Beauty can be found in pretty much any situation. Whether you are expecting it or literally stumbling across it, nature has a way of creating spectacular landscapes that are waiting for us to discover. We all make plans and itineraries to try and experience the infamous natural attractions in a destination but what about those hidden gems that you find when you are least expecting it? This is exactly what happened during our visit to the Canadian Rockies and we enjoyed the amazing Lake Minnewanka scenic drive.
Ok, so Lake Minnewanka may not exactly be a “hidden gem” given that it’s easily accessible from the towns of Banff or Canmore but if you are focused on visiting the likes of Lake Louise or some of the other iconic attraction in Banff National Park, it’s feasible that the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive may slip away from your attention. Please don’t let this happen because after reading this post, I am convinced that Lake Minnewanka will be firmly at the top of your radar when you next visit Banff.
Renowned as a “wonderful scenic drive in the heart of the Canadian Rockies in the eastern area of Banff” by Dangerous Roads (this is a great website for finding some of the world’s most spectacular drives), Lake Minnewanka is obviously the heart and soul of this drive but don’t let this fool you because there are plenty of other attractions waiting to be discovered as you take the short drive just outside of Banff town center.
Where to Stay in Banff
If you are staying in Banff National Park or just outside, you will be conveniently located to the start of the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive. Just a short drive from the heart of the town center, this is a great spot to visit early in the morning or even late at night to watch the gorgeous sunset.
Here are a couple of our favorite hotel recommendations in the area based on our experiences and some of our friends that have stayed in the area.
- Delta Hotels by Marriott Banff Royal Canadian Lodge – If you are looking for a stereotypical experience in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, check out the Royal Canadian Lodge. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
- Moose Hotel And Suites – Don’t you just love the name of this hotel? It’s the epitome of any visit to Canada, in particular Banff National Park! Check out the latest prices and availability here.
- Fairmont Banff Springs – The iconic hotel brand across many Canadian provinces, Fairmont has yet again constructed a gorgeous hotel in the heart of Banff. For the luxury travelers out there, this is the perfect spot to stay! Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive
At only 24km in length, the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive is relatively short and if you were planning on just driving this loop, you could feasibly do this in 20-25 minutes. However, I am about 99.99% certain that you will need a little more time to experience this drive because there are ample opportunities to get out and explore the surrounding beauty.
Whether you are an avid hiker or want to kayak around Lake Minnewanka, there are plenty of reasons to spend a full day exploring this part of Banff National Park. We will go into a little more detail on each of the attractions we visited but one of the intriguing aspects of taking this scenic drive is you never quite know what wildlife encounters you will face. We actually experienced this drive twice just so that we could try to find more wildlife and each time we stumbled across something different.
Bighorn sheep are frequent visitors to Lake Minnewanka and the road that loops around it. Be sure to take the drive slowly because you never know if a group of bighorn sheep will be waiting for you around the next corner.
If they are, don’t worry, they will likely take their time to get out of the way and they won’t worry that your vehicle is heading straight for them.
I also like to remind folks when you face encounters like this, you are heading into their natural habitat so PLEASE respect them and don’t do anything that may scare them!
As you approach the start of the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive, you will immediately have the opportunity to explore Cascade Ponds. This is a perfect spot to capture gorgeous pictures with the pond serving as a natural mirror and creating awesome reflections of the mountains in the background.
Cascade Ponds is a popular spot for visitors to enjoy a picnic or take a stroll around the lake. A bridge offers easy access to cross over the lake while also offering a focal point for avid photographers looking to capture the perfect shot.
A breathtaking view of the towering Mount Rundle is also available and be sure to try and spot the many waterfalls that are cascading over the edge of the mountains.
A short drive from Cascade Ponds will give you the opportunity to start the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive from one of two points. Whether you choose to start at Johnson Lake or opt to start out at Lake Minnewanka, your journey through this spectacular landscape is about to start.
