We get asked this question alllll the time! “When exactly is the best time to visit Banff National Park?” But honestly, it depends on what you’re looking for and what your interests are.
As residents, we definitely have favourite seasons, and those are generally determined by the weather, and Banff’s ‘crowdedness’.
Of course, you may have different motivations, so we decided to just vomit absolutely everything useful we could think of into this post and let you pick out the things you need.
This post covers the best time to visit Banff in terms of:
- special seasons
- literally anything we could think of
To make this post easier to digest, it’s split into 2 parts:
- Part 1 will break Banff up by month, giving you all the important information about weather and events that happen throughout the year.
- Part 2 will answer more specific questions about different seasons in Banff, e.g. the best time to visit for Fall colours, or the best time to see the Milky Way in Banff.
When is the best time to visit Banff?
Part 1: Banff Weather and Events by Month
- Average temperature: High -4C, low -14C
- Average snowfall: 338.7mm
January is typically one of the coldest months on average, but generally it’s a mixture of very cold and very mild days. It also has a lot of snow, so it’s a great time to come skiing here. All of the lakes are frozen, and there are plenty of outdoor activities available.
Events in Banff in January
Banff has several events in January, including the annual Lake Louise Torchlight ski evening, night skiing at Norquay Ski Hill, the Ice Magic Festival, and the Snow Days Festival in Banff.
Finally, January 26 is Australia Day – a huge party, because so many people in Banff are Aussie!
- Average temperature: High 0C, low -12C
- Average snowfall: 288.5mm
In our experience, February is one of the coldest months, but in 2020 the snow has been phenomenal so far and the weather has been relatively mild. The park is extremely quiet and reservations are fairly easy to get at our favourite restaurants. Barely any wildlife encounters and most backcountry locations like Peyto Lake are virtually inaccessible by foot (only by snowshoe or skis)
Events in February in Banff
The Sulphur Mountain Gondola hosts its Alpen Glow Festival in February. There’s also the Family Winter Arts Festival (Feb 16th, 2020). 2020 will also show Banff hosting the World Transplant Winter Games for the first time. You can also catch the Winter Carnival at the end of the month.
On the fun end of the spectrum, we have the Mt. Norquay Masters Racing (Beer League) and Lifts of Love for Valentine’s day or the Love Chair at Sunshine Village.
- Average temperature: High 4C, low -8C
- Average snowfall: 278.1mm
March is the start of spring skiing in Banff, but is generally quite quiet here. The weather is starting to warm up significantly, but it still snows frequently. There’s still no hiking in the Park, skating on lakes becomes a little risker, so activities start to dwindle, but there are still a few events to look out for!
Events in March in Banff
The Winter Carnival runs until mid March, and the Banff Gondola Alpenglow festival also continues throughout March and April.
- Average temperature: High 9C, low -3C
- Average snowfall: 233.4mm
In April, things are really starting to heat up. The sun is out more frequently and spring skiing is in full swing. The days are also getting much longer now as winter starts to draw to a close. Hiking is still a big no no unless you have mountaineering and backcountry expertise, and avalanche risk is higher now than ever. Bears are still asleep, Lakes are still frozen.
Events in April in Banff
Sunshine Village hosts its Untracked Concert Series every weekend in April until the Slush Cup, and they also host an easter egg hunt for kids on Easter weekend. There are also “Learn to Curl” nights at the Fenlands Recreation Centre and you can catch the last of the Alpen Glow Festival at the Banff Gondola.
- Average temperature: High 14C, low 1C
- Average snowfall: 170.5mm
- Average rain: 49.1mm
This is the last month of winter, and the last month where slushy skiing is possible. The ski season culminates with the Sunshine Village Slush Cup, Hiking is starting to be possible again but most hikes are still snowy. Watch out for ticks if you’re hiking during May and June.
Most of the lakes are still frozen or starting to thaw. Don’t expect bright blue lakes yet.
Moraine Lake road reopens around May 20th each year (weather dependent), but won’t be bright blue or completely full until late June. Make sure you plan your visit properly!
Events in May in Banff
May is when you’ll find the Banff Yoga Festival (May 29-31st), and you’ll also find some incredible Mother’s Day brunches in the Bow Valley. The Post Hotel is our favourite.
- Average temperature: High 19C, low 5C
- Average snowfall: 16.8mm
- Average rain: 65.1mm
- Longest day: 16 hours 35 mins (earliest sunrise: 5.26am, latest sunset: 10pm)
June is one of the wettest, least snowy months in Banff. Prepare for bad weather most days (in the afternoon for the most part) and bring rain coats. Most hikes are still inaccessible but are starting to thaw. Watch out for ticks in early June. Lakes are starting to thaw nicely and there’s no more skiing.
