If you are planning a trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada and wondering “when is the best time to travel to Banff?”, you’ve come to the right place!
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I receive on Instagram, so I’ve put together this blog post focusing on the various “best times” to visit Banff: from hiking conditions, to wildlife sighting opportunities, to chances of viewing the Northern Lights, to skiing and skating and weather, and everything in between.
Spoiler Alert: Stick around until the end of the blog post for my recommendation on the absolute best month of the year to travel to Banff National Park.
Banff’s High Seasons:
Summer: July and August
Winter: end of December until early January (Christmas and New Years)
July and August are busiest for tourism in Banff, and for good reason. These are the warmest months of the year, the lakes are thawed and looking their most magnificent, and outdoor activity opportunities are plentiful (think: kayaking, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, etc.)
The holiday season surrounding Christmas and New Years is also exceptionally busy. Tourists and locals alike love to spend the holidays in the mountains. Banff transforms into a snowglobe-perfect town around Christmas, dusted in fluffy white snow and adorned with twinkling Christmas lights. There are plenty of mountain lakes to go ice skating on. Even just grabbing a candy cane hot chocolate and roaming the town’s charming stores can feel magical. You can also hike into Johnston’s Canyon, which transforms into an amazing frozen waterfall wonderland in winter. Read my blog post about the Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter for some other awesome winter suggestions!
During these times of the year, expect higher prices for accommodation and slim pickings on hotel options if you haven’t booked ahead (always book at least 6 months in advance if possible if visiting Banff during these dates). There are also plenty of adorable little cabins you rent and cozy up around a warm fireplace!
Also expect larger crowds at all of the regular hot spots during these busy times of the year and make sure to arrive early to ensure a parking spot!
Banff’s Hiking Season:
The prime Banff Hiking Season runs from July through mid-September.
Banff National Park is a true hikers’ wonderland, with snowcapped mountain peaks, alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers, rushing rivers framed by thick green forests and abundant wildlife.
Banff offers all levels of hikes, from easy low-elevation strolls loved by families to strenuous, full-day or overnight backpacking trips and alpine climbing routes.
From the Parks Canada website:
“Until late June, many passes are still snow-bound and may be subject to avalanche hazard. Trails tend to be muddier at this time and the best hiking is at lower elevations or on drier, south facing slopes around the Town of Banff. By the middle of July, most alpine passes are snow-free.” [source]
Banff’s Ski Season:
The Banff Ski Season runs from about mid-November (when the ski hills are usually open by, depending on conditions) until the end of May (when the snow has begun melting and becomes too slushy to ski).
Banff boasts one of the longest ski seasons in North America, and offers almost 8,000 acres of skiable terrain.
(Not into skiiing or snowboarding? Here is a list of other awesome activities you can do in Banff in the winter)
Banff’s Larch / Autumn Season:
If you’re wanting to go larch hunting or leaf peeping, the peak season for autumn colors in Banff National Park is from mid to late September.
The trails can see a huge influx of visitors at this time hoping to witness the area’s golden larches, so be sure to arrive at your chosen trail head as early as possible.
Banff’s Wildlife Season:
Prime Grizzly Bear & Black Bear Sighting Season: April – October
Some other wildlife can you can spot in Banff during the summer months: Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Coyotes, Lynx, and Beavers
Banff’s Outdoor Ice Skating Season:
Ice skating on Banff’s mountain lakes can happen any time during the winter, but the best conditions typically happen from November to early December, when many of the lakes are frozen but clear of snowfall.
Read more on my blog post: The Best Places to Go Ice Skating in Banff
Northern Lights Viewing in Banff:
You’re in luck most of the year – the best time to view the incredible aurora borealis in Banff is anytime from September through to May!
The best conditions to view the Northern Lights are a clear sky free of clouds and with the moon phase at new moon or as close to it as possible. View the night sky from as far away from light sources as possible for the best chance of seeing the glowing green aurora.
I recommend visiting http://www.aurorawatch.ca, a website run by the University of Alberta that monitors the likelihood of aurora and can send you an alert when the chances for aurora sightings looks promising!
Weather in Banff by Month:
Weather in Banff can (and does) vary dramatically year by year, month by month, day by day and yes – even hour by hour. It’s best to be prepared for any weather scenario! However, here is a list of average temperatures for Banff, Alberta:
Additional Banff Weather Resources:
My recommendation for the absolute best time of the year to experience Banff:
The reasons why:
- Less crowds
- Warm weather
- Autumn colors
- More affordable than summer
- Good for hiking and camping
- Lakes are not frozen
- Wildlife sightings
In September, as the school year begins, the park becomes much more quiet compared to the summer months – a welcome respite from the swarms of tourists in July and August!
The first half of autumn often offers up fantastic weather – usually still sunny and warm, with a small chance of witnessing that magical first snowfall. (This is Alberta after all, and the weather can change on a dime at anytime)
September is extra special when the autumn colors arrive and the golden larches appear!
Accommodation prices will likely be at least marginally lower than during the busiest summer months.
Despite nights becoming longer, the temperatures are still good for camping. Hiking conditions are wonderful at this time of the year, with a large number of trails accessible and experiencing less traffic than during the summer months.
This time of the year is also great to spot wildlife in the lower valleys as the animals slowly start to come down from the upper meadows.
Whenever you decide to make a visit to Banff, you’ll no doubt have an amazing time, as each season brings with it its own plethora of activities to enjoy and sights to see.