Wednesday, January 25, 2023

2023 Campsite Reservation Guide for Alberta and BC

Here we go again! We're still making plans for ski getaways and now it's time to start thinking about the camping season as well. Ready or not, it's time to pull out that calendar and to start planning for the summer.

The May long weekend is coming soon! 

National Park Reservations 

National Park campsites can be booked online for the entire 2023 camping season beginning in March this year. (See note below:)
"We’re moving our reservation system to a new platform! The look and feel will be different, but the features and functions will be similar. Because of this change, Parks Canada will be launching reservations for the 2023 season starting in March."

Reservations will open in March for visits between April 2023 and March 2024.

And unlike with provincial parks, there is no 90 day or three month window. You can book any site for a stay during the entire camping season once reservations go live. 

Reservations have been staggered by park to ensure that the website doesn't crash.

Below is the reservation launch schedule for national parks near Calgary:

Banff National Park - Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 8 am MT for front country camping and Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 8 am MT for backcountry camping

Jasper National Park -  Thursday, March 16, 2023 at 8 am MT for front country camping and Monday, March 20, 2023 at 8 am MT for backcountry camping

Waterton Lakes National Park - Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 8am MT for front country camping in the Townsite Campground

Kootenay National Park, BC  - Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at 8 am MT for front country camping and Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 8 am MT for backcountry camping (same as Banff and Yoho for backcountry reservations)

Yoho National Park, BC - Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at 8 am MT for front country camping and Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 8 am MT for backcountry camping (same as Banff and Kootenay for backcountry reservations)

Reservations for guided Burgess Shale hikes also go live the same day as front country campground reservations. 

Scroll further below for more information on Lake O'Hara.

Mount Revelstoke National Park, BC - Monday, March 13th, 2023 at 8 am PT for both front country and backcountry camping

Glacier National Park, BC - Monday, March 13th, 2023 at 8 am PT for both front country and backcountry camping

Soon! We'll be camping in the sunshine again soon.

Special Reservations for Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park: 

Backcountry Campsites at Lake O'Hara can be reserved online for the entire summer season starting Tuesday, March 28, 2023 at 8 am MT.

Reservations for the day use bus to Lake O'Hara can be reserved online for the entire season starting Wednesday, April 12th, 2023 at 8 am MT.

And this means no more lottery for the Lake O'Hara bus - which I have confirmed! Day use spots will be reserved using the new reservation website + queue-it system.

Read more about camping and day hiking at Lake O'Hara here. - note as of late January, the Yoho National Park website has not been updated for 2023 and is not accurate. 

Most up to date information will be at the main Parks Canada website.

Visiting world-famous Lake O'Hara requires a lot of luck every year

Special Reservations for Shuttles to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise:

Reservable shuttles to Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise lakeshore will be online again for this summer.  Reservations can be made starting Thursday, April 13th, 2023 at 8 am MT.

Reservations will be made on the same website that you use to book campsites for bookings in the period between May 13th to October 10th. 

And note, starting in 2023, there will be no public vehicle access for Moraine Lake. You'll need to reserve seats on the shuttle bus, take Roam Public Transit, or bike up to the lake. Lake Louise is still accessible, but the parking lot fills up very quickly each day so you're better off taking a bus to reach this destination as well.

Before May 13th, I would suggest planning a day to bike up to Moraine Lake Road because the road will be closed to all vehicles. Note the hiking trails will still be snowy, so this would purely be an opportunity to view the lake and enjoy a peaceful visit.

For full information on reservations in all parks:

Visit the Parks Canada website. You can also visit individual parks from this link to read up on the campgrounds.

Plan a day hike at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake with shuttle bus tickets for easy access 

Transitioning to the New Parks Canada Reservation Website

Parks Canada is moving their reservation system to a new platform! After the move, you’ll need to create a new profile.  A full tutorial will be shared here in February.

Important dates:

February 26 - By this date, log in to your existing account and take note of sites you may have reserved in the past. 

February 27 to March 2 - The reservation system will not be available as Parks Canada migrates to the new platform. While you wait, check specific launch dates for places where you want to reserve.

March 3 and onwards - Create your new account, and get acquainted with the new system in preparation for launch.

March 13 -  First reservations launch!

Reservations will open in March for all campground bookings in the National Parks for 2023

Making a Reservation on the Parks Canada website

As of 2021, Parks Canada has gone with a queue system for campsite bookings. They have confirmed that they will repeat this system again for 2023 because it keeps their website from crashing.

The basic process for booking sites is as follows:
  1. Log in to your Parks Canada account on the day that you can book sites for your chosen park BEFORE 8AM MT (8AM PT for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier.)

  2. You will be placed in the queue and given a random number. You won't know what number you have until 8am when they shuffle everybody in the queue. You may be number 50, you may be number 5000. It is 100% random. 

  3. It does NOT matter if you join the queue at 7:30 or at 7:59. There is no rhyme or reason for your place in the queue.

  4. Make sure you have at least one to two hours of free time to make your bookings. If you have to work, try to find somebody else who has free time that morning to make your bookings for you. If you end up with a high number in the queue, you may be waiting for over an hour to get on the website to make your bookings.

