The lakes in Banff are famed around the world for their natural beauty. That is an impressive feat in Canada, the country with the largest amount of fresh water and the most lakes in the world. Banff National Park has no shortage of pristine wilderness and natural beauty which includes its resplendent lakes.
You are spoilt for choice for lakes in the park and the greater Canadian Rockies. There is a little bit of everything with lakes that feature scenic overlooks, lakes rich in wildlife, lakes perfect for canoeing, alpine lakes reached only by hiking, and lakes that shine a brilliant blue. In this post, we share our favorite Banff lakes.
The Best Lakes in Banff
Moraine Lake is easily the most iconic lake in all of Canada and the lake was even featured on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill. The brilliant turquoise color lake is set within a natural amphitheater called the Ten Peaks that tower above the lake. It is a magnificent sight to see in person and there is hardly a more soul-stirring scene on earth.
Moraine Lake is about an hour’s drive away from Banff town, and only twenty minutes further than Lake Louise. With its rising popularity and millions of Instagram location tags you’ll have to arrive around 5 am to grab a parking spot between June and September. Moraine has more or less transitioned fully to a reservation system. Previously you could purchase a ticket for a shuttle bus from Lake Louise on a first-come-first-serve basis, but that is no longer the case as reservation is required.
Just note that if you think you’re going to make your visit to Moraine Lake quiet and easier by visiting in the off-season you may want to think again. Moraine Lake Road closes between (approximately) October 10 to May 22. The road gets covered in snow and avalanche risk is high. To reach the gorgeous lake requires some effort and it’s very much worth the work involved.
Lake Louise has been drawing in visitors to the Canadian Rockies for over a century. The alpine lake in Banff National Park is a wild turquoise blue color fed by glacier melt and set by a backdrop of Mount Vicotria and a hanging glacier. This pristine piece of wilderness draws in millions of visitors a year. It is the premier destination in Banff National Park with a historic luxury hotel and an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy.
No matter how many times we visit Lake Louise our opinion has never soured. It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world than Lake Louise. After taking in the spectacular scene go for a hike, climb, ski, or canoe in Banff National Park. Lake Louise is an image that will last with you for a lifetime. That being said visiting the lake requires some work much like Moraine Lake.
Peyto Lake (PEE-toh) is another glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. This is probably the third most popular lake to visit in Banff, after Louise and Moraine. The reason is its unique shape, absolutely mind-blowingly blue water, and the scenic overlook that is easily accessible from the parking lot. They even have a handicap-accessible section that allows for the mobility impaired to witness this jaw-dropping landscape.
Peyto Lake is right off the Icefields Parkway and a must along the famed highway. It’s the perfect place to come and enjoy the stellar Banff National Park views in both winter and summer. However, in 2020 the parking lot and observation deck are closed for renovation. Hopefully, the improvements to the overlook are good and we’ll be sure to update once open.
Bow Lake is another stunner that’s a brilliant aquamarine color on a summer day. The scale of the lake is impressive as it’s one of the largest in the park and the giant mountains that surround the lake humble visitors with scale. It makes a great place for a nice picnic, canoe, or you can hike to wonderful Bow Falls one of our favorites in Banff.
From the shore, you have amazing views of the Bow Glacier that feeds the lake in the summer months and is the source of the Bow River. That same river serves as a notable feature throughout much of the park moving through Banff and onto Calgary before ending in Southern Alberta as it joins the Saskatchewan River.
One of the top things to do in Banff National Park is to stroll along or take a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff and the largest lake in the park. This man-made lake is 21 km long and 142 meters deep and helps power Banff with hydroelectric power. You can also hop on the popular boat cruises that will take you to the lake’s start called the Devil’s Gap.
In the summer it’s a busy place to hike, picnic, and go canoeing on, and in the winter it’s a sight to behold. The mountains towering over Lake Minnewanka are seriously impressive all year round. Oh yea, and there’s also a Canadian resort ghost town under the lake.
Two Jack Lake
Another fantastic lake in Banff is Two Jack. Two Jack Lake is a picturesque emerald green lake in Banff National Park with an impressive view of Mount Rundle. The sweeping landscape attracts both visitors and locals in search of some fresh air. Its easy accessibility from the town of Banff makes it a great place to catch sunset or sunrise with a cup of coffee.
