Their colour is a big attraction to the lakes near Banff. It occurs as rivers of ice grind along the limestone mountains. Then tiny particles, called rock flour, infuse the waters and refract the brilliant colour. The Bow River, which dominates the valley and drains most of the lakes, also turns turquoise in late summer when much of its flow comes from melting glaciers. Banff’s lakes all freeze in the winter, when you can walk, ski or skate on the natural ice.
The second largest lake in the Canadian Rockies, and the closest to the town of Banff, Lake Minnewanka is easily accessible by car, bike or public transport. The huge lake was expanded with the construction of two dams, the second in 1941. It is possible to fish on Lake Minnewanka, and it is the only lake in the area where power boats can be rented.
Situated outside Banff National Park, the upper and lower Grassi Lakes sit up above the town of Canmore, near the Canmore Nordic Centre. These pristine lakes are accessed by either an easy trail or a more difficult trail, while the cliff faces around the lakes are popular with rock climbers. There are some pictographs in the area that date back at least 1,000 years.
This beautiful lake, in Yoho Park, British Columbia, is about 1½ hours from the town of Banff. It is located at the end of a road, off the Trans Canada Highway, just after the Hamlet of Field in the Kicking Horse Valley. There is an attractive lodge on one side of the lake and a permanent avalanche chute on the other. Canoes can be rented to paddle on the lake. Make sure to also visit the Natural Bridge rock formation located on the same road.
The deep colours of this lake need to be seen to be believed. An hour and a half from Banff, on Highway 93 north, Peyto Lake, named after famous mountain guide Bill Peyto, is extremely hard to visit but easy to view. Considered the most densely turquoise of all of Banff’s lakes, it is fed by the Peyto glacier, which flows from the Wapta icefield and the viewing area is accessed from Bow Summit, one of the highest passes in Canada.