  5. You can not choose your campsite before joining the queue. You can try, but everything will be shuffled at 8am and so anything you had done before this time will be lost. You should still know which sites you are trying to book, but have it written beside you on a piece of paper.

  6. You won't have much time to make your bookings (especially if you have multiple bookings to make.) Make sure your credit card information is handy and know what you're trying to book before you log on to the website.

  7. Most people try to get more than one number in the queue to increase their odds at getting a good number. This is only possible though if you have more than one computer/laptop in the house. You can not just open multiple tabs in the same browser. Every browser shares the same number in the queue. 

    You can however open different browsers on the same computer to get more than one number in the queue. (Example, log in with both Chrome and Safari.) 

    Note, if you do get multiple numbers in the queue, please go with your best number and then close all other browsers so that those numbers can be released to other people trying to book. 

  8. Make sure you're actively monitoring your browser as your number counts down!! If you miss your time to book your campsites, you'll have to join the queue again and you'll be at the back of the line. 
Reservations may be stressful at the time, but worth it come summer!

Other Tips for Getting the Site you Want!

  • You will want to book campsites the day that the reservation system opens for each park and at 8am sharp if planning on camping on weekends during the summer season. There will be more flexibility if camping mid-week or in the spring/fall months.

  • Tag team with friends to get sites you really want (especially if you are looking for sites side by side.)

    Make sure you exchange all booking info. with your friends ahead of time because you can't hold more than one permit in your name for the same date/campground. If booking for friends, you'll want their full name and address. You'll also want to know the size of their trailer or tent along with how many people they will have on their site. (And if you are booking for friends who haven't committed yet, you can change the name on a campsite permit before you show up.)

  • There are still several first come first serve campgrounds in the national parks if you don't get a site.

  • Consider private campgrounds if you can't get into a national park campground or choose provincial park campgrounds just outside the national park.

    For example, in Waterton, you can camp at nearby Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. For Banff, we like camping outside the park gates at the Bow Valley  Campground. There are many private campgrounds in the Radium Hot Springs area if you can't get into Redstreak as well.

  • Make sure there is a fire pit on the site that you are reserving. Some sites in Banff and Jasper do not allow fires.


Everybody looks forward to that first camping trip of the season!

Alberta Provincial Park Reservations

As of 2022 Alberta Parks online reservations on will now be a year-round service. 

There is still a 90-day booking policy for regular campsites and backcountry campsites, but there is no more "opening date" for reservations. Simply count back 90 days from when you wish to begin camping, and mark that date on your calendar. 

Also note that comfort camping can be booked 180 days in advance! That means that in January you'll already be able to book sites for July!

Grab a group of friends and book some great campsites this summer in a provincial park

Group camping areas can also be booked 180 days in advance. This means you'll be able to start looking for group sites in January for arrival dates in July.

Online bookings open at 9 am each day and can be made at the Alberta Parks reservation site

** And note that Alberta Parks has also gone to the queue system so you may have to wait to get onto the parks reservation website in the morning.

Read more about the queue system under national park bookings above.

Group camping at Twin Lakes, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Special Tips:

  • Follow many of the same tips as per national park bookings above. Tag team with friends (especially for group bookings) and pay very close attention to those 90 or 180 day windows!

  • Make sure everything is in your calendar with reminders! I even put reminders beside my computer, my coffee pot, and my bed the night before making a campsite reservation so that I don't accidentally forget.

  • If you don't get the site that you want, there are plenty of first come first serve campgrounds. Many campgrounds also have a small number of  FCFS campsites. A Full List of FCFS Campgrounds can be found here.

  • Consider booking a group site if you have at least 5 families coming with you. You'll get your own private campground or group area and will have lots of room for the kids to run around and play.

    Note that most group sites do not have power or services for RVs so you'll have to either bring generators or camp off the grid as we do. Most group sites can be booked with a payment for 5 units but some require payment for 10 units so make sure you check the details before reserving a site. Full info. on group camping can be found here.

Spring Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Important Links:

Alberta Parks Online Reservation Information

Comfort Camping in AB Parks  

Backcountry Reservations


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a beautiful place to camp in Kananaskis 

British Columbia Provincial Park Reservations

BC Parks launched a new reservation service in 2022, so if it's been a few years, you'll have to create a new account.

And NEW FOR 2023, reservations can be booked 4 months in advance of all trips (which is very different from Alberta Provincial Parks.) You'll be able to book sites for the May long weekend in January.

Backcountry permits are also available to reserve 4 months in advance of your trip.

- and note that the Berg Lake Trail is still closed with reservations on hold. Visit the BC Parks website often for updates.

Also new for 2023, Group campsites can be booked a full year in advance starting this January. 

Beach life at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, West Kootenays

Using the New Booking System

Know in advance that BC Parks will be using the Queue-It Software at peak times so you may have to wait to log in to the website to avoid having the site crash from overuse. If you haven't made a booking with the queue-it system before, basically you need to log in before 7am PT where you'll be given a random number. You'll find out what your number is at exactly 7am. Everybody in the queue is shuffled randomly. You may luck out with number 200 or you may end up with number 10 000.

