Jewels of the Canadian Rockies: Five Must-Visit Lakes

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Without question, the Canadian Rockies are home to some of the most spectacular natural scenery anywhere on the planet. Snow-capped mountains, pristine glaciers, emerald-green forests, and roaring waterfalls make this region a delight for any nature-lover. But even in this treasure chest of natural scenic wonders, the crown jewels are undoubtedly the lakes of the Canadian Rockies. The region is blessed with numerous gorgeous lakes, but here are the five I consider absolute must-visits, my favorites from our trip to the Canadian Rockies:

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is affectionately called “the wolf” by local photographers. Its unique shape, unreal blue color, and stunning location are without compare. Despite having seen numerous photos of it online before our trip and despite being prepared to be overawed, I was taken aback when I first set eyes on it for real.

It was just SO picture-perfect!

Nestled in the shadow of mighty mountains, Peyto Lake can be viewed from a lookout that is just off the Icefields Parkway, the ridiculously scenic road that links Banff to Jasper. The lookout is just a ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and there is an even closer accessible drop-off lot.

The first time we visited Peyto Lake, it was an overcast morning, and the lake was a gorgeous powder blue. This lovely color is the result of sunlight reflecting off glacial flour, extremely fine particles of rock that remain suspended in the water.

We had a ten-minute window that morning when we were the only people at the lookout. Probably my most favorite ten minutes of that entire trip. We stood in silence, just drinking in the beauty of the scene that lay before us.

Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies

A couple of days later, we woke up to a brilliant sunny day, and we couldn’t help making an unscheduled stop at Peyto Lake just to see what it looked like in the sun. A different, brighter blue, and equally stunning!

Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Bow Lake

Bow Lake is also easily accessed off the Icefields Parkway. It is located just a few minutes south of Peyto Lake. One of the reasons I really enjoyed Bow Lake is that we were able to walk along part of the shore. This was also where we saw the first wildlife of our trip: a mamma black bear with two cubs!

Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Like Peyto Lake, Bow Lake is also situated at the base of craggy mountains, and offers stunning reflections when conditions are right. For the best shot at seeing beautiful reflections, pick a day with a forecast that calls for bright sun and no wind, and go early in the morning when the lake is more likely to be really calm. I didn’t have this information when we visited, but we just happened to be passing by the lake one morning when we saw gorgeous reflections and stopped. The surface of the lake was like glass.

Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Reflections at Bow Lake in Alberta

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake’s location has got to be one of the most dramatic in the world. The ten peaks that give the Valley of the Ten Peaks its name form the backdrop for this beautiful lake. The snow melts in a typical pattern and creates what looks like the face of a feline in the rock. Just like the shape of Peyto Lake, the backdrop for Moraine Lake leaves you speechless at the unique wonders created by Nature.

Moraine Lake lies a few miles up the road from the more popular Lake Louise, and is part of the Banff National Park. Lake Louise is stunning as well, but I much preferred Moraine Lake, because Moraine Lake is much smaller, and seemed like a much more secluded and intimate experience because of those incredible mountains.

Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies

The drive going up from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake is very scenic, with wonderful views of the ten peaks. Grizzlies are often seen in this area, so be careful if you get out of your vehicle to take photos!

Moraine Lake offers trails for hikers, some more strenuous than others. The walk along its shoreline is easy and offers great views of the ten peaks and water. You can also rent a canoe at Moraine Lake. Or do what we did: sit in the sun on one of the boulders on the shore and take in the views!

Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is in British Columbia, and about twenty-four miles from the village of Lake Louise in Alberta. We did a day trip to sights in British Columbia, including the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River, Mt. Robson Visitor Center, Moose Lake and Emerald Lake. On the afternoon we visited, Emerald Lake lived up its name! We took a canoe out on the lake and spent a couple of hours taking in the beautiful views from the water. Like the other lakes in the Rockies, Emerald Lake is fringed with tall mountains, and dark green evergreen forests add yet another layer of natural beauty.

Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies

Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake is located in Jasper National Park. It is about thirty miles out of Jasper, but the drive is very scenic (what drive isn’t in the Canadian Rockies!) and you are likely to see wildlife along the road, as well as the beautiful Maligne River and the disappearing Medicine Lake. We saw elk and black bear on our drive. It’s good to reserve at least a few hours for Maligne Lake, not only because of the drive from and back to Jasper, but also because you’ll want to do the cruise to Spirit Island. Spirit Island is a little patch of land at one end of the lake, with a few evergreens positioned strategically on the patch of land to create the perfect picture postcard. It’s one of the most photographed places in Canada, and you’ve probably seen pictures of it on Instagram.

The light was not perfect for photos when we did our cruise, but, nevertheless, it was wonderful to see the little island in person. Unfortunately, the cruise is not designed to allow for too much time to explore, and the island can only be reached by boat, so we didn’t stray too far.

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake

Cruise Boat on Maligne Lake in the Canadian Rockies

The lake itself is stunning, with the blue-green water characteristic of alpine lakes. The views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers from the cruise boat windows were gorgeous.

Maligne Lake in the Canadian Rockies

You can take canoes or kayaks out on Maligne Lake as well. The boathouse at Maligne Lake is really picturesque! There are also trails for hiking.

Boathouse at Maligne Lake

Boathouse at Maligne Lake

If you go:

Since these lakes are fed by glacier melt, it’s best to visit when they are fully thawed and the water levels are decent. The recommended window is from June to September. In July and August, you are very likely to see the famous color and full water levels, but you’ll also contend with crowds since it’s peak season in the Rockies. We visited in late June, and the lakes were fully thawed, with no crowds at any of these five lakes. The water level at Moraine Lake was not quite at peak, but other than that, our visits to these lakes were perfect.

We reserved our seats on the Maligne Lake cruise online before we left for Canada, so that we could get the day we wanted, since our time in Jasper was limited. Cruises are only offered in the summer, from July through September.

If you are keen on getting great photos of Spirit Island, opt for a late afternoon cruise, when the light is reportedly best, or pick a photography cruise, which will get you there when the light is right and there are fewer people trying to capture photos of the island.

I recommend getting out on the water at one (or more!) of the lakes. We chose Emerald Lake and really enjoyed our experience, but Moraine Lake and Maligne Lake also offer canoes and kayaks.

More information on the Icefields Parkway:

So there you have it!

In a region blessed with so many gorgeous lakes, it was so difficult to pick my top five. But if you have limited time in the region, these five lakes should definitely top your itinerary. You will not be disappointed!

What is your favorite lake? Comment below to offer recommendations!

8 comments on “Jewels of the Canadian Rockies: Five Must-Visit Lakes

  1. Your pictures of the stunning lakes have me swooning – and now I know why Peyto Lake looks so powder blue and blue like nothing else I’ve seen! I’ve skied in the Canadian Rockies but I have to say, I now like hiking and sightseeing in the warm months much more . Great tips on what and how to visit!

    • Thanks, Sarah! Definitely worth adding to your list of destinations to visit! The lakes are just gorgeous, as is the surrounding landscape.

  2. It looks like there are definitely many more lakes up there that we have yet to discover! We only visited Peyto Lake and Moraine. Definitely wish we had been able to see Emerald Lake since that water is stunning. Your photos are delightful and made me miss being surrounded but such impressive landscape. We will just have to make our way back up there one of these days 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Bel! It really is a beautiful part of the world. Emerald Lake is quite stunning, as is Maligne Lake. I would love to return as well!

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