So you want to visit Banff in January? As someone who loves winter in the Canadian Rockies, this is a great time to visit Banff. While most people head to Banff in the summer, the winter is just, if not more magical. There’s still so much to do in Banff in the winter, especially if you love the snow.
And nothing quite beats that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’re drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace. Though you may be wondering what the weather is like in Banff in January, what you should pack for winter in the Rockies, and what is there to do in Banff. This guide covers all you need to know about Banff in January.
Things to Know Before Visiting Banff in January
What’s the Weather like in Banff in January?
In short, January in Banff means it’s cold, and there’s plenty of snow. However, the frequent snowfalls during the month make mountains like Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain stunning as they’re draped in sheets of white. It’s one of the best times to visit Banff.
January in Banff is the perfect time to hit the slopes at the Banff ski resorts, which are Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, and Banff Sunshine. Outside of the few days around the New Year celebrations, the ski resorts are relatively quiet as it is not peak season, and there are not much for holiday crowds yet.
Like we said, it’s cold and snowy. Average daytime temperatures in Banff in January are around -5°C, and the nights drop to around -10°C. Despite the cold, there’s plenty of sunshine and not a lot of wind. Expect crisp and cool conditions for winter sports, we’d say. That being said, we receive chinooks in the winter, where temperatures fluctuate between mild and extreme temperatures below -30°C.
It’s essential to pack for an Alberta winter if you’re visiting during these times. Don’t visit Banff expecting it to be warm.
What Are Chinook Winds?
If you’re visiting Alberta in the winter, you should familiarize yourself with Chinook winds or just “Chinooks.”
A Chinook is a weather phenomenon in Southern Alberta where warm, dry wind originating from the Pacific blows eastward over the Rockies after passing through British Columbia. These warm winds can shift the temperature by over 20°C in just one day!
You’ll notice the Chinooks from a rapid change in temperatures and sometimes strong winds that can reach dangerous speeds. What I love most about the Chinooks is their ability to create the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets in the Rockies – like the photo above – simply unbelievable!
How Much Does It Snow in January?
January in Banff sees a considerable amount of snow. On average, you can expect between 8-12 cm per week of new snow, with about half the week seeing sunshine and clouds, and have the week there will be snow.
The further away from the Town of Banff and up towards Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway, the more snow you can expect. Good snow boots are an essential thing to have during January.
Festivals in January
New Years 2024
Obviously, you have New Year’s as the first major holiday of the year, and New Year’s in Banff is super fun. New Year’s Eve means fun events and sleigh rides, and events spread around the town; Banff Avenue is packed with food stalls and live music. If you book a stay at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge you’ll also be able to witness the New Year’s Eve Torch Light Parade at 7pm.
If you venture into Canmore, the town hosts activities at Centennial Park and puts on a fun fireworks show at midnight. Fireworks are not permitted in Banff as they would disturb the wildlife and natural settings of the park.
For 12 days between Jan – Feb, 2024 (Jan 26-28 & Feb 2-4, 2024, 6pm – 9pm), there is an extraordinary event at Lake Louise. The Ice Magic event is what winter in Canada is all about. This is where ice comes alive and serves as a form of art and architectural design. During this time, you can watch artists from around the world carve different frozen figures.
While it used to be free to visit the ice carving events and wander around between Monday – Friday and on the weekends before 10 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m. You’ll now need tickets to join in the fun, these are available for purchase starting December 12, 2023. Tickets allow public viewing from 6 pm to 9 pm every weekend. The main events will go down like this:
- January 26 – 27: Witness skilled artisans create breathtaking ice sculptures during the 2024 Ice Magic Competition.
- January 28: Attend the Award Ceremony to discover the champions of the 2024 Ice Magic Competition and savor a captivating live carving demonstration.
- February 2 – 4: Appreciate the completed ice sculptures and experience live carving demonstrations.
The Ice Magic 2024 experience starts at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, where a complimentary shuttle will take you to the event. Ticket prices are $14 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $7 for children. Lake Louise Ski Resort Guests, Banff Hotel Guests, Lake Louise Area Hotel Guests, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Guests either receive complimentary or discounted tickets. Contact your hotel for more information.
SnowDays will happen from Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2024. This 12-day long event where talented ice carvers and snow carvers head for Downtown Banff and work their magic. Their work is typically displayed for the public on Bear Street.
Many events revolve around Snowdays. On January 20th, a famous Skijoring event will take place on Banff Avenue. What is skijoring, you ask? This is when Skijor Canada’s teams of skilled athletes and horses dazzle audiences with their winter horse-riding, trick-riding, and thrilling ski stunts. From 4-8pm daily during Snowdays, you can also enjoy live entertainment on Bear Street.
What to Pack for Banff in January?
