the sofas?!?!).
In terms of location, this historic castle-like hotel is as good as it gets in Edmonton. With views of the river valley from your room, and only a short walk or drive to many incredible restaurants, the iconic Fairmont property does not disappoint.
It’s pure decadence and the perfect remedy for the winter blues. You have to try it.
Search for frozen bubbles
There’s a strange phenomenon in Alberta that you’ve probably seen or heard about by now. That is, the beautiful frozen methane bubbles at Abraham Lake.
When plant life decays underwater, it releases methane bubbles. These methane bubbles then get trapped under the ice, forming the bubbles that we’re all obsessed with.
It happens in lakes all over Alberta (Lake Minnewanka and Spray Lakes, for example), but Abraham Lake is reputed to have the best.
Early on in Winter, you’ll have the best luck out at Preacher’s Point. Once it’s snowed a little though, Windy Point is a better bet.
Caution: Abraham Lake is a reservoir, meaning the water level can drop a long way below the ice. Be very careful about where you explore, and stay near the shore.
Where is Abraham Lake?
Abraham Lake is just minutes from Nordegg (a fantastic place for a winter cabin escape) or an hour and a half from Lake Louise, so it’s extremely easy to get to in winter.
The roads can be treacherous in Winter, so make sure you have winter tires, winter supplies and a full tank of gas.
Visit the Ice Castles in Edmonton
Without a doubt, our favourite thing to do when the temperatures plummet is visit the Ice Castles in Edmonton, Alberta.
We’ve grown to love our yearly road trips up north where you can wander straight onto what looks like the set of Frozen – but better!
Every winter, over 25,000,000 pounds of hand placed icicles are transformed into gorgeous, towering ice castles. That’s 8 to 12,000 icicles!
Once you’re inside, you’ll find slides, fire pits, lights, sculptures and fountains to explore in this vast labyrinth of ice. Trust us, a trip here is well worth it.
When to visit
The Ice Castles are only open until the weather warms up, so the visiting window can be very short. We recommend visiting on a weekday if you’d like to avoid the crowds. Find out more about when to visit here
Go for a staycation at Fantasyland and West Edmonton Mall
While you’re in Edmonton, stay a while! While the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald is pure luxury, Fantasyland offers something completely different:
Need I say more?
If you’re looking to spend most of your time on the west side of town or you want to do some serious shopping at West Edmonton Mall, this is where you need to be staying.
Check into the modern Igloo themed room which is just as “cool” as it sounds.
Fantasyland is also literally attached to the biggest mall in North America; West Edmonton Mall. So if you want to do any shopping, this is the place to stay.
Why is West Edmonton Mall so big?
Well, aside from the dozens of great shops inside, it also has a waterpark, themepark, movie theatre, pirate ship, mini golf course and an aquarium. I’m pretty sure I could spend a month in West Edmonton Mall and not run out of things to do.
If you have children, this hotel is a no-brainer for your next trip to Edmonton.
Visit the Buffalo at Elk Island National Park
Just 30 minutes outside Edmonton, you’ll find one of Canada’s most understated National Parks.
From the outside, it doesn’t seem to offer anything special; no towering peaks or turquoise lakes to speak of. So why do we think it’s worth visiting then?
It’s home to dozens of Wood Buffalo.
Although Canada is the natural home to Wood Buffalo, several thousand years of hunting had seen them almost hunted to extinction.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
Just take a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site in Southern Alberta (definitely worth a visit), and you’ll see how hundreds of Buffalo would be herded off cliffs and killed in a single hunt. Archaeologists discovered millions (yes millions) of buffalo skeletons in that single location.
Anyway, a few of the last Buffalo were saved and moved here, and those few have blossomed into hundreds.
You can now visit and watch them from your car in a safari style enclosure. It’s a wonderful and rare sight that’s well worth a detour.
Eat – The food here is undeniably good
I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or winter boredom that makes us turn to food in Alberta, but slowly, we’re becoming a bit of a sneaky foodie province. Edmonton and Calgary both have fantastic restaurants at their fingertips that are well worth exploring.
We personally spend a lot of time eating in Calgary’s Chinatown (Calgary Court has excellent HK style food), and when we head to Edmonton we eat as many meals as we can physically squeeze in (last time we had an excellent meal at Hanjan).
Overall, you’ll find there are plenty more things to do in Winter in Alberta than you might have initially thought. We have great food, activities, adrenaline and luxury in droves, and there’s so much more to see than our incredible ski hills.
Face it, you owe it to yourself to stay a little longer and explore!
- 10 things to do in Lake Louise in Winter
- 20 things to do in Banff in Winter
- 35 Things to do in Jasper
- Things to do in Fernie in Winter
- Banff’s Best Winter Walks
- A winter weekend in Nordegg
- Finding Frozen Methane Bubbles in Abraham Lake