January in Banff National Park brings visitors tons of winter fun. With all the thrilling outdoor activities and unique events, visiting Banff in January offers a truly unforgettable experience. In this how-to guide, we’ll delve into the typical January weather, transportation options, packing essentials, special events, ski resorts, tubing opportunities, and more—making sure you have all you need to know to jump right into January’s winter fun in Banff National Park.
What to Expect from January Weather in Banff
January brings the sun, the fun, the snow, and the cold to Banff National Park. The average temperatures range from -15°C to -5°C (5°F to 23°F). The wind chill will make it seem even colder. You can also expect multiple drops below freezing, so be sure to dress warmly.
If you like snow, you’re in luck! Banff sees a majority of its annual snowfall in January, coming in second only to December. On average, 30 centimeters (15 inches) of the white stuff falls on Banff in January. Still, don’t expect it to snow every day. Most visitors experience partly sunny skies for fifty percent of the week and snowfall for the remainder of the week. If you have plans to visit attractions and destination north of Banff, you can expect heavier snows.
Alberta’s Warm Chinook Winds
Southern Alberta experiences a unique weather phenomenon in January—the Chinooks. The Chinooks develop as warm, dry winds over the Pacific. As they travel east over the Canadian Rockies, they pass over Banff, causing temperature fluctuations as much as 20°C (68°F) within a single twenty-four hour period.
As welcoming as the warmth can be at this chilly time of year, the Chinooks also bring a few hazards along with them. The introduction of markedly warmer air can cause ice and snow to melt quickly. This can sometimes result in increased flooding and avalanche risks. If you plan on hiking on any of Banff National Park’s many trails, you may want to consider familiarizing yourself with avalanche safety measure. Yamnuska Adventures offers an Avalanche Training Course to help reduce your risk when exploring the Canadian Rockies in winter.
Winter Driving Tips When Visiting Banff in January
Banff is easily accessible by car via the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). If you’re driving from Calgary, it’s approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour journey. Here are a few tips to help keep you safe on the Banff highways and byways.
Winter Vehicle Requirements
First things first. If you don’t have much experience driving in wintry conditions, it may not be advisable to attempt driving in Banff in January. The good news? Banff has an excellent public transportation system to help get you around to all the popular destinations and attractions. The ROAM Public Transit System has local and regional routes at reasonable rates.
If you do choose to tackle driving, be aware that many areas within Banff National Park require your vehicle to be equipped with snow tires or snow chains. If you fly into Calgary airport and rent a car there, do not assume these are automatically included with your rental. Be sure to request them at the time of rental.
Winter Road Hazards
Black ice presents a common hazard to motorists driving in Banff in January. Because the paved surface of the roadway show clearly through the transparent layer of ice, many drivers don’t realize it is there until their vehicle is already skidding out of control. Driving slowly can help reduce your chances of having an accident or give you adequate time to come to a safe stop.
You may experience fog, snow flurries, and even rain when touring Banff in January. All these factors can contribute to poor visibility conditions on the highway. While you may be tempted to engage your vehicle’s high beam headlights in this type of weather, doing so actually decreases your visibility. Instead, keep your headlights on low and drive slowly in these conditions.
January Road Closures in Banff and Surrounding Areas
Canada’s winter weather and observation of wildlife corridors means you might encounter seasonal road closures. The closures won’t prevent you from enjoying the natural beauty and a variety of exciting activities in Banff National Park. It just requires a little bit of knowledge and forethought. We’ve highlighted a few popular road closures for you here. You can also find a more comprehensive list of road closures on the Parks Canada site.
- Moraine Lake Road remains closed to all vehicle traffic.
- The western portion of the Lake Minnewanka Loop remains closed.
- The Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93), while open in December, can experience safety closures after large snowfalls or avalanches.
Motorists should also be aware that opportunities for fuel and public facilities or fuel are limited. So, empty your bladders and fill up your tanks before you hit the open road, especially if you plan on traveling Highway 1 or Highway 93.
Pros and Cons of Visiting Banff in January
Visiting Banff National Park in January offers a unique and enchanting experience. However, like any travel destination, there are pros and cons to consider before planning your trip.
Banff in January showcases the true beauty of winter. Visitors can find spectacular scenery in every direction. The snow-covered landscapes, frozen lakes, and majestic mountains create a picturesque setting perfect for outdoor activities and photography. Compared to the peak summer season, January sees fewer tourists in Banff. This means shorter lines, less crowded attractions, and a more peaceful and serene experience.
