With approximately 485 lakes in Banff, it’s hard to choose which to visit. Banff is home to some of the most impressive landscapes in the world, and the lakes are just some of them. You may have seen images of the famous lakes in Banff National Park through social media, but did you know they are even more jaw-dropping in real life? Photographs do not do these lakes justice!
The iconic Lake Louse might already be on your Banff trip itinerary but there are plenty of other beautiful lakes within this National Park. Read on to discover the best lakes in Banff!
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Best Tours Of Banff’s Famous Lakes:
Lakes in Banff Near Lake Louise
Lake Louise is by far the most popular and busiest lake in Banff, it’s probably one of the main reasons may visitors flock to this area. That’s why it gets the first spot on this list.
While it may be the busiest lake in Banff National Park, and has been photographed many times, it is very much worth a visit. Everyone needs to see this lake at least once in their lifetime. Seeing it in person really is a magical experience.
Lake Louise looks completely different at different times of the day. My personal favourite is sunrise. I have been to Lake Louise at differing times of the day and nothing compares to first thing in the morning.
There are many perks to the early 4am wake up call. The lake is generally at its calmest first thing in the morning, but the sun also rises in the perfect direction to light up the Victoria Glacier in a fiery red colour. You’ll also find next to no people here at this time – which is definitely a win in my book.
Come 10am and onwards the lakeshore becomes incredibly busy. The great thing about the Lake Louise shoreline is that there is plenty of room for everyone. So while it may look crazy busy, if you walk around the right hand side of the lake you’re more likely to find a great photo spot with no one in it.
Besides Lake Louise, the other lake that Banff is famous for is Moraine Lake. This famous lake once graced the back of the Canadian $20 bill.
The out-of-this-world beauty of Moraine Lake attracts photographers and visitors from all over the globe wanting to get a glimpse of this “twenty dollar view”.
Moraine Lake sits at the base of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and can be found in the Lake Louise area of Banff National Park. The best views of Moraine Lake can be found on what is referred to as “The Rock Pile” which is a short walk up what is literally a pile of rocks.
The waters of Moraine Lake shine a deeper and brighter blue than that of Lake Louise and as such it can just as, if not more, busy than Lake Louise. While the parking at Lake Louise can accommodate quite a few cars, the parking lot at Moraine Lake is substantially smaller.
The parking lot generally fills up by 9am, sometimes earlier, and Parks Canada will close the road entirely until there are spaces free. Therefore coming to Moraine Lake early in the day is the way to go. It’s also important to remember that while Lake Louise can be visited year-round, the round to Moraine Lake is seasonal and opens from mid-June to mid-October.
You’ll find tiny Mirror Lake on the hike to Lake Agnes Tea House. This small lake is a stunning deep green colour and a great spot to take a break when hiking in the Lake Louise area.
Sitting above the shores of Mirror Lake is the Big Beehive, one of the many great hikes in Banff National Park. Since Mirror Lake sits in an open area surrounded by trees it’s usually sheltered from the wind making the reflections here awesome.
If you are heading out onto any hiking trail in the Lake Louise area, such as the Devil’s Thumb, Big Beehive or Little Beehive, then you’ll most likely pass by Lake Agnes.
Lake Agnes is a beautiful glacial fed lake tucked away in the mountain. To reach this lake you’ll need to do some hiking. The trail is 7.4km round trip with an elevation of 435 metres and is suitable for the average visitor.
Making the hike to this stunning lake is more than worth it, but you’ll also find the beautifully rustic Lake Agnes Tea House which sits on the shores of Lake Agnes.
The Lake Agnes Tea House has been a part of Banff history since 1901 and is a great place to stop for lunch. The menu offers over 100 loose-leaf teas and a variety of sandwiches and sweet treats.
If you are looking for easy hikes in the Moraine Lake area, Consolation Lakes is a great option. Many visitors come to Moraine Lake to walk up the rock pile but forget that there are beautiful views to be had past this.
The hike to Consolation Lakes is 7.6km round trip and an elevation of 329 metres. Proper hiking gear is always recommended but this trail is suitable for beginner hikers.
If you want to escape the crowds at Moraine Lake consider the hike to Consolation Lakes. On a beautiful clear day the mountains are reflected so beautifully.
Best Lakes Close To Banff Town
Vermilion Lakes are a series of 3 lakes that sit next to each other in dense marshland that is popular with local wildlife. It’s possible to see moose, elk, deer & bears in this area.
Although Vermilion Lakes do not have the same striking blue colour as that of Moraine Lake, it is still a wonderful area to explore and one of the best photography spots in Banff. On a calm evening, the sunsets here are phenomenal with Mount Rundle depicted beautifully in the reflections of the water.
The drive along Vermilion Lakes Road is great for those seeking wildlife opportunities in Banff or those wanting to capture the perfect shot. I have spotted wildlife here every time I’ve ventured this way.