I can not stress the importance of having backup dates, plans, campgrounds, and campsites (if you have a favourite you were hoping to get.)

Read more about using the queue system above under national park reservations.

Reservations are NOT Transferable once Booked 

"Reservations are not transferable. Reservation holder name(s) ("Occupant Name" and alternate "Optional Authorized Person") must be provided at the time of booking and cannot be added or changed later. Any reservation holders found to be transferring or selling their reservations to another party, risk their reservation being cancelled without a refund. If a customer can no longer use their reservation, they are encouraged to cancel it so that any unused camping fees that are not forfeited as a penalty, can be refunded to the credit card that was used to make the original reservation."

And know that at least ONE of the reservation holders must be present upon arrival and during the stay. ID may be required to prove you are the reservation holder. - So don't think you can just sell your site to another family and have them "pretend" to be you. 

You can not reserve extra nights to "save" a site

And if you think you can book early, accept you'll get no refund for un-used nights, and just show up on Friday night, that isn't going to work!

"Reserved sites are held until 11 AM the day after the scheduled arrival date. If you do not notify the park operator directly of a late arrival, you will be considered a no-show and your reservation will be cancelled." - and your site will be given away!


Imagine scoring a campsite here!

Camping in BC provincial parks over Long Weekends

To make a reservation for a statutory holiday weekend, you are required to book a minimum of 3 nights.

The nights you must camp are below for 2023:

Victoria Day: Monday May 22, 2023 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights)

Canada Day: Saturday July 1, 2023 (no minimum stay)

BC Day: Monday August 7, 2023 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights)

Labour Day: Monday September 4, 2023 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights)

Thanksgiving: Monday October 9, 2023 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday)

Follow this link for information on making reservations

For Bookings, Follow this Link to 

The are some amazing places to camp across British Columbia!

Other Suggested Reading 

Camping Super Guide - This is a quick guide to all of my popular camping stories for easy reference and reading. I add to this page regularly.

Notable stories to check out:

How to Choose a Good Campsite (Family Camping Made Easy) 


Monday, December 05, 2022

A Family-Fun Winter Guide to Everything Cool at Kananaskis Village

Winter is magical in Kananaskis and there is no shortage of fun to be had at Kananaskis Village.  Staying overnight at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is the dream, but regardless, most of our favourite activities around the village are accessible to day users (including the fancy Nordic Spa at the lodge.)

Winter is magical at Kananaskis Village

Hiking, skating, skiing, and more at Kananaskis Village (Photo: Troll Falls Hike)

Below are our top ten favourite things to do in winter at Kananaskis Village as a day user or as a guest of the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.

1. Go Skiing or Boarding at the Nakiska Ski Area 

Nakiska Resort is a great ski hill and we feel very comfortable here as a family. Not only is it the closest hill to Calgary for day trips, it's also small and easy to navigate. Lift lines are reasonable (especially mid week if the kids have a PD day,) and Kids' World, the beginner learning area with a magic carpet lift, is only $10 per person to use (free for kids under 6.) 

This is where my son learned to ski and we've enjoyed blending a few hours of skiing with an hour at the tube park. When we get tired of the crowds at the hill, we make our way down to Kananaskis Village for a cup of Starbucks coffee in the Lodge and some time spent in front of the fireplace relaxing.

Enjoying a family-friendly ski hill close to Calgary!

Pro tip: Arrive early. We always arrive by 8:30, take a duffel bag of clothing into the lodge, get dressed and ready to go without rushing or stressing, and then we're at the front of the lift line for 9:00. Most people don't even start arriving until 9 or much later, so you'll enjoy a good hour of skiing with no lines or crowds. (And you'll get the fresh corduroy or powder.) 

We also like that you can leave your shoes and a duffel bag inside the lodge on little shelves built under the tables in the cafeteria. There are plenty of hooks too for hanging a small backpack with your lunch, water bottles, etc. Just don't leave anything valuable in your bags and obviously, I'm talking about "small" duffels and backpacks! Don't try to bring in a large hockey bag on wheels!

Read more: 5 Reasons to make Nakiska your Local Ski Hill this Winter 

Nakiska is glorious on a mid-week PD Day with the kids

Nakiska has a great tube park for family fun!

2. Go Skating on the Village Pond

The Village skating pond is always ready to go for the season by Christmas. It is located right beside Kananaskis Outfitters (where you can rent skates should you need) and is a fun little place for kids to skate. 

Skating on the Pond at Kananaskis Village

If you want to play a game of hockey as a family, there is also a larger rink with boards surrounding it back by the sledding hill at the Village.

Also in addition to the skating pond, there are usually large piles of snow surrounding the pond that provide hours of entertainment for young children.

Kids will happily play here all day!

3. Go Sledding on the Village Hill 

There is a small sledding hill at Kananaskis Village tucked back in beside the hockey rink and the playground. Combined with an hour or so on the skating rink, it's a great way to spend half a day at the village.

Note the sledding hill is quite steep (and narrow) so it is perhaps best suited for slightly older children.

Kananaskis Village has a great sledding hill! 

