A few years ago, we spent our spring break in the most amazing place: Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.
We took helicopter rides to see mountain glaciers up close, frolicked in hot springs, skied through so much powder that my youngest was mad about it (“TOO MUCH SNOW, MOM”), rode chairlifts through the clouds only to find blue skies up top, and stayed at a mountain lodge accessible only by gondola.
This post was originally published in 2017 & has been updated for 2023 adventures.
If we could’ve managed to stay awake past 10 p.m., we may have been able to spot the Northern Lights.
It. Was. Glorious.
4 Reasons Why Banff In Spring Should Be On Your Bucket List
If you’re interested in visiting Banff, here are some quick links to our faves:
- Alpine Helicopters Inc. (Canmore)
- GearUp Sports (Canmore – ski and snowboard rentals)
- Le Fournil Bakery (Canmore)
- Communitea Cafe (Canmore – lunch spot)
- Banff Upper Hot Springs
- Sunshine Mountain Lodge
If Banff in the spring isn’t yet on your family bucket list, here are four reasons it should be…
1. Action-Packed Helicopter Rides With Alpine Heli
Our trip kicked off with a helicopter ride with Alpine Heli over the Mount Assiniboine Glacier. Not only is this one heck of a way to get everyone excited about skiing, but it’s so action-packed that it remains one of the top highlights of our trip. My boys were shrieking “WHOO-HOO” for most of the ride, and the views are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was…magic.
Alpine Heli takes off from Canmore, Alberta, which is located about 20 minutes outside of Banff National Park (and Banff itself). Canmore is an adorable mountain town, and a really good place to rent skis — it’ll be more affordable than most places inside the park, and GearUp has good-quality stuff.
Furthermore, Canmore is a perfect spot to grab a bite to eat either before or after the helicopter ride. For croissants and other yummy pastries, we love Le Fournil Bakery…
…or for lunch, Communitea.
2. Tourist Offseason = Less-Crowded Banff Hot Springs
Yes, this place is touristy, but even so, it’s totally worth a trip. (If you’re looking for something more natural, try Radium Hot Springs or Canyon Hot Springs near Revelstoke). We stuck to Banff Upper Hot Springs simply because it was so much closer (the other two require a two- to three-hour drive), and we were impatient to get skiing.
Also, winter/spring is the low-tourist season in Banff, so if there’s ever a good time to check out the Banff Upper Hot Springs…it’s between January and May.
3. Stay In a Lodge Accessible Only By Gondola
We spent a few nights at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in/ski-out lodge in Banff National Park. It’s accessible only by gondola, and was completely renovated a few years ago. Compared to similar ski resorts in Colorado, this place is a bargain. Lodging rates often come with ski passes, and the rooms are stunning. There are programs each night for the kids (scavenger hunts, marshmallow roasts, sledding) and a few different options for food (which is nice because once the gondola closes at 6, there’s no way down the mountain). This might be our new favorite ski lodge.
NOTE: Sunshine Mountain Lodge did provide us with a discounted rate (we’re considered “media”), but just like always, I’m including my true and honest assessment of the Lodge.
Sunshine Mountain Lodge: Getting There
You check in at the base, and the staff handles getting all of your luggage (and skis, etc.) to the top. Your only job is to hop on the gondola….and enjoy.
Sunshine Mountain Lodge: Our Room
Our room was a loft, which fit the four of us easily. There was also another pull-down bed in the living area…something we didn’t even notice at first. But seriously — look at this gorgeousness (and FYI, the kids are sitting in front of the extra pull-down bed….so there are 3 total in this room):
Sunshine Mountain Lodge: The Food
There are three main restaurants in the main lodge — this is important, since once you’re up on top of the mountain, you’re not getting back down once the gondola closes. There are also a couple of smaller places to eat. In general, the food is decent.
