Thinking about taking a trip to Banff in November?! I’m sharing all the details from our visit in mid-late November, including pros, cons, and where we stayed, plus all the fun things to do in Banff in November! Yes, it’ll be chilly, but well worth it.
Snow-capped mountains. Frozen waterfalls. Heavenly hot chocolate and decadent cheese fondue. Icy walks by the river. Luxurious castles. Walking on frozen Lake Louise.
I’d honestly never considered visiting Banff in November. I’d been in the summer (a few times), and already once in winter. But when we were researching where to go for Thanksgiving (with flights that wouldn’t drain our bank account), I noticed airfares to Calgary were super reasonable! And just like that, our trip to Banff in November was booked!
The first question everyone’s probably asking: Is Banff in November even worth it?!
I get it – it’s kinda an odd time to visit. Summer is long gone, winter sports haven’t all started yet, and it’s COLD!
But, after our trip, I can honestly say, I think so! If you’re looking for cheaper prices, less crowds, and an overall more relaxing stay, then you’ll love visiting Banff in November. We definitely did!
Just remember that November is smack-dab in the middle of low-season, between the high seasons of summer and winter. October is still quite popular as the larches turn a brilliant yellow color, but November? It’s pretty quiet!
Some say it’s way more drab and dreary than other months in Banff. And they’re not wrong (I mean, the lakes aren’t their glistening turquoise color and the weather is pretty finicky). BUT we found our trip to Banff in November still pretty magical, so I’d be lying if I said we had a terrible time. Quite the opposite, actually.
If you’re still not sure if you should go or wait for another month, I say go for it! To put things mildly, I’m ridiculously obsessed with the entire area (exhibit A, B, and C). There’s a reason I’ve been back FOUR times (twice in summer, once in winter, and now Banff in November). I can’t seem to stay away!
Weather in Banff in November
I’m not gonna lie to you, November weather in Banff is kinda iffy and wildly unpredictable. It really depends on the year and when exactly in the month you’re visiting. Think of November as a transition month – from fall into winter. So yes, as the month progresses, expect a higher chance of snow and more likelihood of near freezing temps.
Expect “highs” of around 32°F, and lows near 15°F. Yup, it’s gonna be cold! Do note that early mornings and nights will undoubtedly feel much chillier without any sun exposure (and the sun sets early in November — around 4:30pm to be exact!). Cloud cover and overcast conditions are quite common in Banff during November as it’s turning into winter!
This time of year marks the change from the drier fall months to the (much) wetter winter months. Temps are typically between 23°F to 41°F. Doesn’t seem all too bad, but remember, nighttime temps typically drop below freezing (14°F to 5°F)
You can expect a mix of rain and snow in the early part of the month, until eventually all the precipitation is snow. But whatever snow Banff gets in early November will probably be what I consider “wet snow” – the kind of snow that melts quickly and turns into a pile of brown mush shortly after. The temps aren’t typically freezing enough for much to stick.
Much greater chance of snowstorms (sometimes with constant flurries), colder temperatures, and feels almosttt like the dead of winter (although it’s not, that’s January and February – the first time I visited Banff in winter).
And yes, it will snow! Probably a lot! By mid to late November, there should be snow practically everywhere. Which is exactly what we were after and what we got – we loved seeing those beautiful mountain peaks covered in snow!
For reference, we visited Banff in late-November and got super lucky. Locals and visitors had told us there was a cold-spell just a few days before we arrived, and temps reached a whopping -20C°(-4F°). Yes, it was still bone-shivering cold when we visited, but I cannot imagine it feeling any colder.
We experienced freezing cold weather the majority of our stay, and used this as excuses to get our cuddling on, sip luxurious hot chocolates at the Fairmont, and sit by the campfire roasting marshmallows. Not too shabby.
Regardless of when you visit Banff in November, you’ll wanna wear warm winter clothing. It definitely ain’t fall anymore! Psst – hot hands are a lifesaver. Buy some before your trip and you’ll be thanking me later. 🙂
Are the lakes frozen in November?
Yes and no – that totally depends on when in November you’re visiting Banff and what lake we’re talking about! Also the severity of winter weather, the altitude of the lake, and the local microclimate. So many factors!
Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Emerald Lake (in Yoho National Park) will pretty much all be completely frozen by mid to late November. You can still easily access (frozen) Lake Louise and Emerald Lake, but unless you’re prepared to hike/snowshoe a few miles, you’re not able to see Moraine Lake at all (the road leading there generally closes by mid-October, depending on the year).
Peyto Lake will be frozen and covered in snow – how cool would it be to see the wolf-shaped lake in white?
Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake, both closer to Downtown Banff, as well as the lakes in Canmore, typically take longer to freeze. You may be able to catch them before they’re completely frozen.
NEVER attempt to walk/stand/ice skate on frozen lakes unless you are 1000% certain it’s safe. Just because a lake looks completely frozen, does not mean it is. Ice needs to be a certain thickness in order to withstand weight. Always err on the side of caution, and ask park rangers/hotel staff if you’re unsure. Better safe than sorry!
Logistics about Visiting Banff in November
How to Get to Banff
If you’re coming from the US, getting to Banff is pretty easy!
Since there’s no airports in Banff National Park (or its immediate surroundings), you’ll need to fly to Calgary International Airport (airport code YYC). Calgary is kinda the unspoken gateway to the Canadian Rockies, so you’ll find most people who fly here are actually headed to Banff too!
For reference, it’s approximately 3 hours in the air from San Francisco (SFO), where I’m typically departing from, 5 ½ hours from New York City (JFK), and 8 ½ hours from Miami (MIA). Definitely way quicker if you’re coming from the West Coast like we were.
Upon arrival in Calgary, you’ll need to then get yourself to Banff National Park. Sure, it kinda sounds like a hassle, but I PROMISE you the trip is well worth it. And there’s so many options (all described in detail below).
How to Get from Calgary Airport to Downtown Banff
Driving to Banff
If you’re renting a car in Calgary, of course you can drive to Banff National Park yourself! The drive is pretty easy, the highways are in great shape and well-maintained, and only takes about an hour and a half.
Within 45 minutes or so, off in the distance, you’ll start to see the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. No words or photos can prepare you for your first views of the mountains. Utterly spectacular!
There are two routes you can take from Calgary to Banff – the most common being a straight shot down the Trans-Canada (Highway 1), taking about 1 ½ hours.
If you’d prefer a slightly more scenic route, plan to take Highway 1A through Canmore before rejoining Highway 1. It just adds on an extra 15-20 minutes or so. You can even do the scenic route on your way back to Calgary if you’d prefer to get to Banff as soon as possible.
However, when visiting Banff in November, you’ll wanna keep an eye on the weather (it’s unpredictable at best). Driving to Banff from Calgary was super easy at the start of our trip, but on the way back, we drove right into a HUGE snowstorm (thankfully my husband’s a super careful driver). To say we drove way under the speed limit is a massive understatement – it took us almost double the time to make it back.
There could be traffic issues, avalanches, heavy snowfall, accidents, and unfortunately roadblocks due to unforeseen weather. Just keep this in mind and give yourself extra time to get back to Calgary should you be flying out that same day.
Make sure you’re comfortable driving in snowy winter weather if you choose to drive yourself.
Psst: I recommend never letting your gas tank go below half. While there are gas stations in the park, you don’t wanna run out when it’s freezing cold.
Public Bus and Shuttle Services
If you don’t feel comfortable driving in the potential winter weather conditions, there’s other ways to get to downtown Banff. Unfortunately this means you won’t have as much flexibility in town, but hey, there’s still lots to do nearby!
- Banff Airporter: The Banff Airporter provides a shuttle bus service to and from Calgary Airport, Banff, and Canmore. There’s a ton of scheduled times and you’ll get dropped off right at your hotel in Banff! It is kinda pricey though, at over $150 roundtrip. Do note if you’re staying in Canmore there’s only one drop off, at the Coast Hotel.
- Brewster Express: This is a shuttle service that connects Calgary (with pickups in both downtown Calgary and the Calgary International Airport) to a whole slew of places in the Rockies – Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. The shuttle runs year round, although check the schedule because it changes based on the season. It’s a little cheaper at around $55 each way; select your bus time and grab your seat from Calgary Airport to Banff here!
