What’s the first lake that springs to mind when you think about Canada or specifically, Banff National Park? I would argue that a pretty high percentage will likely say Lake Louise and that is of course with good reason. When you think about the best lakes in Banff National Park, the reality is you are spoiled for choice. We want to highlight 10 of the very best lakes that you cannot afford to miss when you next visit Banff and the surrounding area.
Banff National Park is the epitome of natural beauty with a myriad of gorgeous lakes, waterfalls and other breathtaking natural scenery waiting to be discovered. During our recent trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks, we enjoyed a spectacular drive from Jasper to Banff and throughout this time, we used this as an opportunity to visit some gorgeous lakes while also planning some others that we wanted to experience while in the Banff area.
Best Lakes in Banff National Park
Rather than focusing solely on Banff’s iconic lakes such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, we want to recommend a couple of lesser known options that we would argue are equally as spectacular. Visiting Banff at the end of May was the perfect time as we experienced this gorgeous part of Canada in the “transition” phase, so were able to get the best of “frozen” lakes and also see many that had already thawed out.
The Summer months of June through September are the optimal time of the year to experience Banff if you want the stereotypical glacial waters and the gorgeous colors we associate with them. With the spectacular alpine backdrops, it’s inevitable that these types of scenes will be some of the most memorable experiences you will have.
Whether you are exploring the northern part of Banff National Park or simply want to stay in and around the alpine town of Banff itself, a gorgeous glacial lake is never too far away. Let’s start by looking at what we would all agree is the most famous of them all – Lake Louise.
Does Lake Louise deserve to be number one on the list of the best lakes in Banff National Park? This is entirely subjective and only you can decide which is your favorite but one thing is for sure, anyone visiting Banff would be crazy to not spend some time exploring this iconic attraction.
Lake Louise is renowned for the breathtaking views and scenery across the turquoise colored glacial waters in the heart of Summer. With the nearby Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise one of the iconic hotels in the world, this is undoubtedly one of the most frequently visited spots throughout Banff National Park.
The Victoria Glacier on nearby Mount Victoria creates a picture-perfect backdrop to the turquoise waters of Lake Louise but if you visit during the winter months, you will have to be satisfied with a wintry scene with a completely frozen lake. Let’s be honest, it’s not a bad scene at any time of the year!
As I mentioned, we visited during the transition phase at the end of May and Lake Louise was one of the lakes predominantly still frozen but with the front part of the lake thawed. It was a pretty crazy scene watching the chunks of ice floating around before heading downstream and down the Bow River.
The town of Lake Louise is located just off the Trans-Canada Highway and consists of a small shopping center, bakery, deli, convenience store and restaurants. If you are planning on staying in Banff National Park, why not stay in the vicinity of Lake Louise…you certainly won’t be short of amazing hiking trails and awe-inspiring scenery!
Where to Stay
If you are visiting Lake Louise and want to have the ultimate luxury experience, there really is only one choice – the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Be prepared to have your credit card take a pretty serious hit but I think it’s one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and well worth the cost.
Visitors to Lake Louise will inevitably want to explore Moraine Lake which is frequently left in the shadow of the more popular natural attraction. However, when you see the view from the top of the moraine rock pile overlooking Moraine Lake and the gorgeous mountain range in the background, you will quickly realize that this is a spot that you cannot afford to miss.
Did you know the popular view overlooking Moraine Lake was actually used on the 1969 and 1979 $20 Canadian dollar bill editions?
It’s an incredible scene and although we visited when the lake was still completely frozen over, this takes nothing away from the beauty we had the opportunity to admire.
The view of the mountains behind Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks may be renowned as the “Twenty Dollar View” but I would argue that this view is worth much more than $20! It’s one of those locations that you could admire all day.
Where to Stay
So after a night of luxury at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, I’m sure you will be raring to let your credit card take a break. If you are willing to drive from Banff, you will have plenty more accommodation options available including the following which is a great place to stay in the town of Dead Man’s Flats.
