Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful lake in Banff 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. While in the winter, Lake Minnewanka can make for one of the grandest ice skating rinks in the world.
The mountains towering over Lake Minnewanka are awe-inspiring all year round. Oh yea, and there’s also a Canadian resort ghost town right under the lake! Read on for a helpful guide to visiting Lake Minnewanka.
A Guide to Visiting Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake five kilometers (three miles) from the town of Banff. Lake Minnewanka 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 surrounding Banff National Park’s largest body of water is palpable. Even now, a ghost resort town sits on the lake floor, which only adds to its mysticism.
Forests around Lake Minnewanka stir with wildlife, including mule deer, bears, wolves, elk, bighorn sheep, and an abundant birdlife population. If you’re searching to spot some of the park’s famous wildlife, the drive to the lake and its shoreline are a safe bet.
Lake Minnewanka also happens to be one of our favorite places to relax on a summer evening in Banff. 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 several 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. 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 was 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 power demand 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 by 96 feet flooding the resort entirely and forever altering the landscape around the lake.
Since the water here is icy 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. From June to October is when Lake Minnewanka really comes alive. 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.
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 April when the lake unfreezes. There’s a short period in the winter when the lake freezes, but the snow has yet to cover the ice making it a fantastic place to go ice skating in Banff.
Getting to Lake Minnewanka by Car
Getting to Lake Minnewanka by car is extremely simple. If you are traveling from Calgary to Banff, you’ll want to get off on the exit “Banff/Lake Minnewanka Loop.” This is right off Highway 1 after you pass the park gates. The turn will be on your right-hand side if coming from Canmore.
You’ll see signs for Cascade Pond/Two Jack Lake. Once you get onto the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Route Drive all you have to do is keep driving until you reach Lake Minnewanka. You’ll pass a turn-off for Johnson Lake on the way, as well as Two Jack Lake campground and Two Jack Lake.
During the winter, the western part of the road is closed as it’s a wildlife corridor. You’ll only be able to drive the eastern section of the road in the winter. In the summer, the full loop is open to vehicles.
If driving, watch out for cyclists on the road.
Getting to Lake Minnewanka by Public Transport
Roam Transit runs a bus service to Lake Minnewanka in the summer months. Route 6 leaves downtown Banff every 30 minutes and takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the lake.
This service operates 7 days a week, and the first bus departs at 8AM each morning. Stops along the way include Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lakeside Campground, Two Jack Main Campground, Two Jack Day Use Area, Lake Minnewanka Lookout, and finally, Lake Minnewanka. Service typically starts in late May and runs until late September.
The cost is $2 for adults and $1 for Seniors/Youth. Strollers and crated pets are allowed on board. All Roam buses are wheelchair accessible.
Other Alternatives to Get to Lake Minnewanka
If you don’t have a car and don’t want to take the bus, one of the best ways to get to Lake Minnewanka is by bike. The Lake Minnewanka Loop Rd is a great road to cycle. We particularly love riding the Legacy Trail from Canmore. An underpass goes under the Trans Canada for bikes off the Legacy Trail.
This takes you past Cascade Ponds, Two Jack Lake, and finally to Lake Minnewanka. If you go this way, it’s a bit of a climb to Two Jack, but it’s all downhill and super cruisy and fun once you get past Two Jack. The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr is approximately 13 km.
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 19th to around September 15th (season dependent).
Is Lake Minnewanka Free to Visit?
Lake Minnewanka is free to visit with the purchase of a National Parks Pass.
You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate, and the entrance to Banff National Park is just before Lake Minnewanka. Or you can buy Parks Canada passes in advance online. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year, is only $145.25 for a family.
Day passes are $10.50 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go to Banff, you may want to consider the Discover Pass.
Parks Canada Day Passes
Youth (up to 17): Free
Family/group of 7 people: $21.00
Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.
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 can plan multi-day camping trips along the lake with their own canoes.
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 or canoe/kayak though, as personal watercraft are allowed, and there is a boat launch at the lake. However, jet skis or sea doos are not permitted on the lake.
The only requirement is that the boat 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 requires a provincial inspection in the last 30 days.
Lake Minnewanka Boats and Canoe Costs
- Location: Pursuit Collection Lake Minnewanka Boat Dock
- Canoe Cost: $85 first hour/$42.50 additional hours
- Kayak Cost: $45 first hours/$22.50 additional hours
- Double Kayak Cost: $85 first hour/$42.50 additional hours
- Motor Boat Cost: $155 first hour/$77.50 additional hours/Half Day (4 hours) $355
- Season: June to October
*Rentals are available on-site at the Lake Minnewanka boathouse on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s best to arrive first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid waiting.
Take 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 which includes the Banff Gondola, Columbia Icefield Adventure – Including Skywalk, Maligne Lake Cruise, and the Golden Skybridge. Lake Minnewanka cruises open for the 2023 summer season on May 12th and runs until October.
Beer lovers can enjoy the Lake Minnewanka Beer Voyage Cruise in the summer. This 90-minute cruise runs daily at 5pm and allows guests to enjoy local craft brews while taking in the views. Guests of 2 are given 4 beers total for the tasting, and you are allowed to bring home any unopened cans that you don’t consume. If this will affect your driving to and from Lake Minnewanka, consider taking public transit to Lake Minnewanka.
Advanced Purchase Pricing:
- Classic One Hour Cruise: $61.00 / adult $39.65 / child
- Premium Cruise (1.5 hours): $72.00 / adult $46.80 / child
- Beer Voyage Cruise (1.5 hours): $84.00 / adult
- 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 with companies like Banff Fishing Unlimited or Pursuit. 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 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 – $12.75
- Annual – $44.25
Can You Camp at Lake Minnewanka?