How to Get Around Banff in November
Driving/car rental: When we visited Banff in November, we had rented a car in Calgary and drove to the area. It wasn’t particularly difficult to drive in the city (and thankfully it wasn’t crazy crowded so there was hardly any traffic). There’s lots all around so parking was never too hard. You’ll also want to make sure you rent an SUV, as I can’t even imagine driving the snowy conditions in a smaller car.
With this being said, it was my husband driving and not I (who is a much more comfortable and experienced driver), so I’d make sure you feel safe driving behind the wheel should inclement weather pop up.
ROAM Transit: Not planning on renting a car? No worries! ROAM Transit, the public bus system in Banff, has over 10 routes with bus stops in all of the popular tourist spots. Think Downtown Banff, Banff Gondola, the hot springs, Canmore, Lake Louise, and even Johnston Canyon.
And thankfully, there’s real-time GPS info at most of the stops around town. Meaning you can duck into a shop for some warmth instead of standing around waiting and guessing when the bus will come.
What to Pack for Banff in November
Despite being a transition month in Banff, you’ll need to pack some pretty warm clothing. Like I keep saying, the weather is highly unpredictable, and you don’t wanna be cold! Think all your winter gear – hats, scarves, gloves, wool socks, thermal underpants, boots – the works!
Piece of advice #1: Invest in warm and waterproof snow boots with a proper grip. When ordering, opt for a size slightly larger than normal, as you want to allow for thick socks and toe warmers. If your boots are too tight (and your toes are crammed together), your feet will never stay warm enough.
Piece of advice #2: HOT HANDS. Enough said. But in all honesty, hot hands saved our frosty fingers on more than one occasion. What are they, you ask? They’re these magical dry packets filled with iron (among other scientific things) that intensify in heat once activated.
Basically – super technological hand warmers that stay warm for up to 10 hours. And they are a godsend. You’ll want at least 1 pair a day. Buy on amazon here.
Piece of advice #3: Buy a pass at home ahead of time. Since Banff is technically a National Park, you’ll need a Canada Parks Pass to enter the area. You can either purchase a pass online or upon entering the park.
If you think you’ll be visiting multiple Canadian national parks over the course of a year, it’s a good idea to snag the Discovery Pass from Parks Canada as this will waive daily admission fees to over 80 Parks Canada places throughout the country.
Pros and Cons to Visiting Banff in November
I made a list of pros and cons to visiting Banff in November so you can really decide for yourself if it’s a time you’d enjoy going.
Pros to Visiting Banff in November
- WAY less crowds: One of the biggest perks of visiting Banff in November is the lack of crowds. Besides the weekend of Remembrance Day (which falls on November 11 every year), you’ll never encounter any huge groups of people. This made the entire experience so much more peaceful and way less stressful than visiting in the busy summer season or during the later winter months.
- Not as cold: Yes, it’s cold in Banff in November, but not AS cold as the later winter months of December, January, and February when it’s practically downright freezing each and every day. You’ll still wanna bundle up!
- It already feels like Christmas: Yes, Christmas cheer is in the air already, even in November! The hotels are starting to decorate their lobbies with all the tinsel and wreaths and sparkly garlands – don’t miss the epic Christmas tree at the Fairmont Banff Springs!
- Easier to snag a window seat table at both Fairmont Hotels: You don’t need to be a guest of the Fairmont in order to make reservations at their restaurants! And because of the fewer crowds, you’ll have a much easier time getting a window seat for high tea at both the Fairmont Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs. Let’s face it – the views are the main reason for dining at these hotels… okay fine, those itty bitty cucumber sandwiches and macarons don’t hurt either.
- Walk on frozen Lake Louise: This was one of our favorite things to do during our visit to Banff in November! When else can you say you’ve walked the entirety of a frozen lake with a massive glacier in the distance?! And due to the small crowds, there were instances when we felt like we had almost the entire lake to ourselves – unheard of and so magical!
- Christmas Markets in Banff: Visiting Banff in November is perfect if you wanna visit the Christmas Markets – they’re not even open at Christmas time! There’s over 100 artisanal vendors, live music, an outdoor fire lounge (with cocktails and hot chocolate), Santa’s House and Reindeer Stables, and tons of seasonal treats.
