Banff National Park is jaw-dropping beautiful, as are neighboring Yoho, Kootenay, and Jasper National Parks. And without a doubt, the crown jewels in this treasure-chest of natural beauty are the beautiful lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Read on to discover the best lakes in Canada in and around Banff National Park!
The four national parks: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay, combine with three provincial parks to form the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage site. When I was researching our first trip to the region, I couldn’t help drooling over the photos of the stunning alpine lakes in these parks. The color of the water and the gorgeous settings of the lakes made me want to book air tickets right away!
5 BEST LAKES IN CANADA IN AND AROUND BANFF NATIONAL PARK
If you are a nature lover or an outdoor enthusiast, you will love exploring the Canadian Rockies. Here you will find some of the most spectacular natural scenery anywhere on the planet. Snow-capped mountains, pristine glaciers, and emerald-green forests form a picture postcard backdrop for the many beautiful lakes that dot the landscape in and near Banff National Park.
The top 5 lakes I list below are easily among the best lakes in Canada, and a must on any Canadian Rockies itinerary.
Many of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies offer not just great photo ops and spectacular scenic beauty, but also a variety of activities to keep you busy. You can take boats or kayaks out on the water or hike trails in the vicinity.
Here, then, are the 5 best lakes in Canada near Banff:
Peyto Lake: Unique Shape and Surreal Color
Peyto Lake is affectionately called “the wolf” by local photographers. It is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park. I would say it’s one of the most beautiful lakes on the planet!
You’ll be amazed by the unique shape, unreal blue color, and stunning location of Peyto Lake. 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 is 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 in the province of Alberta that links Banff to Jasper. The Peyto Lake lookout is just a ten-minute hike from the parking lot, and there is an even closer accessible drop-off lot.
The first time we visited Peyto Lake, it was a somewhat cloudy morning, and the lake was a gorgeous misty powder blue. The lovely color is the result of sunlight reflecting off glacial flour, the extremely fine particles of rock that are 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.
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 is definitely deserving of a place at the top of your list of lakes to visit in and around Banff. In fact, you will almost certainly visit it more than just once. It’s that stunning.
How to get to Peyto Lake
From the hamlet of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, take the Trans-Canada Highway going west to the Icefields Parkway going north towards Jasper. The Bow Summit parking lot comes up about 25 miles into your drive along the Icefields Parkway. From the town of Banff, the Trans-Canada Highway west will bring you to the village of Lake Louise.
From the parking lot, take the signposted paved trail. You’ll walk about 0.4 mile to the viewpoint. From the accessible parking lot, the viewpoint is a very short walk.
If you continue driving along Icefields Parkway, a little over a mile up the road you will come to an unmarked turnoff that leads to the shore of the lake, but the surreal beauty of Peyto Lake is best appreciated from above.
Pro Tip: Peyto Lake, quite naturally, is a hugely popular attraction in Banff National Park, and the viewpoint can get uncomfortably crowded during the day in high season months. Get there very early in the day or late in the evening to avoid the worst of the crowds, especially the bus tours.
Lake Louise: Beautiful Scenery and Epic Hikes
Possibly the most well known and iconic lake in the Canadian Rockies, picture perfect Lake Louise is a must visit in Banff National Park.
Lake Louise is almost encircled by tall mountains, and the Victoria Glacier provides a magnificent backdrop for the gleaming turquoise blue-green water on a nice weather day. It was magical to me that the silt from melting glaciers could be transformed into such rich hues of blue and green by sunlight. On an overcast day, the lake looks mysterious, its waters dark but still stunning against the mountains.
In addition to just gaping at the beauty of the scene, you can take canoes or kayaks out on the water in season. In the winter, ice sculptures adorn the surface of the frozen lake, creating a winter wonderland. You can skate on the frozen Lake Louise in winter.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, one of Canada’s gracious old hotels, is located right by the shore. It is a fabulous place to stay if you plan a few days in Lake Louise. They serve a famous afternoon tea, so if you love tea and cakes, make time one afternoon to enjoy the experience, complete with a view of the lake!
There are a number of hiking trails of varying length and difficulty near Lake Louise. Walking and hiking are a great way to get up close to the beauty all around you, so make time for at least one walk if you can!
One of the most famous trails at Lake Louise is the hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. From the mid-way point of this trail, you get beautiful views of Lake Louise down below. The teahouse is a cute place. Most of the supplies are brought up via the hiking trail, and all the cooking is done without electricity!
HOW TO GET TO LAKE LOUISE
From the village of Lake Louise, take Lake Louise Drive to the lake. From Banff Township, take the Trans-Canada Highway (AB-1W) to the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Off the exit, take Lake Louise Drive to the lake.
Pro Tip: Use the Parks Canada shuttles during the day in high season to avoid parking hassles at Lake Louise.
Moraine Lake: Gorgeous Location and Great Hikes
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 face.
