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Rocky Mountain Winter Bucket List: 14 Must-Do Adventures

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Are you looking for the most exciting winter experiences in the Rockies?

The Rockies have some of the most impressive winter landscapes in the entire world.  If you’re prepared to dress for the cold, there’s no shortage of fun to be had.  Make sure to get good base layers, waterproof gloves or mittens, and a waterproof coat.

Planning a winter vacation to the Rockies is a great way to escape the crowds of summer, and experience the quiet and peace that exists in the mountains.

Do you love to explore the mountains in the winter and want to discover new ways to do that?  Here’s a list of the best winter activities in the Rockies, for your Rockies winter bucket list.  

Winter Fat Biking In The Rocky Mountains

Recommended Location: Banff Canada and the surrounding area

Alternative Locations: Most mountain towns with a winter trail system offer Fat Biking now.  Check out Park City and Midway Utah, Summit County Colorado, Jackson Wyoming, Driggs Idaho, or Bozeman or Whitefish Montana.

Fat tire biking is quickly becoming a popular winter activity in the Rockies. With fat tire bikes (typically tires with a width of 4-5 inches), avid mountain bikers can enjoy being on their bikes all year long. Many parks allow fat tire bikes on multi-use trails, with the expectation that people do not ride on nordic ski tracks. 

With more and more people giving winter fat biking a try, there is an increasing number of trails that are designated for fat biking. These might be dedicated fat biking trails or trails shared with snowshoers or skiers. Bikes should always yield to others on the trail. It’s also recommended to avoid fat biking on trails when the temperature is too warm and tires are sinking in the snow. 

Groomed trails or those packed down by snowshoers are ideal for fat biking, but even so, you can expect to work up a sweat! Fat biking is a winter activity where you want to dress in layers. It’s hard work climbing hills, but you’ll cool down quickly on the downhill. 

With the growing popularity of fat biking, you may even be able to find rental shops with kids 24” inch bikes. For winter fat biking with kids, it’s best to choose flat or downhill sloping trails. 

Next time you are visiting a mountain resort town, give winter fat biking in the rockies a try! If visiting the Canadian Rocky Mountains, plan to spend a day fat biking in Kananaskis. You can easily find a tour with rentals for a fun day in the snow.

Submitted by Celine from Travel Banff Canada

Dog Sledding In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Park City Utah

Alternative Locations: Snow Mountain Ranch Colorado, Ashton Idaho, Big Sky Montana, and Jackson Wyoming.

Dog sledding is one of the most unique and exciting winter activities in the Rockies.  It’s completely unlike anything you’ve ever done and going on an excursion will give you both an appreciation for the sport, and an adrenaline rush.  At the same time, dog sledding can be a very family-friendly activity.  

Last winter, my daughter and I took a trip with Lunas Lobos in Park City and it may have been the highlight of her entire year.  We got to spend time getting to know the dogs and learning how they are cared for, helping to harness up the team and get them ready to mush, and finally go on a sled ride with them. 

For the best experience, I recommend going dog sledding with an outfitter that will let you drive the dog sled for a while (even with help) so that you can truly experience what this amazing sport of dog sledding is like. 

Submitted by Me, Jessica

Downhill Skiing In The Rocky Mountains

Recommended Location: Utah skiing for easiest access to resorts and best ski deals

Alternative Locations: Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta

It’s no secret that our family absolutely loves downhill skiing, and we consider it the best winter activity in the Rockies during winter.  Whether you want to teach your own kids to ski, as we did, or decide to put everyone in ski school, there are so many great ways to learn to ski.  

Once you learn how to ski, and have mastered intermediate terrain, you can really start exploring just about anywhere you want.  Our family favorite ski resort is Solitude Utah, though we do have a soft spot in our hearts for Arapahoe Basin Colorado, and Grand Targhee Wyoming.

To learn more about skiing with kids, check out our new site, Skiing Kids that we designed to be the best family skiing resource available.