- Downright magical: There’s just something super special about visiting Banff in November – Christmas spirit is in the area, the town has just seen it’s first snowfall (or two!), and I know I keep saying this – but fewer crowds (trust me, it makes a HUGE difference). Plus, Banff’s super scenic, especially late November once there’s been some snow accumulation! I mean, how can seeing snow on the mountain peaks, hiking to frozen waterfalls, sipping hot cocoa by the fire, and walking on frozen lakes not be downright magical?! Sorry, but that’s the epitome of a winter wonderland to me!
- Cozy places with hot chocolate and fireplaces: With all the cold weather and snow, it’s the perfect excuse to cozy up and sip on some hot cocoa (allll the marshmallows please). I don’t even wanna tell you how many times we ducked inside The Rundle Bar (at Fairmont Banff Springs) to warm up by the fire. The Lakeview Lounge at Chateau Lake Louise was our other favorite!
- Cheaper room rates at the Fairmonts: Ever wanted to stay in a castle?! Now’s your chance! Ever since laying eyes on Fairmont Lake Louise on my first visit to Banff, I’ve been wanting to stay there. Unfortunately, that $1,500/night price tag was always outta my price range – understandably. Since November is practically the lowest of the low season in Banff, this means accommodation will also be at its lowest! While room rates are still higher than other nearby hotels, we were able to find much more manageable rates in November than during other times of year. We stayed one night at Fairmont Château Lake Louise, and two at Fairmont Banff Springs (both absolutely spectacular).
- Skiing is open (late November): Wooo – it’s the start of ski season in Banff come November! The SkiBig3 resorts are open, with the runs visited by mainly locals. Why? Because there’s hardly any tourists here yet! Hint hint – this means lift tickets at lower prices! Score!
- Cheaper prices and flights: We were able to fly directly to Calgary just two days before Thanksgiving without breaking the bank, at all – when flights anywhere and everywhere are ridiculously expensive. Honestly, that’s one of the main reasons we chose to visit Banff in November – we couldn’t find anywhere else to go for Thanksgiving break that wasn’t absolutely insane price wise. Granted Canadians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but still…
Cons to Visiting Banff in November
As with everything in life, there’s some cons as well.
- Lakes won’t be their glassy turquoise color: Sorry to disappoint, but this is because they’ll be frozen over and most likely covered in snow! If you wanna see them in all their glory, you need to visit in summer from late May/early June to late-October. While there’s no guarantee on exact dates, this is when the lakes typically thaw out and melt.
- In-between seasons: November is considered low-season, meaning that all summer and fall activities are over, while some winter activities haven’t even started yet. But those of us in the know know that Banff in November is actually pretty spectacular (and there’s still tons to do).
- Access to Moraine Lake is closed: Moraine Lake Road, the road leading to this famous lake, closes as early as mid-October some years due to snow and icy road conditions. It’s never open in November meaning access is way more limited.
Psst – just FYI, personal vehicles are actually banned on the road to Moraine Lake year round (Parks Canada decided this in 2023). Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses are only permitted from June 1 to mid-October.
- Fall colors are gone: If you’re looking to experience the vibrant fall foliage in Banff, November is surely not the best time. Most of the trees have shed their leaves by this point, and it’s turning into a true winter wonderland. The time to come for the larch season is mid-late September, and only lasts a few weeks.
- There’s not enough snow for dog sledding: When we initially booked our trip to Banff in November, I was so excited that my husband would be able to go dog sledding! I had done this on my first winter trip to Banff a few years ago (in February) and LOVED it, so was extremely gutted when I learned all the dog sledding companies in Banff don’t start operating until later in the season (earliest mid-December, but more like January). Whomp, whomp.
- Beginning half of November may not feel like true winter yet: This really depends on the year, but there’s no guarantee of heavy snowfall until mid to late November. For this reason, I’d plan your Banff November visit later in the month if you want all those cozy winter wonderland vibes.
- Unpredictable weather: On that note, only Mother Nature knows what the weather will be like during November in Banff. Definitely monitor the weather closely a few days before your trip so you know exactly what to bring! Regardless, layers are your best friend.
