Banff National Park is a mountain paradise (it’s great for RVers, too). In fact, the entire area surrounding Banff National Park is a mountain paradise. Three national parks (Yoho, Banff and Jasper) converge in the Banff area, providing visitors fresh air, unimaginable beauty and the chance to experience the great outdoors. During the winter months, skiing is the main attraction, but during the summer months the glacier fed rivers and alpine lakes steal the show. The color of the water is something you have to see in person to fully understand. You can see incredible photos of the lakes (seriously just search #banff on Instagram and see for yourself), but being there in person provides a feeling unlike anything else.
So, to help inspire you to start planning your trip to Banff today, check out these 7 must-see lakes! They’re all similar, but each offers something unique which means you should try to visit as many as you can!
1. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is the most famous and most popular lake in Baff National Park. Located just 45 minutes from the town of Banff, Lake Louise will inspire and stir your heart. The turquoise colored water, the mountain peaks, the Victoria glacier, and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise all work together to provide an incredible experience.
We loved Lake Louise so much that we actually went 3 different times! Each time, we felt like the lake was slightly different because the color seems to be continuously changing. We also hiked to the Lake Agnes Tea House which was fun and a great activity to do at Lake Louise.
Tip: Due to its popularity, it is EXTREMELY busy at the lake. You want to go to the lake as early as possible or later in the evening. Try getting to the lot before 7 AM or after 9 PM to avoid the crowds.
2. Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is like no other place we’ve ever seen. The lake is INCREDIBLE. The color of the water doesn’t even make sense, and the mountain backdrop will leave you speechless. We went to the lake the first time at 9:30 PM and there was hardly anybody else there. It had just rained and the clouds created this eerie, dark, mood that was absolutely amazing. We went during the morning the second time and There are several trails to hike around the lake, but we were so blown away by the lake that we just hiked up the rock pile and enjoyed the view.
Tip: Moraine is just as popular as Lake Louise, but it has a smaller parking lot. You want to get to Moraine Lake as early as you possibly can. Every day it seemed by 8:00 – 8:30 AM, the parking lot was full. GET THERE EARLY!
3. Emerald Lake
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. The water color makes it different than the other beautiful lakes on this list. There is a lodge that we were told has good food if you’re hungry and a nice trail that circles the lake. We really enjoyed the hike and the views of the lake!
4. Peyto Lake
Each lake on this list is special, but Peyto Lake was one of our favorites. Unlike the other lakes on this list, the easiest access to the lake does not actually take you to the lake. When you visit Peyto Lake, you take a brief hike to a viewpoint of Peyto Lake. From the elevated position, you can see the entire outline of the lake (which happens to look like a fox 🙂 ) and you can take in the amazing color of the water. The shade of blue of this lake is so spectacular that if you haven’t seen it in person, you probably won’t believe that a picture of it hasn’t been edited in Photoshop! But, we can tell you, the water really is that color and it really is that beautiful!
5. Bow Lake
Bow Lake is right off the highway so it is incredibly easy to visit! Located on the Icefields Parkway only 30 minutes drive from Lake Louise, there’s no reason not to visit while in the area! The lake is large and features beautiful blue water (imagine that 🙂 ) with large mountains in the backdrop. If you feel like doing a hike, the popular Bow Glacier Falls Trail starts in the parking lot of the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which is right by the lake. Also, you may encounter some wildlife while visiting the lake. It was at this spot that we saw our only grizzly bear of the trip.
6. Hector Lake
Hector Lake is very close to Lake Louise but is often overlooked by visitors to the area. Hector Lake is the largest natural lake in Banff, and is a very tranquil spot to spend some time. You can hike, fish, or simply bring a hammock and relax by the water. There are pristine mountain views that offer a beautiful mirror like reflection when the water is still.
7. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is a large, beautiful lake close to the town of Banff. It’s easy to get to by car or bus and offers visitors lots of things to do. You can put a boat in the water (the only lake in Banff National Park where power boats are welcome) and enjoy. Or, if you don’t have a boat, you can rent one from the boathouse. You can also rent canoes and kayaks if you prefer. There’s also great hiking and plenty of space in the picnic areas to hang out and be with friends and family. Our feeling was that Lake Minnewanka was just a great place to spend a relaxing day at the lake!
Which one looks the best to you?
We loved Banff National Park and seeing these alpine lakes was a major item checked off our bucket list. We hope you feel inspired to take your own trip some time in the near future?
Any lakes we left off the list? Tell us about your favorite lakes in the Banff area in the comments below!