Crowds start to build in Banff but it’s still a bit of a shoulder season because you can’t ski and you can’t hike really.
Events in June in Banff
In 2020, the Banff Marathon will run on June 21, but for the most part there aren’t any major events.
- Average temperature: High 23C, low 7C
- Average rain: 44.9mm
- Average snowfall: 0mm
July is when the summer begins in earnest. It’s the perfect temperature, and the mountains are perfect for hiking. Most of the snow has melted and the mountains are once again our playground. It has been known to rain a lot in July, and we also get tremendous storms. In the prairies we see giant hailstones and tornados!
It’s also a great time to see wildlife and go on longer hikes.
Events in July in Banff
July has several events and celebrations, starting with July 1st, Canada Day. Head to Banff to see the annual parade, or Canmore to see the Fireworks in the evening.
Then, drive to Calgary in the second week of July to check out the world famous Calgary Stampede – the world’s biggest outdoor rodeo contest.
- Average temperature: High 22C, low 6C
- Average rain: 48.4mm
- Average snowfall: 1.5mm
August is a little cooler than July, but still perfect conditions for outdoor adventures. Somehow, the days are already getting shorter again but there’s still plenty of daylight for hikes.
The lakes are all now bright blue, but most of the snow has melted off the mountain peaks. Some years August has been a particularly smokey month, as forest fires burn across the Pacific North West and Western Canada.
Events in August in Banff
August is relatively event free because most people are out enjoying the good weather! This year you can check out the Canmore Folk Festival on August 1.
- Average temperature: High 17C, low 2C
- Average rain: 42.5mm
- Average snowfall: 60.4mm
September is the most magical month in the Rockies. The leaves change colour, the weather is still beautiful, the lakes are still a gorgeous blue and the peaks are starting to become snow capped again. Everything looks stunning and you can still hike and adventure!
Events in September in Banff
September has quite a few notable events including the Banff Whiskey Experience (September 2020), the Banff Triathlon and Melissa’s Road Race
- Average temperature: High 10C, low -2C
- Average rain: 28.6mm
- Average snowfall: 195.2mm
In October, things are decidedly a bit chillier and it’s starting to feel a little wintery. There’s plenty of snow on the mountains, and many hikes are now inaccessible Lakes will start freezing over in some parts towards the end of the month. Temperatures start to dip below freezing.
Moraine Lake closes for the season around Canadian Thanksgiving (usually around October 20th), and wildlife encounters become rarer. Don’t expect to see any bears! October is the start of the shoulder season, where the crowds begin to die down. Skiing isn’t possible yet and the hiking season is now over for the most part.
Events in Banff in October
This year, the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival will begin on October 31st and continue through to November 7th. You can also visit the Rocky Mountain Festival on October 16 & 17, which is taking place in Calgary this year.
- Average temperature: High 1C, low -8C
- Average rain: 27.4mm
- Average snowfall: 320mm
In November, things are extremely wintery. It’s starting to dump with snow in the mountains and most years the ski hills will start to open during this month. Expect marginal conditions for the first few weeks. Hiking is no longer possible.
Events in Banff in November
Things are also getting rather Christmassy, and in November you’ll find the Banff Christmas Market (November 20-29, 2020) and the Santa Claus parade (November 21, 2020).
- Average temperature: High -5C, low -14C
- Average rain: 25.9mm
- Average snowfall: 420.2mm
December is the snowiest, coldest month in Banff. It also has the shortest days with December 21 only having 7 hours 53 minutes of sunlight. Wintersports are in full swing, with the mountains getting absolutely nuked by snow. It’s a great time to hit up some of our amazing ski resorts!
Some years the lakes freeze solid before any snow arrives and some of the lakes turn into giant skating rinks. This is unusual but can happen in December. In 2019 this happened on December 27th for several days.
Events in Banff in December
Banff is a real life christmas village, so December has plenty of great events to check out. There’s the weekly Carols in the Park, the Banff Christmas Market, Mountaintop Christmas up the Gondola, Christmas at the Castle at the Banff Springs, Country Christmas Dinner at the Fairmont Lake Louise, and the Altitude Music Festival.
Overall Average temperatures in Banff
Banff – A Town of two Seasons
If you’re visiting as a tourist, there are definitely distinct tourism cycles; two on– seasons (crowded) and two off-seasons (or shoulder seasons).
