9 Beautiful Lakes in Banff National Park To Add To Your Itinerary

Ahhh, Banff National Park, one of the most beautiful places in Canada’s Alberta province! While yes, Banff NP is home to a variety of natural landscapes, including mountains, forests, and glaciers (and a ton of other things you can keep yourself busy with), by far the biggest draw of this area is its stunning lakes in all shades of blue and green!

Banff National Park has several iconic lakes that keep nature lovers coming back for more each year. These lakes are known for their gemstone-colored waters, surrounded by majestic mountains and lush green forests.

The park’s lakes, including Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Peyto Lake, are some of the most photographed and visited lakes in the world, and for good reason. But if you thought this was the extent of Banff’s lakes, you’d be wildly mistaken.

Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, a tour of the lakes in Banff National Park are a must-do when you’re in the park.

From hiking around them to canoeing within them, there are endless opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of these stunning lakes.

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Want to visit the top highlights of Banff National Park? Book the Hop-On and Hop-off Banff Bus and discover the park at your own pace — without having to worry about Banff’s many parking issues!

Types of Lakes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is home to some of the most stunning lakes in the world. To better appreciate these natural beauties (and to understand what makes them so dang blue), it makes sense to have a general overview of the different types of lakes!

Here are some of the most popular types of lakes in the park:

Glacial Lakes

Glacial lakes are some of the most unique and beautiful lakes in Banff National Park. These lakes are formed when glaciers melt and fill the bowl-shaped depressions they leave behind. The result is a stunningly blue or green lake that is surrounded by towering mountains behind it!

Some of the most popular glacial lakes in Banff National Park include:

  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake
  • Peyto Lake

Mountain Lakes

Mountain lakes are another type of lake that is commonly found in Banff National Park. These lakes are typically smaller than glacial lakes and are often located at higher elevations. They are known for their crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain backdrops.

Some of the most popular mountain lakes in Banff National Park include:

  • Lake Agnes
  • Emerald Lake (in Yoho National Park)

Glacial-fed Lakes

Glacial-fed lakes are another type of lake that is found in Banff National Park. These lakes are fed by glacial meltwater and are also known for their stunning blue-green color and crystal-clear waters.

Some of the most popular glacial-fed lakes in Banff National Park include:

  • Bow Lake
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Johnson Lake
  • Hector Lake

9 Beautiful Lakes in Banff National Park

Here are some of the most popular lakes in Banff National Park and what makes them so special. If you have the time, consider doing the suggested hike near the lakes listed below!

Lake Louise

Big Beehive Trail - Canadaian Rockies National Park Road Trip
View of Lake Louise from Big Beehive

Lake Louise is perhaps the most famous lake in Banff National Park. With its crystal clear turquoise waters and stunning mountain backdrop, it’s no wonder that Lake Louise is often referred to as the “crown jewel” of Banff!

The lake is surrounded by towering peaks, including the famous Victoria Glacier, which provides a breathtaking view that is truly a must-see-with-your-own-eyes kind of deal.

When you find yourself at Lake Louise (which you most definitely will), you can take a leisurely stroll around the lake or hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area.

In the winter months, the lake transforms into a winter wonderland, with ice skating and ice sculpting activities available for visitors to enjoy!

Looking for the most iconic place to stay or to celebrate a special occasion at Banff? The Fairmont Château Lake Louise is where you absolutely need to book a room! This is by far Banff’s most famous hotel, featuring truly unbeatable views of Lake Louise, their 4-Diamond Fairview Dining Room, indoor pools, and heated outdoor pools too.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake - Canada National Park Road Trip Itinerary
View of Moraine Lake from Rockpile

Moraine Lake is another wildly popular lake in Banff National Park. It is known for its bright blue color and stunning mountain backdrop of the glaciated Valley of the Ten Peaks. While half the size of Lake Louise, the beauty of Moraine Lake is toe-to-toe with its larger sister.

In fact, a famous photo of the lake was on the back of Canada’s $20 bill for many years!

Visitors can take a hike to the top of the Rockpile for a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. While it looks like it’ll take some effort to get up, the hike up the rock pile will take you no more than 5 minutes. Easy peasy!

IMPORTANT NOTE: One essential thing to be aware of is how packed Moraine Lake gets in the high season. We recommend you read over our list of essential tips for visiting Banff NP before your trip!

In a nutshell, finding parking at Moraine Lake is even more challenging than parking at Lake Louise. Almost tenfold! Apparently, spots fill up by 6:30 to 7 am?

Hard to believe, but unless you show up EARLY, the “lot full” sign will be up and the parking lot will be completely closed off to visitors coming by car.

If you want to visit Moraine Lake, you will need to take the Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses. As of 2023, these are the only vehicles permitted from June to mid-October. Find out more here to strategically plan your visit.

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake - Canada National Park Road Trip

Peyto Lake is another stunning glacial lake located in Banff National Park, known for its vibrant turquoise color. And by vibrant, I really mean vibrant!

In fact, the view of the lake from the nearby Bow Summit is one of the most photographed views in the Canadian Rockies. I loved spending time at this viewpoint due to the fact that the tourists are few and far between.

It’s a lot calmer than the other more popular lakes (Louise and Moraine), so if you’re looking for a more quiet experience, this is a great little stop.

Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes - Best Lakes In Banff National Park

Lake Agnes is a small alpine lake located near Lake Louise. In fact, they share the same parking lot! Visitors can easily knock out two lakes in one (Lake Louise and Agnes) by hiking from Lake Louise up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for a stunning view of the lake and surrounding area.

