January is mid-winter in Canada and tends to be the coldest month of the year. As an enormous country with coastline and landlocked areas, mountains, and plains, it's impossible to generalize about Canada's weather in any month. However, you can guarantee that temperatures will be cold. Just how cold depends on latitude, altitude, and proximity to the sea. Inland areas are generally colder than coastal areas, and coastal areas are milder and wetter.
For example, Québec City in eastern Canada, not far inland, has an average minimum January temperature of 7°F (-14°C) and a maximum of 21°F (-6°C). Toronto, which is further inland but on one of the Great Lakes (Lake Ontario), has a minimum January temperature of 18°F (-8°C) and a maximum of 30°F (-1°C). On the other side of Canada, inland Calgary sees similarly cold temperatures, with a minimum of 12°F (-11°C) and a maximum of 30°F (-1°C). Meanwhile, coastal Vancouver is milder, with an average minimum of 36°F (2°C) and a maximum of 43°F (6°C).
Note that all of these cities, however cold they get, are still relatively far south in Canada, being close to the US border. The further north you go, the colder (and darker) things become in January.
Crowds & Costs
January is the peak season for skiing and other snow sports in resort towns in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia and the Vancouver area. In popular resorts—such as Whistler, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, and Banff—it's essential to book accommodation in advance, especially if you're traveling early in the month when many people will still be on winter vacations from work and school. Expect to pay high prices for accommodation and transport to such areas.
Outside of ski resorts, January is the low season for travel. Unless you want to embrace the sub-zero conditions by participating in winter sports, this is a month of hibernation. You can still enjoy many things in Canada's cities, though, and prices will be lower.
Note that smaller inland towns and cities that don't cater to the skiing set may not have very many tourism facilities open in January. You're more likely to find a good deal on accommodation and decent winter conditions on the coast.
Where to Go
Vancouver ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to traveling to Canada in January: the climate is mild (albeit damp), so travelers interested in strolling around the city can do so in relative comfort. The Vancouver Museum of Art and the Museum of Anthropology are must-visit destinations to learn more about local First Nations people. The city is also one of Canada's most ethnically diverse and has an exciting foodie scene: perfect for mid-winter travel.
Meanwhile, as Vancouver is near many excellent ski resorts in the mountains, it makes for a good base for a winter sports vacation. Head north or southeast of the city to Whistler, Grouse Mountain, or Cypress Mountain (to name just a few) for excellent skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing adventures in January. Vancouver should be on the shortlist if you're traveling with a group with varied interests this month.
If you'd like to get a little further from the crowds, head to the Kootenay Rockies, northeast of Vancouver and southwest of Calgary. The Powder Highway that circles the Kootenay and Selkirk Mountains provides access to resorts (including Revelstoke, Fernie, and Kicking Horse) and heli-ski adventures for the experienced.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
January is an ideal time to go skiing, but you don't need to be a keen or experienced skier to enjoy the Canadian winter. Why not try snowshoeing or tubing instead? Northwest of Vancouver, Howe Sound is home to the Sea to Sky Gondola. As well as providing beautiful fjord and mountain views, a ride on the gondola will take you up to some of the deepest snow in North America, which is ideal for snowshoeing. Families can also have a great time slip-sliding on inflated inner tubes from the Tube Park at the top of the gondola.
Some western parts of Canada are also blessed with natural hot springs: a lovely way to warm up in cold weather. In Alberta, the Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff National Park and the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park holds historic appeal, having been operational since the 19th century.
Ice skating is another favorite Canadian winter pastime. In Ottawa, on the other side of the country, the entire length of the Rideau Canal turns into a skateway from January to late February/early March. The 4.8-mile (7.8-km) canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can skate and even walk for free.
Events in January
Chinese/Lunar New Year, especially Vancouver. Given the large ethnic Chinese population in Vancouver and nearby Richmond, this is a huge celebration with a massive parade, street festivals, and food events. Chinese New Year can fall in January or February.
Rossland Winter Carnival, Rossland. Bobsled races, parades, performances, and an ice palace-beer garden highlight this fun festival that's been happening since 1898 in this mountain town in the Kootenay Rockies.
Coldsnap Winter Music Festival, Prince George. Prince George, on the northern coast of British Columbia, dances the winter nights away for more than a week in January as international artists perform across town and hold music workshops.
Fête des neiges de Montréal, Montréal. Held over four consecutive weekends, this family-friendly event in Montréal's Parc Jean-Drapeau offers ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and more.
Traveling to Canada in January? Check out these great itineraries
Arctic Winter Road Trip - 8 Days. Explore some of the most remote corners of Canada with this exhilarating eight-day itinerary around the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Travel overland from the Pacific to the Arctic on scenic highways through the mountains and along ancient roads made of ice.
Sea-to-Sky Highway: Vancouver to Whistler - 6 Days. Discover the best of Vancouver and the Coast Mountains on this short trip highlighting the west coast city and Whistler.
More Helpful Information
Canada in December
Canada in February
Best Time of Year to Visit Canada
How Many Days to Spend in Canada