Best spring activities in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains (that aren’t skiing)

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion Lakes

When it comes to Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, visiting during spring means experiencing the best of everything the area has to offer. The mountains are blanketed in snow yet temperatures are much warmer than the deep chill of winter, streets aren’t overrun with crowds, and snow begins to melt around the townsites, making for a great contrast to the blooming foliage.

But if you aren’t a powder hound, what’s there to do in the Rockies that doesn’t involve skiing? As it turns out, lots! Here are some of the best spring activities to enjoy in and around Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore.

Hit the trails

While pathways can still be a little icy, spring is the perfect time to explore trails near town as they aren’t yet overrun with summer day-trippers. Who doesn’t love getting a great view all to themselves?

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion Lakes

An easy walk is the two kilometre Marsh Loop trail, which starts from the parking lot of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site (more on that later) a couple of minutes from Banff Avenue. The flat pathway starts off through a thick forest of trees where you might be lucky enough to spot some deer grazing, and soon turns toward a marsh habitat frequented by birds.

Marsh Loop

Marsh Loop

Marsh Loop

Marsh Loop

From there you’ll have unobstructed views of the sparkling Bow River (can you believe the colour of that water?!) and Mt. Norquay before circling back to the parking lot.

Marsh Loop

Marsh Loop

Another effortless one is Bow Falls, which is just one kilometre from Banff Avenue (or you can cheat and drive straight to them—access is from the parking lot for the Fairmont Banff Springs golf course). Check out the waterfalls on the left, then head further away from the parking lot and explore the beautiful winding valley.

Bow Falls

Bow Falls

Those feeling more adventurous may want to strap on some ice cleats and head out to Johnston Canyon near Banff, or Grotto Canyon near Canmore. Both boast narrow creek beds leading towards waterfalls, which freeze into dazzling ice crystals during the colder months. Ice climbing excursions are also available, and if you decide to head to Grotto Canyon be sure to keep an eye out for ancient pictographs on the cave walls, which date back over one thousand years.

READ MORE: Johnston Canyon, Alberta: A spectacle in every season

Johnston Canyon, ALberta

Johnston Canyon

Finally, Vermillion Lakes just west of Banff is a great spot in every season. Try to time your visit for late in the day, when the reflection off the water of Mount Rundle combined with the setting sun makes for a picture-perfect scene.

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion Lakes

Bike the Bow Valley

Hikers aren’t the only ones who embrace the end of winter: it’s also a great time for cyclists. There are dozens of scenic trails around the townsites, ranging from mostly-flat, paved pathways to backcountry trails best navigated on a fat bike. If it’s adventure you’re after, head to Tunnel Mountain or Sundance Canyon in Banff, or hit the trails around the Canmore Nordic Centre which has groomed pathways especially for bikers.

Another memorable option is the 20-kilometre Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway between Canmore and Banff. Passing by the likes of Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle, tackling the trail is a fun way to get some exercise and fresh air, all while shaking off the rust from a long winter cooped up inside.

READ MORE: Cycling the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore

Take a dip in the hot springs

For over a century, bathers have been flocking to the Banff Upper Hot Springs in Canada’s first national park. Open since 1932, the springs are located on Sulphur Mountain just past the Rimrock Resort, affording incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges. With temperatures hovering around a toasty 40 degrees, chances are you’ll only last an hour in the water—but will reap the benefits of the thermal soak much longer!
Canada-Alberta-Banff-Upper-Hot-Springs-2

Get active

It may be warm outside, but you can still skate on iconic Lake Louise during springtime. If you’re early enough in the season, expect to find a gorgeous ice castle on the rink directly in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is a rightfully popular spot for selfies. To really get in the Canadian spirit, bring along your hockey stick and join a game of shinny.
Canada-Alberta-Lake-Louise-ice-castle-5 Canada-Alberta-Lake-Louise-10 Guided snowshoe tours are also available from many spots in the Bow Valley, including at Lake Louise Ski Resort where guides share stories about the history, landscape and wildlife in the area. Excursions last up to two hours, and can include things like a gondola ride, snowshoe rental and hot chocolate to warm you up after.

Canada-Alberta-Lake-Louise-Snowshoes

Lake Louise Ski Resort

Lake Louise Ski Resort

Take a history lesson

While the Cave and Basin National Historic Site may not be widely known, it plays an important role in Canada’s history as the birthplace of of the country’s national park system. After rail workers discovered bubbling thermal springs in the area back in the 1800s, it sparked the creation of the parks program which now stretches across the country, protecting Canada’s most pristine areas.
Canada-Banff-Cave-And-BasinToday, the site include an interpretive centre detailing that history, along with information about the naturally occurring, emerald mineral springs found inside the cave, which visitors can walk through and explore. Just beware of the smell—it turns out sulphate can be rather pungent!
Canada-Alberta-Banff-Cave-And-Basin

Relax at the spa

Indulging in a spa day is always a good idea, especially when it comes with an epic view of the Rocky Mountains. There are no shortage of spas in the Bow Valley, such as Rapunzels Salon Spa in Canmore which boasts two floors of bliss, and the luxe Temple Mountain Spa in Lake Louise’s Post Hotel which has a salt water pool and treatments including massages, body scrubs and facials.

