Wanting to explore the Canadian Rockies without all the major crowds? You must visit during Winter, the most magical time of year!
I share the top places to visit that nearly everyone can enjoy, within a 2-10-minute walk from your car! No need to hike long distances, wear heavy bags, climb high altitudes to see magical winter landscapes in the Canadian Rockies!
Before I get into the best places to visit, there are 5 things you must know before you go!
It can be extremely cold in the Canadian Rockies
January is the coldest month with average temperatures of -15c (5F), February -11C (12F) and in March -8C (18F).
I visited in early January. It reached a whopping, -30C (-22f) one day which is not uncommon. Don’t let that deter you though. With the proper clothing, you can stay WARM! I spent six days photographing outdoors for several hours and stayed warm the entire time!
Check out my complete guide to exactly what I wore and what I could not live without!
It’s cheaper to visit during the winter
The Canadian Rockies have become a major tourist attraction which means skyrocketing prices and extremely difficult to find places to stay without booking months in advance regardless if your camping or staying at a hotel.
Winter, is a different story. January is considered a slow month. You can plan a trip last minute and book a stay without paying an arm and leg at some of the most iconic lodges. Check out the lodge we stayed at below!
I paid $300 for a Delta flight from Detroit to Calgary only three weeks before my trip!
Banff is only a ONE HOUR drive from Calgary Airport. Yoho and Jasper National Park are only a couple of hours further making it easy to explore several iconic spots, three famous National Parks in a short amount of time.
During the summer season, it’s nearly impossible to photograph the most popular spots without a crowd of people. This takes away the magic, in my opinion.
However, visiting in January, there are very few people. You get to soak up all the breathtaking snowy views nearly all to yourself. There is just something so magical about the winter silence, crisp cold air, and marshmallow puffs of snow on treetops!
Another plus side, the parking lots are not full of tour buses and vehicles forcing you to park miles away.
ROADS MAY BE CLOSED
There may be some road closures driving throughout the Canadian Rockies, be sure to check here for up to date road reports before planning to visit iconic spots.
Due to the amount of snow on trails and avalanches, most iconic hikes are closed between October and June. If you would like to hike check out Travel Alberta’s list of 12 best winter hikes here.
However, I share the top places to visit that nearly everyone can enjoy, 2-10 minute walk from your car! No need to hike long distances, wear heavy bags, climb high altitudes to see magical landscapes in the Canadian Rockies!
12 Best winter destinations to visit in the Canadian Rockies
I had the opportunity to spend 6-days with sought after Sony Alpha Ambassador Rachel Ross on an all-female photography workshop. It was a trip of a lifetime and a world of knowledge! The best part, I didn’t have to plan a thing!
She has photographed, researched and hunted down some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Canadian Rockies! There was no major hiking, backpacking, or climbing high altitudes. Which is GREAT NEWS to you! These spots are assessable to nearly everyone!
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN BANFF
When visiting downtown Banff, you have to take their iconic street view photo. This is one of the most photographed spots in all of Banff.
Be sure to explore all their local shops and see what events are going on during your visit, here.
You MUST try a famous BEAVER TAIL! It’s a Canadian Iconic indulgence since 1978. Dessert is my weakness, so of course, I would never turn down an opportunity to try something so delicious!
I couldn’t decide on all the delicious flavors so I let the cashier pick his favorites. Avalanche, had cheesecake spread, Skor bits, and caramel sauce. My mouth is watering just typing that! The second half was chocolate hazelnut spread and banana slices… mmm mmm mmm!
WHERE TO STAY
Emerald Lake is central to all three iconic National Parks such as Yoho, Banff, and Jasper making it a great place to stay without having to move all your belongings to several places.
I can almost promise you if you’ve ever scrolled through photos of Canada on Instagram you’ve seen Emerald Lake. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in the Canadian Rockies.
I was very surprised but the lodge was not extremely busy.
The best part about staying at Emerald Lake Lodge was we got to photograph every morning and night. Each time was so different!
Vermilion Lakes in Banff Alberta is one of the top spots for photographers to gather. Go early in the morning or for sunset and you will see a dozen photographers getting this composition. Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountian reflect in the unfrozen part of the lake. It does not completely freeze over here because of its natural hot spring. It’s a two-minute walk from your car. You can park on the side of the road.
