Sure you can downhill or cross country ski in the Rockies, but skating in Banff elevates winter getaways from good to great. From wild skating on frosted lakes to taking a twirl on a rink in town, you’re spoiled for choice. Don’t have skates? No worries. Check out the end of this post for rental options to get your skate on.
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Skating in Banff
With a myriad of options for skating in Banff, you really can’t go wrong when skating in this stunning Canadian national park. Most of the outdoor rinks offer free skating, but you may have to register for a time slot during COVID restrictions.
Heads up: Parks Canada doesn’t monitor natural ice surfaces. That means each individual is responsible for their own safety and to note potential hazards. You’re 100% skating at your own risk.
Ice thickness is recommended to be at least 15 cm for individuals walking or skating upon it. You’ll want the ice to be at least 20 cm thick for parties of two or more. Before you go, be well versed in these ice safety tips.
Downtown Rink at Banff High School
One of the most popular outdoor skating options in Banff is the downtown ice rink on the grounds of Banff High School. This large rink is located downtown between Elk and Wolf Street and is open from 10-8 every day.
Skating here is free, but you need to register to ensure your spot. The capacity for this rink is 40, as the rink is quite spacious.
The rink is usually staffed, however, if the weather drops below -20C, staff will not be present, and you should skate at your own risk. No hockey is allowed on this rink, so you won’t have to worry about getting hit by a frozen puck. (A truly Canadian experience!)
Bear Street Rink
Another downtown rink is Bear Street, situated on … Bear Street! This rink is smaller and currently allows up to 20 skaters at a time. Skating is free, but again, you’ll have to register to reserve your spot.
Bear Street rink is open from 10-8 every day. This rink will close in extreme cold, so check the weather before you plan your skate.
Fenlands Rec Centre
While this recreation centre is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, it typically offers indoor public skating for a fee. The attractive rec center offers two ice skating rinks, curling sheets, meeting rooms, a full-service concession and lounge.
Fenlands Outdoor Rink
Though indoor skating at the rec center is temporarily halted, you can still skate at Fenlands’ outdoor rink. Open from 10-4 every day, registration is required on the weekends.
Skating is free and the rink allows up to 20 skaters at a time. Because this is one of the few man-made rinks not located downtown, you should be in for a quieter skate.
Skating at Banff Springs
One of the lesser-known spots to skate at can be found at Fairmont Banff Springs. These rinks are only open to guests of the hotel. Each rink affords a stunning view of the Rockies, the castle-like hotel and either the townsite or Bow River.
Check out the Vermillion Room skating surface and the observation desk skating rink if you’re a beginner. For a larger ice surface, head to the Waldhaus rink, located near the Waldhaus restaurant. This rink overlooks Bow Falls, yet is maintained by the hotel. There’s also a fire pit for warming up without having to leave the rink.
Where to Go Wild Skating
When it comes to wild skating, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, these ice surfaces aren’t maintained by anyone so you skate AT YOUR OWN RISK. The ice may be snowed-over, rough or thin. Always want to make sure you’re alert and have safety top of mind.
Always dress warmly, as many lakes aren’t sheltered from the blustery winter winds. Tell people where you are going and skate with others if possible. Check out these ice safety tips from the Canadian Red Cross before venturing out.
Here’s a look at the best spots for wild ice skating in Banff National Park and within a 30-minute drive of the Park gates.
Abraham Lake is known for its seasonal ice bubbles that appear below the surface of the water. It takes some time for the ice bubbles to form (from methane gas), and it’s typically at its peak from the end of January until mid-February.
Abraham Lake isn’t a natural lake. It’s actually a reservoir used to generate power. This can make for dangerous conditions, so be aware when you skate.You’ll want to stay away from the area between the Dam and Windy Point, as this is the most dangerous zone.
The Lake is technically a few minutes outside of Banff National Park. If you’re driving from Banff, it’s about a 2 hour and 10 minute drive. Just past Lake Louise, you’ll head north towards Jasper along Highway 93 and will turn east on Highway 11, at Howse Pass Veiwpoint. If you packed a picnic, you could easily spend the day at Abraham Lake as there’s much to explore. Kids love it and it’s got enough of a wow factor to make it an interesting date destination.
Goat Pond is located off Spray Lakes Road in Kananaskis Country. The pond doesn’t always freeze that well in the winter, but if you time it right it is possible to enjoy a beautiful, clear skate. The pond is filled with logs and stumps, both of which can be seen through the ice, making for some stunning skating scenes.
Lac Des Arcs
Situated along the TransCanada highway near Canmore, Lac Des Arcs in a shallow lake sporting a tiny island where folks love to plant Canadian flags. You can park along the eastern shore in the scenic highway pullover area, then walk down to the beach to lace up your skates.
In the winter, Lac Des Arcs freezes over, and gusting winds generate a polished surface for skating. Because the area is so windy, you’ll need to dress warmly.
