Banff National Park: 4 Reasons Why Spring Is the Best Time To Go

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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:

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.

Our trip kicked off with a helicopter ride with Alpine Heli over the Mount Assiniboine Glacier.
The views over the Mount Assiniboine Glacier in Banff, Canada, are like nothing I've seen before.
The views over the Mount Assiniboine Glacier in Banff, Canada, are like nothing I've seen before.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.
Canmore, Alberta, is an adorable mountain town, & a really good place to rent skis

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

Canmore, Alberta, is a perfect spot to grab a bite to eat after the helicopter ride over Mount Assiniboine Glacier.

…or for lunch, Communitea.

For croissants & other yummy pastries in Canmore, Alberta, we love Le Fournil Bakery...

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.

If there's ever a good time to check out the Banff Upper Hot Springs in Canada...it's between January & May.
If you're looking for something more natural, try Radium Hot Springs or Canyon Hot Springs near Revelstoke, Canada.
Yes, Banff hot springs are touristy, but even so, it's totally worth a trip.

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.

We spent a few nights at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in/ski-out lodge in Banff National Park.
The Sunshine Mountain Lodge in Banff is accessible only by gondola, and was completely renovated a few years ago.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.

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):

Our loft at Sunshine Mountain Lodge in Banff had 3 beds: 2 pull-down beds & 1 queen.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.

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.

There are 3 restaurants in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge — this is important, since once you're up on top of the mountain, you're not getting back down once the gondola closes.
Inside the main part of Sunshine Mountain Lodge, there's a cafe for coffee & breakfast items, a "fancy" restaurant that felt a little too stuffy, & the main restaurant, The Chimney Corner.

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.

The main dining area in Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a little generic, but there are drinks & kid's menus, + an elk stew that was delicious.

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.)

Our hands-down FAVE place to eat in Sunshine Mountain Lodge was right outside of the main lodge: The Mad Trappers Grill & BBQ.

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…..

The Mad Trappers Grill & BBQ was established in 1928 & 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 at Mad Trappers Grill & Bar

….quickly turned into this:

Our only issue? They close down the kitchen at 5:30 p.m., and then Mad Trappers turns into a bar.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.
If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.

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.

There are a bunch of kid-friendly activities at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
There's also tobogganing at Banff's Sunshine Mountain Lodge, but honestly? We were too wiped out.

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.

The tree line in Banff is lower 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).
Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the only North American ski resort that has in-bound sections that require an avalanche beacon & a shovel to get in.

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????

We were really impressed with the affordable ski lessons at Sunshine Mountain Lodge in Banff.

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.

xo,

S

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.)

Hey, Pinners…

If Banff National Park in spring isn't on your bucket list, it should be. From powdery snow to hot springs to epic ski resorts, I'm showing you my fave parts.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. 10 years ago last week, I got married (via helicopter to mountain top) in Banff, two kids later, you’ve given us a great (and meaningful) idea for a family vacation. Glad you loved it!

  2. What a great post! Your photos are so sharp and vivid!
    Like the meditating yogi one best, ha! My nephew was going to hockey school there till he got several concussions, so he had to come back to Cali. Thanks again for the great post!

  3. This is so awesome! But I have to ask about your older guy’s hair! My son’s hair is so similar, but somehow you/he have/has managed “tidy messy” while my guy’s is just messy messy. Hahaha! Can you tell me how you “do” it? How often does he wash it? I’m wondering about a conditioner or leave in conditioning spray or something? Do you brush it?!?! If my guy does that, it just all goes wrong.

  4. This post is magical…Loved every photo and every feature of your experience…
    I have never been to Banff but it remains on my Bucket List…
    Thank you…

  5. Sunshine is AMAZING! I live in Calgary…and with the late season at Sunshine it’s not unusual to have a gorgeous day in the city (27C or 80F, like we had Friday), and head to the hill for some skiing the next morning. For anyone debating a trip out here, it is well worth it, any time of the year.

  6. I live in Calgary too and I am a beginner snowboarder (beginner for the last 20 years, ha!). Anyways, Sunshine is awesome for people of all skill levels and truly one of the most beautiful places I have been. If you are not staying on the mountain, I actually prefer to stay in Canmore and drive into Banff (or just stay in Canmore period). It is less busy, I love the shops/ cafes/ restaurants and it just seems more relaxed. We go hiking there often in spring/ summer/ fall and there are lots of amazing hikes that are not even in the national park boundary.

  7. What an amazing trip you’ve just described. And the photos . . . unbelievable, awesome. So glad you guys were able to do this trip. Canmore is such an adorable place with great restaurants and amazing 360 degree views–a destination in itself. Quite the memories for you all. xxoo

  8. We biked Banff to Jasper when I was a kiddo, like more than 20 years ago, and I still remember how phenomenal it was. Will have to take my kids sometime as well!

  9. I just want to throw it out there that my (non-skiing) family had a fantastic time in Banff this winter! We rode the Banff Gondola, saw lots of elk, sledded for hours every day, and walked Johnston Canyon in the snow, which was completely magical.

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