4. Go Cross country skiing on the Village Trails

There are approximately 12 km of trails in the immediate Village area, all groomed and trackset through the winter season. Descend to Ribbon Creek and you have another 20+ km of trails.

Our favourite short loop is the 3 km Terrace Loop which is relatively flat and great for beginner skiers. Once the kids can do this loop, try lengthening it with a climb up Kovach and Aspen to the meadow on the Aspen trail for a 6 km loop. There is a very exciting descent down to the village at the end on the Kovach Trail if you ski the loop counter clockwise.

Easy skiing near Kananaskis Village

For another easy option, try skiing the Bill Milne Trail which is a great family-friendly option free of any large hills as long as you stay close to the highway. The best section with kids goes from Kovach Pond to the Mount Kidd RV Park.

All trails around the Village allow dogs on leash. For skate skiing, the Bill Milne Trail is the only one with a skating lane.

All trails along with recent grooming for both the Village and Ribbon Creek Trails can be seen on the Nordic Pulse website. 

You can also pick up a trail brochure from the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre or download a map here. 

And as you  puzzle over the map above, the arrows indicate where the top of a big hill is. The big part of the arrow is the top. They do not indicate that you need to ski a particular direction.

Beginner-friendly skiing on the Bill Milne Trail

Need to rent skis:

If you need to rent equipment (or just want some suggestions on which trails to ski,) pop into Kananaskis Outfitters. You can also call ahead if you want to book a ski lesson.

Out for a Christmas ski on the Bill Milne Trail

Ski Trails for intermediate/advanced skiers around Ribbon Creek

If you have capable youth who are comfortable with climbing and descending some steep hills, check out the Skogan Pass Trail and the Sunburst Loop to the Hummingbird Plume Lookout site. 

You'll be climbing 600 metres to reach the top of Skogan Pass, so it's a workout, but very exhilarating on the way down! The Sunburst Loop is shorter (with less height gain) so it's a good alternative if you only make it part way up the Skogan Pass Trail before realizing that you've had enough climbing.

Both trails are groomed and trackset throughout the winter. The parking lot for these trails is at Ribbon Creek, just a short drive down the road from the Village. (The link goes to Google Maps.)

Hummingbird Plume Lookout Site on the Sunburst Loop

Skogan Pass is a big climb, but allows for a very fun descent!

Another fun loop I enjoy combines the Hidden, Ribbon Creek, Link, Kovach, and Terrace Trails for an intermediate 8 - 12 km loop (starting either from the Ribbon Creek parking lot or from Kananaskis Village.)

Note with the Ribbon Creek Trail you will be taking the SKI trail and not the snowshoe trail. The ski trail climbs above the creek at the beginning. You'll start out on the Hidden Trail from the Ribbon Creek parking lot until you reach the first junction.

Also, I recommend the Ribbon Creek Trail be climbed from Hidden so that you can enjoy the big hilly section going downhill to the creek with its large S-turns. That would mean you should do the loop counter clockwise. If you start at Kananaskis Village, start out on the Terrace Trail, skiing down to Ribbon Creek.

Ribbon Creek is a beautiful ski trail

A few sections of the Ribbon Creek loop are also shared with hikers.

See the full winter map here (with skiing, hiking, and fat biking trails.)

Dark blue trails are supposed to be skier-only. Light blue trails are shared for skiing, hiking, and fat biking.

Easy skiing along Ribbon Creek on the lower section

5. Go for a Hike to Troll Falls and the Upper Falls 

The hike to Troll Falls has long been a family favourite in the Kananaskis Village area. The hike is short at 3 km round trip and it's a great trail if you want to pull kids in a sled. 

Troll Falls is a great destination for a family hike

Once you reach Troll Falls, you can also follow the signed trail to the Upper Falls where you'll reach an amazing frozen waterfall (Marmot Falls) where you can walk behind the ice. The extension is only another kilometre return.

Marmot Falls is incredible in winter!

For the truly adventurous, keep climbing along Marmot Creek on an easy-to-follow trail until you reach a third waterfall. This one is a double two-tier waterfall and is also very beautiful. The full hike to both waterfalls is no more than 2 km return from Troll Falls.

The true "Upper Falls" above Marmot Falls

You won't need snowshoes for this hike as the trail is always well packed down and easy to walk on. Ice cleats or spikes come in handy though (especially if you want to climb to the Upper Falls.)

Note the Troll Falls trail is a shared trail with skiers, so please stay off of the ski tracks and move to the side if you see skiers coming down a hill towards you.

Read more:

Standing behind frozen Marmot Falls

6. Hike the Multi-Use Trail System around the Village and Ribbon Creek

The Ribbon Creek Trail is a beautiful hike or snowshoe, and kids love all the bridges along the trail. When it's frozen you can sometimes hike in the creek itself as well.

The trail is shared with skiers halfway along so please stay off the ski tracks.

To make a loop from the Ribbon Creek parking lot (Google maps link,) follow the Ribbon Creek Trail until you reach the junction with Link (another shared ski trail.) Return to the parking lot on Link, Shinrin and Studless (winter hiking and fat biking trails.)

Trying to ski down the Ribbon Creek snowshoe trail

The full Ribbon Creek loop is 6 km and all hills are quite gentle. 