Layers, layers, and layers. January in Banff is one of the coldest months of the year and you’ll want to prepare accordingly. That means a proper winter jacket, thermal underwear, merino wool socks, winter boots, gloves, and a hat at the very least.
For indoor time, you’ll want to pack things like a sweater and long-sleeve pants. Don’t bother with any kind of summer gear during this time, and unless you plan on having an extravagant dinner out, I wouldn’t advise bringing a dress or dress shoes. Honestly, you may even feel out of place dressing up a lot in Banff.
Here’s a basic list to go off of. The left column is for general winter packing and the right is if partaking in snow sports.
Can You Visit Lake Louise in January?
Yes, you can visit Lake Louise in January, and it’s beautiful!
I love Lake Louise in the winter. However expect Lake Louise to be cold and have a lot of snow in January. Because of its location in the mountains, you’ll want to get to Lake Louise earlier in the day rather than later. Sometime around 10am will give you optimal sunshine on the lake, while visiting after 4pm means most of Lake Louise will be in the shade as the sun makes its way behind the tall peaks.
Be prepared with a warm jacket and shoes to visit. We often find Lake Louise to be significantly colder than Downtown Banff as it’s higher in elevation.
Keep in mind that Lake Louise is frozen solid in January. It’s a great time to bring or rent ice skates or walk on the frozen lake with snowshoes. When you’re feeling cold, you can duck into the Fairmont Château Lake Louise and warm up with hot chocolate.
Things to do in Banff in January
Enjoy Snowdays in Downtown Banff
In late January (Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2024), you can take part in Snow Days in Banff. It’s a time when you’ll find snow sculptures around Bear Street in Banff, as well as see ice sculptures at Lake Louise, and enjoy tasting cocktails from the many local vendors downtown. It’s a great time for locals and visitors alike!
Ski and Snowboard
There are three epic ski resorts in Banff to enjoy. Snowboarding at all of the SkiBig3 resorts was our primary reason for heading to Banff in the winter before we settled on moving here. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts, all within Banff National Park.
You have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay, which are all fantastic and unique ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter.
Mt. Norquay is the closest ski resort to town, while Banff Sunshine is about 20 minutes from Banff, and Lake Louise is about 40 minutes from the town. They are all great options! (But we honestly love Lake Louise the most).
Cross Country Ski
Cross-country skiing is a low-impact sport that gets your heart racing and allows you to slide across the snow. It’s one of the best things to do in Canmore and Banff in the winter.
There is one thing you can’t argue against is the pristine wilderness beauty nordic skiers will find themselves, especially in Banff.
Cross-country skiing is a serious hobby here and you’ll find plenty of people getting out there and stretching their legs. The Nordic Center near Canmore is a popular place to go cross-country skiing. Some other great cross-country skiing trails in Banff are:
- Great Divide (old 1a) near Lake Louise
- Pipestone Loop
- Goat Creek to Banff Springs
- Moraine Lake Rd.
- Castle Junction Area
Snowshoe in Banff in January
A great thing to do for families visiting Banff in the winter is snowshoe! Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t leave the well-trodden path. You might not be able to walk through the snow on foot, but a quality pair of snowshoes allows you to float across the snow.
They’re super easy to get the hang of, and you’ll be moving along in no time. Two popular snowshoe hikes are to the Paint Pots or Marble Canyon; just make sure you don’t get yourself in avalanche terrain without proper avalanche safety knowledge.
Enjoy Apres Downtown
One of the best things to do in Banff in January is warm up at one of the many bars downtown. Doing this is especially great for Apres ski. A few of my favorite restaurants to go to in Banff are Park Disterilly, Three Bears Brewery, and Banff Ave Brewing.
Relax in the Banff Hot Springs
Enjoying hot water in the cool air is one of the top Banff winter activities to enjoy. Don’t let the frigid Canadian temperatures detract you because there are plenty of ways to warm up around Banff.
Just outside of Banff town lies the Banff Upper Hot Springs. These hot springs make for one of the best places to relax those stiff muscles after a ski day. Just be warned, afternoons can draw a crowd, so head there in the morning for a more quiet experience.
Soak in the Kananaskis Nordic Spa
While the Banff Hot Springs are a great place to relax, they may not be quite the spa experience you are hoping for. For a relaxing day out in luxury, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is what you want. Located in the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Kananaskis Country, right near the base of Nakiska Ski Resort is this beautiful hotel and inside is the Nordic Spa is the ultimate space for relaxation in the mountains.
Here they have an Eucalyptus Steam Room, an Alchemist Steam Room, a Finnish Sauna, an Exfoliation Cabin, and so much more. You could easily spend a whole winter day here enjoying the pools and other amenities.
If you really want to have a fabulous wellness weekend in the Rockies, book a stay at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, so you never have to hop in the car.
Catch the Northern Lights
If you’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, it is possible to see the Northern Lights in Banff in January. Be on the lookout for a clear night and check the aurora forecast.