This area is generally far quieter than other areas of Banff and can be accessed on foot if not renting a car. My favourite place to take photos along this road is the dock at the first lake.
Johnston Canyon Ink Pots
The Ink Pots are a series of brightly coloured ponds just past Johnston Canyon. While not technically lakes, they are still “bodies of water” that are pretty stunning to look at.
This series of ponds differ in colour hence the name “ink pots”. To reach the Ink Pots you’ll need to hike through Johnston Canyon past the Lower and Upper Falls.
The hike to the Ink Pots is 11.7km round trip with an elevation of 608 metres. This is considered an easy to moderate hike suitable for most visitors. Heading out earlier in the day is recommended for this hike as Johnston Canyon is one of the top attractions in Banff and can get extremely busy.
At 21km long, Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park. In 1941 a dam was built at Lake Minnewanka to help supply the city of Calgary with Hydro-electric. As a result the dam raised the water level of Lake Minnewanka by 30 metres, completely submerging the resort town of Minnewanka Landing, which still sits beneath the lakes surface. As such this lake is popular with scuba divers looking to get a glimpse of the old town.
The name “Minnewanka” is a local First Nations Nakoda word and means “Water of the Spirits”. The area surrounding Lake Minnewanka is rich in wildlife and history. Many stone tools and a Clovis point spearhead have been discovered here.
There are many ways to experience Lake Minnewanka. It is one of the lakes in Banff that allow for motorized boats. Visitors are welcome to bring their own watercraft and can use the public boat launch. Boats can also be rented at Lake Minnewanka.
If the idea of taking out your own boat isn’t for you, a Lake Minnewanka Cruise is a great alternative. Cruises leave throughout the day with the first tour of the day at 9am. It’s recommended to book your cruise ahead of time.
Besides heading out on the water, there are many trails to be explored in the area, or a leisurely stroll along the shores to dip your toes in.
Two Jack Lake
Two Jack Lake is a very underrated lake in Banff in my opinion. Many people venture to Lake Minnewanka to take the cruise but they tend not to explore any further. The Minnewanka Loop is a beautiful drive worth doing during your trip to Banff.
This lake is beautiful at sunset when the lake calms down and reflects the peaks of Mount Rundle Perfectly. There is a small beach here that’s great for cooling down on a hot day, and a small peninsula that pokes out from the shores of Two Jack Lake that’s great for picnics.
The great thing about Two Jack Lake is that you can park directly on the shore, making this lake a good option for those with paddle boards, canoes or kayaks.
Johnson Lake is one of the lesser known and lesser-visited lakes in Banff. This is another lake located in the Lake Minnewanka area so can be added onto your drive from Minnewanka and Two Jack Lakes.
If you are wanting to escape some of the crowds at busy Lake Louise, Johnson Lake is a great option. Johnson Lake is one of the warmer lakes in Banff National Park which makes it great for swimming or paddle boarding.
This is a great area to bring a picnic and spend the day relaxing and sunbathing.
Best Lakes In Canmore
Located in Canmore, Quarry Lake is a popular spot for both locals and visitors. Although not bright blue in colour like some other lakes in Banff, Quarry Lake is just as beautiful. Flanked by the Rundle Range, the lake is beautiful at sunset when the water is calm and reflects the mountain peaks.
The temperature of Quarry Lake is much warmer than Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, making it the perfect spot for swimming and paddle boarding on a hot day.
Grassi Lakes is one of the best hikes in Canmore which leads to a series of beautiful emerald coloured lakes. At 3.4km long and an elevation of 178 metres, this hiking trail is suitable for most visitors. There are many fantastic views on this trail, from mirror-like lakes to panoramic views of the town of Canmore.
Since the Grassi Lakes trail is suitable for most hikers this area can get very busy on weekends. Visiting early in the day is the best way to see this spectacular lakes.
There are many other hikes to do in this area of Canmore, including Ha Ling Peak and the East End of Rundle (EEOR).
If you are planning to hike in Canmore you’ll probably pass by Whitemans Pond. This small lake sits near the trailheads to Grassi Lakes, Ha Ling Peak and East End of Rundle.
This beautiful lake is a deep blue colour which shines a green emerald colour in the sunshine. While this lake isn’t popular or great for canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding, it is a beautiful location for a photo spot when heading out on a hiking trail.
If you are planning a hike up EEOR (East end of Rundle) you’ll be able to see fantastic views of this beautiful pong from above.
Best Lakes In Banff Along The Icefields Parkway
Herbert & Hector Lakes
Herbert & Hector Lakes are some of the lesser visited lakes in Banff and on the Icefields Parkway which makes them quieter and a great place to stop.
Herbert Lake is situated immediately to your right as you turn onto the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise/Banff. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. The turn off is very inconspicuous. Herbert Lake is great for photographers as it reflects the mountains on a clear day perfectly and is easily accessible.