Lake Minnewanka is a 21km long glacial lake that is ideal for swimming, fishing, and canoeing along with a myriad of hiking and bike trails to accommodate visitors that prefer to stay on dry land. If you have read many of our recent blog posts on the Canadian Rockies, you will know that I love using the phrase “epitome of beauty”…well, I think we have another perfect example that fits into this category.
It’s no surprise that Lake Minnewanka is one of the popular spots in the middle of summer for visitors and locals alike. Scenic boat cruises are available around the lake to Devil’s Gap, while this lake is the only one throughout Banff National Park that allows limited power boat use. Personally, I think a kayak or scenic cruise is much more appropriate but to each their own!
There are numerous spots where you can park your vehicle and then wander around the shoreline admiring the incredible scenery. Enjoy the serenity and peacefulness of this location as time passes you by without a care in the world.
It’s one of those iconic locations that is perfect to just grab your favorite book and sit in a typical Canadian Adirondack chair. The only problem, your eyes will all too frequently be drifting away from your book and marveling over the natural beauty in front of you…Nice problem to have though right?
Two Jack Lake
If you think Lake Minnewanka offers spectacular scenery, wait until you arrive at Two Jack Lake. Our friends, Brian and Amanda from Eat Work Travel, told us about this spot having visited it just the week prior to us heading to Banff National Park. We can’t thank them enough because I have to admit that Two Jack Lake is possibly at the very top of our list in terms of breathtaking locations.
The perfect destination to enjoy a picnic or simply take a stroll along the banks of the lake, Two Jack Lake is everything you could wish for in terms of offering scenery we associate with the very best of the Canadian Rockies. Walking along the shore of Two Jack Lake leaves you with a close-up and personal encounter with the pristine water and the picture-perfect mountain range providing the ideal backdrop.
Prefer to just sit and relax while admiring the awe-inspiring scenery? Idyllic red Adirondack chairs are available and situated perfectly to help you capture those pictures that will help cherish the memories you create at Two Jack Lake. It’s just one of those locations where you can’t help but fall in love with.
We recently shared this image on our Instagram page and we were delighted to see that the BBC Travel Instagram page shared this as their chosen picture to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary!
It’s fair to say we were pretty honored and definitely supports our recommendation that Two Jack Lake is one of the BEST attractions you cannot afford to miss when exploring this part of Canada.
The final stop on the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive (or first stop if you choose to take the ‘opposite’ route) is Johnson Lake. Unfortunately, the road accessing this landmark was closed and we opted to continue our journey rather than hiking over to the lake.
However, we are delighted to collaborate with a couple of our friends that have recently experienced Johnson Lake to show this gorgeous part of the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive. Thanks so Raymond Walsh from Man on The Lam and Lotte Eschbach from Phenomenal Globe for sharing these awesome images with us!
In hindsight, if we had a little more time we would have explored this lake because, from all the pictures we have seen, it is yet another spectacular landmark worth experiencing.
For the avid hikers out there, Johnson Lake is a 1.9-mile loop trail that is suitable for all skill levels offering a myriad of overlooks and scenic viewpoints that will likely make this trek a little further than you first imagined given that you will be stopping to take pictures.
If you prefer to simply relax by the lake as we did at Two Jack Lake, there is a sandy beach area that offers a perfect spot to enjoy the lake along with picnic tables and washrooms.
Are you inspired to experience the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive? Just writing this post makes me miss this part of Banff National Park even more and we both agree that this has jumped to near the very top of our list of favorite places around the world. The beauty is unquestionable and the experiences to be had here are unlimited.
Favorite spot on this drive? There may be a hint of bias but Two Jack Lake certainly has our hearts now and this is definitely a spot we will return to in the future. Throughout the drive, there are numerous overlooks that you will quickly fall in love with and when you hear that it’s a hikers paradise, well it’s a perfect destination for everyone visiting the Canadian Rockies!