Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful lake that is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff. The lake is 21 km long and 142 meters deep and helps power Banff with hydroelectric power. One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is to stroll along or take a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka
In the summer it’s a busy place to hike, picnic, and go canoeing. Lake Minnewanka in the winter can make for one of the grandest ice skating rinks in the world. The mountains towering over Lake Minnewanka are seriously impressive all year round. Oh yea, and there’s also a Canadian resort ghost town right under the lake.
A Guide to Visiting Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake five kilometers (three miles) from the town of Banff. The lake is 21 kilometers (13 miles) long and 142 meters (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 would later name it Devil’s Lake.
The magic that surrounds Banff National Park’s largest body of water is palpable. Even now a ghost resort sits on the lake floor which only adds to its mysticism. Forests around Lake Minnewanka stir with wildlife that includes mule deer, bears, wolves, elk, bighorn sheep, or an abundant population of birdlife. If you’re in search of spotting some of the park’s famous wildlife the drive to the lake and its shoreline are a safe bet.
It also happens to be one of our favorite places to relax in Banff on a summer evening. A plethora of picnic areas and an easy walking trail make this particularly easy. So head here with some take-out and enjoy a meal with a view in the wilderness. If relaxation isn’t your only goal there are quite a number of activities that visitors to Lake Minnewanka can enjoy on or around the lake.
The History of Lake Minnewanka
Artifacts have been found on the shores of Lake Minnewanka that date back to 13,000 years ago and the lake has a long human history. It’s believed that humans have settled along its shores for millennia. Even the name Minnewanka comes from the Stoney Nakoda language.
The history of Minnewanka is also closely tied to Banff National Park itself as one of the first resorts in the park were located along its banks. The Lake served as a summer escape for Calgarians who came to stay at Minnewanka landing over a century ago.
Most notable was the wood log hotel named the Beach House built in 1886 which spurred the development of a resort town. Over time the town would grow to four avenues, dozens of cottages, hotels, restaurants, and multiple sailing companies to take guests out on the Lake Minnewanka.
As the demand for power increased in the 20th century a dam was built in 1912 by the Calgary Power Co. which flooded part of the resort town. However, the resort continued to exist until 1941 with the onset of WWII and the demand for power in manufacturing even greater in Calgary a new dam was built. The new dam raised the level of the lake 96 feet flooding the resort entirely and forever altering the landscape around the lake.
Since the water here is very cold glacial water it has preserved much of the resort town and makes for a unique dive site. The diving in Lake Minnewanka attracts as many as 8,000 divers each year to see the submerged resort.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Lake Minnewanka?
Lake Minnewanka is technically a year-round destination, but to really enjoy the lake it’s best visited in the summer months. During the Lake Minnewanka winter months, the lake remains frozen and covered in a heavy layer of snow/ice. Lake Minnewanka begins to freeze around December and will remain frozen until the end of May when the lake unfreezes.
By mid-June, the boat docks and lake tours begin operating. The best time to visit would be around this time until early October when operations begin to shut down as the snow comes. In the summer you’ll be able to take full advantage of everything that Lake Minnewanka offers.
Parking at Lake Minnewanka
There are two large lots for parking at Lake Minnewanka and that includes a large lot for trucks with boat trailers. On an average day, it’s not too difficult to get parking, but in the summer months the parking lot quickly fills up. The peak times are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can still visit during these times, but parking will be a struggle.
You have several options though for easy access to the lake. You can park at the Minnewanka Park & Ride or the Banff Train Station and hop on the Roam Transit (route 6) which will take you to the lake. The bus route also stops at Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and Cascade Ponds. Rides are $2 for adults and $1 for children. The bus only operates in the summer months from May 17th to September 15th.
Boating on Lake Minnewanka
You have a wide range of options for boating on Lake Minnewanka that include canoes, motorboats, kayaks or even stand up paddleboards. If you’re seeking more of a challenge or to experience canoeing on open water head to Lake Minnewanka. The large lake is well known for its “swells” that occur when the wind gust picks up. More advanced paddlers with their own canoes can plan multi-day camping trips along the lake.
