Banff National Park is a place that’s been captivating travelers with its magnitude and beauty for over a hundred years. As the most famous of the Rocky Mountain parks in Canada, Banff is a place like nowhere else on earth.
If you’re planning a trip of a lifetime to this gorgeous mountain region, you’re probably wondering when exactly is the best time to visit Banff?
Well, there are a number of factors at play to answer that question.
This is a tough one for me, because I’m lucky enough that I’ve been visiting Banff in all 4 seasons for years now (I only live a few hours away).
So – to break it down, we’re going to look at three major factors: the seasons (weather) for scenery and things to do, crowds/how busy it will be and accommodations (availability and prices).
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When is the Best Time to Visit Banff?
If you want to experience the winter snow globe magic, the best time to visit Banff is at the end of November or late January. These months will give you all the snow with fewer crowds.
Alternatively, if you want nice summer weather while avoiding crowds the end of May is the best time to go to Banff.
To experience the golden larch trees at their peak, visit Banff from mid-September to early October.
Planning to visit Banff to take in the scenery, snap some photos and just be one with the mountains? You can do this any time of the year.
Want to tackle some world class mountain hikes? You can hike the same trail in the summer, fall and winter and have a completely different experience every time.
Determining when to visit Banff is not an easy question to answer – it really depends on the type of traveler you are and what you want to experience.
But guess what, no matter what time you visit Banff, it’s going to be life changing.
Now let’s visit more in depth what each season offers to help you decide when to visit Banff, Canada’s crown jewel.
You can also watch my video which explains the best time to visit Banff, and covers all four seasons.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Lake Louise?
To experience the brilliant aquamarine color that makes Lake Louise so famous, the best time of year to visit is from late June to early September.
Lake Louise freezes in the winter and takes a long time to thaw.
In 2022, Lake Louise wasn’t completely unthawed until June 7th! So to ensure the lake will be sparkling turquoise when you visit, wait until at least the end of June.
Inside tip – head up to Lake Louise Ski Resort and take the gondola up the ski hill. You’ll be able to see the entirety of Lake Louise from up there.
What’s the Weather Like in Banff?
The first thing to know about visiting Banff is that mountain weather can be unpredictable and change quickly. So always be prepared.
Layered clothing is always your best choice.
I love the Baleaf collection you can find on Amazon. Great layered clothing for all kinds of outdoor adventures at an affordable price.
Summer will be warm and comfortable, but usually not overly hot. Even in the summer time the evenings can be chilly because of the altitude.
For example, it can be 30 degrees Celsius during the day and I will wear shorts and a tank top, but will require a light sweater in the evenings.
Winters can be pretty cold where you need to bundle up and cover all exposed skin. But there are also many days where the sun’s heat can be very warming on a blue sky day with no wind.
Honestly, any time of year is best to visit Banff! It’s beautiful all year long, and I’ve visited in every season. They each have their own perks.
Here’s a breakdown of the seasons to help you pick the best time to go to Banff:
Summer: June to August
The months of July and August are considered peak season in Banff.
This is the most popular time of year to visit and consequently, when it is the most busy.
But there are good reasons for this! It’s absolutely stunning, and there are so many things to do in and around Banff National Park.
This is when the weather is hot and the kids are out of school and everyone is on summer vacation.
June is not quite as busy as July & August but still gorgeous with warm weather.
Throughout these 3 months, Summer blooms will be in full effect and it can get very hot, but more often than not, the weather is comfortably pleasant.
Many people also bring their dogs & pets to Banff in the summertime. Walking along Banff Avenue you will see all kinds of furry friends.
And if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch the northern lights (but they’re usually most active in late winter).
If you’re planning to bring your dog to Banff National Park, I recommend reading:
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Summer
This is the best time to see the turquoise waters of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
The lakes will be shimmering in their full turquoise display.
But they’re still going to be super cold all summer long. They’re glacier fed, so not the most comfortable for swimming.
