The Best Time To Visit Banff National Park For The Satisfying 'Candle Ice'

Banff National Park, located in the province of Alberta, Canada, is a treasure trove of natural wonders, from the magnificent nearby Columbia Icefield and snow-capped high mountains to its world-famous Moraine Lake, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Other wonders inside Banff, however, remain less well known. One of these is a phenomenon called candle ice, which occurs as frozen alpine lakes inside the park start melting in the warmer weather. With increasing temperatures, water and sunlight begin breaking down the weakest points in the ice structure, leaving these long vertical ice pillars that resemble candles. 

This kind of ice is very unstable, and when it breaks, the pillars clink together, making a distinctive tinkling sound like faint bells. You certainly don't want to walk on a lake when its ice is candling, but standing at the shoreline of one of Banff's lakes and breaking candle ice apart with your hand or with a kayak paddle can be strangely satisfying. As the candle ice softens further, you can even move right through it in a canoe or kayak, kind of like boating in an ice slushy. If you happen to be hanging out in Banff National Park in the spring shoulder season, which in Banff tends to begin in April, you may have the opportunity to experience candle ice for yourself.

Where to find candle ice in Banff National Park

While it's impossible to predict exactly when the phenomenon might occur, head out to one of the park's lakes on a warm spring day soon after winter and test the conditions from the shoreline. If the ice is just beginning to soften, you might be in luck. The only way to test for candling is to investigate with a stick, a paddle, or a gloved hand. If the ice is still too solid, try coming back another day. If it's already really slushy, you may have missed your opportunity. But hey, you're still standing on the shores of a beautiful lake in Banff National Park, so life could be worse, right?


Candle Ice season in the rockies 🇨🇦

♬ Natural Beauty – Spiritual Gardens

Visit a few of Banff's spectacular lakes on your quest to discover candle ice. You have many to choose from, and none will disappoint. Check out iconic Bow Lake, bright turquoise Moraine Lake, world-famous Lake Louise, and more. In April 2024, Instagrammer @mddyelrck found candle ice at Lake Minnewanka, whose name means "Lake of the Spirits" in the language of the Indigenous Stoney Nakoda First Nations people. Lake Minnewanka is conveniently located 6 miles northeast from the town of Banff. 

More Banff spring activities

Besides searching for elusive candle ice, visitors can partake in a plethora of springtime activities in Banff, depending on the weather. If the snow has stuck around, grab some cross-country skis or snowshoes and trek around the lakes. Early season hiking can also be invigorating and fun, and it is much less crowded than during the summer season. One option is Johnston Canyon, a well-maintained, 3.4-mile, out-and-back trail that's accessible throughout the year. The moderately challenging trail winds through evergreen forest on raised walkways and leads to a series of breathtaking waterfall viewpoints. Depending on the weather and when in spring you visit, the waterfalls may be frozen or free-flowing, but they'll be gorgeous either way. If you do this trail in snowy conditions, here are a few tips and tricks to make your winter hiking experience less intimidating

Foodies may be delighted to know that the annual Made with Love Banff Food and Cocktail Festival also takes place in springtime, traditionally from late April through early May. This event celebrates Banff's eateries and bars, with more than 25 participating venues along with games and educational events, culminating in a two-day outdoor celebration. For a small town, Banff has a surprisingly eclectic and vibrant food scene — yet another one of the many wonders of the area.