The boat launch managed by Pursuit also rents small motorboats as Minnewanka is the only lake in the park that allows motor-powered boats in addition to kayaks and double kayaks. All rentals come with necessary equipment which includes gas with the motorboat rental.
You don’t have to rent a boat as personal watercraft are allowed and there is a boat launch at the lake. However, jet skis or sea doos are not allowed on the lake. The only requirement is that the boats must be free of anything such as mussels or algae as it can damage the lake’s ecosystem. Additionally, any boat coming from outside of BC or Alberta in the last 30 days requires a provincial inspection.
- Location: Pursuit Collection Lake Minnewanka Boat Dock
- Canoe Cost: $75 first hour / $25 additional hours
- Kayak Cost: $40 first hours / $20 additional hours
- Double Kayak Cost: $60 first hour / $20 additional hours
- Motor Boat Cost: $95 first hour / $50 additional hours / Half Day $285
- Season: June to October
Taking a Lake Minnewanka Cruise
One of the most popular activities on Lake Minnewanka is to hop on a lake cruise run by the Pursuit Collective. The hour-long panoramic cruise heads to Devil’s Gap at the end of Lake Minnewanka and back.
It’s a unique natural feature that looks out to the east and the plains of Alberta while enveloped in a mountain amphitheater. You’re guaranteed spectacular mountain vistas while you cruise across the emerald green water. You can buy individual tickets for the Lake Minnewanka cruise, but for the best deal consider purchasing the Banff Jasper Collective’s Banff Explorer Pass that includes the Banff Gondola and the Icefields Experience.
Advanced Purchase Pricing:
- Adults – $59
- Ages 6-15 – $30
- Age 5 & Under – Free
Fishing on Lake Minnewanka
You’re permitted to fish on the lake on your own or you can hire out a chartered boat. The boat charter is a bit pricey, but then again they know all the local fishing holes. To fish in the park you are required to have a Park pass, fishing permit, and be aware of current regulations.
This means you know fishing limits and can identify the various fish within the park. No live bait fishing is allowed in the park.
Kids under the age of 16 are allowed to fish on their accompanied pass, but their catch is included within the permit holders’ daily limit. For the most up to date fishing information please reference Park Canada’s website as it changes seasonally.
Fishing permit price:
- Daily – $ 9.80
- Annual – $ 34.30
Hikes Around Lake Minnewanka
There are a number of great hikes around Lake Minnewanka. You can take simple strolls along the lake, summit nearby Mt. Alymer, or make a multiday backpacking trip out of it. One of our favorite hikes in the area is C-Level Cirque a nice challenge that provides astounding views of Lake Minnewanka and the Bow Valley.
Ice Skating on Lake Minnewanka
If you’re in Banff around Christmas time or the New Year make sure to keep an eye on Lake Minnewanka as it typically freezes over enough to ice skate during this time.
This is before snow builds up on the frozen lake surface so you can skate. The entire surface looks like a piece of glass and you can skate the whole width of the lake which means going for nearly 2km in one direction.
The most common sight of Lake Minnewanka in winter is a snowbound and frozen landscape. You can still walk along the edge near the boat dock and it makes for a pretty spectacular sight.
What are the Holidays at Lake Minnewanka?
The Lake is always busy in the summer, but you should take note of the following holidays as it’s even busier. It’s really packed on Canada day when everyone heads to the picnic area for a BBQ in the park.
- Victoria Day Long Weekend – 1st Monday of May.
- Canada Day – July 1st
- Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
- Labour Day Weekend – 1st Monday of September.
Other Great Lakes in Banff to Visit
Of course, there are so many other lakes to visit after Lake Minnewanka. Two Jack is right down the road, as well as Johnson and Vermilion. See all the best lakes in Banff broken down here.
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