Submitted by Me, Jessica

Snowmobiling In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Banff, Canada

Alternative Locations: Yellowstone National Park, Bear Lake Utah, Steamboat Springs Colorado, Island Park Idaho, Missoula Montana.

Winter transforms the Canadian Rockies into a true Winter Wonderland.  We spent 2 weeks in Banff and Jasper National Parks in winter and I dare to say that each day was amazing and better than the last. We had a blast doing all kinds of activities like snowshoe hiking, dog sledding, and downhill skiing. 

There was however one activity that had been on our bucket list for a long time that we finally also could tick off: snowmobiling.

We started our sled-trip a little cautious because neither of us had any snowmobile riding experience but soon we both enjoyed the tour to the fullest.  I don’t think there is a better place to do this kind of trip than Banff in winter.  The scenery is outstanding. Our trip took us along beautiful vistas, we could test our driving skills zig-zagging through dense forests and we could go full-out on wide straight parts of roads.

Although not cheap, a Banff snowmobile tour in winter is an epic and once-in-a-lifetime experience which is truly worth every penny.

Several operators are active in the Banff area and each of them offers both half-day and full-day tours.  Tours go from November to April. Prices vary around 274 CAD for riders and $150 for passengers for full-day tours.  Half-day tours are cheaper but if you’re like me and need some time to get used to the snowmobile a longer tour is better.  I enjoyed the second part of the tour much more because by then I knew what I was doing and I was less tense.

Here you can read the complete story of our amazing Banff Snowmobile tour.

Submitted by Sylvia and Kris from Wapiti Travel

Ice Fishing In The Rocky Mountains

Location: Ice Fishing can be done on any lake where the water freezes thick enough in the winter.  Popular locations are Strawberry Reservoir Utah, Lake Granby Colorado, Brooks Lake Wyoming, Henrys Lake Idaho, Browns Lake Montana, and Cold Lake Alberta.

Ice fishing is a great winter activity in the Rocky Mountains in Winter.  There are many reservoirs all around Utah and Colorado that allow ice fishing.  The higher the elevation the better the conditions for ice fishing in the Rockies.

Ice fishing with kids is a perfect winter activity but there are a few things to consider.  Make sure to choose a sunny day, the better the weather the happier your kids will be.  Set up an ice tent.  Bring sleds so that you can drag your gear as well as your kids across the lake.  A camp stove is a great thing to bring so that you can make hot chocolate or prepare a simple yet warm meal.  

You will need an Ice auger to drill holes in the ice. But if you do not have one we have found that friendly fishermen will often drill some holes for you. 

An important thing to check before you go is the Department of Wildlife to see the safety and ice conditions.  This site will also let you know what bait people are using to catch the fish as well as the best place to get your fishing license.  It is a super helpful tool to prepare you for your ice fishing trip. 

Submitted by Lisa from Planning Away

Cross Country Ski To A Hot Spring In The Rocky Mountains

Recommended Location: Sacajawea Hot Springs, Idaho

Alternative Locations: Homestead Crater Utah, Chico Hot Springs Montana, and Mt Princeton Hot Spring Colorado. (Note: some of these are accessible by car, but both snowshoeing and hot springs are available at all)

One of my favorite ways to spend a winter day is cross-country skiing and soaking in a hot spring. Idaho has plenty of opportunities for both.

Whether you are looking for a groomed Nordic center to plant your skinny skis in tracks or a backcountry trail for your boards, you’ll find a perfect place to cross-country ski in Idaho. For first-time cross country skiers and families, I recommend The Activity Barn or Ponderosa State Park in McCall, Idaho. Follow that with a soak in Zim’s Hot Springs (developed) or Krigbaum Hot Springs (undeveloped).

Another family-friendly spot with enough hills to keep the fitness-minded happy, is East Fork Mink Creek Nordic Center near Pocatello. After a ski, head to Idaho’s most well known and largest hot spring complex — Lava Hot Springs. 