- Sun sets around 4:30pm: Yes, that early. The sun rises around 8am, and sets about 8.5 hours later. Meaning there’s not as much daylight to do outdoor exploring as during the summer or even later in the winter months. The days are super short, so make the most of them. Honestly, it was so cold we were ready to cozy on up indoors (with hot cocoas of course) by about 3pm anyways, haha.
- SnowDays Festival/Ice Magic Festival hasn’t started yet: This is a celebration of all things winter in Banff, that unfortunately doesn’t start until mid-late January. That’s when those massive ice sculptures are built at Fairmont Lake Louise – at the annual ice carving competition.
- Ice skating on Lake Louise may not be open: Typically, you can skate on Lake Louise from mid-December to mid-April or so. When we visited in late November, staff were starting to get the ice rink on Lake Louise plowed and ready for the snowy winter season. That said, we missed opening day by a week or so, and were so sad! Safety first, of course! The lake needs to be solid enough for skating. The exact date changes every year, mainly based on snowfall levels and ultimately when the lake freezes over.
Things to do in Banff in November
High Tea at the Fairmont(s)
In all honesty, indulging in high tea at the swanky Fairmont Hotels was something we were most looking forward to during our time in Banff in November. I mean who can resist savoring those tiny, delicate treats (fluffy scones with house-made preserves, anyone?!) and sipping aromatic teas while soaking in the mountain vibes of the Rocky Mountains?
So relaxing and downright delicious! Sure, it’s pretty pricey, but worth it in my book for the pastries and finger sandwiches, haha. Plus, tea gets served in fancy china; how fun! Afternoon tea takes place at the Rundle Bar at Fairmont Banff Springs, and the Lakeview Lounge at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There’s even tea timers so you can brew your tea to your utmost perfection!
We were super gluttonous and did both (yup, told you we were excited about it, haha), and I honestly can’t decide which I enjoyed more. The experience at Banff Springs felt more upscale, luxurious, and private, while I preferred the snowy views at Fairmont Lake Louise a tad more! Really can’t go wrong with either though!
Psst – you need reservations for both, even in November. Make sure to ask for a table right by the window!
Walk on Frozen Lake Louise
If the lake is completely frozen over (which it usually is by mid-November), you can actually walk right out onto Lake Louise! Something people who visit in summer definitely cannot do! I’m pretty sure this was my husband’s favorite activity out of all the things we did in Banff when we visited in November – he still talks about it months later!
Be sure to take precaution whenever you’re planning to walk on any frozen lake. And yes, that includes Lake Louise! You wanna make sure the ice is thick enough for body weight (typically at least 4 inches for 200 pounds).
Lake Louise is actually a very popular place to go snowshoeing in the winter. There’s plenty of trails nearby, but the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail is the closest to the actual lake. And don’t worry – not traveling with snowshoes?! You can easily rent a pair from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Christmas Markets in Banff
If you’re a fan of holiday cheer, you’re gonna be over the moon with Banff’s Christmas markets. I mean, twinkling lights, artisan gifts, and a vibe that’s all about being informal and festive. Plus a bunch of fun photo opps (I do love those!). While the markets were smaller than I anticipated, we wandered around for a bit and took in all the holiday cheer.
Make sure to buy tickets in advance (you can’t purchase tickets at the door) – the Christmas Markets only occur a few weekends in November and early December. They’re even gone by Christmas! Find the schedule here, plus lots more info!
Psst – you’ll need a car to get to Warner Stables, where the Banff Christmas Markets are held, as there’s no public transport that gets you there (from my knowledge).
Sip some Hot Cocoa
What’s better than sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate while watching the flurries come down outside?! Thankfully, Banff’s got a whole slew of restaurants and cafes serving up the good stuff – some with extra special ingredients!
Try some boozy hot chocolate from The Balkan Greek Restaurant (topped with hand shaken cream), the “Backcountry Powder” from Sky Bistro (dark chocolate and hazelnut combined with maple and star anise), and a hot chocolate bomb from Bluebird Restaurant (with white chocolate and marshmallows).
There’s also alpine cherry hot chocolate from Brazen, Spicy Bear Hot Chocolate from Bear Street Tavern (with Park Chili Vodka!), and S’mores Hot Chocolate from Happy Camper Cafe & Bar (A Canadian take on hot chocolate!). Plus oh so many more (like tiramisu hot cocoa, bourbon hot chocolate, and chili chai hot chocolate) – it’s hard to list them all!
