The Best Lakes To Visit in and Around Banff

Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park
Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park | © James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Patrick Twomey
2 July 2020

There are some stunning lakes worth visiting in the Canadian Rockies – because they’re fed by glaciers they’re often a distinctive turquoise. They’re generally easy to visit, whether it’s for canoeing in summer or ice skating the winter. Here are the recommendations of one Culture Trip local insider.

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.

Lake Louise

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Lake Louise, known as the Jewel of the Canadian Rockies, has been famous for more than 100 years. This lake is fed by the Victoria Glacier and named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, but the original Stoney Nakoda name was Lake of the Little Fish. It is easy to walk to the back of the lake along a gentle path. The crowds around the lake can be a little overwhelming, but the beauty of the place is undeniable. There are several hotels near the lake, including the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. During winter, the Chateau hosts an ice-carving competition and the works of art last as long as the cold.

Lake Minnewanka

Natural Feature
Map View

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.

Grassi Lakes

Natural Feature
Map View

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.

Emerald Lake

Natural Feature
Map View

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.

Moraine Lake

Park
Map View
Moraine Lake is located off the main Lake Louise road. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful lake in the park. Unfortunately Moraine Lake’s popularity has caused such traffic issues that Parks Canada has had to implement a shuttle system. Hiking in the area around Moraine is particularly spectacular in September, when the larch trees erupt in gold. As soon as snow begins to fall, however, the road is closed and it becomes a popular cross-country ski area.

Peyto Lake

Natural Feature
Map View

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.

These recommendations were updated on July 2, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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