Spray Lakes Reservoir is one of those iconic skating locations, easily accessed from Canmore along Highway 742. It’s one of the largest places to skate, with over 19 sq km of surface. Encircled by mountains and pine forests, the only way you could feel more Canadian out here is by popping up an ice fishing tent.
Two Jack Lake
You’ll find Two Jack Lake along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. With panoramic views of the Rockies and particularly spectacular vistas of Mt Rundle, Two Jack Lake attracts photographers from far and wide.
It’s a popular lake in summer, and because it freezes over in winter, it’s a capital spot for both skating and capturing one for the ‘gram.
One of the busier lakes in Banff, Johnson Lake is a well trafficked skating spot. Like Two Jack, it’s also accessed by taking Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.
There’s a ramp to the lake, making it an effortless jaunt from the parking lot to the ice. The quality of the ice is usually pretty good, and many find it to be one of the smoother wild skating experiences in Banff. The lake is large, so even if there’s lots of people, it shouldn’t be hard to find some space for yourself.
*Though whenever we’re skating on wild ice surfaces, we prefer to be close to people in case the ice does crack.
One of the closest lakes to Banff townsite, Vermillion Lakes is a lovely place to skate, without having to go far. You can access Vermillion Lakes near the West entrance into Banff from the TransCanada highway (also the Norquay overpass).
After a large snowfall, you might not be able to skate. Fortunately, the lakes are often cleared by someone in the community. Conveniently, there’s a dock to lace up your skates.
These natural lakes afford epic views of Mt Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. Bring your camera along with your skates for max enjoyment.
If you’re looking for a quieter place to twirl upon the ice, consider Cascade Ponds. To find the ponds, take the first right off of Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.
Do be aware that Cascade Ponds has streams that enter and exit near the edges, making the ice unstable. Stay near the middle of the ponds and you should be able to enjoy some tranquil skating.
A few minutes past the East Banff Gate (when you’re heading West into the Park from Calgary or Canmore), Carrot Creek is secret skating spot well loved by locals. Getting here involves parking on the side of the TransCanada Highway and walking for about 10-minutes to reach the Creek. Check out this post of mine for more details on skating at Carrot Creek.
Lake Minnewanka Skating
One of the most beautiful ways to get your exercise in can be had on Lake Minnewanka each winter. Impressively, this large lake allows you to skate over 1km in either direction.
Lake Minnewanka can be windy, which makes for a cold skate, but also smooth ice. As the lake is 5 km from Banff, it’s easily accessible. There are large parking areas, so you should be able to get a spot, especially if you go during the week.
Like with other mountain skating options, be sure to check the conditions and weather before you go. If there’s been too much snow, you might not be able to skate on the ice, unless you’re prepared to shovel it off yourself.
An approximate 20-minute drive from Banff, Canmore is a go-to spot for Calgarians in search of an easy day-trip or mini-break. (They have some excellent hotels!) Naturally, there’s plenty of places to skate in Canmore, including the Canmore Town Rink.
Canmore Town Rink
The town rink is maintained by the Town of Canmore and is surfaced every few days to keep it as smooth as possible. With the pandemic, the outdoor rink has a limit of 72 skaters at a time. You can find the rink at 7th Avenue and Mallard Alley, just off Main Street.
Its main drawback is limited parking. There’s a very small parking lot in the alley and a few spots for road parking. Find community parking lots along 9th and 10th Street.
Other areas to skate in Canmore
Canmore sports several outdoor community rinks. Head to:
- Cougar Creek Boarded Ice Rink (limited to 21 people)
- Rundle Crescent Ice Surface (limited to 15 people)
- Peek Park Ice Surface (limited to 10 people)
- Larch Outdoor Ice Rink (limited to 33 people)
Skating in Lake Louise
Known for being one of the most gorgeous skating rinks in the world, Lake Louise is a must-visit for anyone looking to get some skating in. The lake is situated directly in front of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is currently closed to the public, but is still a must-see destination in Banff National Park.
The ice is regularly cleared and maintained and is dotted with benches and fire pits for getting ready. During the winter season, the lake also sports an ice castle you can wander through (though it’s more like a few walls). For insider tips on how to best enjoy skating at Louise, check out this post!
Lake Louise Rec Centre
If you don’t want to face the crowds at the lake, try skating at the Lake Louise Rec Centre. This outdoor, NHL-sized rink is made of natural ice and is maintained by the Lake Louise community.
For a $2 drop-in fee, you can enjoy heated change rooms and washrooms, plus a covered place to skate. The dressing rooms and washrooms are currently closed due to COVID, but the rink is open. The community has split the rink into two sections, with 10 people allowed on either side to maintain social distancing.
Banff Skate Rentals
If you don’t have the gear for winter skating, don’t worry. When looking for Banff skate rentals, you’ll have plenty of options. Most places also rent sticks and helmets, in addition to skates all in sizes.
Nab skate rentals in Banff from any of these outfitters:
Headed to Lake Louise? You can rent skates from:
Where’s your favourite place to skate in Banff?
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