Lake Louise is a glacial lake within Banff National Park. Even though you can’t see its emerald milky blue/green color during the winter it’s still a magical sight to visit.
During the summer months, you will see red canoes scattered all over the lake. You most likely have seen photos of this place on Instagram.
It’s a five-minute walk from the parking lot to this location. Just behind me sits several resorts and shopping. There was an ice festival going on, be sure to see what events are going on during your visit, here.
People were ice skating and playing hockey to my right. Even though there was a lot going on, this was a great location to take photos. There were about a dozen photographers at this location.
I highly recommend visiting for sunrise or sunset.
Bow Lake is one of the Lakes that line the Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper National Park. Since we couldn’t access Panther frozen waterfall because of non-packed snow, we had some time to spare before sunset. We stopped and explored for an hour. There were several cross-country skiers doing the popular hike along the edge of Bow Lake.
This was our view about a 5-10 minute walk from the parking lot.
DRIVE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic highways in the world stretching 144 miles of vast wilderness, pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers, and endless valleys. There are an endless amount of places to stop along the drive.
HIKE WITH WOLVES IN THE WILD
Visiting Northern Lights Wolf Centre was by far one of the most unique, one of a kind, magical experiences I have ever been a part of.
I got to walk in the wild with wolves!
No cages or chains, just you walking alongside wolves in their natural habitat.
The Northern Lights Wolf Centre promotes wolf conservation throughout the natural environment. They strive to provide a one-of-a-kind experience to the public as they support conservation through education.
I even got a SMOOCH from Flora, a 100% grey wolf.
READ MORE: My experience walking with wolves in the wild and everything you should know here!
VISIT ABRAHAM LAKE FROZEN ICE BUBBLES
Imagine being surrounded by millions of frozen bubbles full of methane, a gas that is 25 times more powerful than carbon monoxide and yet is in awe of its beauty. Just don’t light a match, right?!
Check out the complete guide where I dive into everything you must know before visiting Abraham Lake, my experience, what is methane gas, how frozen bubbles are created, map where to find the best-frozen bubbles, best time to visit, what to expect, exactly what kept me warm -20c + high winds, where to stay, how to photograph ice bubbles and the camera gear I used! YES, its a lot and everything you should know!
This bridge is only a five-minute drive from Emerald Lake Lodge. You can park and take a short walk to the viewpoint. It’s quite fascinating that this river freezes over as it usually raging during the summer months. The best time to visit it completely frozen over is in January and mid-February. It can be extremely dangerous to walk inside and around the natural bridge area.
We did not go inside since it was not completely frozen over.
Check out this amazing shot from Rachel Ross our Sony Alpha Instructor got from the year prior.
Castle Mountain is located along the Bow Valley Parkway. You will come to a bridge right as you see a river flowing past Castle Mountain, pull over and park safely to the side of the road. There is a wildlife gate to get down to the river (left of the bridge) – make sure to keep it closed after entering and exiting. The river provides beautiful reflections and you may find some snow flowers or unique foregrounds.
If you’re like me mesmerized by rocks, there is an endless amount of beautiful rocks ranging in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
ICE CASTLES IN EDMONTON
Ice canyons, ice slides, ice tunnels, grand ice archways, and ice princesses need I say more?!
Ice Castles in Edmonton is a must see while in Alberta. Also, because I didn’t go, I would love to hear about your experience, go ahead, rub it in :p! I’ve been drooling over all these frozen fairy tale photos I keep seeing!
Ice Castles is an award-winning frozen attraction located in six cities across North America. They use hundreds of thousands of icicles hand-placed by professional ice artists.
You can find Panther waterfall in Banff National Park. Its considered a class 3 waterfall, with a drop of 200ft and 25ft wide. Now just imagine that completely FROZEN! It creates all these beautiful icicles and long shafts of ice to explore. It’s a short .3 mile round trip hike. We were not able to access this area since it recently snowed and the trail was not packed down. We could have done it but would have been extremely hard! Bring snowshoes just in case trail is not packed down. If you step off the trail you sink past your waist, it’s really funny!
Those are the top 10 places to visit and photograph while in the Canadian Rockies. Which ones are at the top of your list? I would love to hear from you!
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