To combine one of my favorite hot springs in Idaho — Sacajawea Hot Springs, — with a ski tour, ski up Forest Road 534/Grandjean Road from State Route 21 to the springs. It’s a bit over five miles each way, so be sure you are comfortable being out that long and have all the food and gear you’ll need.

Submitted by Melynda from Traveling Mel

Winter Sleigh Ride In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Banff and Lake Louise Canada

Alternative Locations: Midway Utah, Breckenridge Colorado, Big Sky Montana.

Photo courtesy Park City Chamber/ Bureau

Sleigh rides in both Banff and Lake Louise are just one of the popular winter activities in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is a memorable experience and something that all members of your family can be a part of. Banff transforms into a winter wonderland and sleigh rides are just one of the things you can do during your stay. Skiing, sledding, skating, and dog sledding are other popular activities to do while you enjoy a winter vacation in the Rocky Mountains.

Relax and take in the breathtaking views and sparkling winter air of the Canadian Rocky Mountains on a scenic winter sleigh ride. Step aboard and relax as your cowboy guide takes you on a sleigh ride through Banff’s snowy mountain meadows.

Family sleigh rides in the Rocky Mountains are for all ages and occur during the day. Rides are 40 minutes to 1 hour and a family private sleigh ride is about $250. There are also per person tickets that are about $40 per adult.

Winter sleigh rides are weather dependent and occur each year from December to March.

Tips: Check the weather before you go and dress warmly in layers. Base layers, waterproof gloves, a waterproof coat, and warm socks are all a must!

Submitted by Lindsey from Uncovering British Columbia

Go Snowshoeing In The Rocky Mountains

Recommended Location: Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado

Alternative Locations: Nearly anywhere where you can find a moderate winter trail is suitable for snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains.  Read all of our tips for snowshoeing with kids.

Bear Lake is one of the best places to visit in the Rockies on a winter road trip in Colorado. While the lake reflects the mountain peaks of the Continental Divide on a tranquil summer day, it looks even more beautiful when frozen and snow-covered in the winter.

Visitors can snowshoe the Bear Lake Loop Trail from December to March. The trail is just half a mile long and relatively flat. It is family-friendly and great for kids of all ages. Along with the marked loop trail around the lake, you should also walk over the frozen lake surface and see the beautiful ice patterns on its surface. 

Along with snowshoeing, other activities at Bear Lake include skiing and watching wildlife. It can get quite windy and cold near Bear Lake, so make sure to layer up and wear a warm jacket. Rent snowshoes or microspikes in Estes Park and have fun on the lake!

To access the trailhead for Bear Lake, drive along Bear Lake Road inside the national park to the parking lot at the very end. From here it’s a few steps to the lake. The road is open in winter and is known for its stunning scenery. If you are up for the challenge, then there are several other snowshoe trails along Bear lake road including Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.

Submitted by Kay from Dotted Globe

Go On An Icewalk In The Canadian Rockies

Recommended Location: Maligne Canyon Icewalk, Jasper National Park, Canada

One of the coolest things to do in Canada for families is to visit the Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. Winter is a beautiful season to go, and the Maligne Canyon Icewalk is an activity for your bucket list. Maligne Canyon is a slot canyon and what makes it so unusual is it is also the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park that is accessible to tourists.

Winter is a great season to go on a tour of the Maligne Canyon because you can experience ice walking in the canyon to see frozen waterfalls, unusual ice formations, underground streams and caves. At every turn, there are stunning features that are etched in my memory and if you’re visiting with kids, exploring with a knowledgeable guide is an excellent way for kids to learn about the geography and history of the area. 

There’s something exciting about rugging up in winter woollies for this canyon adventure. The winter walk is not too strenuous and mostly downhill for around 2.1 miles. It is incredibly exciting to go on the night tour as the ice formations and shadows create a spooky atmosphere. 

