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 should you pack for winter in the Rockies, and what is there to do in Banff. We’ve covered all that for you in this guide.
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 places 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 Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, and Banff Sunshine. Outside of the few days around the New Year celebrations, the ski resorts are quiet as it is not peak season, and there are no holiday crowds.
Like we said, it’s cold and snowy. Average daytime temperatures are -5°C, and the nights drop to around -10°C. Despite the cold, there’s plenty of sunshine and not a lot of wind. Crisp, cool conditions for winter sports, we’d say. That being said, we receive chinooks in the winter, where temperatures fluctuate between mild winter temperatures and extreme ones that reach 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
Obviously, you have New Years as the first major holiday of the year. New Year in Banff is super fun. New Year’s Eve means fun events at Centennial Park and sleigh rides, and events spread around the town; Banff Avenue is packed with food stalls and live music. If you venture into Canmore, the town puts on a fun fireworks show. Fireworks are not permitted in Banff as it would disturb the wildlife and natural settings of the park.
Banff in January sees the start of the Ice Magic Festival at Lake Louise; this is where skilled ice carvers from around the world head to create unique ice sculptures.
SnowDays also happens towards the end of January and is a 12-day long event where talented ice 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 like the Tribute Craft Spirits Celebration at the end of January, where you can taste delicious cocktails from local vendors.
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. 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. Although 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.
Be prepared with a warm jacket and shoes to visit. We often find Lake Louise is to be significantly colder than Downtown Banff.
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. Thankfully 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 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 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 best).
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.
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 allow 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. My favorite restaurants to go in Banff are Banff Ave Brewing, Park Disterilly, and Banff Ave Brewing.
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.
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. If it looks good, then head to a dark sport in the park and see what happens. Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka are two great places to catch the light show.
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, Panther Falls along the Icefields Parkway, 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. It’s easy enough for the whole family to enjoy. Consider bringing microspikes as the trail gets incredibly slick in the winter.
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.
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. Abraham Lake is a 2-hour drive from the Town of Banff 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!
Unless you are an alpinist you won’t be summiting any mountains in January. 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.
Enjoying a helicopter tour doesn’t come cheap, though, and definitely one of those splurge-worthy activities.
Head to Jasper
An excellent addition to any Banff itinerary is going to Jasper National Park. About four hours away, on one of the most beautiful roads in the world, is this magical park. You get a completely different vibe here than in Banff. It’s quieter with fewer tourists and has some great places to see in the winter like Maligne Lake and Pyramid Lake!
Is January a Good Time to Visit Banff?
January is a good 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.
If you have rented a good car with winter tires (which you definitely should in January), you can even drive the famous Icefields Parkway and stop at all the stunning stops along the way. 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. Banff accommodation-wise, winter 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!
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
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: From luxury hotels to wilderness cabins, there are plenty of places to stay in the Rockies. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our full Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
↓ Join the community ↓
The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. This is also a place where you can meet one another when you need adventure buddies.