Just like the shape of Peyto Lake, the backdrop for Moraine Lake leaves you speechless. Moraine Lake is definitely one of the top five lakes in Banff National Park, and a must-visit!
Moraine Lake lies just a few miles up the road from Lake Louise, and is part of Banff National Park. 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 you get great views of the ten peaks and the water. The walk is about 1.8 miles. Or you can do the 0.5 mile out and back Rockpile Trail for beautiful views of the lake from a height.
If you visit when the larches are at their peak in the fall, do the Larch Valley hike, which starts at Moraine Lake. Larch needles turn a spectacular bright yellow in the fall before they drop, and the valley is one of the best places to see the color. This is a longer hike, about 2.7 miles each way, and will take you several hours, especially since you will want to take a million photos. The trail is also beautiful in the summer, with lots of wildflowers.
You can rent a canoe at Moraine Lake if you want to get out on the water. Or just sit in the sun on one of the boulders on the shore, relax, and take in the views!
HOW TO GET TO MORAINE LAKE
From the hamlet of Lake Louise, just off the Trans-Canada Highway, take Lake Louise Drive up the hill to the turnoff for Moraine Lake Road on the left. You will arrive at the Moraine Lake parking lot in just under 7 miles from the turnoff.
Pro Tip: Moraine Lake is predictably super crowded in the summer. The parking lots get full very early in the day, so plan or arriving before 8 a.m., or take the shuttle from Lake Louise. Make a note of the time of the last shuttle back to Lake Louise.
Pro Tip: Moraine Lake Road is closed during the winter, so plan your visit for late spring, summer, or early fall!
Emerald Lake: Jewel Color and Magnificent Setting
Emerald Lake is in neighboring Yoho National Park in British Columbia, but it is only about 24 miles from the village of Lake Louise in Alberta. It is a must-visit, even on a brief Banff itinerary!
Do a day trip to Yoho National Park, and visit the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River and Takakkaw Falls, along with Emerald Lake! Or spend a few days in the park: it’s less crowded than Banff and just as gorgeous.
On the day we visited, Emerald Lake lived up to its name. The green of the water looks unbelievable, even when you are actually looking at it in person. Simply put, glacial silt + sunlight = magic!
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.
If you enjoy walking, you can do the Emerald Lake shoreline hike, which goes all around the lake and is about 3.3 miles in length. You can also choose to do part of it, perhaps up to the bridge at the back of the lake, and then retrace your steps. It’s a gentle walk.
Emerald Lake Lodge, on the shore of the lake, is a lovely place to stay if you wish to spend a few days exploring Yoho National Park. Try Cilantro, the casual eatery on the property, for a leisurely lunch with views of the water.
HOW TO GET TO EMERALD LAKE
From the village of Lake Louise, take the Trans-Canada Highway (AB-1W) to Emerald Lake Road in Field, British Columbia, about 17 miles. On Emerald Lake Road, the lake will come up in just under six miles.
The Bridge over the Kicking Horse River is right at the turnoff onto Emerald Lake Road, and makes for a nice stop on the way to the lake or on your way back.
Maligne Lake: A Magical Island and Stunning Scenery
Okay, Maligne Lake is not close enough for a day trip from Banff townsite. But it is just so gorgeous that it would be a shame not to visit.
Maligne Lake is located in neighboring Jasper National Park, about 200 miles from the town of Banff. To visit, you’d have to overnight in Jasper townsite, but there are so many awesome things to do in and around Jasper that I highly recommend you spend a couple of days here!
The lake is about thirty miles out of Jasper, but the drive is very scenic (what drive isn’t in the Canadian Rockies!). You may see wildlife along the road. We saw elk and black bear on our drive. Stop to view the beautiful Maligne River and the disappearing Medicine Lake on your way to Maligne Lake.
Allow 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.
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 are gorgeous.
You can take canoes or kayaks out on Maligne Lake as well. The boathouse at Maligne Lake is really picturesque!
If you like hikes, the walk along the shore of the lake is both scenic and easy. There are a couple of other easy trails you can attempt around Maligne Lake. Moose Lake Loop, 1.67 miles in length, is a woodland trail dotted with moss-covered boulders that leads to Moose Lake. The Mary Schaffer Loop, about two miles long, goes past the boathouse to a series of interpretive signs about Schaffer’s explorations in the area, before looping back to the parking lot.
HOW TO GET TO MALIGNE LAKE
From Banff or Lake Louise, take the Icefields Parkway north to Jasper. From Jasper townsite, take AB-16A to Maligne Lake Road.
Pro Tip: Your best chance at spotting wildlife is early in the day or at dusk, but we went in the late morning and saw some wildlife.
MORE GORGEOUS LAKES TO VISIT IN AND AROUND BANFF!
You didn’t really believe I would stop at just five lakes, did you? Beautiful lakes are everywhere in the Canadian Rockies, and I wanted to share just a few more with you, so you can add them to your itinerary if you have the time. The lakes I have listed below are all within Banff National Park.