No matter the season Two Jack Lake is always a great stop in Banff. During summer visitors can enjoy swimming, kayaking, stand up paddleboard, and hiking. In the winter go for an ice skate, take some photographs, or snowshoe along the surrounding trails.
Johnson Lake is one of our favorites because it’s often overlooked by the more popular Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Take a nice stroll around Johnson Lake and enjoy the mountain scenery. It’s a very easy hike that is an even elevation and makes for a great evening or morning walk as it’s not too far from Banff town and very close to Two Jack Lake campsite.
The trail works its way through the forest and offers some astounding views out over the lake back to Cascade Mountain looming high above. The lake is tranquil and a great place to go stand up paddleboarding or even take a swim if you’re brave enough. Keep an eye out for a rope swing! PS this can be one of the best Banff lakes to ice skate on in the winter.
Vermilion Lakes is largely a marsh so it doesn’t hold the brilliant blue waters like many of the other lakes around Banff, but it still makes for an incredible place to enjoy the park. The lakes are well protected by the winds and the shallow water means that the waters remain calm on most days so it’s an easier place to canoe, kayak, or SUP.
The Vermilion Lakes are prime habitat for wildlife and it’s a well-known spot for birders. We’ve personally seen beavers, bald eagles, owls, elk, muskrats, buffleheads, and herons. The docks also make it easy to enter the water and you don’t even have to get your feet wet.
The Waterfowl lakes are two relaxed lakes in the park that see a fraction of the visitors you’ll see the other lakes on this list. They’re also very conveniently on either side of the Waterfowl Lakes Campground which we consider one of the best campsites in Banff National Park. The two lakes are glacial and have the classic blue color that radiates on a sunny day.
Even if you’re not staying at the campground there is a public parking lot that provides access to hiking trails around the lake and a classic Banff hike up to Chephren Lake.
This is a family favorite as it is an easy hike that can be paired with a visit to Moraine Lake. It’s a nice step up from just walking along the Moraine Lakeshore Trail as it the terrain is more difficult with greater elevation gain and a short section that crosses over a boulder field.
Along the hike, you get views of the scree slopes from the Tower of Babel. The hike passes through the old-growth forest before arriving at an alpine field and wetlands with the consolation lakes at its end.
From the lakes, you get tremendous views of the backside of the Ten Peaks Mount Babbel and Mount Fay, topped by glaciers. The lake may not be the same brilliant color as Moraine, but it does have some light teal color that is brilliant in its own right.
Helen Lake is a beautiful Banff lake along the Icefields Parkway and the hike starts across the street from Bow Lake. To get to Helen Lake you must hike in on a moderate trail for 6km (one way). The trail is well maintained and absolutely stunning with views of mountains and blooming wildflowers everywhere!
Bring lunch here, enjoy the views, and keep an eye out for hoary marmots. Due to the stunning alpine meadow views out to Mount Hector the hike can draw a crowd so be prepared for limited parking. All together it makes for a great day in the mountains and one of the best hikes in Banff.
Rockbound Lake is one of our favorite lakes in Banff because it’s easy to find some peace and quiet if you climb up past the lake and look down. The views also continue to open up and provide some jaw-dropping views of the Bow Valley.
The trail spends a lot of time in the forest, but once you ascend a series of steep switchbacks you arrive at Tower Lake, and the views really open up. Further past another series of switchbacks you arrive at Rockbound Lake that is flanked by steep cliffs and looks out to extraordinary views.
For a truly epic day, you can summit Castle Mountain by continuing past the lake or Helena Peak. That being said it’s a demanding day at 27km and 1,540 meters of elevation gain. It also happens to be one of my favorite day trips in the Rockies and an easy scramble.
Herbert lake is a small lake just off the Icefields Parkway not long after you pass the park gates leaving the TransCanada highway. Its location and the fact that it’s not considered a highlight in Banff means the lake remains quiet throughout the summer.
However, the lake is gorgeous and has some phenomenal mountain views from its waters. A picnic area right along the lake shores makes it easy to put a SUP or kayak in the water. While you’re paddling around keep an eye out as there is a diving board if you’re brave enough to take a dip in the frigid waters — make sure you pick a warm day.
This is one of those Banff lakes that can only be reached via a hike and when compared to the other lakes in Banff feels like an undiscovered gem. It’s a sub-alpine lake that is set beneath a dramatic mountain face of Boom Mountain on the border with British Columbia.
A pristine forest surrounds the lake and you can spot a large hanging glacier at the far end of the lake. Chimney Peak and Quadra Mountain are the two other notable mountains that flank Boom Lake.
The hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is a classic in Banff National Park provides access to stunning natural landscapes and finishes at a historic teahouse. The trail begins at Lake Louise and has grown to be one of the most popular hikes in the park.
It has a rich history and the Lake Agnes Teahouse dates back to 1901 while the name itself takes the name of Canada’s first First Lady, Lady Agnes MacDonald. It’s a stunning alpine lake that is set inside a breathtaking cirque formed by the peaks of Mt Saint Piran, Niblock, and Whyte. It’s the most popular lake in Banff to hike to given its history and dramatic scene.
Taylor Lake sits at the base of Mt Bell and opens up to some spectacular views. It’s a really serene place and a fantastic day out in the mountains for active visitors who come to Banff. We’ve only been up to Taylor Lake in the winter for some ski touring, but it also makes a great snowshoe or winter hike. I can’t comment on its beauty in the summer, but it’s a very popular hike and looks spectacular.
Continue on the trail and enjoy the nearby Panorama Meadows as the widely spaced trees and elevation provide some great views of the valley down below. The one downside to this hike is that the vast majority takes place in the forest so there isn’t much for views until the end. It’s a great payoff though!
Bourgeau Lake is set within a massive amphitheater of limestone and the summit of Mount Bourgeau looms high overhead. Keep an eye out for marmots that are found around the lake and the nearby meadow. Mount Bourgeau is a great trail for hikers looking to have a full day out and one of our favorites in all of Banff. The first section is very easy to follow the well-maintained trail that is 7.4 km to Bourgeau Lake.
There is nothing abundantly difficult about this section and it’s all a gradual uphill climb to Bourgeau Lake. With an elevation of 750 meters, it’s appropriate and short enough for a moderate hiker to enjoy. However, the real views open up after you pass the lake and continue on to Harvey Pass. The mountain pass unveils massive alpine meadows of wildflowers and stunning views of the Monarch Ramps and Mount Assiniboine.
Hector Lake is one of the best lakes in Banff along the Icefields Parkway. Hector Lake doesn’t get visited as much as many of the other lakes on the Icefields Parkway simply because you have to hike 2.2 km to reach it.
This deters many people, but in fact, it’s very short and well worth it to see this glacial-fed lake. If you don’t want to hike to it no worries – there’s a pullover viewpoint, but it has partially obstructed views. If you’re not paying attention for the lookout or the trail access this one is very easy to miss!
Chephren Lake sits at the base of Mount Chephren and requires a short hike to get to, but this Banff lake is so worth it! Since you have to hike 7.7 km and 241 meters not many people venture out to it, meaning it is super quiet. Once you arrive at the lake you’ll be met with yet another picture-perfect glacial lake. I would allow at least a 2 hour stop to be able to do this hike and actually enjoy Chephren Lake.
The hike is pretty mild up to the lake so we’ve been debating carrying our inflatable paddle boards up in backpacks to Chephren Lake, I’ll update if we make the trek with the boards!
Emerald Lake is not in Banff but in neighboring Yoho National Park, making it one of the best lakes near Banff. Given its closed proximity, accessibility, and natural beauty it felt wrong not to include. Emerald Lake is a stunning lake and makes for a great family-friendly hike. It’s the largest lake in Yoho National Park and when you see the color of the water it’s easy to see where the lake received its name. The sparkling emerald color lake is a stunning sight and one of the premier attractions in Yoho National Park.
A walk around the lake is fantastic as you view the lake from different angles with a background of various mountains. The trail follows along the lakeshore and moves in and out of the forest. Its beauty can only be matched by Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
Things to do in Banff
If you are looking for the best things to do in Banff we have you covered! We visited this little mountain town a few years back and fell in love so much that we decided to move to the Canadian Rockies.
There’s really nowhere quite as special as Banff National Park. Whether it’s the winter or summer in Banff there is so much to do in Banff it’s impossible to get bored. We could spend a lifetime exploring these spectacular mountains.
Where to Eat in Banff
Seeking out the best restaurants in Banff or wondering where you should eat in Banff? We share our favorite spots in the picturesque mountain town. While most mountain towns might struggle to supply visitors with a wide selection of restaurants that is certainly not the case in Banff.
You can find a wide range of cuisines, restaurants, price points, and places to eat in Banff. It’s the perfect place to fill yourself up after a long day out exploring the wild Canadian Rockies.