There are few activities more Canadian than cross-country skiing in Banff National Park. You’ll love the excellent work-out as you soak in the world-class Rocky Mountain scenery on the many beautiful cross-country ski trails in Banff.
Cross-country skiing is a very popular winter activity in Alberta and as a result, there is a wide selection of easy cross-country ski trails in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis for all beginners to enjoy.
We have been avid winter hikers & snowshoers in Banff and Kananaskis for many years, but we are still new to the sport of cross-country skiing. Here are the six easy Banff and Kananaskis cross-country ski trails we have enjoyed to date. Check back often as we’ll keep adding new easy Banff cross-country ski trails to this post!
Banff National Park is incredibly beautiful with its mountain scenery, but the mountains make it hard to find a long & flat stretch of land for an easy cross-country ski trail. The Great Divide cross-country ski trail in Lake Louise (also known as “Old 1A”) is remarkably flat, making it a nice and easy cross-country ski trail in Banff for beginners or families.
The Great Divide cross country ski trail is really wide with many shared uses. This easy Lake Louise cross-country ski trail is groomed with set tracks for classic skiing on each of the outer edges. The wide area between the two set tracks are for skate skiers, fat bikers, snowshoers, etc.
The Great Divide XC ski trail is an excellent option for an early season outing. While Canmore and the Town of Banff are waiting for enough snow on the ground for cross-country skiing, the Lake Louise area often has a decent snow pack. We’ve enjoyed the Great Divide cross-country ski trail as early as November.
Fun Fact: The southern section of the Alberta / BC border follows the Continental Divide. Water in BC flows toward the Pacific Ocean, while water from Banff in Alberta flows to the Hudson Bay. The Great Divide XC ski trail gets its name as it crosses the Continental Divide from Alberta into Yoho National Park in British Columbia.
Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful parts of Banff National Park. Luckily for XC skiers, Lake Louise has an abundance of easy cross-country ski trails, as well as more challenging XC trails for more experienced skiers.
If you are looking for a special place to try cross-country skiing, why not try taking Cross-Country Ski Lessons In Lake Louise.
While many people head to Lake Minnewanka In Winter to cross-country ski the Cascade Valley to the Cascade River Bridge, you can stay left at the junction and make it a shorter ski to the Upper Bankhead parking lot. While you may find that the trail isn’t groomed or track-set past the junction to the Cascade River Bridge, it will often still have skier tracks that you can follow.
The benefit is that it also gets much quieter in this direction. There are some hills this way, but it’s an easy cross-country ski even for kids. You’ll also be rewarded with some impressive mountain views along the way!
Stop at the Upper Bankhead parking lot for a quick hot chocolate before the return trip!
Take Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive to the Lake Minnewanka Day Use parking lot. From there, the cross-country ski trails begin on the closed section of the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. There’s a very clear junction that goes right to the Cascade Valley River Bridge. Stay left to go to Upper Bankhead.
Banff’s Hector Trail is a rewarding, easy cross-county ski trail just minutes from Lake Louise.
The beautiful Hector cross-country ski trail begins by passing a historic settlement with wooden house, barn etc. The trail then continues through a snowy evergreen forest which is wide enough to offer some nice mountain vistas, yet close enough to still feel like you are in a forest.
It’s a short 3km XC ski on the Hector Trail to Pipestone Pond. The cross-country ski to this frozen, snow-covered Banff lake is slightly uphill the entire way, with only two short hills which may present a challenge to beginners to cross country skiing.
Once you arrive at the Pipestone Pond, you are nicely rewarded with views of Whitehorn Mountain (2,637m) and Hector Point sitting proudly across the lake. The return trip on this easy Banff cross-country skiing trail is great fun with minimal effort required as you slowly glide down the gentle downhill track to the beginning.
The Hector ski trail is found within the popular and beautiful Pipestone XC ski area. Pipestone is just a one minute drive past the Lake Louise overpass on the TransCanada highway. Within the Pipestone cross-country ski area, you’ll find three easy Banff cross-country ski trails, all under 3km one-way. We enjoyed the Hector XC ski trail so much, we’re itching to come back to ski the rest of the Pipestone cross-country ski trails.