Just three miles from the town of Banff in Banff National Park is pretty Lake Minnewanka. It’s a long glacial lake, perfect for cruising. On the day we visited, the color of the water was not intense, because it was overcast. The scenery was still gorgeous, and we did the scenic cruise. I even got some good reflection photos from the boat.
In the summer, other than enjoying the scenic boat cruise, you can hike or bike the lakeshore, picnic by the water, fish, scuba dive, or take a canoe or kayak out on the water.
In the winter, you might see the Northern Lights at Lake Minnewanka! It is considered one of the prime viewing spots in Banff National Park. You can also snowshoe or do cross-country skiing.
Pro Tip: If you do the Minnewanka Lake scenic drive, you can visit not just Lake Minnewanka, but also Cascade Ponds, Two Jack Lake, and Johnson Lake.
Two Jack Lake
Located about seven miles from Banff townsite, Two Jack Lake is another stunning lake in Banff National Park that’s worth visiting. It is set at the foot of tall mountains, with green evergreen forests making a pretty contrast to the water. If you wake up early, head out to the lake at sunrise, it is spectacular.
In the summer, you can dip your feet into the shallows, or take a kayak out on the water. You can also just take in the views from one of the many benches on the shore, or enjoy a picnic by the water. Parking is limited so you may have to wait for a spot during the day in high season.
In the winter, the lakes ices over, and is perfect for skating. The ice is crystal clear, and you can see way down into the water.
At Two Jack Lake, you can find two of the famous red chairs that are scattered around Banff National Park. Take a few minutes to sit and relax, silently drinking in the beauty around you and giving thanks that there are such beautiful places on our planet.
Bow Lake is easily accessed off the Icefields Parkway. It is located just a few minutes south of Peyto Lake.
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.
Also worth a visit at Bow Lake is the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which has been hosting guests since it was completed in 1950.
Located just 1.5 miles from the Banff townsite, the Vermillion Lakes, a trio of finger lakes in the Bow River Valley, are worth a visit for the photo ops of Mount Rundle. The lakeshore at these lakes is generally a quiet spot to sit on a bench and relax in the sun, taking in the scenery all around you.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, especially if you visit early in the morning or at dusk. Vermillion Lakes offer prime birdwatching opportunities, so bring your binoculars or zoom lens. In the summer, you can hike or bike, or take a canoe out on the water.
Pro Tip: Rent bikes in the town of Banff and bike to the lakes for a wonderful good weather day adventure!
Lower Waterfowl Lake is located right beside the Icefields Parkway, about 38 miles north of the hamlet of Lake Louise. On a bright sunny day, it looks stunning and is worth the stop. You can park at the turnout and take in the views of Mt. Chephren towering above the water. You can also walk down to the water’s edge if you like. In late spring and summer, you will see wildflowers. In the fall, the leaf colors here are lovely.
The walk to Upper Waterfowl Lake is a little under a mile round trip, best done between late May and early September. As always in the Rockies, keep an eye out for wildlife!
TIPS FOR VISITING THE BEST LAKES IN CANADA IN AND AROUND BANFF!
Since the alpine lakes are fed by glacier melt, you should ideally visit when they are fully thawed and the water levels are decent to full. The recommended window is from June to September. In July and August, you will almost certainly be able to experience 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. Lake Louise was crowded other than in the early morning, but otherwise we did not experience high season crowds. The water level at Moraine Lake was not quite at peak, but other than that, our visits to these lakes were perfect.
Some of these lakes are accessible in the winter as well, and offer winter sports opportunities as well as the chance to see the landscape dressed in white. But access roads to some lakes, such as Moraine Lake, are closed in the winter.
Book your tickets for the Maligne Lake cruise in advance. We reserved online before we left for Canada, so that we could get the exact 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 at the island.
Get out on the water at one (or more!) of the lakes. We chose Emerald Lake and really enjoyed our experience, but many other lakes in the area also offer rental canoes and kayaks. Enjoying a couple of hours of tranquility out on the water in the midst of the jaw-dropping scenic beauty is a truly relaxing and therapeutic experience.
All of these lakes are in wilderness areas, so follow park regulations for safety. For park safety guidelines, check out the Banff National Park web site.
Carry a sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and bug spray. In the summer, mosquitoes can be a real nuisance at some of these lakes, especially if you plan to hike in forested areas. Carry bear spray if you plan to hike, and wear appropriate footwear!
So there you have it: my recommendations for the most gorgeous lakes in and around Banff National Park. In a region blessed with so many beautiful lakes, it is so difficult to pick just a few. But if you have limited time here, the 5 top lakes I have listed should definitely be on your itinerary. If you plan to spend a few days in the area, the other lakes I mention above are also definitely worth visiting.
Have you visited the Canadian Rockies? Which of the beautiful lakes around Banff did you enjoy the best? Comment below to respond! If you have not yet had a chance to visit, I would start planning a trip to visit soon, to see some of the most beautiful lakes in Canada!
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