Head Up the Banff Gondola
Now you can hike up Sulphur Mountain, or take Banff Gondola up in January. The Banff Gondola allows visitors to ride to the summit in gondola cabins with large windows that will enable 360-degree views from the base.
A ride to the top takes eight minutes and climbs to 2281 meters (7486 ft) above sea level. You climb 698 meters very quickly, and when you reach the top, you are on Sulphur Mountain. You’ll be able to enjoy the Sky Bistro, indoor coffee shop, interactive learning center, and the fantastic boardwalk on top, allowing for excellent viewing.
The Banff Gondola isn’t cheap, starting at $60 for adults, with prices fluctuating depending on day and time. However, if you have young kids or grandparents with mobility issues, the Banff Gondola is a great way to get them to the summit of a mountain easily, especially in winter!
What is Nightrise? The Banff Nightrise is an interactive experience created by multimedia studio Moment Factory in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Nightrise is an immersive and interactive journey that transforms Sulphur Mountain after dark with lights, projections, and riveting soundscapes from mid-November to mid-March only, meaning January is the perfect time to experience it.
It allows visitors to “listen to the view,” and each level of the complex is transformed, with the viewing deck allowing visitors to view Banff in a new way. It’s a beautiful experience, especially since it is partnered with the Indigenous peoples who contribute music, words, and stories. It doesn’t cost anything extra to enjoy Nightrise, as it’s included in the price of a Banff gondola ticket.
Enjoy the Frozen Waterfalls
Most of the waterfalls in Banff are frozen solid by January. They make for a marvelous sight while hiking or enjoying a snowshoe tour. Some of our favorite frozen waterfalls to see are Troll Falls in Kananaskis, Wapta Falls in Yoho, Panther Falls along the Icefields Parkway, Bow Falls in Banff, and of course, the Upper and Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon is the most popular place to see a frozen waterfall. There’s a nice trail leading you right to the falls that is easy enough for the whole family to enjoy. Consider bringing microspikes as the trail gets incredibly slick in the winter (trust me on this one).
If you are up for a real adventure, you can even book an ice climbing tour at Johnston Canyon!
Wild Ice Skate
Wild ice skating is a popular winter activity in the Canadian Rockies. This is a time when all the beautiful Banff lakes freeze over, creating the most beautiful ice rinks in the world!
The trick to finding an excellent lake to skate on is to catch the lake after it freezes, but before the next significant snowfall comes and covers the ice. If you are not a local, it can be hard to stay up to date with what lakes are freezing at what time. We suggest joining our Facebook group to stay informed.
Ice Skate on Lake Louise
If you’re a bit nervous about ice skating on frozen “wild” lakes that’s okay! There are plenty of (nearly) risk-free places to ice skate in the Canadian Rockies. Our favorite managed ice skating destination is Lake Louise.
Lake Louise has been dubbed the most beautiful ice skating rink in the world. While you can ice skate on many lakes in the Rockies, what sets Lake Louise apart is, of course, the lively atmosphere and the fact that the Chateau manages and creates the “rink.” Their set rinks are resurfaced every night and make for a fantastic place to bring the family to enjoy January in Banff. You can rent ice skates at the Chateau or at Wilson Sports in Lake Louise Village and take to the ice!
Go Dog Sledding
If you have never tried dog sledding, the Canadian Rockies are a great place to go for your first time. There are numerous ethical dog sled companies in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise.
These pups will take you through the wilderness in silence. Seriously – one of my favorite aspects of dog sledding is just how quiet your movement is. No engines – just the sound of paws hitting the snow.
See the Ice Bubbles at Abraham Lake
You may have seen photos of Abraham Lake on Instagram without knowing it, and thought it was in Banff. However, Abraham Lake is actually two hour drive from the Town of Banff in David Thompson Country near Nordegg, but this doesn’t stop people from heading there in January.
Why? Well, it’s a famous place to see the frozen methane bubbles in the ice. You can read all about them here!
You likely won’t be summiting many mountains in January unless you are an alpinist. What’s the next best way to get a view from above? A helicopter tour! Helicopter tours run daily out of Canmore and will take you to see sights like the Three Sisters, or the “Matterhorn of the Rockies,” aka Mount Assiniboine. It’s also possible to book a heli tour in David Thompson Country while enjoying Abraham Lake with Rockies Heli!
Enjoying a helicopter tour doesn’t come cheap, though, and it is definitely one of those splurge-worthy activities.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. It connects Banff to Jasper over a 232 km stretch of double-lane highway. I love driving it in the summer, but it’s also wonderful to drive in the winter. To see all the peaks topped with fresh snow and the lakes frozen over will make you feel as if you are dreaming.
