If you’re planning on visiting Banff in May, you have picked a great off-season month to visit. Banff in May isn’t your typical time to visit Banff, it’s far from warm in the Canadian Rockies, and you’ll definitely still be dealing with snow. Heck, the ski resorts are still running for the first half of the month. It’s not quite the best time to visit Banff, but it’s getting there!
It’s not summer, and it’s not the white winter wonderland everyone loves either. Out of all 12 months, I would say that May ranks 10 behind all the great summer, fall, and winter months. Only November and April are worse in my mind (just being an honest local!) Don’t worry though, the Rockies are always fantastic with things to do.
That being said, Banff in May is tranquil compared to the summer months, and you’ll be able to explore many areas without the hassle of the crowds. You’ll get some sunny days, and you may even feel ballsy enough for shorts.
I distinctly remember wearing shorts last year on Cinco De Mayo! (But then the next day I was bundled up). As long as you’re prepared for varying weather, you’ll have a great time and be able to score some shoulder season deals too!
Things to Know Before Visiting Banff in May
What’s the Weather Like in Banff in May
Things start to get pretty lovely in Banff in May. Temperatures are increasing, and the sun shines over the land. There can still be a dusting of rainfall in May, especially in higher altitudes (which is then snow), but generally, this is what you’d call pleasant weather for the Rockies. The high for the month floats around 15°C.
So is there snow in Banff in May? Absolutely, but it’s melting at a lower elevation. Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise Ski Resort are still open until mid-May, among the longest-running ski seasons in North America.
You might get the very odd powder day too, but in general, expect spring riding conditions (soft slushy snow and not many layers).
The glacier lakes will not be thawed yet, so if you’re coming to Banff expecting to see the amazing blue lakes you should wait another month. It’s not the best time to visit Lake Louise. The access road to the iconic Lake Moraine is not open yet, so you’ll have to return in June to see her in all her glory.
As mentioned, rainfall in May increases to about 50mm – still not that much. At high elevation, this means snow-capped mountains. At lower elevation, you’ll be reaching for a rain jacket.
The wildlife is waking up from its winter slumber, so you’ll want bear spray with you while hiking. A few lower elevation mountain hikes are doable now, but make sure you’re equipped for wintery weather before heading out, just in case.
We hiked Sulphur Mountain last year in May, and it was still very snowy, and the low elevation hikes are very muddy from melting snow.
May in Banff is low season/shoulder season. It’s not camping weather yet, though some are open if you want to get an early start to the season. Just make sure to bring equipment rated for freezing temperatures at night. In general, you won’t find many crowds and you may be able to score some off-season rates on the best Banff hotels.
What to Pack for Banff in May
Boots, a hat, gloves, and warm clothing. Especially if you’re visiting in early May. The later it gets in the month, the warmer, but you will still want a fleece jacket and long pants. A down jacket is needed in the Rockies during all months.
I wouldn’t count on wearing shorts unless you get super lucky or you run hot. May is a varying month, but in general, I would say it’s going to be on the chillier side rather than the warmer side – this is the Rockies, after all.
If you plan on doing any hiking, waterproof shoes are a must, as well as microspikes in case you find yourself on an icy trail.
Can You Visit Lake Louise in May?
Lake Louise, at the earliest, will be completely thawed by the last week of May. So if you’re wondering if Lake Louise is frozen in May, the answer is probably yes.
However it really all depends on the year. In 2020, Lake Louise was not thawed until June. If you’re visiting Lake Louise in early May, you can still expect the lake to be frozen and lots of snow in the surroundings. It’s also the last month of the season for the ski resorts, so if you want some excellent spring conditions head to Lake Louise Ski Resort the first week of May.
Hiking up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse or the Little Beehive won’t be ready until the last week of May, but you might have to possibly wait until June, depending on the year. The Lake Agnes Teahouse won’t be open until around June 4th, so bring your own tea and biscuits while hiking.
I’ve gone the first week of June and it’s been a glorious hike and also went the second week of June and had to battle snow. No one can predict what exactly will happen every year.
Can You Visit Moraine Lake in May?
