One-Day Winter Excursion to Banff for Photographers

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Winter in Banff is simply magical. Ever since our visit to Banff last winter, Kev and I have completely fallen in love with this winter wonderland. I still couldn’t forget the adrenaline of dogsledding through the snowy, picturesque landscape of the Canadian Rockies. This year, I returned to Banff with my friend, Terri-Lynn, to experience the natural beauty in Alberta’s Rockies and embrace the remoteness of it all. Below is an one-day itinerary for photographers to explore Banff’s magnificent wilderness – from snow-capped mountains, to pristine frozen lakes and waterfalls!

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta

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7:45 am | Catching Sunrise at Vermilion Lakes

Located immediately west of the town of Banff, Vermilion Lakes is a fantastic spot to view sunrise. Plan to arrive there 30 mins before sunrise to capture the early morning pink and purple tones and watch the sunrise over the iconic Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might even spot wildlife like bald eagles and elk! Vermilion Lakes actually consist of a set of three wetland lakes, but the view from the first one is the best to get a nice reflection of the mountains in the distance. Only 2.4 km from the town of Banff, it is easily accessible by walking, cycling or driving.

Duration: at least 1 hour

Vermilion Lakes, Banff, Alberta

9:00 am | Hiking to Johnston Canyon’s Frozen Waterfalls

A short 30-min drive from Vermilion Lakes will take you to Johnston Canyon, one of the most popular day hikes in Banff. This place is equally breathtaking in the winter, allowing you to see a world of frozen waterfalls and pillars of blue ice. An easy 1.1km walk (~30 mins) will lead you to the lower falls. Another 1.6km will take you to the upper falls, where ice climbers can often be seen scaling the frozen columns. There is no shortage of photo opportunities along the trail. Click here to read more about Johnston Canyon ice walk.

Duration: at least 3 hours

Pro tip: put on ice cleats for extra traction to tackle icy surfaces.

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta
Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta
lower falls
Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta
Johnston Canyon, Banff, Alberta
upper falls

2:30 pm | Searching for Bubbles at Abraham Lake

Grab a quick lunch and embark on a journey to Abraham Lake! It takes approximately 2 hours from Johnston Canyon, but the spectacular views are well worth the drive. The artificial lake is famous for the methane bubbles that get trapped in the ice. Methane bubbles form when bacteria feast on dead vegetation, fish and animals at the bottom of the lake, and freeze as they come up to the colder surface. This creates stacks of bubbles, giving a very interesting and beautiful appearance to the ice during the winter months.

Abraham Lake is quite large with a surface area of 53.7 km. Plan to spend some time wander along the mountain-surrounded shoreline and find your perfect spot to capture the spectacular sunset!

Duration: at least 3 hours.

Pro tip: Bundle with wind-resistant jacket as the area can be very windy. Take extra caution when you walk on ice. Consider using crampons or ice cleats to prevent slipping or falling.

Abraham Lake, Banff, Alberta
Abraham Lake, Banff, Alberta
Abraham Lake, Banff, Alberta
Abraham Lake, Banff, Alberta

There really is no better place to celebrate the snowy season than Banff National Park! With an abundance of beautiful nature, it’s the perfect place for landscape photography. Now, pack your gear and make your way to Banff in the winter!

Don’t have time to plan? Let us do the heavy lifting and create a customized Banff itinerary for you!

plan your dream trip to banff national park

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57 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. These photos are killing me. It looks so different in winter – that frozen waterfall is spectacular! I’d love to visit Banff one day, thanks for the photography guide!

  2. Love the ice bubbles. They look like jelly fish to me. There seems to be so many beautiful things all around you in Banff. No wonder it’s a center for creativity and imagination. It looks like an enchanted winter wonderland. The frozen trail to Vermillion lake looks amazing.

  3. Your pictures are unreal!

  4. Your photos look absolutely stunning! I’ve been wanting to visit Banff in the summer to partake in all the boating and hiking, but this post is convincing me that even though I might freeze my butt off, going in the winter might be great for these wintery photos! Those pink and purple sunrise hues have won me over!

    • Summer in Banff is the peak season for a good reason!! A few places like Moraine Lake are only open during summer. But if you don’t mind the cold, I recommend coming in the fall/winter season, much fewer tourists, beautiful scenery, plus the hotel is A LOT cheaper.

  5. That’s a heaven not only for photographers but also for nature-lovers! Absolute magic! Thank you for the proposed timings and the suggestions!

  6. I loved this post! I’m trying to step up my photography game and this is perfect! Your photos are absolutely beautiful! I’d love to see a little photography how to guide, that talks about your tips and tricks for travel photography!

  7. Great article & your photos are incredible!

  8. OMG. This is the coolest, especially because I know all of those sites in summer time. We are talking about visiting one of our favorite summer sites here in Washington next week, and this seals the deal.

  9. Absolutely gorgeous! The frozen falls are amazing and I love the bubbles in the lake. I need to get to Banff in the winter one of these days.

