Monday, December 05, 2016

The BEST of Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

There's finally snow on the ground, my house is decorated for the holidays, and I've been listening to Christmas music for two weeks already. I love December and I always have a huge list of fun things that we want to do to celebrate the holiday season.

Gotta do THIS - The Best of Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

This Christmas guide has been updated for 2021.

Gotta do THIS - The Best of Christmas in the Canadian Rockies


One - Attend a Fun Family Outdoor Christmas Event

We have several favourite Christmas events that we attend annually as a family. Then there are always new events that we discover each year - ensuring our calendar stays nice and full. Add a few to your own calendar and make some fun memories this season.

1. The CP Holiday Train -  This beautifully lit up train travels across Canada each December collecting donations for local food banks and spreading holiday cheer with live entertainment. A stage opens out of one of the box cars and it's always a big party with kids dancing in front of the colorful train.

The CP Holiday Train rolling across the country

We like seeing the holiday train in Airdrie so that we can go to the Airdrie Festival of Lights at the same time and take a ride on one of the miniature trains.

The train also travels through the mountains every second year stopping in at Cochrane, Morley, Canmore, and Banff. Visit the website  to view the full schedule

Cancelled for 2021 due to Covid-19.

Concert on the CP Holiday Train Stage

2.  The Spirit of Christmas in Bragg Creek - This festival runs over two weeks in December. While you probably won't spend the entire day at the festival, it's fun to head out for a short ski or hike in West Bragg Creek and then stop by on your way home to take in some of the free family activities, to see Santa and his reindeer, and to enjoy a wagon ride.

Santa and Reindeer for the Win in Bragg Creek

Our highlight one year was the wagon ride with Santa riding along with us leading us in Christmas carols.

Edit for 2021: The event is happening for one day only on the first Saturday of December, December 4th. 

Wagon Rides with Santa in Bragg Creek

3. The Lion's Festival of Lights, Confederation Park  - This free festival runs every December in Calgary with an opening ceremony that always has fireworks. While you can just park near the gates and walk in to see the lights, we like to park over by the Confederation Park Golf Course off Collingwood Drive and then we like to ski or hike across the golf course. Sledding has also been fun while there.

Sledding at the Lion's Festival of Lights

4. Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo - This popular event runs from late November through early January every year and I recommend going early. The closer you get to Christmas, the busier the zoo will be.

I also suggest going early to see the lights on your chosen night. We like to go right when the event starts at 5:00pm. And note you can not stay over from a daytime visit to the zoo. The grounds will be cleared out by 4:30pm in preparation for the evening event.

The evening zoo lights event requires a special ticket and it's recommended you buy tickets ahead of time online. 

Inspire Members have unlimited free access to Zoo Lights.
Engage and Child Members receive a one-time 50% of discount on Zoo Light admission tickets.

Visit the Calgary zoo website to buy tickets.

Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo

5. Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola - Free with your admission to the Banff Gondola, you can visit with Santa, decorate Christmas cookies, make a craft, and participate in a fun family scavenger hunt. Take a tour of the beautiful interpretive centre, have lunch in the cafeteria, and watch a fun Christmas movie playing in the theatre.

And for those on a budget, you will get a discounted ride down on the gondola in the winter if you hike up. The trail is pretty snowy right now though so if you plan on hiking up the 700 metres of height to the top of the gondola, bring spikes or ice cleats for traction. I also recommend checking the Banff Trail Report for the Sulphur Mountain Trail.

Also know that Alberta residents save up to 15% on gondola tickets, and children age 5 and under always ride for free. 

It's recommended that you purchase tickets ahead of time online. 

Santa found his way to the top of the gondola in Banff

Two - Plan a Pre-Christmas Mountain Getaway

Spend Christmas at a Wilderness Hostel

We like to spend the weekend before Christmas at a remote wilderness hostel in Kananaskis or Banff and have been doing this for several years now. We go skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and play in the snow with friends. Some years we've made gingerbread houses and other years we've exchanged a few presents.

Christmas at Mosquito Creek

Below are some of my pre-Christmas wilderness hostelling stories if you'd like to be inspired to try this yourself.