Note if you want to use a sled, stick to just the Ribbon Creek Trail and return the same way. Shinrin and Studless are narrow and not suitable for sleds.

See the full winter map here (with skiing, hiking, and fat biking trails.)

Light blue trails are shared for skiing, hiking, and fat biking. Pink trails are for snowshoeing or fat biking (and will be more narrow.)

There are also hiking trails up by the Village, but I think the Ribbon Creek Trail is the prettiest option.

The trail network around Ribbon Creek is great for a family winter hike

7. Sign up for a Guided Evening Stargazing Tour

Kananaskis Outfitters runs daytime snowshoe tours from the Village that are perfect for the whole family. Alternately, sign up for an evening stargazing tour (appropriate for families with youth 12+.) 
"In an open meadow, your group will pause to relax and take in the night sky; you are welcome to bring a camera and tripod to try out some astrophotography or to just hang out with the group, peek through the telescope and chat about astronomy."

Visit the Kananaskis Outfitters website for dates, pricing, and more information.  

Stargazing at Kananaskis Village 

8. Rent Fat Bikes for a Ride around the Village (or join a tour to a frozen waterfall)

You can rent fat bikes from Kananaskis Outfitters in the Village and then head out on the multi-use winter trails for a self-guided adventure. You can even bring your older children because the Outfitters has 24" youth fat bikes available to rent.

Call ahead to reserve your gear so that you don't arrive to find the bikes already signed out for the day.

For trail suggestions, it's best to talk to the Outfitters when you pick up your bikes. 

Family-friendly fat biking around Kananaskis Village

Personally, I like the multi-use Bill Milne Trail (shared with cross-country skiers) which is groomed and blessedly flat once you reach the lower section. From the village, you'll descend ~100 metres of height to reach Ribbon Creek, but after that the trail is perfectly flat. 

Note children may struggle with the climb back up to the Village at the end, so be careful how far you ride on the flat part. Save some energy for the end.

Another easy beginner-friendly outing is to Troll Falls on a mult-use trail (shared with skiers and hikers.) The 3 km round trip trail has a couple of hills but they aren't that big. Unfortunately, this is another one where you'll have to start by riding down to the trailhead on the upper section of the Bill Milne Trail.

Easy riding on the groomed Bill Milne Trail

Join a Guided Tour to Troll Falls: 

Families with strong cyclists 14+ can sign up for a guided tour to Troll Falls. I suspect you'll be starting and ending at the Village, so make sure you have youth who can climb at least 100 metres (which doesn't sound like much, but mountain biking is harder when you add snow to the adventure.)

More information on renting bikes or joining a guided tour can be found on the Kananaskis Outfitters website

Family Fat Bike Adventure to Troll Falls

9. Go For Coffee at the Lodge and Hang out by the Fireplace

No matter where we go play in Kananaskis, we often stop off at the Village on the way home to grab a coffee and hang out by the fireplace in the lodge. 

The large fireside room is magical at Christmas

There's a great café in the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge and they serve Starbucks Coffee along with other grab and go items for lunch. My son is partial to their large cookies too.

The lodge is especially magical at Christmas, and we always like looking at the gingerbread house creations.

Every year the lodge creates amazing gingerbread houses or villages

Now THIS is a gingerbread house!

10. Plan a Visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa (adults only)

The Kananaskis Nordic Spa is one of my favourite places in all of Kananaskis. I ask for a gift card every Christmas and I love my day trips here. Sometimes I come with a group of girlfriends for a day or else I let me husband tag along and we leave our son behind for this glorious adventure. 

The spa is truly a magical experience and one visit will never be enough.

"Spanning 50,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space, the Spa features a Relaxation Lodge, five outdoor pools, five steam and sauna cabins, an exfoliation cabin, fireside lounges, massage treatments, and the Two Trees Bistro."

Cameras aren't allowed at the spa so I'd suggest visiting the link above to see a full collection of professional photos.

And note that the spa is not included in stays at the Kananaskis Lodge unless you purchase a special spa package. All guests must also be 18+ (trust me it's at the top of my son's list for birthday gifts when he turns 18!)

Prepared for a magical day at the Nordic Spa

Disclaimer: This story was not paid for or sponsored. All words and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Cross-Country Skiing at Lake Louise: Where to Ski and Stay this Winter

Lake Louise is always a safe bet for a cross-country ski weekend from mid-November through early April. The Moraine Lake Road and the Great Divide Road are usually trackset by the third weekend of November (earlier if we're lucky) and you can safely plan a spring break trip to Lake Louise, knowing you'll still have great snow to ski on. (Sometimes we're even able to ski at Louise for Easter!)

Book a room at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you won't even have to break the bank for your overnight ski getaway.

Cross-country Skiing at Lake Louise in gorgeous Banff National Park

Table of Contents for this Guide

1. Early Season Skiing on the Moraine Lake Road

2. Early Season Skiing on the Great Divide Road

3. Our Favourite Ski Trails at Lake Louise

4. Other Ski Trails from the Great Divide Parking Lot

5. Skiing the Pipestone Trail Network at Lake Louise

6. Where to Stay for a XC Ski Getaway at Lake Louise 

Cross-country skiing around Lake Louise is Magical! 