Banff offers a plethora of winter activities in January. From skiing and snowboarding to ice skating, snowshoeing, and tubing, there are endless opportunities to embrace the winter spirit and enjoy thrilling adventures only available at this time of year.
Just when you thought Banff couldn’t be any more magical, along comes the January special events like the Ice Magic Festival and Snow Days! These special events enhance the festive atmosphere with glittering ice sculptures on the shores of Lake Louise and a fun-filled play zone complete with a sliding hill, curling, and much more.
Your wallet will thank you for visiting Banff in January. The off-season in Banff typically sees lower accommodation prices, making January a budget-friendly month to plan a trip to Banff.
As the temperatures start to drop for winter in Banff, so do the number of daylight hours. On average, a January day in Banff has just over eight hours of daylight. The sun usually sets between 4:45 PM and 5:31 PM. This means you have less time to take part in many outdoor activities. Plan your itinerary to accommodate the shorter days.
Be prepared for anything—at least where January weather is concerned. Snow, rain, warm Chinook winds, flooding, and potential avalanches are all possibilities in the Canadian Rockies in January.
While you can still spot moose, elk, and sometimes bighorn sheep, wildlife sightings in and around Banff tend to slack off in January. Some of the indigenous wildlife Limited Wildlife Sightings: In January, wildlife sightings in Banff may be less frequent compared to other seasons. Many animals hibernate or migrate during the winter months, making it more challenging to spot them in their natural habitats.
Packing the Perfect Suitcase When Visiting Banff in January
You’ll probably need a bigger suitcase if you’re packing for Banff in January. With Banff’s unpredictable and chilly weather, you’ll need lots of room for layers, sweaters and warm coats. Here’s a down-and-dirty list of what you’ll need to pack the perfect suitcase.
- Warm Clothing—Pack thermal layers, insulated jackets, hats, gloves, scarves, and warm socks to stay cozy in the chilly temperatures.
- Waterproof Gear—Bring waterproof boots, pants, and a jacket to protect yourself from snow and moisture.
- Accessories—Don’t forget sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm to shield yourself from the sun’s reflection on the snow.
- Winter Footwear—Ensure you have sturdy, insulated boots with good traction for walking on icy surfaces.
- Camera—Capture the stunning winter scenery with a camera or smartphone to preserve your memories.
- Refillable Water Bottle—It may be winter, but it’s just as important to stay hydrated when participating in the many fun, outdoor activities Banff has to offer.
- Compass—You can get turned around on the trails sometimes. Having a compass can help you orient yourself and keep you on the right track.
- Printed Maps—We tend to rely on the GPS on our phones these days, but be aware that cell service can be iffy in certain areas of the park. Having a printable map gives you a reliable backup.
- First Aid Kit—Be prepared for nicks, cuts, and scrapes out on the trails.
- Back-Up Battery—You’re certain to want plenty of pictures to remind you of your Banff vacation, but you can’t take any if your phone or camera runs out of juice. Bring a back-up battery to keep your gear powered up.
- Day Pack or Backpack—Keep your hands free and your belongings readily at hand with a roomy, waterproof day pack or backpack.
While hardly an inexhaustible list, including these basic items will help you pack the perfect suitcase for a January trip to Banff.
The Fairmont Ice Bar
Now that you’re packed, you may be wondering what there is to do in Banff in January. Check some things off your bucket list with this list of 50 incredible things to do in Banff in winter. And if you need more inspiration, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise really sets the “bar” high. The Fairmont Ice Bar is a unique experience not to be missed. Sip on specialty cocktails served in glasses made entirely of ice while enjoying the breathtaking views of Lake Louise.
Twenty 300-pound blocks of ice compose the Ice Bar. Benches are carved into the ice for seating. Artisans use colored sand to craft the Fairmont logo in the ice. “Chill out” with the bar’s specialty, mulled wine, or mix things up with a Spicy Santa. Prices for cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, range from $6 to $20 CAD ($4.44 to $14.42 USD). The Ice Bar is open daily from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM.