Hike to Frozen Waterfalls at Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most popular hikes year-round, and it’s also one of the best things to do in Banff in November. It gets exceptionally crowded in both summer and winter (I’ve hiked the canyon both seasons), and if you don’t get to the parking lot early enough, you’ll need to park further away.
In terms of snow, it really depends when in the month you’re visiting. Earlier November may not have much snowfall yet, and there’s no guarantee the waterfalls will be frozen.
Johnston Canyon is comprised of three sections – a hike to the Lower Falls, Upper Falls, and finally to the Ink Pots.
We only allocated enough time to trek to the Lower Falls, which are only 1.1 km away, and took us roughly an hour round trip (with stops for photos of course), which was downright stunning and out of another world. In all honesty, I don’t recommend hiking any further in the snow, as the trail gets steeper and more complex the further up you go.
To hike in Johnston Canyon in the winter, wear all the layers – we’re talking wool base layers, thick sweaters, a parka, and of course, gloves and a hat. Banff in winter is no joke, and it’s definitely better to come over prepared than freeze your butt off.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Of course there’s hot springs in Banff – these are the mountains we’re talking about! Would you expect anything less?! And thankfully, the Banff Hot Springs are open year round. Temps are a whopping 110°F (43°C), so perfect to warm up those aching muscles on a chilly day. Or just relax and recharge after a busy day exploring the Canadian Rockies (or eating scones and sipping hot cocoa – no judgment!).
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I had visited the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park a few summers ago, and that was more like a glorified pool (i.e. not that impressive).
I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were visiting Banff in chilly November, but the Upper Hot Springs in Banff were an absolute dream come true. I was worried that the frigid temps would be a problem, but lemme tell ya – the hot 110°F waters feel that much sweeter against your skin when the air outside is subzero.
Indulge in Cheese/Chocolate Fondue
Did someone say gooey Swiss raclette melted cheese?! What about creamy chocolate fondue with berries and cake? Fondue has got to be the ultimate comfort food, and it’s a must on your visit to Banff in November (or any chilly month, for that matter). Banff’s got a few top-notch fondue spots, but here’s my favorite two (both personally taste-tested by me… for research… of course…).
Yes, you’ll leave overly stuffed (wear your stretchy pants), so plan to have a smaller lunch that day. It’s worth the calories, promise! 🙂
Grizzly House: This is Banff’s most famous fondue restaurant – I mean, there’s a reason it’s been open since 1967! The Grizzly House has all your typical fondues (cheese, chocolate, meat, etc), but what it’s really famous for is its exotics meats – think rattlesnake, shark, wild boar, ostrich, and even alligator (no thanks).
We came to the Grizzly House one night (with a reservation of course, yes, even in November), and it was one of our best meals the entire trip. I was too chicken to try any of the exotics, so don’t feel like it’s a must.
Waldhaus at the Fairmont: You can’t come all the way to this snowy mountain town and not indulge in some cheese fondue. We opted for the truffle cheese and chocolate fondue for 2, and it was one of our best decisions all week. FYI you can park on Spray Avenue and get shuttled to the restaurant since it’s not located in the main building.
Views from the Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola is amazing year round – there’s a reason I’ve rode up three times (the fourth time I hiked up to Sulphur Mountain). Sure, it’s pretty pricey, but honestly one of the best things to do in Banff during November (or any time of year for that matter).
For non-hikers, the Banff Gondola is an amazing place to snag some of the most stunning snowy views of Banff in winter time. In just a few minutes, you’ll go from the foothills near Banff’s town center all the way up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (which is downright stunning, even from below). Don’t forget to turn on your camera in the gondola on the way up to the top – the views from the cable car itself are just as phenomenal.
Once you reach the top after your ~10 minute ride, there’s an open air observation deck and a bunch of walkways. To be completely honest, we only stayed outside for a whopping 15 minutes or so – it was SO, SO cold and windy.