The Malign Icewalk Tour costs $69 for adults and $35 for children and includes winter boots and ice cleats. Tours are run three times a day at 10 am, 2 pm, and 7 pm. The walk takes around 31/2 hours and is suitable for children above six years of age. 

Submitted by Christina from Travel2Next

Go Winter Camping In The Rocky Mountains

Location: Winter camping can be done just about anywhere that you can camp legally.  If you’re not interested in tent camping, check out the 10th Mountain Division Hut System in Colorado, or these backcountry huts and yurts in Montana.  

While winter brings much colder temps but it doesn’t have to be the end of camping with the kids until spring. With fewer visitors, the colder months make for a great time to set-up a tent and explore the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

As with any outdoor winter adventure a high-quality wool base layer, cozy warm mid-layer and a waterproof and insulating outer layer will be necessary for daytime adventures. Junior Ranger program books can be downloaded and printed for most national and state parks to inspire your winter adventures.

The same layering rules will apply at night, as well as, appropriately rated sleeping bags and a well-insulated tent floor. Foam tiles under your camp pads are a great solution. If you are winter camping with younger kids, who often wiggle out of their sleeping bags, a family bed with large warm blankets is a cozy alternative.

Equally important and sometimes trickier than keeping everyone warm at night is keeping them warm in the early hours of the morning and at the end of the day as the sun goes down.

Ensure you have a warm and filling breakfast ready to serve up, think quick camp stove pancakes and a thermos of hot cocoa. For dinner, get back to camp with plenty of time to cook up a hot meal before the very early sunset.

And to end each day, if the fire bans have been lifted (most years they are by late fall),  a campfire is great to warm up cold fingers and toes just before bed.  And yes, a gooey s’more tastes just as wonderful on a cold winter night as a hot summer evening after a fun day of camping and exploring with the kids.

Submitted by Brittany from Five Pax Family Travel

Hike To A Frozen Waterfall In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Donut Falls, Big Cottonwood Canyon Salt Lake City, Utah

Alternative Location: For the frozen waterfalls in the Rockies, head to Ouray Colorado, where they have turned an entire canyon into man-made frozen waterfalls, and host a large ice climbing festival during the winter months.

Donut Falls is an incredibly popular summer hike near Salt Lake City, but you might love it even more in the winter.  This waterfall pours through what looks like a donut or a hole in the rock. 

Drive nine miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. With the Donut Falls trailhead parking lot blocked with snow, you will need to park in the Mill D Parking lot. 

This canyon and Donut Falls trail is completely free.

Snowshoes can make this hike easier, but frequent traffic makes this trail compact and possible to do on foot.  

From  Mill D parking lot you’ll walk along a snow covered road with some quaint cabins along the way.  Once you reach the Donut Falls trailhead the path narrows to a 2-way trail.  The elevation gain along the trail is minimal. 

The snow-covered pines make this path feel like an enchanted forest.  You’ll love the serene sounds and dense peacefulness of hiking through this winter wonderland.

Once you reach the rocky stream below the Donut Falls, you will have to boulder climb to get near the water pouring through the ‘donut’.  It can be slippery and can be flowing water even under the snow so watch your step.   

Kids will love this hike.  It is well-traveled so you should have no problem finding your way, but hop over here if you need more tips and tricks for hiking with kids.

**Don’t climb on top of the waterfall as it is slick and many have fallen through the donut to the ground below. 

Submitted by Jamie from Flying By The Seat of Our Pants

Go Winter Hiking In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Banff National Park, Canada

Alternative Location: Winter hiking can be done in most areas, that there is a winter trail system.  Avoid areas with avalanche risk, and always check local conditions before going.

When you visit a place like Banff National Park in the winter, you don’t have to look far for fun winter activities. Winter hiking in Banff is one of the best ways to take in the amazing scenery for locals and visitors alike. With so many hiking options, it’s not hard to find suitable hikes for every activity level.