Christmas Getaway in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

Christmas in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Have a bigger budget and want to spend a few nights in the mountains this Christmas? Below are my top picks for where to spend a truly magical Rocky Mountain Christmas.


Spend Christmas at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park, BC

With ski or hike in/out cabins on the lakeshore, Emerald Lake Lodge is a great place for active families wanting to play in the snow without going far from their hotel room. Families can ski or hike across the lake, ski or hike the circuit around the lake, or ski/hike on numerous other trails in the area. You can even ski from the lake down to the Town of Field (which would be awesome with a second vehicle down there waiting for you.)

The resort has a great outdoor hot tub as well and the dining is some of the best in the Rockies.

It can be noted too that the last time I stayed here, I proclaimed that camping was stupid and that I was born to be a princess within the first 5 minutes of arriving. So take mom here and treat her like a princess for a couple of nights. 

Read: Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park 

Cabins along the lakeshore of Emerald Lake

Spend Christmas at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge 

One of our favourite places to head for a day trip before Christmas is Kananaskis Village (and if you can stay overnight at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge it's even better!) We go cross country skiing or hiking at Ribbon Creek, go downhill skiing at Nakiska Ski Area, skate on the outdoor pond at the village, visit with the reindeer (they usually bring them in right before Christmas) and hang out inside the lodge by the beautiful fireplace.

Stay overnight and you can also enjoy the amazing swimming pool and hot tub as well as stay for dinner in one of the excellent restaurants (something we even do on day trips occasionally.)

Read: Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village This Winter 

Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

Spend Christmas at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

If there's one place I've truly fallen in love with over the years, it's Mount Engadine Lodge. We've stayed here numerous times (winter and summer) and have always had an extremely memorable stay.

Top Reasons to stay at Mount Engadine Lodge:

  • Cross country ski trails right outside the door in the meadow

  • Easy access to the Mount Shark ski trails, Chester Lake, and Rummel Lake

  • Close to Canmore if driving out Saturday afternoon after spending the day in the Bow Valley

  • Amazing location in Spray Valley Provincial Park with SNOW that you have to see to believe

  • Beautiful lodge rooms, cabins and suites in what feels like a backcountry ski lodge - but that has drive up access

  • All inclusive stays with lodging + all meals included

  • A cozy rustic yurt on site for those who want to try winter camping with all the comforts of the lodge and meals next door (and the lodge has just built glamping tents on site!) 
Mount Engadine Lodge from the meadow below

For more inspiration check out these links:

Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Christmas Day Trips

Don't have the time, budget, or energy to plan an overnight trip right before Christmas? You can still round up your Santa hats and head out for a day hike. Check out our photos from our Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon in this story.

Go for a Christmas day hike in the mountains! 

Three - Plan a New Years Getaway

We love going away for New Years with friends and sharing a cabin or condo so that we can celebrate New Year's Eve with the kids during the daytime but then continue the celebration after the kids have gone to bed.

New Years Fireworks in Radium Hot Springs

Travel Spotlight: Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley

We love going to the Columbia Valley in BC for New Year's. There are fireworks on the 31st in the Town of Radium Hot Springs and there's no shortage of things to do in the valley!

Some of our favourite things to do in the Columbia Valley over New Years:

  • Go skating on the Invermere Whiteway on Lake Windermere - when frozen, the lake has a giant oval cleared for skating with groomed ski tracks created around the outside of the skating loop. It is the longest skating trail in the world at over 30 km in length. There are also several hockey rinks cleared on the lake and fat biking is another popular sport enjoyed by locals on the lake.

  • Go cross country skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort or on Lake Lillian. The trails are maintained by the Toby Creek Nordic Club and they do a fabulous job. We love skiing up to the Hale Hut at Panorama.

  • Spend a day downhill skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort. Read our ski resort review here.

  • Go cross country skiing at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside of Radium Hot Springs. The Natural Bridge is really cool to ski to and we like doing the loop to return via the Canyon Bridge. There are also warming huts spread out around the property which makes for a family-friendly way to ski with young children.

  • Go fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort! Read all about that experience here. The resort actually maintains dedicated trails for fat biking (and they rent bikes as well, including bikes for youth.)

Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

Additional Inspiration and Reading

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