For the best experience, arrive just after sunrise to soak up all the views yourself without any other tourists around.
To visit Moraine Lake at sunrise, you’ll have to take the Moraine Lake Bus, as personal vehicles are not allowed.
Parks Canada also runs a shuttle, but since it’s run by the government agency, it’s disorganized and their booking website is not user friendly.
The Moraine Lake Bus Company is only shuttle that will get you to Moraine Lake for sunrise.
Of course, they operate all day long if you can’t get up at 4am for sunrise!
Forest Fire Season in Banff
One thing to keep in mind is that if it’s a particularly hot and dry summer, forest fires can be a real problem.
Even if there are fires hundreds of miles away, the smoke could still interrupt the mountain scenery.
This is mostly not an issue until early to mid-August and it doesn’t happen every year.
Just something to factor in when you’re considering your trip to Banff in the summer.
You can view the current status of active wildfires in the are on this interactive map.
Summer Weather Can Vary Tremendously
If you’re planning to do any hiking, you could encounter very different weather at the top of your hike compared to when you started.
Pack shorts and t-shirts/tank tops and a hat along with your other hiking essentials.
I would also plan to bring long pants and a sweater for the evenings.
Don’t forget your copy of the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Banff & Jasper National Parks – maps, trails, hidden gems and tips for driving from one to the other.
You will need mosquito repellent when you’re hiking/walking at all times in the summer, and especially as you get closer to dusk.
My favorite is this DEET-free lotion that also repels ticks, which is a growing concern in Alberta. You can also get in spray-form.
Plan to visit Banff in June for a good chance to see wildlife.
For the highest chance, travel along the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1-A), which a 30-mile secondary highway from Banff to Lake Louise.
Cruise this road at dawn or dusk for a chance to spot bears, deer and moose, but always stay in your car, never ever get out to see these wild animals up close.
If you really want to guarantee wildlife viewing, head to Radium Hot Springs (1.5 hour drive away) to see the bighorn sheep that roam around town.
If you want to guarantee seeing some bears and other wildlife, you can go on a full day grizzly bear tour.
As you get deeper into June and throughout July and August, the tops of the mountains will be dry with little snow on top, like the photo above taken in July.
Where to Stay in Banff in the Summer
As far as accommodations go, July and August will be the most expensive time of year to stay in a hotel in Banff.
My favorite hotel is the Moose Hotel and Suites – it’s one of the newer hotels in town, it’s only a few minutes walk into downtown (you can walk to everything), and the views from the roof top hot tubs are dreamy!
My next choice is the Elk & Avenue.
It’s one block from downtown (closer than the Moose), is very pet-friendly and reasonably priced for it’s prime location.
The onsite restaurant – Farm & Fire also has an amazing breakfast spread and a lovely patio overlooking Banff Avenue for a perfect start to your morning.
If you’re visiting Banff on a budget, here is my list of the best 9 affordable hotels.
Book well in advance for summer stays in Banff, at least a month or two ahead of time for the best choice of rooms and prices.
Use the map below to search and compare prices in real time from all the major booking companies.
Fall/Autumn: Banff in September and October
Fall is a beautiful time of year to visit Banff.
The leaves will be at their maximum color change sometime between mid-September and mid October.
You will likely get epic scenery of the copper, orange, red and yellow leaves as a backdrop to the turquoise lakes and icy blue glacier rivers.
These are the coveted golden larches that make the Banff fall colors so famous.
Banff in October
In Banff, the weather in October can vary between being crisp and chilly yet comfortable, or downright frigid. It really depends on the year.
Always plan to wear warm pants/lined leggings, a warm winter jacket and mitts and a touque (what us Canadians called a beanie) for the fall season.
A pair of cute winter boots are a must!
In the fall, October is the best time to visit Banff to avoid crowds. The end of summer crowds have left, the weather can still be very pleasant.
