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5 Easy Cross Country Ski Trails in Banff National Park

Banff National Park has much to offer the winter visitor. You can choose from downhill skiing at three different resorts (Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay), snowshoeing and skating, cross-country skiing and at the end of every day you can immerse yourself in the steamy waters of the Banff Hot Springs.

I am a big fan of cross country skiing in Banff National Park for many reasons. It’s free once you’re in the park and even on the coldest days you stay warm. Plus you see some of the most pristine country on the planet.

Here are 5 suggestions for easy cross country ski trails in Banff National Park. Always go prepared with the 10 essentials no matter what the trail rating.

Pipestone Trails near Lake Louise

The Pipestone Trails, accessible via a short road signed for Pipestone just 0.7 kilometres north of the Lake Louise overpass have something for everyone. Twenty one kilometres of mostly easy skiing is available. The snow is usually very good. I like the outer loop. It’s 13 kilometres long and takes you through the woods and then through open meadows with excellent views of the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

"Lovely open meadows in places"

Lovely open meadows in places

"Lovely skiing alongside a frozen lake"

Lovely skiing alongside a frozen lake – with views of Lake Louise Ski Resort

"Trees provide shelter from the wind"

Trees provide shelter from the wind

Fairview Trail, Lake Louise Area

The Fairview Trail is actually a 7.5 kilometre loop. It’s a beautiful track-set trail that takes you through the forest but it opens up enough to provide some great views. There are no big climbs – just a series of small ups and downs – enough to make it interesting. The height gain in total is only 50 metres. It shouldn’t take you more than two hours to do it. Start at the far end of the furthest parking lot from Chateau Lake Louise. Look for signs saying Fairview Trail. It’s also called the number 2 trail. Once you’re on it, it’s very well signed and easy to follow. You can make a longer day of it by adding the Tramline Trail to the Fairview Loop – and that allows you to ski from Lake Louise all the way down to Lake Louise Village – and unless you have a car down there you’ll have to ski back up.

"Beautiful backdrop when skiing the Fairview Trails"

Beautiful backdrop when skiing the Fairview Trails

Lake Louise Shoreline Trail

If you’re new to cross country skiing this is a great trail to do. Its 6 kilometres return. Not only is it flat but it’s very pretty, even if you don’t feel far from civilization. More advanced skiers have the option of skiing up to the Plain of Six Glaciers, adding 10 kilometers to the day. On weekends you will often find ice climbers at the end of the trail.

"You get a view down the lake to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise"

You get a view down the lake to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

"Check out the ice climbers at the far end of the lake"

Check out the ice climbers at the far end of the lake

The Cascade Fire Road near Lake Minnewanka

The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot that doubles as a track set cross country ski trail in the winter. It gets great early season snow and it’s one of the first in the area to be track set.

The Cascade Fire Road is an easy cross country ski unless you elect to ski out and back to the warden’s cabin – and that’s 15 kilometres up the road one way. Then you’ve got a long day on your hands. Otherwise there is only one major hill near the beginning of the trail but it’s gradual and swiftly dispatched. The rest of the trail is either flat or offers gently rolling hills. However since the flooding in June 2014 there has been a deep swath cut through part of the trail. It’s at about the two hour mark going up. Although it’s still possible to go up and down the steep gully, you may want to turn around there.

"Starting up the Cascade Fire Road"

Starting up the Cascade Fire Road

"You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka"

You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka

 Cave and Basin Trails plus Old Healy Creek Road

Park at the refurbished Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff and walk behind the buildings and over to the ski trail. You’ll probably get a whiff of rotten eggs as you go – as this is hot spring country. As an aside, garter snakes are fond of the hot springs so there must be a lot of them around this area come the spring.

The Cave and Basin trails can be walked, skied or snowshoed. They are super easy but they are very worthwhile especially after a fresh dump of snow on a sunny day. Mountain views are great and if you have the time it’s worth checking out Sundance Canyon too. Leave your skis behind and investigate the canyon on foot. For stronger skiers it’s possible to ski into Sundance Lodge and spend the night – something that’s on my wish list for next year.

It’s possible to continue all the way to the Sunshine Road though the floods made a mess of the trail just 300 metres before you reach the road – and there are a lot of fallen trees to navigate. Still it’s possible to ski about 16 kilometres in total between the Cave and Basin and Old Healy Creek Trails. There are small hills on the Old Healy Creek Trail but nothing of any note on the Cave and Basin trail.

"Beautiful mountain views along much of the trail"

Beautiful mountain views along much of the trail

"Some beautiful skiing alongside the Bow River"

Some beautiful skiing alongside the Bow River

"Late afternoon light in the mountains"

Late afternoon light in the mountains

If you want to get an idea about ski conditions before you head out (for Kananaskis Country too)  then it’s worthwhile checking out Skier Bob’s website. It’s an interactive site so day by day reports on ski conditions are posted. It’s a great site and worth checking out.

Have you skied on any of the trails I’ve suggested? Do you have a favourite trail in Banff National Park?

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Marcia says:

    Wow, what amazing scenery, Leigh. Makes me want to go cross country skiing!
    Beautiful photos.

  • Rachel M says:

    Great photos and lovely scenery. Cross country skiing looks like a lot of fun. Skiing is something I always wanted to do.

  • Mike says:

    I downhill skied (raced actually) once upon a time in another life, Leigh. And I know cross-country skiing is actually more strenuous. My opinion.
    Chateau Lake Louise is high, high on my bucket list. Has been for years! I’m with you, I like to see hot springs, not smell them. Your photos are amazing as always, our friend! :)

  • Mette says:

    I’ve never skied anywhere, but scenery like this is a great incentive for learning.

  • Looks like a great set of trails. Nice that there is no extra fees for the trails. It must be a relief to not have to worry about grizzly bears while in Banff in the winter.

    • @Ted You do have to have a National Parks pass. I buy a yearly one for ~$135 so I don’t have to think twice about going into Banff – plus it’s good for all the National Parks with the exception of the ones in the north. And the trails really are lovely but they could use some snow right now.

  • Freya says:

    Amazing scenery, so beautiful. I have never been to Banff NP but definitely plan to. It might not work out this year, but it is a must for next year! Very beautiful captures

    • @Freya For someone like you who enjoys the outdoors I know you would love Banff NO – and the snowshoeing, hiking, skiing…Let me know when you go and I’ll meet you for part of a day.

  • Jody Robbins says:

    I love the Fairview Trails and am keen to try these other ones. Great recs!

  • Jamie says:

    This is a nice post, thanks!
    For an absolute beginner like me, where would you recommend to try near Banff town?
    I have come to Banff because I want to learn winter sports. First cross-country skiing and skiing downhill and maybe snowboard if I feel like.

    • Leigh says:

      @Jamie If there is good snow head to the Cave and Basin area (walk down the small hill if its icy) and then ski west beside the Bow River. It’s pretty and its easy. Heading to the Canmore Nordic area is also recommended as they have loads of trails across all levels and it’s not very far to go.

  • Brian A Kelliher says:

    Hi Leigh,

    Great info. I have been most places in the park but not on cross country skies. I have some friends coming to visit very soon and I want to take them for a day doing this activity. What would you recommend as the most scenic trail to do in the Banff and Lake Louise area if you had to pick one. I think a 2-4hour trip would be perfect as they are new to cross country skiing.

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