Front Country Camping at Lake Minnewanka
The closest front country campground to Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake Main Campground and Two Jack Lake Lakeside Campground. These sites are among some of the most popular campsites in Banff, and you’ll need to reserve these campsites in advance. They book up fast – almost as soon as reservations open.
If you can score a campsite, we highly recommend staying at the Two Jack Lake Lakeside Campground, as it’s only a few meters walk to the lakeshore.
Backcountry Camping Around Lake Minnewanka
For those that wish to hike or canoe there are a few backcountry campground around Lake Minnewanka.
There are 3 campgrounds along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka: Alymer Pass Junction (Lm8), Alymer Canyon (Lm9), and Mt. Inglismaldie (Lm11). You can hike or paddle to these campgrounds. Outside the summer months, you can also mountain bike some of the way (between July 10th and September 15th, the trail is closed to bikes).
There are also three more called Mount Costigan Campground (Lm20), The Narrows (Lm22), and Ghost Lakes (Lm31). These are best reached by experienced kayakers and canoers as they are very far from the car park, and the headwinds on Lake Minnewanka can turn an already long day longer and make the journey quite treacherous. You must have camping reservations even for backcountry sites.
Hiking 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 (scramble), head up the Mt. Alymer Lookout or make a multiday backpacking trip out of it.
One of our favorite hikes in the area is C-Level Cirque. Which is a nice challenge that provides astounding views of Lake Minnewanka and the Bow Valley.
Lake Minnewanka Hikes
- Stewart Canyon Trail
- Lake Minnewanka Trail
- Alymer Lookout Trail
- C Level Cirque
Can You Walk Around Lake Minnewanka?
The Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail follows Lake Minnewanka from the parking area for about 8km and back. It has some elevation gain and decline and provides fantastic views of the lake.
It’s a popular trail though, especially in July and August. To beat the crowds, head there in June. The lakeside trail is a popular trail run if you are into trail running!
Can You Bike Around Lake Minnewanka?
The Lake Minnewanka Loop ride is a beautiful paved ride that turns off from the Legacy Trail in Banff and follows the road past Two Jack Lake and up to Lake Minnewanka and back to the town of Banff, Cascade Ponds, or wherever you decided to park.
No matter which way you take the loop, you are in for some elevation gain (around 175 m). You can detour to Johnson Lake for some extra mileage as well.
It’s a wonderful ride I love completing on a nice summer day.
You can also mountain bike on the Minnewanka Lakeside Trail, but this option typically closes to bikes around July 10th until mid September. It’s a moderate mountain bike trail with plenty of challenging ups and downs, but nothing too technical.
The Minnewanka Lakeside Trail can take Banff bikers all the way to Ghost Lakes Campground. The trail is 29.4 km one way with 45 meters of elevation gain. Many reviews mention this trail as easy, but when we attempted it, I found the trail more moderate/difficult (I am a novice mountain biker).
Many exposed sidehill sections and plenty of obstacles await bikers. You also have many hikers to contend with when on a bike. Mountain bikers should aim for weekday rides as the trail is extremely busy on weekends.
Can You Ice Skate on Lake Minnewanka in the Winter?
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.
The Ice Bubbles at Lake Minnewanka
However you can see them at Lake Minnewanka; there just are not endless amounts of them, but they are there!
Can You See the Northern Lights at Lake Minnewanka?
When the Northern Lights are on display in Banff one of the most popular places to try and see them is Lake Minnewanka. It’s the perfect location away from town so you don’t get much light pollution.
In the dead of winter in Banff, Lake Minnewanka is incredibly dark. It’s an excellent spot for stargazing as well!
What are the Holidays at Lake Minnewanka?
Lake Minnewanka 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. Canada Day at Lake Minnewanka is always when I see the most trash thrown about.
If you’re going to recreate in Banff, it’s crucial to Leave No Trace and dispose of your garbage properly and never leave trash behind. There are plenty of bear-proof dumpsters at Lake Minnewanka, so there is no excuse to litter.
- Victoria Day Long Weekend – Last Monday preceding May 25
- Canada Day – July 1st
- Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
- Labour Day Weekend – 1st Weekend/Monday of September.
Facilities at Lake Minnewanka
As far as lakes in Alberta go, there are quite a few facilities at Lake Minnewanka.
Expect a large car park, with a large public restroom nearby. The bathrooms have flush toilets, but may be closed during the winter months.
There are plenty of picnic spots around Lake Minnewanka, so pack a lunch and enjoy the views. Please remember to toss your trash in the bear-proof bins afterward, there are plenty about.
If you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a few of the famous Parks Canada red chairs.
There is one restaurant at Lake Minnewanka. Black Anchor Snack Shop is the only eatery in the area and is only open in the summer – they serve up basic snacks, ice cream, and coffee.
Our Favorite Tours and Excursions in Banff
- Banff Gondola: Get up on top on Sulphur Mountain!
- Banff Hop on Hop Off: Explore the park at your own pace.
- Lake Minnewanka Cruise: Enjoy a guided tour on the largest lake in Banff.
- Guided Glacier Hike on The Athabasca with IceWalks: Because when else can you walk on a glacier?
- From Banff: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Sightseeing Tour
- Radventures Earlybird Explorer: Sunrise at Moraine Lake with treats!
- Moraine Lake Bus Company: An alternative option to the Parks Canada shuttle, this tour provides early access to Moraine Lake with shuttles starting as early as 4am.
- Mt Norquay Via Ferrata: Conquer your fear of heights
Other Great Lakes in Banff to Visit
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, you can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.
↓ Join the community ↓
The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies’ travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. You can also meet new adventure buddies.