It won’t be hot, but the air will be crisp and refreshing, the golden larch trees will still be vibrant at the beginning of the month and chances are there will be a light dusting of snow.
October Weather in Banff
It can definitely snow in October in Banff.
For example, in 2020, the first big snowfall at Moraine Lake was on October 15th.
But you likely won’t encounter major snow storms, making it the perfect month to experience several seasons at once!
I have an entire post dedicated to visiting Banff in October for more info.
What Attractions in Banff are Open in the Fall?
Many of the summer attractions will likely be closed by the Canadian thanksgiving holiday which is always the 2nd Monday in October.
But the popular attractions like the Banff Gondola and the Upper Hot Springs are open year round.
Because the summer attractions are closed for the season and the ski hills not yet open, you will find that Banff is not very busy in October.
The lakes won’t be frozen yet either (no ice skating).
So if you want a quiet holiday to do some hiking, photography and leisurely sightseeing around town, October is a great time to go to Banff.
Wildlife viewing is still possible in the fall, many people have success heading to Lake Minnewanka to catch elk roaming around.
As far as things to do in Banff if you visit in the Fall, this is the best time of year for hiking and photography to see the gold and copper colors.
Summer attractions are closed for the season, and the winter attractions won’t be open yet.
Winter: November to Early-April
Winter offers a whole new experience and perspective in Banff.
Snow capped mountains are postcard perfect, and nothing is more magical than waking up to a fresh blanket of snow with chunky snowflakes gently falling out your window.
Lake Viewing and Ice Skating
But if you’re here to see the beautiful turquoise lakes, you’ll be out of luck. Most of the lakes freeze in the winter time (including Lake Louise).
Soon after the lakes freeze, they get covered with snow.
But if you’re lucky, some years the lakes freeze over before the snow flies and that’s when you can skate on crystal clear ice.
Ice skating on Lake Louise is a winter bucket list item for many, and it’s usually guaranteed to be frozen and safe enough to skate on by the end of December.
Sometimes it’s frozen enough as early as November, it just depends on the weather each year. You can check the webcam at the Chateau Lake Louise for live conditions.
The hotel staff clears the snow off for ice skating and you can rent skates on site as well.
Another iconic lake in Banff National Park is Moraine Lake, which is not accessible in the winter.
The National Parks service closes the road from early-November to March or April due to high avalanche potential in the area.
Winter Hiking in Banff
Winter hiking is available, but many of the trails pass through avalanche territory, so these ones are not recommended unless you’ve got the proper gear and training.
There are some more popular trails though that are safe and usually well-packed down.
The loop around Lake Louise is always nice, and definitely head to the Fairmont Lookout.
The Lake Agnes trail nearby does pass through avalanche territory, so best to avoid.
Johnston Canyon is a light hike and is awesome and well worth it in the winter, but you absolutely need ice cleats as the trail descends down hill on the way in and is always pure ice.
Tunnel Mountain and Sulphur mountain are also safe choices for winter hikes in Banff.
And if you want to go skiing or skating on Lake Louise, everything is open during the holidays, including Christmas Day and New Year’s day.
Banff is a popular place during the holiday season, usually from December 20th to a few days after New Year’s Day.
Book your accommodations well in advance, as prices will be a little higher than normal during this 2-week period.
Northern Lights in Banff
Perhaps one of the most beautiful and most sought after sights in the mountains is the northern lights. You’ve got the highest chance of seeing the Northern lights from November to March, making Winter an epic time to go to Banff.
Head to Vermilion Lakes or Lake Minnewanka for the least light pollution to view them better.
And you can sign up for email alerts or check the Aurora Watch website, which is run by the University of Alberta and predicts the possibility of catching the Aurora Borealis each night.
It’s also possible to see wildlife in winter in Banff (remember, bears will be hibernating).
