Brr! Here we go…the coldest places in North America. We hope you’ve got the cocoa handy and some thermal underlayers on, folks, because this guide is all about venturing to the chilliest corners of the continent. We’ll scour from Mexico to the stars and stripes and up to Canada on the hunt for the spots that take cold to all new and dizzying heights (or should we say lows?).
No prizes for guessing which country dominates the list. Canada ranges uber far north into the coldest parts of the globe, where it can get so freezing that even thermometers fail to recognize the chill. Of course, there’s lots of spots courtesy of Alaska, too, as The Last Frontier comes up trumps with sub-zero destinations of its own.
Our methodology has been to seek out spots that own record lows or have hit the headlines for their sub-zero temperatures. That gives a broad range of different types of coldest places in North America, from major cities to remote weather stations on the cusp of the Arctic Circle. Let’s begin…
Beaver Creek, Yukon, Canada – The place with the lowest recorded temperature ever in North America
This long-lost Yukon outpost is often said to be the coldest place in North America. The reason? It currently holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded on the continent, which was measured at the nearby Snag Air Force Base. Yep, things dropped to a mind-numbing −81.4 F (-64 C) back in February 1947. There’s a rumor that it was so darn cold that new numbers had to be added to the bottom of the thermometers so weather forecasters could make the readings!
And while Beaver Creek’s record drop was more than 70 years ago, the town still sees regular lows throughout the winter months in the region of -67 F (-55 C), which goes even lower with the added wind chill. Geographers put that down to the northerly location but also the relatively low altitude of the town, which funnels cool air into a basin between the icy mountains and helps it linger for longer.
The thing is, chilly though it may be, Beaver Creek remains a popular spot for intrepid travelers. It sits neatly on the Alaska Highway, offering enthralling First Nations lodges, a glimpse of a particularly curious church, and all sorts of outdoor pursuits, from wild fishing to long-distance hiking.
Eureka, Nunavut, Canada – The coldest place in Canada with year-round inhabitants
Okay, so the year-round inhabitants at Eureka might only be a group of hardy weather people but we think they deserve a mention here, if only as a nod of respect to the drooping temperatures that they endure every season. The location should speak volumes. Eureka is the third-northernmost weather station on the planet, set deep in the Arctic Circle, on the often-ice-covered Slidre Fiord.
Naturally, the temperature measuring is pretty good up here – it’s a weather station, after all! Officially designated as a polar climate, the area has daily means that range from 43 F (6 C) in the middle of the summer to a whopping -33 F (-36 C) in the middle of the winter. And then you’ve got the record lows, which head south (figuratively, of course) to a bone-chilling -70 F (-94) when you factor in the wind chill.
We’re not sure the job of a weather station operator in Eureka is the one for us. The only way to get up here is by cargo ship from Montreal or by private jet into a makeshift airstrip. The whole place is also powered by diesel generators. Oh, and it’s completely dark from the middle of October to February.
Saguenay, Quebec, Canada – The other coldest major city in North America
Most of the coldest places in North America are distant outposts in the Yukon or weather stations plonked far beyond the Arctic Circle. Not so for Saguenay. This city of 148,000 people actually sits just up a branch of the St Lawrence River, not too far from the hustle and bustle of Quebec City and the Atlantic Ocean.
It has the unenviable rep of being the coldest major city in Canada, and, by extension, one of the coldest major cities in North America. That’s all down to a yearly average that hardly makes it above 46 F (8 C). Yep, balance out the temps for all the months of the year in Saguenay and you’ll be left with a measly 46 degrees. It’s hardly the place to go sunning yourself in the parks, eh?
Of course, winters are MUCH harsher than 46 Fahrenheit. When the snows come in November and December, it can go as low as -47 F. Hence why most people visit in the summer, to kayak and canoe in the Saguenay Fjords National Park or hit the hiking paths of the Monts-Valin National Park.
Fairbanks, Alaska, USA – The other coldest major city in North America
If you thought living in Saguenay would be cold, just wait until you hear what’s in store from Fairbanks. But before we check the stats, let’s check the map. Fairbanks sits on the 64th parallel, which is just two notches shy of the Arctic Circle. It’s very distant from the warming air currents of the Atlantic Ocean and it’s the northernmost of all US cities by a long shot.
That’s set the scene. Now to the temperatures. These are some small numbers, folks. You’re looking at maximum highs of 52 F (11 C) in January, but that’s rarely what happens. The average for that month is actually -8 F, while record lows get to a teeth-chattering -66 F (-54 C). The coldest January on record in these parts was back in 1906, when mean temperatures for the whole 31 days was −36.4 (38.0 C) below. Yikes!
The upshot? Fairbanks is now firmly established as the coldest city in North America and one of the coldest places in North America with permanent habitation. Mind you, the summers can get positively balmy, with southerly chinook winds bringing gulf air up to help the mercury push the 100 mark!
Rogers Pass, Montana, USA – Home to the coldest temperature ever recorded in the contiguous United States
If you’re wondering where the coldest place south of the Canada border and outside of Alaska is within North America, then cast your gaze to Big Sky Country. That’s the state of Montana, where little Rogers Pass sits high up on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
There’s really not that much there to talk about. Rogers Pass itself isn’t any more than a simple bend in the roadway (the Montana 200 highway to be precise), with a small carpark that offers access to the Rogers Pass CDT Trailhead. However, that bend in the road has the dubious honor of being the coldest place in the contiguous USA, thanks to a record set way back in 1954.
Back then, meteorologists measured an ebbing mercury level as low as −70 F (-57 C). It was in the middle of a very severe cold front system pushing across the continent and went hand in hand with huge snowfall. Usually, average lows at Rogers Pass are closer to the 13-14 F mark.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada – The city with the longest snow season in Canada
Snow is a fine indicator as to just how cold things get. And if there’s one town where the locals know a thing or two about the white stuff, it’s got to be Yellowknife. This distant capital of the Northern Territories was officially noted as the place with the longest snow season and the coldest winter by Environment Canada back in 2014.
Let’s break it down…Record low temperatures in these parts don’t manage to break 35 F for any month in the year, while they can dip to under -60 F (-50 C) in the peak of wintertime. Throw in the wind chill on top and you’re looking at days of -64 F throughout January. All that fuels a hefty and regular snowfall, which comes on more than 112 days of the year and brings over 5.6 meters of powder to the city. We hope you packed the crampons!
When summer swings around, Yellowknife actually warms up pretty quick and you could be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t one of the coldest places in North America while the thermometers read a balmy 90 degrees in July. But, as everyone’s favorite Stark proclaims, winter is coming, and the first frosts are usually in place by October.
Fargo, North Dakota – Officially America’s Toughest Weather City courtesy of The Weather Channel
Most people will know of Fargo thanks to the hit 1996 Joel Coen film and the subsequent award-winning FX drama series. Thing is, this town isn’t so much about wood choppers and gangsters as it is about braving some of the gnarliest weather conditions in the USA. In fact, The Weather Channel awarded Fargo the moniker of America’s Toughest Weather City back in 2011, and it’s easy to see why…
Temperatures rarely go above freezing in the winter months. Lows can be as low as -48 F (-44 C) in January, as they decrease sharply in the months leading up to Christmas. There are around 10 days of snow in each winter month on average, but also strong blizzards and winter storms that can make even the most basic tasks a real challenge.
The harsh climatic extremes are down to Fargo’s location smack dab in the middle of the North American Great Plains. On the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, the town is some 200 miles from Lake Superior and nearly 600 miles from the Rocky Mountains, which means it’s a sitting duck for cold weather systems that come from the north.