Visiting the Iconic Lakes of the Rocky mountains is an incredible experience and not to be missed.
Plan your whole trip around these beautiful bodies of water or just add in one visit amid your other mountain adventures. Grab your canoe, try a hike around, or just relax at the shoreline with a picnic.
The lakes are world-renowned because seeing them in person is truly indescribable!
World-famous for it's pristine water set amid magnificent jagged peaks, the best way to describe it is simply breath-taking.
The lakeshore parking lot fills quickly and stays full throughout daylight hours. It's wise to plan to be there before 8:30 am to get a parking spot and truly enjoy the area.
The best way to visit Moraine Lake is with the Parks Canada Shuttle. If you prefer to drive, it's a good idea to plan to visit Lake Louise Lakeshore very early in the day, especially in the summer months as many other visitors are excited to see it too. Parking is limited and fills quickly during daylight hours.
Paid parking in effect during the shuttle operational season, from June to mid-October. A valid parking permit is required between 7 am and 7 pm for all vehicles in the Lake Louise Lakeshore public parking lot. Look for pay stations when you arrive. You must also have a valid national park entry pass.
The bright turquoise colour of Moraine lake is iconic in and of itself! The unique hue is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis by surrounding glaciers. It's a true jewel in the Rockies. With stunning peaks rising all around, it's no wonder it's one of the most photographed lakes in the entire world!
The best way to visit Moraine Lake is with the Parks Canada Shuttle. Plan to visit Lake Louise Lakeshore on the same day with the Lake Connector!
If you choose to drive, know that vehicles are only permitted on Moraine Lake Road when parking is available at Moraine Lake. Parking is limited and fills quickly during daylight hours.
Emerald Lake is located 40 minutes from Lake Louise in Yoho National Park. This lake is a little smaller, a little more quaint, but just as beautiful. The lake is properly named as the water was a dark, beautiful shade of green. Emerald Lake Lodge is a great spot for fantastic dining!
From the Bow Summit parking lot, walk towards the washrooms. Turn right and walk along the fence towards a path at the northwest corner of the parking lot. Here you will find a signed path that has been paved.
The trail to the Peyto Lake viewpoint rolls up and down, with additional signs describing what you’re seeing. After approximately 650m, you come to a wooden viewing platform, which is often packed with tourists. This is the main Peyto Lake Viewpoint, and there is a good reason for this of course – the view is spectacular!
The water in Peyto Lake comes from the Peyto Glacier. Many glacier-fed lakes take on this incredible color due to “rock flour” or fine rock particles that the movement of the glacier grinds like flour. The way the sunlight reflects off of these particles suspended in the water gives the lake its stunning color. What you may not realize is that this color changes throughout the year. The rock flour builds up in the water over the course of a summer of melting, adding depth and richness to the color. When the lake first thaws in the spring, it is far less vibrant than in July or August, when the sediments have had time to build up.
What could be more refreshing after a hike than a dip in the lake? Peyto Lake is not an official swimming area in Banff National Park, which means there are no lifeguards or other protections in place for swimmers, but there’s nothing to stop you from testing the water at your own risk. Just remember that the water comes from melting glaciers, so most people find it much too cold for swimming.
Bow Lake is a tremendous stop on the Icefields Parkway. While it’s not a large lake in the scope of the world, it is big for the Canadian Rockies. In the Banff summer months, when the lake thaws, it turns a dizzying blue from the glacier melt of the Crowfoot Glacier and Wapta Icefield.
The sheer rock wall of Crowfoot Mountain, the hanging glacier, and the expansive Wapta Icefield provide have an innate way of humbling all who gaze on the landscape.
Bow Lake also has an excellent picnic site along the shoreline just off the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93), the perfect stop for lunch. It’s also an awesome spot to bring a picnic blanket and relax along the shoreline.
Johnson Lake has long been a favorite for locals, due to the warm waters that allow for swimming. It's a lovely lake that's a short drive from Banff town and possible to reach by public transport. Not only is it great for a swim, but it makes for a beautiful morning or evening walk around the short, three-kilometre lakeshore trail. Johnson is also not as wind affected as nearby Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka, making it a great paddleboard spot.
This turquoise glacier lake offers fantastic views of the mountains. Hector Lake is a natural reservoir in western Alberta. It is surrounded by the Pulpit Peak, Mount Balfour, Crowfoot Mountain, and Bow Peak of the Canadian Rockies. The lake was named after a geologist James Hector. Mount Hector is towering over the lake on the opposite side of the Bow River. The lake covers the area of 5.23 sq km (2.02 sq mi).
Most tourists drive past the trailhead that is located off the Icefields Parkway, so it’s usually not busy. You'll find the trailhead approximately 18 km (11 mi) north of the junction of the parkway and the Trans Canada Hwy close to the village of Lake Louise.
Herbert is often overlooked on the Icefields Parkway, as you pass it not long after the gates. Its location and more famous neighbours means the lake remains pretty quiet throughout the summer. It's a gorgeous lake with stunning views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. Keep an eye out for the diving board if you're brave enough to jump in the water on a warm day.
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake five kilometres (three miles) from the town of Banff. The lake is 21 kilometres (13 miles) long and 142 metres (466 feet) deep. It is a beautiful spot, popular for picnicking, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, diving, and snowshoeing.
For over 100 centuries, people have camped and hunted along the original shores of Lake Minnewanka. The indigenous Stoney Nakoda First Nations people called it Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits) because they respected and feared the lake for its resident spirits. Early European settlers later named it Devil’s Lake.
It's the only lake in Banff National Park that allows limited use of a powerboat. Scenic boat cruises go out daily to Devil’s Gap, with an interpretive tour guide that can tell you about the rich history and local lore of the lake and surrounding mountains. If you prefer to travel under your own power, try canoeing or kayaking. Boat rentals are available at the Lake Minnewanka docks.
The lakes are 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the town of Banff, and easily accessible by walking, cycling, or driving. From Banff or the Trans-Canada highway, access Mt Norquay road. From Mt Norquay road, leaving the town of Banff, turn left onto Vermilion Lakes Road, which will take you alongside all three lakes.
Hikes to Lakes
If you're interested in venturing a little further away from the highway and hiking to a hidden gem, click here to go to our hiking page. It will help you plan your trip to Rockbound Lake, Taylor Lake, Helen Lake or Cephran Lake.