There’s a Java Cafe for coffee and breakfast items, a “fancy” restaurant that felt a little too stuffy (we didn’t even try it past the first peek inside), and the main restaurant, The Chimney Corner. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our favorite areas were the bar area (so charming — pictured below), and the low tables and couches right in front of roaring fireplaces. The main dining area is a little generic (I included a picture so you can see), but there are drinks and kid’s menus, and an elk stew that was delicious.
But our hands-down FAVORITE place to eat was right outside of the main lodge: the Mad Trappers Grill & BBQ. This gem was established in 1928 and is old-school, un-fancy ski lodge at it’s best. Heaping plates of nachos, poutine and some of the usual stuff (hamburgers, pulled pork, a few salads that were surprisingly good) are all safe bets.
Our only issue? They close down the kitchen at 5:30 p.m., and then Mad Trappers turns into a bar. (Side note: The website says that there’s a late-night dinner menu from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. available, but it didn’t seem to be a thing during our visit.)
But here’s the thing: Mad Trappers as a bar is really, really fun. We brought the kids in around 6 or 7 p.m., and once we realized that food wasn’t an option, Mad Trappers let us get takeout from the lodge restaurant and bring it back in.
The atmosphere is so. freaking. fun. Most of the folks in the bar were the kids working at Sunshine Mountain Lodge — mainly 20-somethings from Australia or New Zealand — and they were, without a doubt, the kindest, friendliest people, especially to our boys.
What started like this…..
….quickly turned into this:
I mean. When we finally dragged our little guys out of there (technically they were supposed to be out by 9, but they let them “finish their game,” lol)…both boys were like, “BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE.”
Sunshine must be a seriously great place to work. The staff is totally and completely amazing, and are a big reason we had such a blast.
Sunshine Mountain Lodge: Kids’ Activities
Obviously, our favorite kid activity is taking them to a bar [snort], but there are a bunch of other activities available. The kids did a scavenger hunt one night and roasted marshmallows the next. There’s tobogganing also, but honestly? We were too wiped out. And when all else fails….OUTDOOR HOT TUB.
4. The Best Spring Skiing In North America
Oh…the skiing, you guys. The skiing is mind-blowingly good, especially in spring. They say that Sunshine Mountain Lodge has the best spring snow in Canada, and the runs are seriously legit. In fact, Sunshine is the only North American ski resort that has in-bound sections that require an avalanche beacon and a shovel to get in. (Um. We did NOT go there.)
The tree line is lower too compared to Colorado, so almost all of the runs feel like you’re skiing off-piste (something you can only find from a few lifts at Breckenridge). It’s all kinds of magic.
We were really impressed with the affordable ski lessons, as well. We opted for a private family lesson, which, after a few test runs, quickly turned into a “How To Get Mom Skiing As Well As The Little Ones.” We were gifted one set of private family lessons by the lodge, but I ended up paying for another because they were so effective. I’ve seriously never skied better in my life — even the boys were impressed: “Mom, that was WAY faster than you usually ski!”
Mike, on the other hand, sprained his knee on the first run of the first day (UGGGH), so I also appreciated that I had another set of adult eyes helping me chase my two crazies around the mountain.
We were lucky enough to be skiing on a “bluebird” day. It. Was. GLORIOUS.
Sunshine also has a genius lift called TeePee Town. It’s a ski lift with heated seats and a bubble enclosure that blocks the wind. Why isn’t this type of lift EVERYWHERE????
Honestly? This was some of the best skiing I’ve ever done in my life. Not only was my technique better thanks to the lesson, but the snow, the views, the seriously fun runs…I mean, WOW. It was quite the trip.
(OK, so it’s years later as I’m updating this…and have to say I do know my way around a mountain much better.)
And poor Mike — he was dying to get out there. At least he had a cool lodge to hang out in. 🙂
Oh, and one other thing: The ski season at Sunshine Mountain Lodge lasts until May 22. Amazing.
A huge thank-you to Sunshine Mountain Lodge and Apline Helicopter Inc. for the discounted rates!! As always, I’ve included only my true and honest opinions. (And it’s my true and honest opinion that they ROCK.)