Early Season Skiing on the Moraine Lake Road

If you want early season grooming, Lake Louise is your best bet. The Moraine Lake Road is not plowed or open to vehicles in winter. Instead, it is usually groomed and track-set by mid-November and is a popular ski trail throughout the winter.

The Moraine Lake Road is double trackset for classic skiing (with a skating lane) for 9 km to a viewpoint where you can see the peaks that surround Moraine Lake. You can't see the lake, and proceeding past this point puts you into avalanche terrain. Regardless, it's a great workout even if you can't reach the lake, and it's an easy intermediate level trail with no big hills to climb or descend.

The road climbs ~ 275 metres at a gentle angle and you can usually climb/descend much of it by staying in the tracks. Newer skiers may feel more comfortable getting out of the tracks on a few steeper sections to descend.

Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Cross-country skiing on the Moraine Lake Road early season

Moraine Lake Road Parking:

There is a small parking lot at the entry to the Moraine Lake Road. If it's full, you can park above at Lake Louise and ski down the Upper Tramline Trail. This adds 2 km (one way) with just under 100 metres of height loss as you ski down the trail to the Moraine Lake Road. The challenge comes at the end of the ski when at least one person has to ski back up for the vehicle.

If you have children with you, send one adult back for the vehicle while a second adult skis the Lower Tramline Trail with the kids down to the old train station beside the Bow River. It's fun to get picked up at the bottom and it's downhill the entire distance for ~ 3 km.

** See the resources after the Great Divide section below for map and trail conditions links.

Early season skiing on the Moraine Lake Road 

Early Season Skiing on the Great Divide Road

The Great Divide is also normally groomed and track-set by mid to late November and is another early-season favourite. Being an old road, it doesn't take much to cover up the pavement for skiing (as is the same with the Moraine Lake Road.)

Unlike the Moraine Lake Road, the Great Divide Road is not open to vehicle traffic at any time of the year. It's always a hiking, biking, or ski trail.

Ski from the trailhead at Lake Louise to the Divide where you'll see the big arch on the Alberta / British Columbia border. It is a 7 km ski to the Divide. You can also continue for an additional 3 km to the Lake O'Hara parking lot in Yoho National Park. 

The trail is double trackset for classic skiing with a skating lane. Expect to see dogsled teams along the one side of the trail and the occasional hiker.

The Great Divide Trail is relatively flat with one large hill down to the arch. The trail does trend downhill though as you head towards the BC border so you may feel like you're slowly climbing most of the way back. The trail loses 100 metres of height heading towards BC.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail (other than the ones that belong to the guided dog sled operation.)

The Great Divide on the AB / BC Border 

Ski the Great Divide Trail One-Way Alberta to BC:

If you have two vehicles, consider setting up a shuttle and skiing one-way from Lake Louise to the Lake O'Hara trailhead. You want to start at Lake Louise to enjoy more downhill skiing and less climbing.

Alternately, start at the Lake O'Hara parking lot and ski out and back as far as you want. This way it will definitely feel more downhill on the way back to the  car. (And as a bonus, it's usually easier to find parking on the BC side when the Lake Louise parking lot is full.)

Skiing this trail with children:

With young children, ski out and back from the Lake O'Hara parking lot to the arch at the AB border for a pleasant 6 km return ski. It's relatively flat and easy skiing. 

Another fun option with two adults and kids: Start out with the kids + a parent at Lake Louise and start skiing towards O'Hara one-way. The second adult will drive to the O'Hara parking lot and ski back to meet you. This allows the kids to ski the full 10 km distance one-way in the downhill direction. Parents can fight over who gets to ski with the kids. (I always win in our family.)

Early season skiing on the Great Divide Road


Current Trail Conditions for Banff and Lake Louise

Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise Brochure." You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Cross-country skiing at Lake Louise

Our Favourite Ski Trails at Lake Louise

Skiing the Tramline Trail 

This is the absolute BEST ski trail for families with young children because you can ski it one-way from the lake down to the village, and it's relatively all downhill. And except for one hill, it's all very gentle, double polling, stay in the tracks, skiing. You won't be descending crazy hills or having to snow plow for kilometres on end. The entire trail is basically rail grade and perfect for teaching kick and glide with a bit of gravity in your favor.

The trail is double trackset for classic skiing. Expect to see the occasional hiker on the trail as well. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

Our fav. scenic bridge on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

My family always skis this as a shuttle. My husband drops us off at the top and then drives down to the old train station parking lot in the Village. He skis up to meet us (getting a good workout) and we benefit from a family-friendly outing that my son loves.

Tramline is only 4.8 km one way and you'll lose 195 metres of height on your descent down to the Village. 

See the Tramline Trail on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise- scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

And you'll want to have this map open as you look at the extensions below.

The only intermediate section on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

Tramline extensions for a longer outing:

  • Tramline + Lakeshore Loop - Start at the bottom and ski up to the lake for a good workout. Then turn around and enjoy coasting back down. While you're at the lake, add on the Lakeshore Loop for an additional 4 km distance. Tramline + Lakeshore Loop total distance would be approx. 14 km. - Note you'll have to remove your skis to walk from the top of the Tramline Trail over to the lakeshore trailhead, but it's a short walk.