Hector Lake is far bigger than Herbert and can be seen as you drive past on the Icefields Parkway. However unlike Herbert Lake it does require a short hike at 2.3km to reach the shore. If you have time then this stop is a good option.
Bow Lake is by far one of my favourite lakes in Banff. If you are heading to Jasper you should make this one of your first stops along the Icefields Parkway. The Bow Glacier sits above Bow Lake and its meltwater feeds into the lake which then flows into the Bow River.
I would recommend getting here as early as you can. Like many of the lakes in Banff, Bow Lake is most calm earlier in the day and the lighting is fantastic for photographs. I arrived here at around 9am and there were almost no people here. The morning light hit the mountain peaks so softly and whole area just felt so serene.
While you are visiting Bow Lake, you can stop by the historic Num Ti Jah Lodge and check out the gift shop. This lodge was built by Jimmy Simpson who was a trapper and outfitter. He fell in love with the area surrounding Bow Lake and vowed to return to return to build a lodge on its shores.
One of the must-see stops along the Icefields Parkway is the strikingly blue Peyto Lake. Peyto Lake is located at this highest point on the Icefields Parkway known as Bow Summit.
The meltwater from Peyto Glacier feeds into the Peyto River which in turn flows into Peyto Lake, giving it its turquoise hue. The Peyto Glacier has receded over the years and is now just a small “tongue” of the larger Wapta Icefield.
The walk to the lookout point isn’t hard but it is uphill, if visiting in the winter microspikes are recommended. The new lookout platform opened in 2021 and is a much needed upgrade. It’s worth walking the few extra minutes to the second lookout to escape some of the crowds.
Waterfowl Lakes sit at the bottom of Mount Chephren and is another stop that you will find on the drive from Banff to Jasper. These beautiful glacial fed lakes are visible from the highway and you can still enjoy the partial view when driving the Icefields Parkway but making the stop to take in their beauty is more than worth it.
There is the Upper Waterfowl Lake and Lower Waterfowl Lake. The Upper Waterfowl Lake is accessible via a short hike which is a total of 1.4km and about 34 metres in elevation. The lookout point of the Lower Waterfowl Lake can be accessed by car from the Icefields Parkway. It’s much more accessible since there is no walking or hiking involved.
The Waterfowl Lakes are some of the lesser visited lakes in Banff and all the more reason to visit. On an early morning (or even midday) it’s possible to have this entire place to yourself. If you are seeking a peaceful less crowded experience in Banff – this is it!
Best Lakes Near Banff National Park
Abraham Lake – Nordegg
Located a long the David Thompson Highway, Abraham Lake is popular attraction during the winter months in Alberta. This man made lake is famous for the mesmerizing collection of methane bubbles that form as the lake freezes over.
This is a very popular photography spot in winter and many visitors come to ice skate the lake too. While this location doesn’t actually sit within the boundaries of Banff National Park it is still a popular spot for people visiting the park. You can get to this spot via the Icefields Parkway.
Emerald Lake is the only lake on this list that isn’t actually in Banff National Park. Emerald Lake lies just over the border in British Columbia and is in YoHo National Park. With this lake being within such close proximity to Banff and Lake Louise many visitors add this to their Banff itinerary.
Just like the other lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Emerald Lake is glacier fed and boasts the same turquoise blue hues of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
While Emerald Lake does attract a lot of visitors in the summer months, you’ll find it to be substantially quieter than Lake Louise. You can also canoe here for a fraction of the price. At $90 an hour it’s still pricey for still $45 cheaper than Lake Louise.
If you really want to experience Emerald Lake in all its glory, spending a night at the beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge is the best way to do so. This rustic lodge and cabins allows you to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.
Why are the lakes in Banff so blue?
Glaciers! Well, that’s the short answer. The longer and more impressive answer is because over time glaciers move at a very slow rate causing friction between the hardened ice and the rock beneath it. This creates rock flour which trickles down the mountain and flows into the lakes. These particles are suspended in the water, and as the sun shines on the lake it absorbs every colour except blue which is refracted back.
The more rock flour a lake has the chalkier the lake appears. You’ll notice that the colour and appearance of Lake Louise changes over the summer months.
Tips To Know About Lakes in Banff Before You Go
- Many of the lakes in Banff are glacial fed, this means they are COLD! Yes you can swim in Moraine Lake and Lake Louise – if you are brave enough.
- As of 2021 if you bring your own canoe, kayak or paddle board to any lake you will need to fill in a self certification permit. This new rule has been put in place to protect the lakes from invasive species.
- The lakes in Banff get more and more popular every year. They have been preserved for centuries so remember to pack out what you pack in to keep them this way.
Explore More of Banff National Park
Want to explore more of Banff? Check out these other detailed travel guides!
Banff National Park Travel Guides:
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