Thankfully there’s floor to ceiling windows all around, even in the dining room. We made reservations for a late lunch at Sky Bistro, perched on the summit of Sulphur Mountain, and what a memorable meal it was. A distinctly Canadian menu with Rocky Mountain views – what could be better?! Highly recommend the restaurant, especially if you’re visiting Banff in November and are worried about the freezing temps at the top of the mountain.
Climb Sulphur Mountain
On that note, you technically can climb Sulphur Mountain in November… if you don’t wanna pay for the expensive gondola ride to the top that is. There’s astonishing views over Bow Valley on the hike up, and since many opt to take the gondola, the trail in November is typically pretty empty.
Just note you’ll definitely wanna wear microspikes on your boots – it’s steep and slippery. Hiking poles will also come in handy as well. As you climb the mountain, the air gets cooler and cooler, with higher possibilities of snow on the trails. Make sure you’re well prepared as the hike is just about 3.5 miles up, and it’s pretty steep in some spots.
Honestly? I’d rather just take the gondola, haha.
Helicopter Tour above the Rockies
I’m a sucker for getting birds eye views no matter where we are (like that time I flew over the Blue Hole in Belize, glided past waterfalls in the jungle in Hawaii, and even above the African Serengeti on a hot air balloon), so of course I was thrilled to take a helicopter tour above the Canadian Rockies.
If this is your first ride in a helicopter, there’s no better place to do it. With snow-covered mountains jutting out amongst Alberta’s bright blue skies, our heli ride was an absolute dream come true. We witnessed so much extraordinary snowy scenery from above, which would otherwise have been completely unreachable any other way!
Yes, probably the most expensive of all the things to do in Banff in November on this list, but it’s worth the splurge in my opinion.
Floating through the crisp winter morning air weaving between mountains and over the town provided tons of fantastic photo opps – I couldn’t put my camera down! It’s from up here that you realize just how massive, awe-inspiring, and unbelievable the Rocky Mountains actually are.
It was an absolutely wonderful way to see the Rockies close up, and most definitely one of the most action packed 12 minutes of my life. Super scenic, undeniably smooth, and somewhat thrilling.
Note that you can leave some of your tundra gear in the car as you’ll be all toasty and warm inside the chopper – we wore jackets and left the rest of our winter accessories behind and were just fine.
Surprise Corner Scenic Viewpoint
You’re driving and driving along Tunnel Mountain Road, and then, BAM! There’s the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (and Sulphur Mountain) in the distance. You’ll only need a few minutes over here to check out the view, but boy, is the short drive worth it.
There’s no sign here, so just follow your Google Maps (input Surprise Corner Viewpoint) and you’ll see it straight away. If the steps aren’t too icy, walk up for unparalleled views of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel & Sulphur Mountain.
Walk along Banff Avenue
Banff is the epitome of a true mountain town – there’s peaks dominating its skyline, chateau-style hotels, lots of souvenir shopping, and tons of wildlife (although not as much in the frigid temps). No visit to Banff is complete without a wander down Banff Avenue, the main street in this charming town. I swear, there’s mountain views at every turn!
You’ll find tons of sweets, like BeaverTails (don’t miss this iconic greasy treat), homemade fudge, and ice cream. Don’t miss out on the poutine, cheese (and chocolate) fondue, and my favorite breakfast/coffee spots – Whitebark Cafe, Wild Flour, and Good Earth Coffeehouse.
And since November is the low season, Banff Avenue won’t be hella crowded like it is in the popular summer months.
Stay and/or Explore the Fairmont Hotels
Yes, I’m including this as a main highlight of Banff in November because well, it’s the Fairmont we’re talking about! And there’s actually two of them, one in the town of Banff itself, and one on the shores of Lake Louise. Elegance and sheer beauty at its best! Pure luxury!
As noted earlier, the Fairmont is WILDLY expensive other times of year. But, come November (since it’s the low low season), rates are actually more affordable. Still not cheap by any means, but doable for a night or two. If you’re not keen on staying here, you can still go on in and explore/have a meal or two. Just know you understandably cannot use all the facilities (like the outdoor hot tub pool) or see the hotel in its entirety.
It’s been my husband’s dream to stay at both of these hotels, and I promised him when we visited Banff together we’d stay there! Perfect timing for our November trip!
