7 Of The Best Banff Lakes That You Absolutely Cannot Miss
We might be a little biased when we say Canada is by far one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It may also be quite a large statement to say that Banff National Park is also arguably one of the most beautiful Parks in the world. But in our honest opinion, Banff is MIND BLOWING. If you’ve ever simply googled ‘Canada’ one of the first photos is actually a Banff Lake that has grown in popularity over the years. This search result also proves just how well loved Banff Lakes are by tourists and locals alike.
When you think of Banff National Park you’re probably more likely to think about the Canadian Rockies than you are the lakes. But without the spectacularly coloured blue lakes that saturate the Rockies, those photos would almost be fairly ordinary. Now that is a pretty damn bold statement, are we even allowed to say that?!?! But it’s true, because without those pristine blue lakes at the base of the towering peaks, they would still be incredible to see but they won’t have that magical, dream-like look to them. Banff Lakes truly help to bring out and emphasize just how beautiful those ridged peaks are.
Before we dive into all the Banff Lakes you absolutely cannot miss, there are a few housekeeping rules that can help you enjoy the park more and help to preserve the areas and wildlife.
Banff is Canada’s most popular National Park and receives over 4 million visitors per year from around the world. FOUR MILLION. Which means all of those Banff lakes are going to be packed full of tourists, so be prepared for crowds (depending on what time you go). With that many people entering the park, it is important that anything you bring in (garbage, food, etc) is brought back out with you and disposed of accordingly. It’s also extremely important to stay on all marked trails and not feed any of the animals. If one tourist drifts off a path or feeds an animal (even a squirrel) hundreds of others follow which damages the natural flora and ultimately ruins the sites over time.
Feeding the animals is a BIG no-no. If they become accustomed to human food they will come into towns searching for it and could potentially become a danger to humans (especially big animals, obviously a squirrel isn’t dangerous). There have been incidents of bears ripping open peoples tent trailers in the middle of the night searching for food. These animals then become a danger to humans and rangers are forced to kill them. We get it, you want to get close to the animals but your entertainment is not worth their life, so just don’t do it. Not to mention feeding wildlife in any National Park in Canada can come with a hefty $25,000 fine. Sounds like a much more expensive holiday than you expected.
Now that you know a little more about how to respect the park and ensure your visit to the Banff lakes doesn’t come with any hidden surprises, let’s get to the good stuff! All of the Banff lakes on our list are easily accessible and 100% worth it! They offer outstanding mountain views, potentially perfect and pristine reflections, mind-blowing blue hues, and if you’re lucky a few animals along the way! If you’re looking for additional things to do in Banff we recommend checking out our winter and summer itineraries!
1) Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is one of the more popular Banff lakes with the locals, it’s a quick drive from the townsite, offers great picnic areas, has tons of hiking trails, and is a great spot for an afternoon canoe ride. If you don’t own a canoe, don’t worry – there is a picturesque floating rental cabin that’s got you covered. Rental prices for canoes can be in the $50 an hour price range and up. In the winter the entire lake freezes over (always be aware of ice conditions and safety risks) and turns into a winter wonderful ideal for snowshoeing! So don’t forget a snack, your hiking boots (or snowshoes) and a camera when visiting the first lake on our Banff lakes list!
2) Vermillion Lakes
When travelling around Banff National Park soaking in all (pun intended) the Banff lakes you cannot miss, you’re going to be snapping more pictures than you probably ever thought possible. Vermillion Lake is at the top of the list for photographers and tourists looking to get that perfect picture. Sunrise and sunset are by far the most popular times at the lake because of the epic colours that dance atop the peak of Mount Rundle. But don’t panic if you can’t make it at those times your photos will still be incredible!
A small dirt road just outside of the Banff townsite will get you to this iconic photography location. If you’re lucky you’ll get a perfect reflection of Mount Rundle in the water. Maybe pack a picnic and watch as the colours in the sky change and transform the landscape. If you visit in the winter bring a pair of skates and enjoy some leisure time out on the ice. In the spring bring a canoe to paddle through and explore the lake!
3) Peyto Lake
This glacier-fed lake is one of our favourite Banff lakes and is one of the most popular sites in Banff National Park. We can guarantee you’ve probably seen a photo or two of it before. The lakes unique blue colour is due to the rock flour that flows into it during the summer months (like many lakes in the Rockies). If you plan on visiting this wolf-shaped lake you can easily access it via the Icefields Parkway. Yes, we said wolf-shaped. Take a look at the photo below and you’ll see exactly what we mean!