  • Tramline + Fairview Loop - Start at the bottom and ski up to the lake. On your descent, ski around the Fairview Loop before hopping back on the Lower Tramline Trail. The Fairview Loop starts at the lake and ends on the Moraine Lake Road, a short distance up from the Tramline junction. (Check out the map before completing this one so you know where you're going.)  The Fairview Loop is ~ 6 km in distance and more intermediate in nature than the easier Tramline Trail. Total distance for both Tramline + Fairview Loop would be approximately 10 km. 

    Families not wanting to climb Tramline can start at the top, ski the Fairview Loop, and then one adult would descend Lower Tramline with the kids while the other adult climbs back up the lake. Meet up at the old train station. We've definitely done this and it's a lot of fun.

  • Tramline + Bow River Loop - Add on the Bow River Loop from the bottom of the Tramline Trail. The loop is ~ 7 km long and relatively flat, so it's a great extension. We always add on this loop after skiing down the Tramline Trail.

Once you get comfortable with the map and the trails around Lake Louise, you can continue adding trails to make bigger loops. Tramline from the bottom up to the lake + the Lake Louise Loop + the Fairview Loop + Lower Tramline down + the Bow River Loop would be a great ski day! 

Easy skiing on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise 

Skiing The Bow River Loop

This is one of my favourite beginner-friendly trails for scenery, diversity, and general easy skiing with no hills to speak of.

The complete loop is ~ 7 km with shorter options possible. It is single trackset only which creates a more natural "classic" experience. There is no skating lane. Expect to meet up with the occasional hiker as well. 

** And this is one of the rare trails at Lake Louise where dogs are allowed (on leash.) **

We always start at the old train station parking lot in the Village where there's ample space for parking. From here we follow the trail along the village-side of the river (not crossing the bridge from the parking lot.) You have a couple of unpleasant road crossings near the Village Centre (take your skis off and carefully cross the roads) but then you get into the Lake Louise campground area where there are no more road crossings.

Powder day on the Bow River Loop 

Follow the river through the trailer campground until you reach two beautiful bridges at the far end. This is your turnaround spot as you ski back on the other side of the river, skiing through the tenting campground. One more road crossing returns you to the first section of trail (on the other side of the river.) Cross the final bridge and you're back at your car.

For a shorter ski, you can start at the Village Centre and just loop the campground (trail 10 on the map.) There's also another small parking lot near the campground which shows up on the trail brochure. This would eliminate the need to cross any roads.

See the Bow River Loop on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise- scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Scenic bridge crossing on the Bow River Loop

Skiing The Lake Louise Loop

Skiing could not get any easier than this one! You'll be skiing straight across Lake Louise, on the frozen lake itself. There is absolutely no height gain, not a single hill, and you'll enjoy grooming with tracks to ski in.

The loop is classic trackset (no skating lane.) Follow the ski tracks across the lake until you reach Louise Falls, a beautiful set of frozen waterfalls, approximately 2 km down the lake. There is also a snowshoe trail that crosses the lake but the two trails should be separate.

For your return trip, either retrace your steps and ski back across the lake, or climb up to the forested trail above the lake to complete a 4 km loop. The forest trail starts by the waterfall.

The forest trail is not overly technical,  but it is narrower than the wide open lake. Regardless, it is definitely considered a beginner trail.

Save this outing for a sunny day for the best experience! And to extend your outing, bring sleds and skates for the Lake Louise skating rink and sledding hill (both located at the lakeshore.)

** Dogs are allowed on this loop (on leash.) **

A glorious bluebird day at Lake Louise

Skiing The Fairview Loop 

This is a more intermediate trail and you'll definitely have to be comfortable at descending a few steep twisty hills. The reward is beautiful meadows that you'll traverse through. One year we even found a sofa built out of snow in the middle of one meadow.

The Fairview Trail traverses beautiful meadows 

The full loop is 7.5 km if you start at the lake, ski the Fairview Trail to the Moraine Lake Road, ski down the road back to the beginning, and then climb the Upper Tramline Trail back to Lake Louise. There is ~150 metres of climbing overall. 

The loop is best done counter clockwise so that you climb the Tramline Trail at the end. This allows you to enjoy the steepest hills on the Fairview Trail in the downhill direction. 

The Fairview Trail is double trackset for classic skiing. Dogs are not allowed on the trail. And you should not see hikers on the trail. This is a ski-only trail.

When we ski the trail as a family, my son and I continue down the Lower Tramline Trail to the Village rather than climbing back to the lake at the end. My husband climbs the Upper Tramline Trail to get the vehicle, and then meets us at the Village. 

See the Fairview Loop on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Snow sofa in the middle of the Fairview Trail

Other Ski Trails from the Great Divide Parking Lot

If you've parked at the Great Divide Trailhead at Lake Louise, there are a few options for additional loops you can ski.