Those basing themselves in Banff should book in at the award-winning Willow Stream Spa in the Fairmont Banff Springs, where one could easily spend an entire day relaxing. Taking up a whopping 38,000 square feet, the spa includes multiple treatment rooms, rest areas, a european mineral pool, saunas, steam rooms and waterfall treatment pools. One of the best features is its outdoor hot tub, which is the perfect place to soak while breathing in the fresh mountain air.

Willow Stream Spa

Willow Stream Spa

Closer to town, the Red Earth Spa in the Banff Caribou Lodge also offers rest areas and multiple treatment rooms, including one dedicated to hydrotherapy. There’s also a private area that can be booked for groups, making it a popular pit spot for bachelorette or birthday parties.

Go shopping

Spring means sales in the Bow Valley! Once winter wraps up, it’s out with the old and in with the new for Banff retailers, so hit the stores for steep discounts on outerwear and ski gear. If it’s apparel you’re after, don’t skip Canuck favourites Hudson’s Bay and Lululemon along Banff Avenue, or tuck into Cascade Shops which hosts the likes of Gap and Billabong.

Lululemon

Lululemon

Enjoy afternoon tea

Celebrating something special like an upcoming wedding, baby shower, or just a girls weekend? Afternoon tea at the Fairmont properties is a great way to get the fun started. Soak in the sight of the surrounding Rockies at the Banff Springs or Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier at the Chateau Lake Louise, while enjoying culinary offerings like fresh-baked vanilla scones, deviled eggs and sliced roast beef sandwiches. Everything is accompanied by the Fairmont’s famous loose-leaf teas—or champagne if it’s that kind of day!

READ MORE: A grown-up tea party: Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont

Courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs

Courtesy of Fairmont Banff Springs

Are there any other spring activities in the Rockies that you recommend? Share them in the comments below!

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

The ultimate guide to the best of Banff, Alberta

The ultimate list of après-ski spots in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

Banff or Canmore? Tips for choosing which town to stay in

Alberta’s best ski resorts

Epic outdoor adventures in and around Sundre, Alberta
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Best spring activities in Globe Guide explored the Rockies in partnership with Travel Alberta.

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18 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m not a skier (although I might have to learn if I were going someplace like Alberta). I’d love to hit the trails or hop on my bike to explore, it looks absolutely beautiful! And then, of course, a hot springs soak for the aching muscles. 🙂

  2. Katie says:

    Visiting the Canadian Rockies is something I have not done, but know I need to get there. While skiing would be my main draw, you highlighted so many thing that are very intriguing to me. Hiking, snowshoeing, skating, spa-ing! I love them all. I’d love to try my hand at ice climbing in Grotto Canyon. That is always something I’ve wanted to do!

  3. Carly says:

    I love Bow Falls! The river rafting tour in the busy season is awesome. Banff is one of my favourite places in Alberta no matter what time of the year and who can say no to a soak in the hot springs?

  4. Mary says:

    These are all such great ideas. I am no fan of cold but hiking in the spring really is invigorating. I am also thinking the hot springs and snow shoeing would be fun. Dang it now I want to head there! We are moving to Washington in a couple weeks and I feel a nice long road trip coming:) Thanks for the ideas.

  5. Veronika says:

    I would like to go to Alberta for skiing once, but you are right, it’s always great to combine activities. That hike looks pretty stunning!

  6. anna says:

    Admittedly, I am more of a warm weather and beach type of girl but how do you say no to this? So many things to do set on an equally amazing landscape! I’m convinced!

  7. anto says:

    So much fun! It’s been way too long since I was in Alberta (12 years ago) and I can’t wait to go back there one day. I believe spring is one of the better seasons because it’s probably much less busy than in the summer, I’d love to shop a bit for outdoor gear for the season coming up!

  8. Nic says:

    Oh wow!! I need to get myself over here right away, how stunning are those photos!! I also would love to be in that hot spring too after a long day of snowshoeing and ice climbing! Great suggestions!

  9. Sophie says:

    Oh this is so stunning! I would definitely like to try my hand at ice climbing! Followed of course by the hot spring!

  1. April 4, 2016

    […] spots in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains? Please share in the comments below! YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY: Best spring activities in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains (that aren’t skiing) Banff or Canmore? Tips for choosing which town to stay in The ultimate guide to the best of Banff, […]

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