Snow Days is an annual 12-day event that celebrates winter in Banff. Specific dates will be announced on the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism site soon. You can find the Snow Days Play Zone on the Banff High School Field. Enter at the corner of Banff Avenue and Wolf Street. The best part—admission is free! It features a variety of activities, including snow sculpting, a snow slide, curling, and a unique winter sport, skijoring.
Skijoring brings together talented horses and riders for a thrilling display of stunt riding, ski stunts, and additional entertainment for two, action-packed ninety-minute events. Cowboys and cowgirls work in tandem with their mounts to perform some amazing, audience-thrilling feats of horsemanship.
Visitors to the Snow Days Play Zone will find a haven of winter fun for kids of all ages. This dedicated area offers a wide range of activities that allow participants to embrace the snowy season and enjoy the outdoors.
From snowball fights and snowman building to tobogganing and snow tubing, there’s something for everyone in the Snow Days Play Zone. Whether you’re a child or a child at heart, this interactive and lively area is the perfect place to let loose, make memories, and indulge in the joy of winter.
Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival
The Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival is typically an annual event. Postponed for 2023, the Ice Magic Festival is tentatively scheduled for January 18-29, 2024. The event transforms the iconic Lake Louise into a mesmerizing winter wonderland. This festival showcases the incredible artistry of ice sculptors from around the world, who create stunning masterpieces out of blocks of ice.
The festival is held at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a luxurious hotel nestled on the shores of the picturesque Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The stunning backdrop of the lake and surrounding mountains adds to the enchanting atmosphere of the event. Admission to view the ice sculptures is typically free, allowing visitors to wander through the festival grounds and marvel at the incredible creations.
Where to Ski
There is no shortage of fantastic ski spots in and around Banff. Whether you’re a beginner or want something to get your pulse pounding, Banff offers something for everyone.
Located approximately 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) west of Banff, Sunshine Village offers a vast ski area with diverse terrain suitable for all skill levels, but truly caters to those who prefer a challenge in the wide-open sunshine. Adrenaline junkies will thrive on slopes like Delirium Dive. How serious is it? Skiers are required to register their avalanche beacon prior to skiing.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise Ski Resort lies about 57 kilometers (35.4 miles) northwest of Banff. Known for its stunning mountain vistas and over 4,200 skiable acres, this is a great family ski resort. You’ll find great beginner trails at Lake Louise, as well as intermediate cruisers. There are even some gnarly steeps for those with a little more experience under their belt. Ticket prices will be announced when the season opens on November 10, 2023.
Located just a few minutes from Banff, Mount Norquay offers a family-friendly ski experience with a range of slopes suitable for beginners and advanced skiers. Mount Norquay brings back memories of yesteryear with smaller, more intimate lodges and old-school ski lifts. Don’t be misled, however. You will still find some steep glades to excite and thrill. Foodies will enjoy the delicious menu from Cliffhouse Bistro. Slip back into the 50s as you dine in this retro-feel restaurant that once hosted Marilyn Monroe. The stellar views of Mount Rundle aren’t bad either! Book a reservation online to guarantee your table. Then sit back and enjoy one of Alberta’s signature drinks, the Caesar, a tasty Bloody Mary with a Canadian twist.
January Tubing Opportunities in Banff
If you’re looking for a thrilling winter activity that the whole family can enjoy, tubing in and around Banff National Park is the perfect choice. With designated tubing parks and groomed lanes, you can experience the exhilaration of sliding down snowy slopes while surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Here, we’ll explore the tubing opportunities available, including location information, pricing in Canadian and U.S. dollars, hours of operation, and age requirements.
Banff Mt. Norquay Tube Park
Located just a few minutes from Banff, the Banff Mt. Norquay Tube Park offers an exciting tubing experience for all ages. The park features the longest tubing lanes in Alberta. With a tentative opening scheduled for December 15, 2023, the Mt. Norquay Tube Park offers a morning session from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM on available weekends, holidays, and during busier periods. Afternoon sessions run from 1:30-4:00 PM. Night sessions are available from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM on Fridays through December 21, 2023, then on Fridays and Saturdays starting December 22, 2023-April 14, 2024. Purchase your Mt. Norquay tubing tickets in advance for this popular activity to make sure you don’t miss out on the fun!