Moraine Lake usually opens around the last week of May and closes the Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday (the second Monday in October). But there are no guarantees with anything in the Rockies – it all depends on the snowfall.
If you happen to be in Banff at the end of May, you might have access to Moraine Lake road and be able to drive up to see the iconic lake. It’s best to stay updated with Parks Canada, or join our Banff Group Facebook page!
Although she’s never ugly, Moraine Lake likely won’t be as complete as what you’ve seen on social media. If you visit Moraine in May, expect there to still be lots of snow on the peaks and the lake to still be mainly frozen. It certainly, won’t be its full blue color yet but admire it now while it’s relatively quiet. It turns into a crazy town come June and stays that way until October.
If you visit Banff in May and the road to Moraine Lake has not opened yet, you have the option to bike in. It’s 12km all uphill, and I promise you it’s not that bad. Plus, the way down is super fun and cruisy! Biking in is the only way we’ve ever seen Moraine Lake in May.
The road is typically not clear of snow until at least mid May, and the best time to cycle Moraine Lake Rd is the last week of May. This is right after it is cleared, but before the road opens up to vehicles.
The Best Things to do in Banff in May
Bike the Bow Valley Parkway
Since hiking in Banff really isn’t in full swing yet, I consider May in Banff to be the perfect bike month. Most paths are clear of snow by now and are fantastic for cyclists and even mountain biking. My favorite road to cycle on is the Bow Valley Parkway, followed by the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore.
For the last two years, Parks Canada has closed a portion of the parkway to vehicles in the summer, and are continuing that again this year. This makes it the perfect place to cycle. It’s paved and crosses many beautiful stop-offs like the Storm Mountain Lookout, Johnston Canyon, and Moose Meadows.
You can go for as long as you want and then turn around and head back to your car. Or you can cycle all the way to Lake Louise and back!
One of the best things to do in Banff in May is visit Johnston Canyon. Along the Bow Valley Parkway is this very popular hike that almost everyone loves! The walk through Johnston Canyon to the Upper and Lower falls is a gorgeous one.
It’s accessible and well maintained. Though I’ve come across some serious ice and snow on the trail in early May, so good boots or even microspikes are recommended before May 15th.
Come late May and we start getting into more spring-like conditions. The waterfalls are often rushing again as the snow melts off the higher elevation areas.
Mountain Bike at the Nordic Center
It’s season-dependent, but generally, the Canmore Nordic Center opens up sometime in May for mountain biking. There are some awesome flow trails at the Nordic center and great greens, blues, and blacks here. You can rent mountain bikes at Rebound Cycle in Downtown Canmore.
Enjoy the Sunshine Slush Cup
Sunshine Ski Village actually holds a fun festival to signal the end of the winter. The annual Banff Sunshine slush cup takes place on May Long Weekend every year and is where skiers and snowboarders alike celebrate a fantastic winter.
It’s recognized as one of the best events of the year, and you can expect a lively party with a DJ and tricksters battling it out on the slush.
Read a Book on the Bow River
One of the best things to do in Banff in May is head down to the Bow River, which flows through Banff and Canmore, and enjoy the flowing water with the mountain scenery. I love bringing a book down to the river and think about what a long beautiful summer we are about to have in the Canadian Rockies.
White Water Raft Down the Bow River
May marks the beginning of the Whitewater rafting season in the Bow Valley. A few operators will safely take you down the Bow River on class 2-3 rapids. You also will have the option to swim, but be forewarned it’s freezing.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a beautiful drive enjoyed by many in the summer months. Though in May, you’ll likely have it to yourself. The drive between Banff and Jasper is long and full of stunning stops.
We enjoyed driving it in late May and had many sights like Mistaya Canyon, Athabasca Falls, and the Parker Ridge trail to ourselves. And the Columbia Icefield Center and Jasper Skywalk reopens every May!
May can still be a mixed month road conditions-wise. The snow is melting, but that doesn’t mean you are scot-free of hazards like black ice, so please drive carefully on the Parkway.
Hike Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley and Spray Valley.
