10 Things to Know Before Visiting Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is the most famous lake in Banff National Park you’ve probably never heard of before. It’s a turquoise blue glacier-fed lake 40 km north of Lake Louise and a popular stop on the famous Icefields Parkway. The brilliant display of blue is fed by the Peyto Glacier high above the lake and part of the Wapta Icefield.

The view from the viewpoint is one of the most spectacular in all of Banff National Park and a super popular spot for photographers. Peyto Lake in our opinion competes for beauty with Moraine Lake without as many visitors. There is little mystery as the lake’s viewpoint is a must for things to do in Banff or on the Icefield’s Parkway.


All You Need to Know About Visiting Peyto Lake


Can You Visit Peyto Lake With The Closure?

Peyto Lake in Snow Winter

The Peyto Lake parking lot, walking path, and bow summit, and viewpoint are closed for renovation in summer 2020. So, if you’re visiting Banff National Park in the summer of 2020 we have some bad news – it will not be possible to visit the famed viewpoint.

Construction is currently on pause for the winter and we have visited the site for some ski touring. However, for the average visitor, this will not look like much as the lake is frozen and covered with snow. Park visitors can still snowshoe or ski tour above the viewpoint for the classic vantage point. However, be mindful as the terrain nearby at Bow Summit is avalanche terrain.

That being said for experienced hikers it is possible to still catch a mesmerizing view of the Peyto Lake from Observation Peak. Please note this is NOT a hike on a maintained trail and it falls into the category of a scramble. It climbs 1,100 meters (3,600 ft) in 4km and is a pretty taxing endeavor.

Never the less fit hikers/scramblers can make an afternoon or morning out of the scramble and it offers some of the best views in all of Banff National Park. It involves a steep slope with scree so sturdy hiking boots and adequate equipment are necessary. You can learn more about the hike on Alltrails. There is no cell phone signal so be prepared, please don’t make us regret putting this information out there.

You can also visit the lake’s shoreline, but the real magic of Peyto Lake is from a distance with the whole landscape in view. We will update this if it is possible to access the other hikes in the region such as Bow Summit, Caldon Peak and Peyto Glacier. This determination is based on Parks Canada; however, it’s unlikely given the route through the viewpoint.


Why is Peyto Lake Blue?

Similar to many other glacier-fed lakes in Banff National Park Peyto Lake is a brilliant blue. This is a natural phenomenon found in many glacier lakes from as the glaciers grind rock down into the rock flour which is then carried downstream into the lake. This rock flour then refracts the light and gives off a vivid blue or teal color.

It’s a breathtaking sight to see and there are several blue lakes around Banff National Park such as Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Emerald Lake, Sherbrooke Lake, Bow Lake, and Hector Lake all accessible to most visitors.


The Details of Peyto Lake

The Lake is named for Bill Peyto an early guide in the park back in the early 1900s. Peyto Lake sits at 1880m in elevation in the Candian Rockies. It’s fed by the Peyto glacier and has a max depth around 90m.

After the glacier waters flow out of Peyto Lake they create the Mistaya River before merging into the North Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan River Crossing. If you’re wondering how to pronounce the name it is pea-toe.


Directions to Peyto Lake Lookout And Bow Summit

Peyto Lake is located off the Icefields Parkway or 93N. The highway begins just off the Trans-Canada Highway #1 a few minutes West of Lake Louise. From there it’s another 40km to the Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Lookout parking lot. Watch for signs off the Icefields Parkway and the turn off will be on your left coming from the Trans-Canada or Right from Jasper.

The walk to the viewpoint begins from the far end of the parking lot to the West. There you will find an information sign and washroom facility. The hike up to the Peyto Lake Lookout takes around 10-15 minutes uphill. For elderly or disabled visitors, this is an upper parking lot that follows the signs for buses and handicap parking there is also a drop-off point to eliminate the walk.


How To Avoid the Crowds at Peyto Lake

Midsummer the viewing platform that overlooks the lake gets very very busy. So, you should be prepared to share it hordes of tourists from bus tours and just about every other tourist. The crowding does make it difficult to take in the views. However, Parks Canada is currently rebuilding the platform in 2020 so we’re eager to see what they unveil in 2021 to help alleviate the crowding.