Pay attention to the road conditions in January. The Icefields Parkway is a road that should only be driven by experienced winter drivers, and winter tires are a must in January! If there’s been recent snowfall or a big winter storm is on the way, you do not want to be driving the Icefields Parkway. Stay up to date with road conditions on 5.11 Alberta.
Continue on to Jasper
An excellent addition to any Banff itinerary is going to Jasper National Park. It’s about a four hour drive to get from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway in the winter. Though it will likely take you longer as there are so many wonderful stops along the way, plus, winter driving conditions!
You get a completely different vibe in Jasper in the winter than in Banff. It’s quieter, with fewer tourists during both the summer and winter, and is a much more rustic Alberta mountain town experience. Though activities like the Jasper Skytram are closed for the season, there are still some great places to see in the winter, like Maligne Lake and Pyramid Lake!
Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway (or the 1A) connects Banff to Lake Louise and is an excellent alternative to the Trans-Canada. In the summer, it’s a great place to cycle, but in the winter, it’s a beautiful road to drive below the frosted trees. Plan to drive this road for at least one hour in the winter, driving slow and enjoying all the best stops.
One of my favorite stops along the Bow Valley Parkway is Morant’s Curve. This is a photography point and where many photographers hang out in the freezing cold with hopes of seeing the train come around the tracks under Mount Temple.
Top tip: Driving the Bow Valley Parkway is best combined with a winter hike at Johnston Canyon! Start early in the day so you can continue onto Lake Louise for a full day of winter adventures there!
Is January a Good Time to Visit Banff?
January is an excellent time to visit Banff, if you don’t mind winter sports and activities and feeling a little chilly! The ski is great in January, and sights like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Peyto Lake are open for viewing during this month.
Even if you have visited Banff in the summer, it’s worth revisiting most attractions as everything looks different under a fresh blanket of snow and ice.
When you feel cold, you can always duck into a warm brewery or coffee shop and snuggle up next to the fire. Winter in Banff (accommodation-wise) is the best time to book!
Prices are not only cheaper than in the summer, but you will truly get that mountain feel when you are all cozy next to the fire in a log cabin in the middle of the mountains!
Pros and Cons of Visiting Banff in January
- Christmas season and the holidays are over.
- SnowDays Festival and Ice Magic
- The days are getting longer
- It’s full on ski season
- Potential ice skating on lakes
- Sleigh rides and dog sledding!
- Epic winter sunsets
- More affordable than the holiday season
- Low crowds
- Christmas season is over 🙁
- It’s COLD – bundle up!
- Short days still
- Winter hiking only
- Winter driving conditions
Does Lake Louise Freeze in January?
If Lake Louise is not frozen by January, something is very wrong in the world, and the winter has been dangerously warm. There’s a 99% chance that Lake Louise will be frozen in January and that ice skating is in full swing!
Is it Safe to Drive to Banff in January?
It is safe to rent a car and drive in January, however be aware that winter is in full effect in January and you should be prepared for winter driving. It’s important to note that:
- Canadian winters can be extremely harsh and dangerous for driving. If you are not an experienced winter driver and are planning on a magical Canadian winter trip you should take caution.
- First, it’s important to get the right kind of vehicle for winter travel. A four-wheel drive truck or SUV might seem excessive – but there is a reason everyone has them here! If you don’t feel comfortable renting a larger car at least make sure your vehicle has winter tires.
- Pay attention to road closures in the winter. Avalanches and high mountain passes pose a serious threat and if a road is closed there is always a reason. 5.11 Alberta is the best source of up to date traffic and road information.
- If conditions are poor don’t tailgate cars in front of you. Maintain a safe distance and only drive as fast as you are comfortable with. We’ve seen way too many accidents in the winter here.
- If it is snowing too heavily and you don’t feel comfortable driving pull over and wait out the storm. Better yet – don’t leave your hotel! Getting in an accident is not worth your life so better to bundle up by the fire with a hot chocolate instead!
Is Banff Busy in January?
It’s not nearly as busy in January as it is during the summer season in Banff. That being said you’ll likely notice it’s busy around the New Year with the holiday crowds. The crowds die down a bit after January 10th or so until February, when many make their way to the Rockies for some epic skiing.
Are There Bears in Banff in January?
Bear encounters are less frequent in winter, and it’s unlikely you’ll see them in January. Still they can still be seen about. While bear sightings and behaviors diminish in the winter, it’s important to note that bears are not true hibernators. Bears enter a state of deep sleep known as torpor and can be awakened if disturbed. If you are doing any winter hiking or heading into the backcountry, we would still recommend carrying bear spray.
Where to Stay in Banff in January
Storm Mountain Lodge
Located on Hwy 93 near Lake Louise these cabins are remote and will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
Hopefully, this helped you determine if you want to visit Banff in January.
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service that will connect you right from YYC to the town of Banff or Canmore.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.
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