Lower Telemark Trail - As per the Parks Canada trail description: "Park at Great Divide trailhead, ski 700 metres, and turn right at the #8 trail sign. After 4.0 km of twists and turns, exit back onto the Great Divide trail, and turn left to return to your vehicle." The full loop will be approx. 8 km. 

This is an easy beginner-friendly trail. It is double trackset for classic skiing, is a ski-only trail, and dogs are not allowed.

Beautiful skiing near the Great Divide along Upper Telemark and Peyto

Upper Telemark and Peyto - Starting at the Great Divide, ski 700 metres on the groomed road until you come to the junction with both the Lower and Upper Telemark Trails. Turn left and follow trail # 7 up to the lake. It's easiest to take the "green" bypass trail up.

The trail ends by the Chateau if you want to do a lap around the Lake Louise Loop.

Starting up the Upper Telemark Trail from the Chateau Lake Louise

On the way down, the trail is divided into green, blue, and black sections. We always descend the black section but it is very steep with twisty winding hills. The Upper Telemark Trail is also a narrow trail (even though it is double trackset) so beginners will find the hills intimidating.

Take whichever division of the Upper Telemark Trail you want to take back down towards the Divide Trail. Add on a short section of the Peyto Trail if you want heading west (left) for a longer ski back along the Great Divide. If you follow Peyto to the right, you'll end up back closer to the lake and nowhere near your car.

See the Great Divide Trails on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Starting the descent down the Upper Telemark Trail where snow plow skills are imperative

Skiing the Pipestone Trail Network at Lake Louise

The Pipestone Trail Network is located across the TransCanada Highway from the Village of Lake Louise. You can see it here on this Google Map link

There are several trails here but the largest loop is the Pipestone Loop, an intermediate 13 km loop that is very hilly and requires a strong ability to climb and descend hills. The loop is typically skied counter clockwise. 

The Pipestone Trail Network is great for intermediate skiers

For an easier loop start on the Pipestone Trail (#20) going counter clockwise and then turn off onto trail #22 (Drummond.) This relatively flat trail takes you to Pipestone Pond where you can connect to trail #21 (Hector) to return to the parking lot.

Drummond is 2.7 km one way and is a beginner-friendly trail. Hector is 3 km one way and is also beginner-friendly though it does descend 95 metres from Pipestone Pond back to the parking lot (so don't choose it as your first ever ski trail.)

One final trail that has proven useful for us on occasion is the beginner-friendly Merlin Trail (#23) which works as a good shortcut trail off the top of the Pipestone Loop, heading down towards Pipestone Pond. Merlin is 2.3 km and it descends gently from the top of the Pipestone Loop. Watch out for the old cabin along the trail.

All trails in this network are single trackset classic. There is no skating lane and the trails are designated for skiing only so you should not meet hikers. 

** Dogs are permitted on these trails (on leash.) **

See the Pipestone Trails on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Climbing skills are imperative for the intermediate Pipestone Loop 

Where to Stay for a XC Ski Getaway at Lake Louise 

For affordable ski getaways at Lake Louise, we like to stay at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre located centrally near the Village with ski in/out access to the XC trails.

The alpine centre is a joint venture between Hostelling International Canada and the Alpine Club of Canada. Members of either club get discounts to stay here. The Centre has two buildings and each one has its own kitchen and lounge area. We usually get a room in the larger main building where the check in desk and restaurant are located. This is also the building with the biggest lounge area where you'll find a beautiful fireside room with pool table.

The kitchen in the main building is very big and great for large groups. There are plenty of tables, stoves, fridges, and even ovens in the industrial sized kitchen so that everybody can cook together at the same time.

The Lake Louise Alpine Centre has ski in/out access to the XC trails 

Accommodations at the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre 

There are options for both shared and private rooms at this luxury hostel, so don't worry if you value your privacy. We always get a private room here and it's generally a very quiet place to spend the night. The hostel is always clean and well managed, and we've never had a problem with other guests. 

Private rooms sleep 2-6 people and many have their own private bathroom included. Other rooms have access to shared bathrooms located on the same floor as each room. Note private bathrooms do not include showers, but they are a short walk down the hall from all rooms. 

We like the family rooms which sleep up to 6 people, some with separate sleeping lofts to give parents/kids a bit more space.

We've also booked a regular dorm room when we have a group of 4-6 people in the past. While not technically a "private" room, it's an affordable way to create your own exclusive room if you book all of the beds in the room.

From the Alpine Centre you can access all XC Trails and Snowshoe Trails around Lake Louise

And still feeling nervous about staying in a hostel or worried that it won't be family-friendly, or that you'll feel really "old" surrounded by college students having après-ski parties? 

My experience with most hostels here, especially the mountain hostels associated with Hostelling International Canada, is that you'll be surrounded by a very diverse group of guests. This isn't backpacking through Europe.

Expect to be sharing the Alpine Centre with other families, groups of active seniors traveling for a ski weekend together, young international travelers visiting ski resorts across the Canadian Rockies, couples who've booked a small private room for a night or two, and even groups of Scouts or Girl Guides. We've seen it all. You'll find everybody very friendly though, and full of exciting stories to share.

Ski out the door of the hostel on to the Lake Louise trail network