Prior to reaching the viewpoint, there are several braided trails that cut through the trees to the right. Walk down this hill until you reach the opening with unobscured views. This is likely where you’ve seen the majority of photos from the lake, it’s particularly popular on Instagram. The terrain here is pretty hazardous with lots of drops and loose rock so mind your step.

The alternative is to follow the trail past the first viewpoint to the second viewpoint. There is no official platform here, but a large clearing higher in elevation that offers tremendous views with a fraction of the visitors.

As always a great way to avoid crowds is to arrive in the early morning or evening. Even in midsummer, we’ve managed to catch the sunset at the viewpoint by ourselves, granted that’s at 10:00 p.m.

You can also walk down to Peyto Lake, which will take you between 30-60 minutes and dip your toes in and hike back up. Almost no one does this so you’re sure to have Peyto Lake almost all to yourself.


Can You Swim in Peyto Lake?

You can swim in any of the Canadian Rockies lakes, but the question is do you want to? Peyto Lake is a glacial fed lake meaning it is very cold, it rarely gets above 5C. That means you’re likely only going to stay in for a few minutes at most – even in the summer!

It’s a great experience and fun to say you have done it, but I guarantee you you won’t be staying in the water for long!


When is the Best Time To Visit Peyto Lake?

The best time to visit Peyto Lake is from June to September. The Peyto Lake Lookout is open year-round unlike Moraine Lake and is most popular to visit in the summer. Spring arrives around May/June and is a tremendous time as the lake melts and you can witness tons of wildflowers. In summer the lake remains full and is always a great visit. In the Fall, late September to October there are almost no larch trees so fall colors are not present.

You can still access the viewpoint in the winter and it’s worth a look if some snowshoers or skiers have cleared a trail through the snow. Otherwise, wintertime access is limited to the more adventurous and experience on skis or splitboards. The lake will also be frozen and covered in snow so you can not witness the gorgeous blue.


Things To Do at Peyto Lake


Photography

With the dramatic rock wall face of Caldron Peak, expansive views of the valley, snow-topped mountains, and the vivid blue Peyto Lake it’s one of the most popular stops for photographers to Banff National Park. The classic shot is to go past the viewpoint platform and to stand atop a rock looking out to the valley below.

It’s a stunning scene. We think early morning light is best if you’re a photographer planning out your photographs. However, if you’re lucky you will get a pop of color around sunset.


Hike Around Peyto Lake

There are a number of tremendous hikes around Peyto Lake. We’ll get more into the hikes further on in the post. The parking lot also provides access to the ACC hut Peyto hut for backcountry and mountaineering trips.


Fish

You are permitted to fish in almost all of the bodies of water in Banff National Park including Peyto Lake. The lake is stunning so for anglers who want to spend some time with a great view you can fish in Peyto Lake. It requires a permit and license. Fishing here is open from July 1st to October 31st and is catch & release only.


Ski/Snowboard

For experienced skiers and snowboarders with backcountry knowledge, you can ski at Peyto Lake. There are two popular ski tour routes are hikes in the summer, Bow Summit, and Observation Peak.


Camping Around Peyto Lake

You can not camp at Peyto Lake, but there are several campsites nearby. Campsites in Banff National Park vary between first-come, first-serve, and reservation-based. They vary in price from 15-30 CAD a night, to light a fire requires a wood-burning permit available at certain campsites.

Waterfowl Lakes Campground

This is the largest campsite in the area and it’s situated between the two beautiful Waterfowl lakes. It has 116 campsites and operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. They have flush toilets, a luxury, and supply firewood if you buy the permit ($8 a day). A great campsite.

Mosquito Creek Campground

This is the closest campsite to Peyto lake and offers great views of the Bow River. It’s great for those who want to pitch a tent as there are several walk-in sites that provide privacy. There are only long drop toilets here and no showers. However, there is a communal eating and cooking hall, food lockers, and solar treated potable water. Ignore the name, there are no more mosquitos here than anywhere else.


Where Can You Stay Around Peyto Lake?

