When you think of visiting Banff and Lake Louise, two options come to mind: a summer hiking and sightseeing trip or a winter ski/snowboard trip. Both of those are great choices, but before you book your airfare and accommodation, have you considered shoulder season?
Shoulder season is what the locals call those hard-to-define months between summer and winter seasons. Spring and Autumn in the Rocky Mountains have a bit more character than you’d usually associate with the seasons, but one thing is certain: there are fewer visitors to Banff and Lake Louise.
1. Have the place to yourself
While Banff National Park gets millions of visitors each year, most of them visit in the summer for the hiking season or around the winter holidays and school breaks for the ski season. But from late March to mid-June (excluding the May long weekend), and late September through mid-December, the park quiets down. It’s easier to get parking as there are fewer people at popular attractions and at the ski resorts. Ultimately, it takes much of the time spent waiting out of your visit altogether.
2. Find great deals
With less demand, bargain hunters can often snag a better deal. You can find particularly good savings on hotels, which is a perk for the savvy traveller. Look for inspiration on our accommodation page or read our blog, Guide To Your Cozy Cabin Holiday in Banff National Park.
If you’re flying into the Calgary airport to start your trip, you may find deals on airfare. With your shoulder season savings, think about splurging on an experience to remember, like a special dinner at one of Banff or Lake Louise’s high-end restaurants.
3. Enjoy amazing events
The shoulder season months boast their own unique events that don’t happen in the summer or winter months. In late October to early November, plan your trip around the Banff Centre’s Mountain Film and Book Festival, where you can see world-class adventure films and attend talks with athletes, filmmakers, and writers. During November get your holiday shopping done at the Banff Christmas Market or sample Alberta beers at the Banff Craft Beer Festival. At the end of November and beginning of December head to The Lake Louise Ski Resort to watch the Lake Louise Audi FIS Ski World Cup.
In the Spring, time your visit for Cochon555, one of North America’s most buzz-worthy culinary experiences. It’s a celebration of heritage breed pigs, where competing chefs wow you with their creations. This is a world-class event foodies won’t want to miss.
4. Soak in the colours
While there are no set rules in the Canadian Rockies, summer usually peaks in July and August. By September, the nights are cooling off, sometimes leaving frost: the magic ingredient to kick off Larch season. If you haven’t heard of Larch season, it’s a magical, but brief, window in September through October when the needles of the Larch trees turn a golden-yellow before falling off. To catch the best of the colours, try one of our favourite Larch hikes: Taylor Lake, Sentinel Pass, or Arnica Lake.
5. It’s the best of both worlds
The most spectacular part of the quirky, shoulder season weather is that you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. In late Spring, you can still ski at Sunshine, as well as taking advantage of early season discounts at the golf courses. Even when there’s snow at the ski resorts in April and well into May, the Bow River is often thawed out enough to enjoy a paddle in your canoe or kayak! Prefer to stay on land? Plan a day of hiking after your day of skiing. Check out our blog - 10 Early Season Hikes in Banff National Park - for more inspiration.
One shoulder season rule: bring layers for all weather events and you’ll be able to enjoy an array of activities.