If you don’t have a car or prefer not to drive on the winter roads, there’s a winter wildlife tour you can take with locals guides who will do their best to find deer, elk and bighorn sheep from the comfort of the tour van.
Keep in mind that in the winter it also gets dark around 5pm, so be sure to plan your daytime activities accordingly.
Where to Stay in Banff in Winter
My favorite place to stay in Banff in the Winter is at the Moose Hotel. The rooftop hot tub is incredible here!
It’s also pretty much right in the downtown core, so it’s one of the best locations.
And it’s much cheaper to stay here in the winter compared to summer.
Spring: April and May in Banff
Banff in April to early May is considered shoulder season, as the ski season winds down but the summer visitors haven’t shown up yet.
This is the time of year when the weather is very volatile, meaning it could be super warm and sunny or you could be hit with a late season snow storm.
The photos below are when I visited on the first weekend of May. The start of the day was pleasant and sunny, but by the end of the evening it was cold and snowy.
That being said, if your Banff itinerary includes wanting to avoid the crowds and have the most options available for accommodations, the spring shoulder season is probably your best bet.
As the days start to become longer, even if it does get cold, it’s not for very long. You can still get some closing weekend skiing in at Lake Louise Ski Resort.
And the end of May is likely your last chance to see snow-capped mountains in Banff National Park.
Where to Stay in Banff in the Spring
The last couple of times I visited Banff, I stayed at the Fox Hotel & Suites.
It’s walking distance to the downtown area, has underground parking (super important so you don’t have to brush snow off your car) and one of the best continental breakfasts in town. But the best part?
Their hot tub is modeled after the Cave & Basin historic sites, so it’s like a replica of an underground cave or a grotto.
The hot tub makes this hotel my favorite one in Banff. Especially if you’re on a romantic getaway!
Prices are super reasonable in the spring shoulder season, but get more expensive in the summer.
For spring hiking options, try the Sundance Canyon trail hike, a short loop trail that covers a variety of Banff landscape gems like crystal lakes, rivers and moss-covered switchbacks through the trees, all leading to dramatic mountain viewpoints.
Banff trails in May can still be snow-covered or wet from the melting snow, so a good pair of hiking boots is recommended.
And if you’re lucky, Northern Lights have been spotted in Banff in May so there could be a chance to see the night sky light show.
Is Banff Better in Summer or Winter?
I think Banff is better in early summer, because you get all beauty of the greenery and wildflowers, but the mountains are still snowcapped. So you get to experience summer climate but with pockets of snow here and there.
For example, you could be walking through Banff’s downtown in a t-shirt, but then head to the Athabasca Glacier and walk on snow and ice all in the same day.
All that being said, Banff in the winter is gorgeous. Quite often you’ll get clear blue skies that make the snow shimmer and frozen blue waterfalls are a sight to see.
So it really depends what type of experience you prefer.
What is Off Season in Banff?
Typically off season in Banff is April to early May and October to mid-November.
Off season means the weather isn’t as perfect, and seasonal attractions (both summer and winter) aren’t quite open yet.
For example if you visit in the spring off season (April to early-May), the ski resorts will be shutting down for the season, but the summer attractions like the glacier skywalk and the Columbia Icefields adventure aren’t yet open.
If you visit in the fall off season (October to mid-November), the above mentioned summer attractions have shut down, and the ski resorts won’t be open until the end of November or early-December.
But visiting Banff in the off season has it’s perks. There’s still plenty to do, such as sightseeing, wildlife viewing, hiking, hot springs and riding the scenic gondola.
There will also be fewer tourists which means lower hotel prices.
Hopefully I’ve helped you narrow down and choose the best time to go to Banff.
Basically, any time you visit will be incredible, it just depends what types of experiences you’re looking for. Why not try all 4 seasons!
P.S. >> traveling to Banff on a budget with your dog? Consider staying in Canmore – only 15 minutes away with many pet-friendly hotel options cheaper than Banff.
More Banff Reading:
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