Aside from your park pass, winter hiking is free and you need little else besides warm clothing and winter boots. For families, winter hiking with kids makes for the perfect family-friendly outing. Even kids will be impressed while hiking in a winter wonderland. 

The great thing about winter hiking is that you can go at any time, even if there’s little snow on the ground. If there has been a string of warm days melting the snow that refreezes at night, microspikes are necessary to have some traction on the ice.

There may also be instances after a large snowfall where snowshoes are more appropriate. Thankfully, many of the nearby trails like Johnston Canyon, Tunnel Mountain and Johnson Lake are all popular enough that the snow will be packed down making for relatively easy winter hiking in the rockies.

Before heading out make sure you aren’t entering any avalanche terrain without the proper training. Even easy trails in the summer can become dangerous in the winter. For longer hikes, start earlier in the day since the sun dips down behind the mountains and it gets dark quite early. 

Submitted by Celine from Family Can Travel

Celebrate Christmas In The Rocky Mountains

Recommended Location: Banff, Canada

Alternative Location: While Christmas can be celebrated anywhere in the Rockies, we think that Park City Utah does an outstanding job as well.

Banff National Park is amazing for a winter vacation in Canada. And to ring in the holiday festivities, this Canadian Rockies mountain town organizes a variety of events from chasing stars on a mountain top to ice festivals, fine dining, Christmas parades, markets, and more.  

One of the fun activities is to head to the snow-covered Sulphur Mountains via a Gondola ride. Christmas on Mountain Top is a holiday season activity where you can reach the Mountain top and meet & greet Santa Claus and get pictures taken. This event is such a hit with kids, and adults as well. 

Sulphur Mountain Gondola is open all year round, and for the price of the ticket (starts at $56 CAD per adult) you can attend the winter special events as well. This event runs from mid-November to the end of December every year – you can check the website for the latest here!

Banff Gondola is also a stargazers haven. There is a cosmos center located on the mountain op, where you can stare into the sky (with powerful technology available at 7500 feet high to see the night sky). This event runs until March, the stargazing activity is free to visit with a Banff Gondola entry ticket. 

Once all the photos, and sightseeing is done, stop by the Sky Bistro for dining with your loved ones! Restaurant/food costs are not included in the price of the Gondola ride. 

Be sure to wear warm clothes, as it can be pretty windy on the mountain-top. 

Submitted by Mayuri from Canada Crossroads

Cross Country Skiing In The Rockies

Recommended Location: Banff, Canada

Alternative Locations: Grand Teton National Park, Soldier Hollow Utah, Winter Park Colorado, and Glacier National Park Montana.

Cross-county skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is a wonderful activity for the whole family. Kids as young as three-years-old can enjoy skiing for short distances. One- and two-year old’s that can walk may enjoy skis that use boots. Young children can tire quickly so the use of a chariot sled to pull babies and toddlers is another option. 

Many people think about downhill skiing and snowboarding when they visit Banff National Park in the winter. However, cross-country skiing is plentiful in the area and is a great way to experience the magical winter wonderland.

Nordic skis and boots are required to use the trails but can easily be rented in the Town of Banff at Banff Adventures for $20. The trails are free which makes the activity more accessible especially if you have your own gear. That is much more affordable than the over $100 to access downhill skiing and snowboarding at the nearby ski resorts. 

Accessing the Nordic trails near the Banff Springs Hotel, around Lake Louise or up to Moraine Lake are just a few of the many places to explore. If you have older kids and access to a shuttle, consider taking the Goat Creek Trail that goes from Goat Creek down to the Banff Springs hotel.

The trail to Banff is long at 18.5 km but is mostly downhill. Some of the downhills are steep and are recommended for families that already know how-to cross-country ski.

Submitted by Annika from Born To Be Adventurous

What’s on your Rocky Mountain winter bucket list?

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