This is because there are two different crowds that visit Banff. The summer crowd comes for the beautiful hiking (here are a few of our favourite hikes), and the winter crowd comes for the skiing and wintersports (here’s our guide to Canadian ski resorts).
The shoulder seasons are when you can’t really do much of either!
The Summer Season in Banff: June – September
The summer season really begins in earnest on the May Long Weekend. For the next 100 days, Banff is teeming with tourists. Seriously, you’ll barely be able to walk down the streets for the crowds.
This tends to taper off towards the middle of October as the weather starts to cool and the snow starts to arrive again (closing many of the hikes for the season). The end of the season is generally signalled by Moraine Lake Closing on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (around October 20th).
The absolute peak of the summer season is July 1st on the Canada Day long weekend. If you’re planning a visit during that weekend (or any summer long weekend), you should prepare to be jostled as you walk down the street, to have long waits for any attractions and difficulties getting dinner reservations!
It also stands to reason that the hotel prices are at their most expensive during the summer, and if you want to have a good selection of hotels you’ll want to book at least 6-9 months in advance.
(Don’t believe us? Our wedding was June 30th and Banff was 85% full when our guests started booked their rooms the previous October!)
The Winter Season in Banff: November – May
The Winter Season really runs from early November, when the ski hills start to open, all the way through to the May Long weekend the following year. The winter peak is generally for the 10 days around Christmas and New Year, and then again in March-April.
For the most part, early season (Nov-Dec) isn’t as good skiing as the snow base isn’t very thick.
Late January and early February tends to have the best snow, but it’s also the coldest part of winter (temps sometimes falling lower than -30 Celsius).
The last couple of weeks in May are still skiable at certain resorts (like Sunshine Village), but by that point, most of the snow is slush. In our experience, January is the best month for skiing in the Banff!
The Slush Cup at Sunshine Village signals the end of the ski season: May
The Sunshine Slush Cup is officially the last day of the winter ski season, and it’s a day of drinking and skiing on slush (melted snow). It’s super sticky and not great for skiing, so most people head up to have a few drinks and participate in the slush cup (a competition to see who can skim the furthest across a freezing cold pond).
When is Banff the least busy?
For a brief period between October and November, and again between May and June, Banff tends to be a lot quieter. This is because generally it’s too snowy to safely summit mountains (without mountaineering equipment), or there are avalanche risks, or it’s too warm for skiing.
It’s still a beautiful time of year to visit Banff, but you’re a little more limited in the activities you can do (no water based activities, but also no ice skating etc).
Early season is also when ticks our out in abundance (May), so we usually prefer to save our energy for later in the season
Part 2: Other good times to visit Banff
So we’ve covered the major seasons, but there are other things to see and do in Banff that have very specific seasons and you might want to take those into account too.
When is the best time to visit Banff to see the Northern Lights?
In order to see the Northern Lights, you need a few things to line up. Those things are weather conditions, the Northern lights actually being on, and darkness.
Being located at such high latitude means that the days range from extremely short in Winter, to extremely long in Summer.
To have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to aim for the darker parts of the year (winter). If you try in summer, the lights will have to be extremely bright to be visible, and you’ll only have a very small window for viewing each night.
Our favourite time of year to go Northern Lights hunting in Banff is generally around March, and the Mother’s Day long weekend. The reason we like it so much is because the nights are still relatively long, and weather is starting to warm up (believe me, Northern Lights hunting is no fun when it’s -30C out).
In order to catch the northern lights in Banff, there also has to be a cosmic ray storm above a certain strength. There are several ways you can track this and we’ve written all about it here!
When is the best time to visit Banff for Larches and Fall Colours?
You may not have heard of the famous Larch Pine season in Banff, but it’s a photographer’s paradise, and it draws people from around the world each year. For a few short weeks in September, a higher altitude species of pine tree changes colour from green to gold/orange.
Walking through a yellow larch forest is spectacular and something virtually unique to our region.
Generally from our experience the Larches change colour during mid-late September, and booking your trip during those weeks is generally the safest bet.
With that being said, the seasons are always unpredictable and these dates are our best guesses based on our experience from previous years (no guarantees).
Bear in mind that most Larch forests only exist at higher altitudes, so expect to have to hike to see them close up.
When is the best time to visit Banff for Milky Way and Astrophotography?
If you’re hoping to get some astro shots of the Milky Way, there’s a season for that too! The full Milky Way is actually only visible in the Northern Hemisphere between March and October.
Of course, the days are very long in Banff during the summer, so either March or October is ideal.