Pricing for tubing at Banff Mt. Norquay Tube Park is $45 CAD ($33.52 USD) for adults and $38 CAD ($28.30 USD) for youths 13-17. Tickets for children ages 4-12 cost $29 CAD ($21.60 USD). Older adults ages 65+ can tube for $38 CAD ($28.30). The minimum age requirement for tubing is 4 years, making this a great activity for the whole family to enjoy. Please note that children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
Lake Louise Sunny Tube Park
For those visiting Lake Louise Ski Resort, the Sunny Tube Park is a must-visit attraction. Located at the base of the mountain at 1 Whitehorn Road, Lake Louise, this tubing park offers a fantastic experience for all skill levels. The Sunny Tube Park at Lake Louise Ski Resort opens on November 10, 2023 when tickets prices for the 2023-24 season will be announced. The age requirement for tubing is 3 years and older, ensuring that even the little ones can join in on the fun. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
Heliskiing in Banff National Park
Want the opportunity to ski or snowboard some pristine, virgin powder? Then consider booking a heliski tour with RK Heliski. If you can handle blue and black diamond runs, a heliski tour can help you access the top of some of Banff’s skiable peaks and back country terrain. Packages start at $1,125 CAD ($837.93 USD). You’ll start your day with a hearty, hot breakfast to fuel you up for the day’s fun. You can also expect a picnic lunch and even an aprés ski snack as you sit around and swap stories of your adventures.
Don’t worry about packing or renting equipment. You will be provided with Armada powder skis and poles or a Burton Fish snowboard. Safety is paramount to RK, so all participants receive companion rescue device training, helicopter safety training, and are provided with a Mammut Pulse Avalanche Transceiver. Groups will also receive knowledgeable ACMG service. All packages booked with RK Heliski also help support a great cause. A portion of the proceeds goes toward support of the Canadian Wildlife and Research Fund.
Snowshoe and Secrets with Great Divide Nature Interpretation
Ever wonder what lies beneath the snowpack of the Canadian Rockies? The experienced guides at Great Divide Nature Interpretation will be happy to reveal the natural secrets hiding beneath the great expanse of white when you book a guided snowshoe tour. These 3-4 hour tours often take you across untouched powder, allowing you to witness your tracks as you enjoy the quiet beauty of winter.
Your guide will also point out the tracks of the indigenous wildlife that remain active in the winter months, such as lynx, hares, or martens. Great Divide provides participants with the necessary equipment: MSR snowshoes, poles, and overboots if needed. You’ll also be treated to your choice of warming hot cocoa or herbal tea to keep you toasty out on the trails. And you can keep your energy up with one of their complimentary power bars.
Group excursions cost $89 CAD ($66.29 USD) per adult and $59 ($43.95 USD) per child. Book online with Great Divide. Private tours are also available.
Is January a good time to visit Banff National Park?
Visiting Banff National Park in January definitely has its good points. There are many wonderful and exciting activities and events unique to this time of year in Banff. However, if you are not a fan of cold temperatures, you may want to consider visiting Banff during the summer months, such as July.
What types of activities are available in Banff in January?
From snowboarding to skiing, to ice skating and ice carving, there is something for everyone in Banff National Park in January. Banff offers plenty of family-friendly activities like tubing at Mt. Norquay and the Snow Days Festival in Lake Louise. But Banff also offers more intimate experiences, just right for couples, like the Fairmont Ice Bar or sleigh rides with companies like Banff Tours.
Can I see the Northern Lights in Banff in January?
Your chances are high. While the aurora borealis can be unpredictable, the cold, darker months of winter present visitors with some of the best opportunities to witness the awesome natural phenomenon. Check out our in-depth post on the Northern Lights and learn some of the best locations to spot them.
Is January an expensive time to visit Banff?
Not necessarily. While the shoulder seasons of fall and spring tend to be the most economical time to visit Banff, you will find that after the hubbub of the holiday season has wound down, January can offer lower prices on accommodations and activities as the crowds thin out.
In conclusion, with all the available exciting activities and events, visitors can really jump into January’s winter fun in Banff National Park. Enjoy the thrill of racing down backcountry terrain with a heliski tour. Share an afternoon of laughter with your family tubing at Mt. Norquay or Lake Louise. Sample Santa’s spicy side with a signature cocktail at the Fairmont Ice Bar. January allows you to embrace the snowy landscapes, enjoy special events like Snow Days and the Ice Magic Festival, or hit the slopes at top ski resorts. You’ll find something for everyone in Banff National Park as January promises an unforgettable winter getaway.