The Icefields Parkway is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Have your camera ready and maybe set up your GoPro (one of our favourite cameras to use, we have a GoPro Hero 5) on the hood or your car or your dashboard to get some epic time-lapses! From there you turn off towards the Peyto Lake parking lot and it’s just a short 30-minute hike to the viewpoint. The path is paved but it is basically all uphill so be prepared for more than just a casual walk. Get those hiking boots back out!
4) Lake Louise
Lake Louise is probably one of the more commonly known places in Banff National Park and arguably one of the most popular Banff Lakes. The colour of the lake is world-famous. There are a ton of hiking trails around the area and plenty of activities all year round. There is certainly no shortage of adventure when visiting Lake Louise!
If you visit during the summer bring or rent a canoe and see all angles of the lake. WARNING: the canoe’s at Lake Louise can be almost $95 an hour to rent! Or maybe grab those hiking boots again and take a short hike to Lake Agnes and visit the Lake Agnes tea house for some epic views of the Valley of Ten Peaks.
Visiting in the winter? Bring a pair of skates or cross-country skis and take advantage of the frozen waters. You can also visit during the ice festival and see some of the best ice sculptors in the world compete.
5) Moraine Lake
Google Banff National Park and we’d say a good 90% of the photos are from Moraine Lake. It IS the most popular Banff Lake by far, which is why it rounds off our list taking our last spot.
The reason it’s so popular? It’s seriously mind-blowing. There is no doubt that this Banff Lake is a visual definition of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks at the base of the peaks the illustriously blue Moraine Lake and can barely be explained in words, merely pictures. It’s a short drive from Lake Louise and is very well signed.
Again be warned this is a HUGE tourist hotspot (like most Banff Lakes) so if you want photos or anything without people in them try to go early in the morning or later in the evening.
If you visit in the fall hike up Larch Valley and see the needles of the Larch trees change to orange with the autumn leaves. The hike is a lot of switchbacks and has a high elevation gain so get ready for a decent workout. But seeing the Larch Trees in the fall in all their orange glory is an incredible thing to experience.
Keep an eye out for signs though due to grizzly bears in the area. Grizzly bears are very common in the Lake Louise area and they feed in the fall to prepare for hibernation. If you see the signs you will be required to hike the area with four or more people for your own safety. You can check online too for trail updates. If you don’t hike with four people you can be given a hefty fine, so find some hiking buddies!
Note: The road to reach the lake is closed in the winter as it becomes too dangerous. But if you’re feeling super adventurous you can walk or cross country ski the 14km road. If you do it’s best to check snow conditions and avalanche warnings. BE PREPARED. The mountains are not a forgiving place, if you don’t know basic survival and aren’t avalanche savvy, then don’t attempt this. Weather systems change in an instant in Banff National Park and it’s extremely important you are knowledgeable and prepared.
6) Lake Agnes
Lake Agnes is one of those Banff Lakes that most hikers will know about, it is even one of the hikes we recommend or beginners who are visiting Banff. It’s a short stroll that begins at Lake Louise and has some of the best views. There is even a log cabin tea house at the top so if you want a snack or a drink make sure you bring some cash! The entire trail becomes a loop and we highly recommend doing the loop because the views on either side are so different from one another that it gives you a very unique and rewarding view from all angles.
7) Bow Lake
Bow Lake is appears to be one of the smaller Banff Lakes but in fact is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park. It is fed by meltwater from the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Icefield and is located at the base of Bow Summit. One a calm day you can even get an insane reflection of the mountain in the still blue water.
Just like Peyto, Bow Lake is located along the Icefields Parkway on the way to Jasper. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Lake Louise and is a great place to canoe or kayak in the late afternoon.
If you’re looking to snap a great photo of the lake there are a few places you can do so. There are a few parking lots along the Parkway that you can pull over in to enjoy a little time beside the lake, otherwise, you’ll want to head to the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. This old lodge has a small wooden bridge just outside of its doors which acts as a great prop for some pretty incredible photos.
The Num-Ti-Jah Lodge parking lot does tend to get a lot more full than some of the others, but don’t worry views from the parking lots along the highway are just as incredible as the view from the Lodge.
If you are planning a vacation to Banff National Park then you absolutely should (and in our opinion have to) visit these five must-see Banff Lakes. Most of these sites are already world famous and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists per year, but it’s clear to see exactly why. They deserve to be in the spotlight and make any trip to the Canadian Rockies all that more memorable and special. We are lucky to call this place in the Rocky Mountains our backyard and are fortunate that these Banff Lakes are in most cases no more than 2 hours from our front door. If and when you plan your trip to Banff make sure you include some (if not all) of these locations into your itinerary. Only staying in Banff for a few days and aren’t sure what to do, see or eat? Check out our 72 hours in Banff in Winter itinerary here and our summer one here. And, as always if you have any questions let us know in the comments!