The Watridge Lake cross-country ski trail is a popular beginner Nordic ski trail in the Mt. Shark Day Use area of Kananaskis Country. The Watridge Lake XC ski trail is 7.7km return (to the lake and back). There are some hills along the trail – most are very small and manageable, but there are two which may be of concern to very new cross-country skiers (you can always walk these sections).
Watridge Lake Trail is very wide and is groomed and track set for cross-country skiing. Its width allows for great mountain views and is the primary reason we included it in our list of Great Hikes For Social Distancing. The trail width provides the same benefits in the winter, but it also provides enough space on the side for snowshoeing, winter hiking and Fat Biking.
The Watridge Lake Trail is located within the popular Mount Shark cross-country skiing area, near the south end of the Spray Lakes Provincial Park. There’s a large Parking Lot At Mount Shark, but it can fill up on weekends, so get there early.
There are actually seven XC ski trails found at the Mount Shark cross-country ski area in Kananaskis. Most of the Mount Shark XC ski trails are rated intermediate or difficult, but the Watridge Trail and the 2km “Blue Trail Loop” are rated as easy cross-country ski trails.
If you’d like more information on this popular Mount Shark cross-country skiing trail, you can read more on our Cross-Country Skiing At Watridge Lake Trail blog post. You may also be interested in this Easy Snowshoe Trail From Mount Shark.
The Braille Cross-Country Ski Trail is a fun & easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail for beginners with excellent mountain views. The Braille XC trail is an easy 2.2km (one-way) trail which runs along a powerline between the William Watson Lodge and the Canyon Day Use Road. Optionally, you can continue a short distance further to the Pocaterra Warming Hut.
You may cringe at hearing “power line”, but it really isn’t as bad as it sounds, in fact there are many upsides. The trees have been cleared making the path really wide, allowing you to enjoy exceptional views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains in all directions. With Kananaskis mountain views like this, you’ll barely notice the power lines.
The Braille cross-country ski trail in Kananaskis is a great option for an early season outing. The Kananaskis Lakes typically has more snow than to Banff and Canmore. We have enjoyed the Braille cross-country ski trail as early as Nov 29.
An easy access point to the Braille cross-country ski trail is at the Elkwood Amphitheatre Parking Lot. From here, it’s a short XC ski along the Lodgepole Trail to the Braille trail. If you start here, be aware the Braille cross-country ski trail crosses the Kananaskis Lakes Road after about 100m, so it’s best to wait to put your cross-country skis until after you cross the road.
The Wedge Connector Cross-County Ski Trail is a must-do easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail. Considering the mountainous landscape, it’s amazing what a flat and easy cross-country ski trail Wedge Connector is. There are only a few small hills along the way, with only one near the end of the trail which may make beginners a little nervous.
The Wedge Connector isn’t just an easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail, it’s beautiful as well. Wedge Connector is a groomed, double-track set XC trail which begins through a mixed forest. After about 1km the forest transitions into a large aspen forest, which is really beautiful in winter – I can just imagine how beautiful it’d be in fall.
The best part of the Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail comes towards the end as you approach the Evan-Thomas Creek. The forest gives way to an open meadow with fluffy snow mounds and incredible mountain views on all sides. The bridge, which was washed out in the 2013 flood, still lies on the side of the trail as a reminder of nature’s raw power.
The Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail is a popular kid-friendly cross-country ski trail in Kananaskis. Kids love this easy cross-country ski trail, but they especially love the chance to play in the deep snow of the meadow and to climb on an abandoned bridge.
Access to the Wedge Connector XC ski trail is from the large Wedge Pond Parking Lot. If you are visiting Wedge Pond with kids, take the time to enjoy the easy walk around Wedge Pond for a bonus activity.
The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre is a must-do for all cross-country skiers in Alberta. This easy Canmore cross-country ski trail has 4 sets of tracks on the groomed trail – two sets of tracks for travel in each direction on the loop. It’s like a divided highway for cross-country skiing!