  10. Looks like such an amazing place to explore in winter. I love the frozen waterfalls, so magical!

  11. Your photos make it a even more magical hike! 7:45am sunrise isn’t bad at all, my husband is the worst at waking up early so I think he’ll be able to handle this one haha. It’s been 8 years since I last visited Banff, I think a trip back is long overdue 🙂

    • Wow 8 years!! Time to re-visit! Yeah, 7:45am is not bad if you spend the night prior in Banff. We drove from Calgary in the morning so we woke up at around 4am LOL Kev hated waking up early, that’s why I didn’t bring him 😛

  12. I love this and your site design is SO cute!!! We are also a couple who loves to travel and this site is amazing <3

  13. The funny thing is I didn’t see snow fall in my life because I live in a country with summer & normal winter. So, these experiences really attract me. Filling missing, really missing. 🙁

  14. This is great, as a photographer I understand that you need to be at the right place at the right time. It’s important that you added the times and have info on how to get to each place. It’s no fun shooting into the sun. Your photos are worthy of this post!

    • Thank you!! Yeah, planning the time to visit each spot is super important. It is a little more difficult to control in the winter, given the road condition, but totally doable!! Hope you get to check out these places sometime soon!!

  15. Your pictures are absolutely astonishing! Loved to learn about the bubbles at Abraham Lake. I’m just curious about why you did not pick Lake Louise. Too obvious and already full of photographers?

    • Great question! I went there last year so I wanted to check out somewhere new. I think there was the ice sculpture festival when we visited Banff so it was super busy. Plus, we don’t have enough time to stop by Lake Louise on the same day 😛

  16. Great photos. Banff looks amazing in winter. I visited years ago in May and it is a stunning place. Will have to visit in winter next time 🙂

  17. These photos are so amazing!! The frozen waterfalls looks so beautiful. I definitely would love to visit Banff one day!

  18. This post is awesome. I’ve always wanted to visit Canada! You include the times which is what makes this an awesome guide – super easy for planning purposes! 

  19. Coming from Colorado, I’ve always seen the Canadian Rockies as a counterpart paradise to the gorgeous mountainous lands I know and love so well. Thanks for the photo tips here, the ice in the lakes is completely unreal!

  20. The programs are great! And the location is perfect. I never done this before. Thanks for the idea.

  21. Yes, like everyone here, your pictures are stunning! 
    But Banff is such a beautiful place… In winter it’s magic!

  22. I live super close to Banff but hate the cold. It’s a problem 😉 gorgeous shots

  23. Wow, just incredible photos. I’d love to explore Canada one day! Banff is on my list. The ice formations are just surreal. Definitely candy for photographers.

  24. Ok, I am not a winter person. Sorry, but this white fluffy stuff makes me shiver just by looking at it. “Bundle with wind-resistant jacket” – brrrr, I do not even own one ;). However, your photos are so irresistibly beautiful. Looking down through the water of frozen Abraham Lake, just like in your pictures – wow! It would be so cool (and cold too). Frankly, I am torn. Have to think whether I should to overcome my winter phobia and visit some colder places. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Banff is truly a gem.As a Canadian myself I cannot thank you enough for writing such a beautiful article.And I have to say that you are not only a talented writer but a highly skilled photographer.Loved reading this!

  26. Woooow! Your photos are amazing! I lived in Vancouver for a year, but never made it to Banff. Hopefully i go back to visit this year and i visit Banff. I will visit all those spots! Thank you for this article!

  27. Winter in Banff looks spectacular. I hope to visit it one day – I admit I was going for a summer visit, but looking at your pictures, I see any season is perfect!

  28. What lovely photographs. Banff looks beautiful. I have family in Canada and used to live there. I have been threatening to go back for the last few years now but have still not made it. The frozen waterfalls and ice are spectacular. Great post!

  29. These photos are SO incredible! Wow!!! The waterfall photos with the frozen cascades look like something frozen in time. I am so jealous of your skills and I definitely need to go to Banff to see these places for myself!

  30. Those photos! Woahhhhh – that’s enough to persuade anyone!!! I’ve wanted to go to the Rockies forever, but haven’t been able to book it in yet. I haven’t actually heard of Banff but I guess that’s where I should start my trip! Does it look that beautiful in summer too? If so, how warm does it get? Love to see a photo driven post

  31. Wow you’ve got some incredible photographs!! What an experience, we are desperate to go to Canada it looks so scenic and beautiful. Those frozen waterfalls are something else! Hope we can make it there soon. 

  32. These photos are stunning!! My partner is always looking for the most photogenic scenes and spends hours researching! this will definitely help – thanks for sharing!

  33. Wow, the lower falls look so epic. I feel that Banff is incredibly underrated. Not sure about ice climbing but the hike seems like fun and a great opportunity for photos.

  34. The frozen waterfalls looks just surreal!!! And the Abraham lake with all those bubbles is also equally surreal!!! I’d love to see them with my own eyes!!! Till then, thanks for this virtual tour.

  35. How fabulous that you were able to get to Banff in the winter. Now with the 150th birthday it is very popular and Lake Louise/Banff is buzzing with tourism. I love searching for bubbles! that was really different. I am glad you that were able to stay warm amongst the frozen waterfalls!

  36. The view makes my heart breaking, Banff is just absolutely jaw-dropping, thanks for sharing

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