The trail leaves from the Banff Gondola or Hot Springs parking lots and follows a series of switchbacks up Sulphur Mountain until reaching the Gondola Station. Follow the boardwalk along the ridge to the peak and stunning views out across the valley and Banff.
Sulphur Mountain is a classic hike in Banff that is good to go year-round. Expect some snow still in May. There’s a coffee shop, a restaurant, and indoor interactive learning center for kids at the summit!
Hike in Kananaskis Country
The foothills and front ranges of the Canadian Rockies often see better early season conditions than the mountains in Banff. There are some great early season hikes to enjoy in Kananaskis that are snow-free, or at least relatively snow-free. The Barrier Lake Lookout is a great early season hike, as well as Wasootch Ridge and Porcupine Ridge.
If you want some super simple hikes that are family-friendly consider Troll Falls or Grotto Canyon. Keep in mind the later in May, the better for hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Go for Paddle
While hiking season isn’t in full swing, May is a time when you will see many canoes and kayaks out on the water. Plenty of the lakes around Canmore are usually melted by now, and so are Vermilion Lakes and Two Jack Lake in Banff.
Enjoy the Banff Breweries
In theory, Banff in May means it’s officially patio season again! Though you’re in the Canadian Rockies, so it’s likely still chilly. Thankfully many Banff restaurants have heaters to sit under.
Though you do get the odd clear sunshine day, and you should take advantage and enjoy a beer at Three Bears or Banff Ave Brewing outside!
Take in the Canadian Rockies from the Sky
A Canadian Rockies helicopter tour is one of the best things you can do in Banff in May. If you thought the mountains were beautiful from the ground, just wait until you see them from a helicopter. There are plenty of different routes; check some of them out here.
Is May a Good Time to Visit Banff?
I won’t sugarcoat it – there are better times to visit the Canadian Rockies. As mentioned, I personally think May is the third-worst month to visit Banff. It’s typically when we think of far-flung island destinations to escape to (think Bora Bora or The Philippines) before we really get into the best time of the year in Banff.
The weather is variable, most hikes that we have on our list are not good to go yet, many glacial lakes are still covered in ice, and the ski season has pretty much come to an end.
That being said the beauty of the Rockies never disappears and towards the end of May you will really feel like summer is in close sight. You’ll always be surrounded by colossal peaks and pretty landscapes. There are still some great things to get up to in Banff in May, and you won’t leave disappointed.
The crowds have yet to arrive, and May is truly a locals month. There are often deals at restaurants and hotels to be had. And have I mentioned that biking during this time is a local favorite?
Visting Banff Travel Tips
If you plan to do any hiking (including the hikes mentioned on this list), download AllTrails first. Alltrails gives you the latest review of a hike, as well as all the logistical information you may need. If you pay for AllTrails Pro, you’ll also be able to download offline trail maps to your phone. We use AllTrails for every hike. It’s not the end all be all of hiking information, but it’s a great resource to use in conjunction with hiking guidebooks and websites.
Consider Renting a Car
Being in North America, your options for transport are limited. Most visitors to Banff will rent a car in Calgary, which is the easiest way to get around. Renting a car in Banff ensures that you can get to where you want to go on your own schedule.
Depending on the season of your travel, car rentals in Calgary can be quite affordable. In May, you should be able to find shoulder season rates.
Other Transport Options
You may not feel comfortable driving in Canada, and that’s okay! There are other options to get to and from Banff and around the town. However, they are limited, so keep that in mind.
To get from YYC to Banff, the Banff Airporter is a good option and costs $146 (CAD) round trip.
Once in Banff, there is the Roam bus system to get around town, and in the summer, it runs to Lake Louise, while in the winter, it will easily get you to Lake Louise Ski Resort and Banff Sunshine Ski Resort.
Where to Stay in Banff in May
For a small mountain town, Banff has a plethora of accommodation options. Some of our favorites are
Stay in Canmore!
You can always stay in the nearby town of Canmore! One of our favorite hotels in Canmore is The Malcolm on Policemen’s Creek!
↓ 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.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out Safetywing or World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete 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.