The Banff Loop XC ski trail is 12m wide, allowing for a steady flow of graceful skate-skiers through the middle of the tracks. The slope of the trail is mostly gentle, but there are a few hills along the Banff Loop which will require extra effort.
The Canmore Nordic Centre also serves as the training ground for Canada’s top cross-country ski athletes. Don’t worry about getting in their way though – beginners to cross-country skiing stay on the set tracks, while the world-class cross-country ski athletes zoom past on their way to the much harder XC ski trails within the Canmore Nordic Centre. This unique opportunity to ski with the best cross-country skiers in Canada simply can’t be missed.
My favorite part of the Banff Loop cross-country ski trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre is the views of all my favorite Bow Valley mountains. Along the way you’ll enjoy excellent views of Mount Rundle, Ha Ling, Miners Peak, Mount Lawrence Grassi and the famous Three Sisters.
Another unique aspect of the Banff Loop trail is the opportunity to go cross-country skiing at night. The Canmore Nordic Centre has lit the entire Banff Loop trail, allowing free night cross-country skiing from 5PM to 9PM every day.
The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail is conveniently located in Canmore, just minutes from the gates of Banff National Park. Built for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, the Canmore Nordic Centre played host to all the Olympic cross-country skiing and biathlon events. The Canmore Nordic Centre was upgraded to international standards in 2008 and still plays host to World Cup competitions.
The road to the Canmore Nordic Centre is well-marked throughout Canmore. The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail begins right in front of the Canmore Nordic Centre day lodge.
Note: Winter Trail Fees are in effect for cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
The trail starts with a short 0.2 km section before you begin the loop. Staying on Amos is easy as the trail is well marked.
At the first map, go left to stay on the Amos cross country ski trail. We recommend doing the Amos section first and returning on Wheeler. There is one long winding hill on Wheeler that is much more fun to come down than go up.
Continue to follow the Amos trail for 2.5 km, passing junctions to the Woolley and Lynx cross country ski trails. At the fourth junction, the Amos trail ends and you’ll have the option to go left or right on the Wheeler cross country ski trail. Go right to take the easy section of Wheeler back to the parking lot.
While the Amos trail winds through the trees, the Wheeler trail spends the majority of the time up on a ledge with mountain views through the trees. There are three picnic tables along this portion making it a good place to stop for lunch or a snack.
Overall this is an easy cross country ski trail in Kananaskis with only a few hills to contend with. Our 5 and 7 year olds easily managed it. Both trails are groomed and trackset with one set of tracks going each way.
You’ll notice that both the Amos and the Wheeler trail are crossed multiple times by the Frozen Toad Loop Snowshoe and the Elkwood Loop Snowshoe. These are two other fun winter activities to do in the area.
The Amos cross-country ski trail begins right at the Elkwood Amphitheatre Parking Lot. When you get to the trailhead (just past the toilets) go left to begin on the Amos trail.
The most important thing about cross-country skiing is to know the terrain, stay safe and be prepared for the unpredictable winter weather in Banff.
Keeping kids warm and dry is the key to successfully cross-country skiing with kids. For some great tips on successful Winter Activities With Kids, head over to our Family Can Travel blog where we share all our tips!
Kananaskis cross-country skiers are being asked to purchase a voluntary (not mandatory) Parking Pass From Nordiq Alberta to help cover the cost of trail grooming and maintenance. The Kananaskis parking pass is $10/day or $50 for the season. We gladly bought a Kananaskis cross-country skiing parking pass to help keep our Kananaskis XC skiing trails groomed.
As mentioned, we’re still pretty new at cross-country skiing, so we can’t give expert advice on the cross-country ski gear you’ll need. Thankfully the good folks at REI (the American equivalent of MEC) have written an excellent article on what you’ll need to go cross-country skiing. If you’re Canadian, read the REI article and then hop over to MEC to grab your cross-country ski gear.
If you have the right clothes and gear, winter is an exceptional time to visit Banff National Park and the surrounding area. When you are looking for Things To Do In Winter In Banff other than snowshoeing or downhill skiing, try adding some easy cross-country skiing in Banff to your itinerary.