Copperstone Resort offers an all-suite property so you can be sure that your accommodation will be spacious. It’s a great place for the family to relax and you can always enjoy the amenities within the suites to make yourself at home.
We really enjoyed our two nights here and can highly recommend this to anyone visiting Banff or Lake Louise.
One of the highlights of our trip to Banff National Park was experiencing the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive. The focal point of this drive is undoubtedly Lake Minnewanka itself, 21km long lake ideal for swimming, kayaking, and fishing along with a myriad of hiking trails and spots to enjoy a relaxing few hours. It’s actually the longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies.
A glacial lake with emerald-green water surrounded by breathtaking mountains makes Lake Minnewanka an incredibly popular spot among visitors to Banff. Why not take a relaxing boat cruise around the lake to enjoy spectacular panoramic scenes of the alpine surroundings?
Alternatively, you can take a stroll along the rocky beach areas and find the perfect spot to read your favorite book while admiring the scenery.
It’s one of those locations, just like many other spots in Banff National Park if we are being honest, that you could easily allow time to fly by without noticing it. But Lake Minnewanka is just the start of the scenic drive and there are plenty more amazing attractions to come! You never know what wildlife you may stumble across also at this lake.
Two Jack Lake
If you were impressed by Lake Minnewanka, wait until you stumble across Two Jack Lake. As we drove the scenic loop, we turned a corner and immediately fell in love with the view across Two Jack Lake. This is the ideal spot to enjoy a picnic or simply relax by the lake taking in the breathtaking panoramas surrounding you.
I think it’s fair to say that Two Jack Lake frequently lies in the shadow of Lake Minnewanka, primarily because of the size difference but in terms of natural beauty, we would argue that Two Jack Lake is far superior.
We will leave the final decision to you but this stunningly picturesque lake is an ideal place to grab the stereotypical red, Adirondack chair and soak in the natural beauty.
Another gorgeous spot around the Lake Minnewanka loop is Johnson Lake. If we had any regrets from our trip to Banff National Park, it would be not spending enough time exploring this part of the scenic drive.
Unfortunately, the road leading to Johnson Lake was closed during our visit and rather than parking and taking the short hike, we opted to explore other parts of Banff. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it’s definitely on our radar for our next trip to Banff.
Fortunately, we have a number of friends that have experienced this part of the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive and the pictures we are sharing give you an idea of the beauty here. If you are looking for a relaxing hiking trail, the loop around Johnson Lake is definitely a great spot for beginners yet more advanced hikers will still love this because of the spectacular views it offers around the shores of the lake.
This is the ideal location to enjoy the flora and fauna of Banff National Park, especially if you are visiting at the right time of year when the park is blooming in full color.
Before you experience the three gorgeous lakes around the Lake Minnewanka scenic drive, we strongly encourage you to visit Cascade Ponds. It may not have the size or magnitude of some of the other best lakes in Banff but that takes nothing away from the beauty here.
The gorgeous bridge that crosses the pond is the ideal setting for formal pictures, particularly with the perfectly calm water that creates a mirror reflection with the mountains forming the stunning backdrop.
Prefer to enjoy a picnic before heading on one of the various hiking trails in this region or perhaps on a boat cruise of Lake Minnewanka? Don’t worry, Cascade Ponds is yet another viable alternative and its proximity to Banff town center makes this a great location to grab a bite to eat and take this to a spot where you can enjoy ultimate relaxation.
Where to Stay
Lake Minnewanka is perfectly located close to the town of Banff, so you will never be short of accommodation options. Our recommendation for visiting Banff is that you book your hotel/hostel in advance because it’s a popular tourist spot all year round.
If you are looking for a convenient hotel option in close proximity to Lake Minnewanka, Cascade Ponds, Two Jack Lake and Johnson Lake, check out the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort where you can enjoy a relaxing getaway in a suite or condo.
