An Alberta winter may be cold, but with so many fun things to do in Alberta in winter, there’s no reason to sit inside and hibernate.
Things to Do in Alberta in Winter
To make it easier to embrace winter in Alberta, we’ve put together a list of the best winter activities in Alberta and where to enjoy them so that you can stay active during our longest season.
Here’s our guide to enjoying an outdoorsy, winter trip to Alberta!
Downhill skiing is one of the best things to do in Alberta in winter because it’s exhilarating, great exercise, and the slopes offer up fantastic views. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy an après-ski scene with good company, tasty eats, and refreshing drinks?
The top ski resorts in Alberta can be found in the Rocky Mountains where you can enjoy fresh powder, long runs, and plenty of skiable terrain. There are several popular ski areas in and around Banff National Park, but you can also find ski resorts as far south as Pincher Creek and north in Jasper National Park.
If you don’t want to travel all the way to the Rockies to enjoy some downhill skiing, you can check out some of the smaller, local hills. Calgary has WinSport, home to the 1988 Winter Olympics, inside the city limits. Edmonton’s local hill is Snow Valley and the Rabbit Hill Snow Resort is just a 15 minute drive from the south side of the city. For skiing in Central Alberta, there’s Canyon Ski Resort, Alberta’s largest non-mountain ski area, just outside of Red Deer. Near Grand Prairie, you can ski on a small hill at the Nitehawk Year-Round Adventure Park.
The local hills are great for learning and are more budget friendly, but the mountain resorts are where it’s at if you want a variety of runs, stunning scenery, and an exciting ski vacation.
Hiking doesn’t have to be just for summer, especially since there are several scenic winter hikes in Alberta. During winter in Alberta, hiking trails have a whole different feel as they lead the way through an icy, snowy landscape.
For a dreamy, winter wonderland, hike Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park or Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. Both hikes feature frozen waterfalls, towering icicles, and frosty canyon walls.
To make your winter hike a little less slippery, strap a pair of crampons (ice cleats) over your boots and use a set of hiking poles.
There’s not much else more Canadian than skating on a frozen lake or taking part in an old-fashioned, friendly game of pond hockey.
Ice skating is one of the most popular winter activities in Alberta because it can be done in most towns, cities, or on any lake where there’s a cleared patch of ice. It makes for a fun afternoon with friends and family, or a romantic date night.
The Rocky Mountains definitely offer the best backdrop and atmosphere for ice skating. Some scenic skating rinks in Jasper National Park are on Pyramid Lake and Lac Beauvert, by the Jasper Park Lodge. In Banff National Park, you can skate around an ice castle on Lake Louise, or enjoy views of Bow Valley from the Spray Meadows rink at the Banff Springs hotel.
When conditions allow, you can also find some natural, unmaintained skating areas in Banff National Park on Lake Minnewanka, Vermillion Lakes, Two Jack Lake, and Johnson Lake. Just make sure the ice is thick and safe before heading out.
As for skating in the urban areas, you’ll find plenty of outdoor, boarded community rinks where you can play hockey. For pond skating, check out the Bower Ponds in Red Deer, Hawrelak Park in Edmonton, and Bowness Park Lagoon in Calgary.
Cross Country Skiing
Another enjoyable thing to do during winter in Alberta is go cross-country skiing. While not as thrilling as downhill skiing, it will get your heart pumping for a different reason- it’s more of a work out than it looks!
There are many parks and recreation areas in the province where you can find groomed ski trails, but one of the best known is Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park. The park has over 65 km of machine-made and natural trails that are suitable for both classic and skate skiing. There’s even an illuminated trail for night skiing. If you don’t own cross-country skis, you can rent or buy a pair here.
As for other locations, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, in scenic Kananaskis Country, has over 75 km of groomed trails that are mostly easy and intermediate. The Lake Louise area has over 20 track set trails to choose from and Banff and Jasper have a few easy and moderate ski trails as well.
Another notable location for cross-country skiing is Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, near Edmonton. The park has 65 km of track set trails, 35 km of roller-packed trails for skate skiing, and numerous non-groomed trails. The park also hosts the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival each year in February, if you’d like to take part in some competitive or recreational cross-country ski events.
One of the most fun things to do in Alberta in winter is go snowmobiling. Alberta has thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails to explore, both groomed and ungroomed.
One of the top destinations for snowmobiling is Whitecourt, the Snowmobile Capital of Alberta. The area gets an average annual snowfall of 174 cm and has a large network of trails that you can head out on. In southern Alberta, you can find snowmobiling areas in Castle Provincial Park.
If you’re up for a longer adventure, Alberta has some great multi-day snowmobile routes. The Golden Triangle, a 350 km circuit that links Whitecourt, Swan Hills, and Fox Creek, is done in two or three days. The Iron Horse Trail, a 300 km long segment of the Trans Canada Trail, can also be enjoyed over several days. It starts near Smoky Lake and passes through more than 18 communities including St. Paul, Bonnyville, and Cold Lake.
Snowshoeing is one of the more peaceful and relaxing winter activities in Alberta. It’s like winter hiking, except the snowshoes make it easier to get off the trails and into backcountry terrain.
You can go snowshoeing almost anywhere in Alberta. Some parks have designated snowshoe trails or you can forge your own path into the forest or across a frozen lake.