Christmas in Banff
Banff is a magical Christmas town under normal winter conditions, but visit Banff during the holiday period and it really takes things to the next level. Seriously, there’s even a permanent Christmas store.
If you visit during Christmas, Banff has tons of special events put on by various hotels and organisations. In particular, look out for Christmas at the Castle events at the Banff Springs Hotel (you don’t generally have to be staying there to participate). There’s also the Christmas parade, ice skating on frozen lakes and much more.
And if you’re visiting for Christmas, you might as well stay for New Year’s Eve as well! The town erupts into the streets for one of the coldest street parties in the world! The Fairmont Banff Springs also hosts an annual New Years Eve Gala.
Best season to go ice skating in Banff
Short answer, Winter. But the earlier the better. Often lakes flash freeze before the snow gets here, so early winter (December) is when you’ll have the best chance of skating on a real lake.
Lake Louise is professionally maintained though, so it’s always possible to skate here throughout winter (except for immediately after it’s snowed).
When is the best time to visit Banff in Summer?
Whenever my family visits in Summer, I like to recommend that they come for the Canada Day Long Weekend in early July, and stay for about ten days so that they can catch the first day of Stampede in Calgary (opening day varies each year).
The town of Banff is packed but it’s also a beautiful time of year to visit; the weather is scorching and the mountains are all generally accessible. Also plenty of wildlife out and about!
When is Banff’s rainy season?
Although Calgary and Banff are the sunniest places in Canada (seriously, Calgary has more sunny days than Los Angeles!), there is a bit of a rainy season. Generally May, June and July are wettest.
It varies significantly from year to year, but the 2017 Stampede had about a year’s worth of precipitation in 10 days.
On the plus side, when it rains here, it tends to happen in the afternoon. The sun heats up the mountains, and clouds form over the peaks during the course of the day. This leads to rain and thunderstorms in the afternoons. Usually it’s a good idea to get your hikes in early before the rain starts.
The rainy season is also a big draw for storm chasers; Alberta is known for its epic thunderstorms and hail storms. The storm season generally lasts 6 weeks and is known for incredible supercell storms, tornados and enormous hail stones. Generally these storms hit the prairies and Calgary rather than Banff though.
When is the best time to visit Moraine Lake?
Many visitors don’t realise this when they book their trip, but Moraine Lake is actually closed for much of the year due to the avalanche risk on the road in.
Every year, Moraine Lake Road closes to cars from Canadian Thanksgiving (approximately around October 20th) all the way to the May long weekend (usually around May 20th). That means that Moraine Lake is only open between late May and Mid October.
Between those dates, there’s barely any respite from the crowds and the parking lots fill super early virtually every single day.
If you don’t drive up, you’ll have to get tickets for the shuttle bus which, in 2020, must be booked beforehand. Planning your trip to Moraine Lake properly is super important; read our post to find out how to do it properly!
Cycling to Moraine Lake
While the road opens on the long weekend, sometimes the road gets cleared before the barrier is lifted. Rent some bikes and cycle up to Moraine lake and you’ll have it completely to yourself!!
When will the lakes in Banff be blue?
There are actually only a few months where the lakes are as bright blue as you see in the photos online. At the start of the season, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise will be covered mostly by ice, and the water will start off relatively green (closer to a regular lake).
As more glacial sediment runs into the lakes, the colour of the lake starts to intensify. To be safe and see the lakes with their bright blue colours, I’d say your safest bet is to visit between July and October!
When is the hiking season in Banff?
Generally it’s only possible to hike in Banff from late June to October (weather dependent). Surprisingly, the snow generally lasts until June, and you can’t hike really until it’s all melted!
When is the best time to see wildlife in Banff?
July and August are the best months to see wildlife in Banff; bears in particular. They generally tend to disappear in to the backcountry later in the season once all the berries by the roads have been eaten.
Elk and Deer tend to be seen year round in Banff.
Conclusion: The Best time to visit Banff is September
In our opinion, the best time to visit Banff is August-September. Why? For a number of reasons
- The weather is generally pretty great. Sure it rains a bit, but it’s cooler than the peak of summer, but still warm enough to hike in a t-shirt and shorts.
- The crowds are starting to die down so you finally have some breathing room
- The evenings are a little shorter so you can have fun with astro photography and you don’t have to wake up at 4am to catch sunrise.
- The Larches!
We also love the ski season, but we usually recommend people visit in Summer before they visit in Winter. There’s a lot more things to see and do, and there’s no more beautiful time to see the mountains.
Hope that gives you a better idea of when the best time to visit Banff is! Let us know if you have more questions!