If you have ever seen a Canadian lake with gorgeous, turquoise colored water, it’s very likely that you will have been looking at Peyto Lake. Those amazing picture postcard images that we always see and assume it’s just a piece of work created by Photoshop is, in fact, the real thing! Not only is Peyto Lake one of the best lakes in Banff National Park in terms of beauty, it’s arguably one of the most beautiful around the world.
So where exactly does this color originate from? Peyto Lake gets its color from the large amounts of glacier rock flour that flow into the glacial lake during the summer months and visitors to this part of Banff are given the opportunity to admire this awe-inspiring scenery until the lake freezes over later in the year.
A viewing platform is available and easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway (Peyto Lake is located about an hour north of Banff) but for those trying to avoid the crowds, head down the trail to another viewpoint where you can enjoy equally spectacular panoramic scenes.
When you visit Banff National Park, there are certain places that you just have to visit and you are probably already aware of them. However, it’s those iconic hidden gems that you stumble across that are always likely to be the most memorable and this is exactly what we experienced when we visited Hector Lake during our drive from Jasper to Banff.
Hector Lake is a small glacial lake located on the Bow River and surrounded by the Waputik Range which offers a spectacular backdrop (as I’m sure you are now associating with all glacial lakes in Banff!) to this lake. Our visit was late in the day when the sun was setting and we had the most amazing scene with the reflection of the mountains on the calm water and also the tips of the peaks showing the sun reflection.
It was a magical experience and certainly pushed Hector Lake to the very top of our favorite lakes not only in Banff National Park but also Canada.
Head west of Banff and you will arrive at a gorgeous set of lakes known as the Vermilion Lakes. The three lakes are formed in the Bow River Valley and this is a real hotspot for wildlife sightings, possibly one of the best-known locations throughout the national park. Mount Rundle in the background is a towering sight but anyone visiting this part of Banff National Park would be hard-pressed to take their eyes away from this spectacular series of lakes.
Whether you love biking trails, hiking routes or experiencing a kayaking adventure on the lake, the Vermilion Lakes is definitely a great destination to enjoy all of the above. However, if you prefer to relax by the lakes and enjoy the breathtaking scenery…well, we couldn’t blame you for that one!
Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, particularly the various species of birds that pass through the Vermilion Lakes region, including bald eagles, osprey, herons, and swans.
Bow Lake is a relatively small lake but that doesn’t mean it is any less spectacular than some of its larger counterparts throughout Banff National Park. Similar to Hector Lake, Bow Lake is located on the Bow River and is situated at an altitude of almost 2,000 meters.
A popular hike among visitors driving along the Icefields Parkway is to park at Peyto Lake and admire the scenery there before heading downstream to Bow Lake. This is one of the easiest hikes throughout Banff National Park but be prepared to allocate 1.5-2 hours for a road trip hike between these two gorgeous natural attractions.
The beautiful turquoise green color is again the highlight of Bow Lake but perhaps your eyes may wander as the potential of a grizzly bear sighting is possible in this part of Banff National Park. Regardless of your fortune in seeing a bear (or misfortune if you get a little too up close and personal with a bear!), the beauty of Bow Lake is an experience that cannot be missed!
So, where exactly are the best lakes in Banff National Park? I think we have found a nice selection here but the beauty of exploring Banff is that there are so many others natural attractions waiting to be discovered. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the lakes worth exploring but it’s fair to say, you could easily make a trip to Banff simply to explore the plethora of gorgeous lakes.
I am sure you are looking for our favorite lake recommendation. Honestly, that’s an almost impossible question simply because each lake has distinctive features that make it equally spectacular to the next. If we were placed on the spot right now, we really do have a soft spot for both Two Jack Lake and Hector Lake, simply because of our personal connections and experiences we had there.
What is your favorite lake in Banff National Park? Which others would you add to the list? Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!
AFFILIATE – This post contains affiliate links. Should you choose to make a purchase via one of our links, we may receive a small commission. This income helps A Brit & A Southerner continue to explore and share inspiring stories. Although we have not personally stayed at all of the hotels included in this post, we used the recommendations of friends and family as well as detailed research to bring you the very best options possible.