Weather

Weather in the Rocky Mountains varies a tremendous amount – literally from one valley to the next and from one hour to the next.  There also is a large variation between daytime and night time temperatures.  The following temperature statistics for Banff townsite, which come from the Weather Base website, will give you an idea of what you can expect throughout the Canadian Rockies.

 

  MONTH  FAHRENHEIT           CELSIUS 
 
JULY
   
 Average daily high 73 22
 Average daily low 43 6
 Highest high (in 70 years)          94 34
 Lowest low (in 70 years) 28 -2
 
OCTOBER
   
 Average high 48 8
 Average low 29 -1
 Highest high 79 26
 Lowest low -7 -21


JANUARY

   
 Average high 22 -5
 Average low 4 -15
 Highest high 54 12
 Lowest low -60 -51
 
APRIL
   
 Average high 48 8
 Average low 25 -3
 Highest high 78 25
 Lowest low -17 -27

 

Posters on the travel discussion forums often ask something along the lines of, "I will be in Banff in the middle of August.  What will the weather be like?"  As you probably can tell from the above mentioned temperature statistics, it would be very difficult for anyone to predict what the weather in the Rocky Mountains will be like at a given point in the future.

In fact the weather in the mountains is so difficult to predict that even meteorologists find it a challenge.  The official weather forecast for the Canadian Rockies — even the forecast for the very next day — quite often turns out to have been wrong.

The best thing that you as a traveler can do is to come prepared with layers that will enable you to respond to rapidly changing weather conditions.  When you set out for a walk or hike on even the hottest day, you should carry a spare jacket in your day pack.  This strategy is explained in detail on the TripAdvisor page entitled Inside Banff National Park : Clothing .    

That said, you can get some idea of what to expect if you plug your travel dates into the Weather Underground website's Trip Planner feature .  It will give you the average, highest and lowest temperatures that Banff townsite has experienced during your date range in the last six years.  If you live outside of the United States and are used to the metric system, here is the Celsius version of the Trip Planner feature for Banff .  Temperatures in Lake Louise and Jasper are sufficiently similar to those in Banff, that you can use Banff's statistics for planning purposes.    There is also detailed climate information, from Environment Canada's 1971-2000 database, isummarized on Environment Canada's Banff climate page.

Current Conditions & Forecast

For the current conditions and forecast, check Environment Canada Banff 7-day forecast (available in metric and imperial units - just click the link next to the degree symbol). Beyond three days, forecasts are not that reliable, so don't be too worried if the 7-day outlook is unfavourable. To see the weather and snow cover for yourself, check out the various live Banff webcams.

When to Go

The best time to visit the mountains for the sake of the scenery and hiking is June through September .  That is when the mountain lakes are thawed and the brilliant turquoise colour of their water can be enjoyed.  The mountain resort towns of Banff , Lake Louise and Jasper tend to be crowded in July and August .  So, if the traveler has the flexibility to avoid the busiest season, it is better to visit the area in June or September.  But if a family with school-aged children can travel only in the busier months of July and August, it is still worth visiting the area.  When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, "busy" is a relative term.  The Rocky Mountain national parks cover a large area, and it takes only a little effort to step into the forest and away from the crowds.   

September ushers in the yellows and golds of autumn.  The aspen trees around Banff are at the height of their colour around the middle of September, and the larches around Lake Louise are at their golden best towards the end of September.  Jasper, being at a slightly lower elevation than Lake Louise and Banff, has a slightly later fall.  It usually is at the height of its colour around the beginning of October. 

October is a transitional month.  This shoulder month can provide pleasant weather.  On the other hand it also can produce blizzards. The beginning of October is the time at which some rides and side roads in the mountains start shutting down for the winter.  Activities and access to scenic landmarks remain fairly good up to and including Canadian Thanksgiving , which is celebrated on the second Monday of October (the same day as the United States celebrates Columbus Day).  But, by the middle of October, many winter closures have taken effect.

So, depending on the kind of experience that the visitor is looking for, October can be a somewhat risky month.  On the other hand, it is a month in which the mountain resort towns are quieter and service is more attentive.  This is a months that may appeal to the repeat visitor who already has seen the "must see" landmarks in summer.

November is an extremely quiet month in the mountains.  Summer sight seeing and hiking are over, but downhill skiing has not yet begun.

Downhill skiers visit the mountains from December through April and even into early May.   The prime skiing season is February to April. On the third Monday in February, Alberta has the Family Day holiday. This means that Alberta ski areas are especially busy that weekend. Banff can be particularly busy around the Family Day weekend, because the two major Calgary school boards (Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic School Division) intentionally schedule their two-day teachers' convention within a week of the Family Day holiday. Since the kids are out of school during the convention, many Calgary families find this a good time to get in some skiing. In 2007, the teachers' convention takes place on Thursday, February 15 & Friday, February 16, and Family Day is Monday, February 19.

May is another transitional month.  It is a month in which the traveler may encounter anything, from snow storms to summer weather.  The mountain lakes tend to thaw towards the end of May.  Yet a few of them, like beautiful Moraine Lake , are not yet looking their turquoise best till after the first week of June.

Daylight hours

Something that affects a vacation experience is the number of daylight hours.

In the summer there are between 14 and 16 hours of daylight.  In the autumn that drops down to about 10 hours of daylight per day.  On the winter solstice, there are just under 8 hours of daylight.  Then in March daylight increases to around 12 hours.  

The long summer days have their advantages.  The many hours of sunlight make it easier to keep going and see more.  On the other hand, the reduced daylight hours of the fall make it easier to be up in time to photograph sunrises.  Also, since animals are more active at dawn and dusk, in the fall you have a better chance of being out and about at the same time as the wildlife.     

Day-by-day sunrise and sunset times for Banff