Banff and Jasper National Parks rightfully get all the attention, but the Southern Rockies still pack a Winter punch, and with less crowds! It’s never been a better time to venture out to explore this breathtaking region.
Winter in Alberta means bright sun, blue skies and a fair dump of snow. For the non-skier, there are only so many winter weekends you can allow to pass, watching your skiing and snowboarding friends chirp on social media about powder days and bluebird something or others. There are loads to do in winter, no skis required, and the Southern Rockies is one of the best places to get outside and play.
Downhill snowshoe under the stars on your way to a five-course meal
When we’re talking about the Southern Rockies, we’ve got to talk about Castle Provincial Park. The area has been loved by locals for generations but only became a provincial park in 2017. Right in the park, the community-owned Castle Mountain Resort is super friendly and has some serious mountain terrain—plus runs suitable for the novice skier or boarder. But, apparently not content with just killing it as a ski resort, there is more—like their evening downhill snowshoe tour. You can start having never snowshoed before and you’ll end the night fully sated with adventure.
Once your guide shows you how to buckle on your snowshoes, you’ll ride the Huckleberry chairlift partway up Mount Haig. Bundle up and take in the mountain views during the 10-minute ride. After stepping off the chairlift, it is time to follow your guide into the deep snow of a forested trail. You’re tromping downhill through mounds of fresh snow, between trees and occasionally into sloped clearings that beg to be run down. And you’re going to love falling in this fluffy stuff. As the mountain levels out, it’s a headlamp-lit snowshoe through the trees. After defrosting your eyelashes and, if you like, changing out of your snowpants, it is time for your five-course dinner—wine included. Who needs après-ski when you’ve got après-snowshoe?
A scenic tour with a taste of the vertical
There are a few ways to get to the top of a mountain. Many of them are a lot of work. Nothing against hard work with a reward at the top, but there are days when we can all appreciate taking the scenic route. Case in point: the scenic snow cat tour, also at Castle.
This scenic tour gets you a breathtaking view from Haig Ridge, without needing to actually stop and catch your breath. You will take a scenic ride on the Huckleberry chairlift and then load into the heated Powder Stagecoach. It’s like a tour van and a tractor got together and decided they wanted to climb a mountain. Sit back—you have to, after all, you’re going almost vertically up Mount Haig—while your guide lays some facts and stories on you. As for those views’ way, way up once you are out of the snow cat? You’ll just have to venture up there with a steaming mug of hot chocolate to see for yourself.
Hire a local guide
The Southern Rockies is the kind of place where you can follow trails on your own or find a local to take you exploring. Take fat biking, for example. Fat biking is as easy as riding a bike, only you’re doing it through the snow on low-pressure tires that are ridiculously fun to bounce around on. The extra traction forces you to slow down a little and enjoy the wintry solitude and scenery. Fat bike rentals are available from Castle Mountain Resort—you will just have to bring your bikes to a trail like Syncline or Beaver Mines and follow the maps and signposts. Or, book an outing with Sweet Riders, and they’ll plot your course, bring the bikes, give you tips and pass around hot chocolate after the ride. Either way, you’ll be floating on the snow on a monster-bike in no time.
In nearby Crowsnest Pass, turn to Uplift Adventures to find a whole new appreciation for the season. Choose from fare such as a snowshoe hike plus brunch (or dinner), an outdoor photo session spent chasing frozen waterfalls, or some serious winter preparation like learning how to build a snow shelter and survival skills.
Chill in Watertown in winter
Southeast of Castle Provincial Park is Waterton Lakes National Park. The townsite is totally serene in winter. It will just be you, maybe a few other travellers, and a whole lot of curious deer. That means for those travellers looking for unfettered access to winter hikes, snowshoeing, or just a jacuzzi in their hotel room, they can find it here.
Try the Crandall Lake loop trail along the Akamina Parkway for a winter hike. More experienced hikers and snowshoers can explore even deeper, with lots of backcountry trails available. Take a stroll around town and find your way to Cameron Falls. The frozen waterfall makes for an impressive selfie backdrop or simply a place for a bit of winter meditation. Then, walk along the shore of Upper Waterton Lake toward International Peace Park. On a clear day, the water is like glass, and the reflection of the mountains on the lake in the hushed town will feel like winter here is just for you.