Bow Lake

If you do not feel like camping there is one lodge only six minutes away, Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Do not expect something tremendous from this historic lodges, but it is set in a gorgeous location on Bow Lake.

The closest lodges and hotels of note are located in Lake Louise. Of course, there is the grand and historic Chateau Lake Louise formerly owned the Candian Railway. Of course, the massive hotel is far from rustic or the feeling of nature. If you plan to travel here in the summer be sure to book early as it is very popular. Or travel farther and stay in the towns of Banff and Canmore.


Hikes Around Peyto Lake


Peyto Lake Overlook

This is a great hike that is accessible for any skill level. It involves walking to the first viewpoint and then continues on past the viewpoint to an overlook that sits on Bow Ridge. The elevation gain past the first viewpoint is only about 50m and worth the little effort as it provides better views out to the Peyto Glacier, source of Peyto Lake.

  • Trailhead: Peyto Lake Lower Parking Lot
  • Distance: 2.7 km
  • Elevation: 115 meters
  • Time: 45 – 60 minutes (depends on how long you enjoy the view)

Bow Summit

This is s hike past the first two viewpoints over Peyto Lake and crosses the ridge until you reach a view out to Bow Lake down below. It’s a decent hike if you’re looking to stretch your legs and enjoy the nature with a little bit of a workout as there is some elevation gain. That being said for the effort, we prefer other hikes in Banff National Park.

  • Trailhead: Peyto Lake Lower Parking Lot
  • Distance: 6.6 km
  • Elevation: 313 meters
  • Time: Two hours

Observation Peak

Observation Peak is one of the best short scrambles/hikes in Banff National Park. Its name dates back to 1899 from Charles Noyes who noted the incredible view from the peak of Peyto Lake and the surrounding mountains. This scramble follows up one of two gullies before moving onto a ridge that crosses two rocks bands and scree on the way to the false summit.

It’s mostly a grind up, but there are two sections that present more of a challenge than a hike and require some mild use of hands. You can see one of the most difficult sections in the photo above, this is for the experienced only!

  • Trailhead: Access road across from Bow Summit turn off
  • Distance: 8 km
  • Elevation: 1,101 meters
  • Time: 4 -6+ hours

Caldron Peak

Caldron Peak is a full day hike that is not only challenging physically, but technically as it requires crossing Peyto Creek, route finding, and some scrambling that is mild exposure. It’s a gorgeous day out in the mountains, but it is better left to experienced hikers/scramblers who are prepared for the demands of long days out in the mountains.

The hike is incredibly rewarding with stunning views of the Peyto Glacier, waterfalls, Caldron Lake, and a dizzying view from the top of Caldron Peak. One of the best day trips to be had for serious hikers/adventurers in Banff National Park. Just be prepared for some hard work you’re going to have to earn this one.

  • Trailhead: Peyto Lake Lower Parking Lot
  • Distance: 20.3
  • Elevation: 1,624 meters
  • Time: 8 – 10+ hours

Holidays to Be Aware of in Alberta

The Lake is always busy in the summer, but you should take note of the following holidays as it’s even busier.

  • 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.

What to Wear at Peyto Lake?

If we had a dollar for every time we saw a visitor wearing poor mountain clothes we would be rich. No, but seriously guys come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and hats even in the summer.

The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s extremely important to pack layers, thermals, and HIKING BOOTS.

Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Banff please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a fool, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find our entire list of backpacking essentials here.


Tips For for Visiting Peyto Lake

  • Arrive early to avoid the crowds. Grab a thermos and enjoy the stunning views in the fresh morning air and some coffee.
  • Always make sure to bring appropriate clothing. It’s cold year-round and the mountain peaks often see temperatures below zero even in August.
  • Watch out for bugs and mosquitos as they can come out in hordes during the peak of summer.
  • It’s worth venturing just little past the overlook to escape the crowds even if you do not plan to hike.
  • If you have plans to hike in the area bring a GPS or download a map to your phone as there is no signage.

Travel Planning Resources

  • Packing Guide — Check out our Banff packing list to help pack your bags and ensure you don’t leave anything at home.
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