If you want to venture out on some established trails, Elk Island National Park has 80 km of hiking paths that double as snowshoe trails in the winter, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and the surrounding Kananaskis Country have several long snowshoeing loops and trails, as do Jasper, Banff, and the Lake Louise area. The Canmore Nordic Centre also has a 2.5 km snowshoeing loop.
Stargazing at Dark Sky Preserves
The short daylight hours during winter in Alberta means more time to gaze at the stars.
Of course, you can look up and see the stars no matter where you are, but Alberta has a few dark sky preserves where the stars, and northern lights when they’re out, look brighter and bolder thanks to the lack of light pollution.
There are five designed dark sky preserves in Alberta including Jasper National Park, the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve (which Elk Island National Park, Cooking Lake- Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, and Miquelon Provincial Park are part of), Wood Buffalo National Park, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, and Lakeland Provincial Park.
Each of these locations has minimal artificial lighting making them perfect spots for an evening of stargazing.
If you love winter camping, then Alberta is the place for you. There are dozens of campgrounds in Alberta’s provincial and national parks that are open year round, including both front and backcountry options.
A couple places you can winter camp in Alberta are Dinosaur Provincial Park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Crimson Lake Provincial Park, William A. Switzer Provincial Park, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park (backcountry), Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park (backcountry), Elk Island National Park, and Jasper National Park (front and backcountry).
Before heading out on a winter camping trip, be aware that campgrounds may have fewer amenities than in the summer, so you might have to bring your own water and firewood.
Racing down a hill in a snow tube is a fun winter activity for the whole family, sure to bring plenty of laughs and shrieks of delight.
Snow tubing is best enjoyed at one of the province’s ski areas where you can rent a tube and hitch a ride up the hill on a lift. Some ski hills that have tube parks are Mt. Norquay, Nakiska, Lake Louise, and Canyon Ski Resort.
For a real winter adventure in Alberta, try scaling a towering wall of ice. The Canadian Rockies are one of the world’s best ice climbing destinations because of the high concentration of frozen waterfalls and easy access to canyons.
You’ll find hundreds of thrilling ice climbs around Canmore and along the Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper national parks. There’s everything from beginner crags to challenging multi-pitch routes. Some well-known ice-climbing locations are Johnston Canyon, Maligne Canyon, Tangle Creek, Weeping Wall, and Panther Falls.
Ice climbing takes some skill and special equipment but luckily there are several climbing courses available that provide professional instruction and gear so that even beginners can enjoy ice climbing in Alberta.
A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with wide tires that can be a fun way to explore Alberta’s winter trails. The oversized tires make it easier to ride on soft and slippery terrain, like snow and ice.
Many parks in Alberta have trails that can be used for fat biking (often they’re the same trails for snowshoeing). Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, and the Canmore Nordic Centre all have fat biking trails.
Ice fishing is another popular winter activity in Alberta. It can be more fun than it looks, especially when you’re out with a group of friends.
Ice fishing requires some advanced planning because of the equipment it requires and rules you need to follow. At the very least, you need to have a rod, hooks, bait, and an ice auger for drilling holes. You will also need to buy a WIN card (Wildlife Identification Number), a fishing license, and familiarize yourself with Alberta’s fishing regulations.
If you don’t own any of the gear, you can hire a local ice fishing guide who can provide all the equipment and take you to some of the best fishing spots. On certain lakes, you can event rent ice fishing huts for the day.
Where you go ice fishing depends on what type of fish you’re after, the regulations for each lake, and how far you want to drive. Some lakes worth checking out and the species they are most known for are Lesser Slave Lake (walleye, burbot, pike), Calling Lake (walleye), Gull Lake (whitefish), Sylvan Lake (pike and walleye), Lac Ste. Anne (walleye and pike), and Crawling Valley Reservoir (pike and walleye).
Before snowmobiles, sled dogs made transportation possible in remote regions of Canada. Today it’s more of a tourist activity, with a few companies offering dog sledding excursions in Alberta.
Some places where you can go dog sledding are the Canmore-Kananaskis area and Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Depending on the tour you choose, you may even get to learn how to mush the team of dogs.
When choosing a dog sledding company, pick one that puts the welfare of their dogs over profits, and that is transparent about their practices.
Final Thoughts About Winter Activities in Alberta
The impressive amount of things to do in winter in Alberta help make this long, cold season more enjoyable. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling adventure or some refreshing exercise, you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy winter in Alberta.
Tips for Visiting Alberta in Winter
Winter Season: Even though winter in the northern hemisphere doesn’t technically start until December 21, Alberta sees snow and colder temperatures much before that. Depending on where you are in Alberta, the first snowfall can come as early as late October, though it usually doesn’t stick around. By mid-November, most parts of the province will have some snow that lasts until late March or early April.
Weather: Winter in Alberta, like the rest of the seasons, is characterized by a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Daytime temperatures typically range from range from -5 to -15°C, but can drop as low as -30°C for short periods of time. The coldest months are usually January and February. Parts of southern Alberta experience warm Chinook winds, giving some relief from cold temperatures.
What to Pack: Layers are essential for a winter trip to Alberta. If you’ll be doing a lot of outdoor activities, you’ll need warm boots with good grips, a base layer of wool and synthetic fabrics, a warm parka, snow pants, gloves, and a toque.
Driving: Roads in Alberta can be icy in winter and blowing snow can reduce visibility. If driving conditions are poor, slow down, leave plenty of space between the car in front of you, and don’t use cruise control on the highways.