Fairmont Banff Springs: Such a stunning building – it actually looks just like a giant castle. You can wander in and peruse the art galleries and gift shops (we bought Kona the cutest little Fairmont branded bandana) and admire the view from the back terrace. Or you can book a paid experience – think afternoon tea in the Rundle Bar, cocktail making classes, and even a soak in the whirlpool at the spa. There’s a reason Fairmont Banff Springs is so iconic to the area.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: This (stunning!) hotel is completely surrounded by nature! There’s views upon views of (frozen!) Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier. Absolutely breathtaking, especially from the warmth of the Lakeview Lounge, haha. It honestly feels like waking up in a fairytale, albeit a chilly one! Like at the Fairmont Banff Springs, there’s also afternoon tea, a gorgeous spa, and tons of gift shops.
See Peyto Lake in the snow
Heard about the lake on the Icefields Parkway (the famous road that connects Banff and Jasper) that looks like a wolf?! That’s Peyto Lake! And by visiting in November, there’s a really good chance you’ll be the only one at the lookout spot, haha! By comparison, it’s jam-packed in summer.
To get to Peyto Lake (any time of year), you’ll wanna navigate to “Bow Summit”, found a bit after Bow Lake. In winter (including November), only the lower parking area will be plowed, so plan to park in that one and then make the short hike up. The trail will probably be covered in snow (Bow Summit is the highest spot on the Icefields Parkway afterall, meaning more snow and freezing temps), so mind your bearings and don’t get lost!
Psst – do not attempt to walk down to the lake; there’s always the risk of an avalanche in winter. Ack!
We were honestly too lazy to drive here (plus the roads were a bit slippery due to recent snowfall), but I’ve seen photos, and WOW! Just wow! Still on my Banff winter bucket list!
Emerald Lake Lodge Reflections
Every time I visit Banff, I make it a point to visit Emerald Lake, another glacier-fed lake nearby in Yoho National Park in BC. So of course, visiting Banff in November was no different!
I swear, as soon as we walked a few feet from the (empty) parking lot, our minds were blown. It totally felt like a postcard come to life – a true winter wonderland! And totally different than in summer. Even my husband was absolutely amazed, and he’s hard to impress!
Whether it’s the impressive snow-capped peaks, reflection of Emerald Lake Lodge into the still waters, or the snowy trees, it made for such a spectacular sight.
Come mid-December, this place is swarming with photographers at sunrise and sunset. In November, we had sunset all to ourselves (with one other sweet couple we met at the lake).
You can even spend the night at a cabin at Emerald Lake Lodge like we did – such a magical experience with views all around, especially in the snow. We loved cozying up by the fireplace, sipping our tea, and admiring the white glittery landscapes.
Visit the Mountain Town of Canmore
Canmore is a small Canadian mountain town located about 20 minutes southeast of Banff. We actually visited on our way to Lake Louise, as it’s between Calgary and Banff. The town’s known for its craggy summits (like the famous Three Sisters) and Ha Ling Peak. We loved wandering around for a bit, and were amazed how gorgeous the homes were over here (especially in the snow – oh so peaceful!).
There’s a bunch of great restaurants and cafes in Canmore, and we loved Rocky Mountain Bagel Company and Communitea Cafe! I’ve also heard great things about Mumbai Local Modern Indian Cuisine, Canmore Brewing Company, and Le fournil Bakery.
Skiing and Snowboarding
If you’re visiting Banff in mid-late November, ski season may very well be in full force!!! Exact opening dates vary every year and highly depend on the season, but fingers crossed for some early-skiing fun! It’ll likely be pretty peaceful on the slopes, as the summer tourists are way gone by now, and those visiting for the holidays have yet to arrive!
The perfect time for that Canadian Rockies powder, especially if you wanna go shredding before everyone else.
There’s 3 main ski resorts in Banff, dubbed the SkiBig3, including Banff Sunshine Village, The Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt Norquay. And don’t worry – there’s a run for everyone: super-wide groomers, steep and deep chutes, and even black diamond mogul thrillers.
Psst – if you’re visiting Banff primarily to hit up the slopes, I recommend coming a bit later in winter when the snowpack is more established. You don’t wanna get there and all the mountains are still closed! Womp, womp.
So, whaddya think?! Does visiting Banff in November sound like the winter wonderland of your dreams?