Sip on some tea or enjoy baked goods while looking over the pretty alpine lake, backed by Mount Niblock and Mount Whyte. The hike is moderate in difficulty and takes about 2-3 hours round trip.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s more fun to be had after reaching Lake Agnes! For something a bit more challenging, continue hiking up to either Big Beehive Trail or Little Beehive Trail after you reach the tea house. These trails offer fantastic views of the Nokhu Crags and Lake Louise.

Lake Agnes Tea House Hike - Canadaian Rockies National Park Road Trip
Continuing along the Lake Agnes trail to Big Beehive

Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park)

Emerald Lake - Best Lakes In Banff National Park

Emerald Lake is actually located in Yoho National Park, just a short drive from Banff National Park. The lake is known for its vibrant turquoise and green color, which is caused by light reflecting off the fine glacial silt in the water.

Visitors can take a leisurely stroll around the lake or rent a canoe to explore the lake. If you’ve been itching to get out onto the water, this is a great place to do so!

This was one of my personal favorite lakes in the entire Canadian Rockies, partially due to the fact that it wasn’t overrun by tourists. Unlike what you’ll experience at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake is actually tranquil and calm!

Bow Lake

Bow Lake - Best Lakes In Banff National Park

Bow Lake is a glacier-fed lake located along the Icefields Parkway. Highway 93 runs right along the shore of this turquoise-colored glacial lake, which means your chances of coming across it naturally as you move around Banff NP are quite high!

Bow Lake is known for its stunning mountain views (you can see Bow Glacier) and massive waters, which can be enjoyed right at the shore from the parking lot.

Visitors looking to get more of a workout can take a moderate hike to the Bow Glacier Falls for an even more picturesque view of the glacier and surrounding area. The hike is an 8.9 km (5.5 mile) out-and-back trail, which means you’ll need about 2-3 hours for this one.

  • Minutes from Banff Town: 94 km (1 hour 5 minute drive)
  • Suggested Hike: Bow Glacier Falls – moderate

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka - Best Lakes In Banff National Park

Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park. Once again, you can expect a gorgeous tint of blue waters and stunning mountain views.

In the summertime, Lake Minnewanka is a major hub of activity! It’s a super popular spot for picnics, hiking, boating, fishing, biking and even scuba diving!

In fact, it’s the only lake in Banff National Park where power boats are welcome. And if you don’t own one, you can rent one here.

The lakeside amenities don’t just stop there. Along with motorized boat rentals, you can also rent canoes and kayaks. And from the parking lot on the western tip of the lake, you can find 1-hour boat cruise tours departing for Devil’s Gap (taking you to the eastern end of the lake).

For people who like exploring on foot more, this is where you can also find the start of the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail (because of the lake’s size, it’s a long one, a 9.7-mile out-and-back trail). There’s also a small snack shop at the start of the trail.

In winter, it is one of the best spots in Banff for seeing frozen methane ice bubbles!

  • Minutes from Banff Town: 14 km (20-minute drive)
  • Suggested Hike: C Level Cirque Trail – moderate

Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake - Best Lakes In Banff National Park

Johnson Lake is a lesser-known lake that’s popular for beaching. In fact, this is one of the rare beaches in Banff National Park!

Visitors typically choose this lake for sunbathing and swimming purposes. And because the lake isn’t glacial-fed, the water isn’t as cold as some of the other lakes in Banff. What that also means is less of a turquoise blue/green tint.

If you do decide to visit Johnson Lake, be sure to take a leisurely stroll around the lake or have a picnic on the shore!

  • Minutes from Banff Town: 12 km (15-minute drive)
  • Suggested Hike: Johnson Lake Loop – easy

Hector Lake

Hector Lake - Best Lakes In Banff

Hector Lake is a small lake located along the Icefields Parkway. It’s located very close to Lake Louise but is often overlooked by visitors to the Lake Louise area.

It is surrounded by the Waputik Range to the west, and like many other lakes in Banff, offers pristine views of the mountains.

If you value quieter experiences, Hector Lake is a great stop to make along the drive on Icefields Parkway. It’s the largest natural lake in Banff, and should you choose to do the Hector Lake Trail, you may very well have this 5-km roundtrip hike all to yourself!

The trailhead is a minor pull-off on the left with a little wooden sign labeled “Hector Lake Hike”. While the sign points you to the parking lot, finding the trailhead will be hard if you don’t research it in advance. Do also note that it’s lightly muddy in certain areas and that there is a water crossing along this hike! Water shoes are useful for crossing the river.

An excellent campsite is at the end of the trail, with several canoes hidden in the trees available for use.

Minutes from Banff Town: 78 km (55-minute drive)
Suggested Hike:
Hector Lake Trail

Frequently Asked Questions About Banff’s Lakes

What are the two famous lakes in Banff?

The two famous lakes in Banff are Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Both of these are glacier lakes, meaning they are as blue as they come and are surrounded by striking, towering peaks.

Are the lakes safe for swimming or other water activities?

Swimming is allowed in some areas of Banff’s lakes, but visitors should be aware that because a lot of the lakes consist of glacier-melt water, the waters can be very cold, even during the summer months. It’ll be way too cold and you’d have a high chance of getting hypothermia. Other water activities, such as kayaking and canoeing, are also allowed on the lakes.
If you insist on going for a swim in a lake in Banff, the best option is Johnson Lake, which is not glacially fed, meaning the water temperature is a bit warmer than the others. Plus, this one actually has a sandy beach for visitors to enjoy.

What is the water temperature like in the lakes?

The water temperature in the lakes can vary depending on the time of year and the weather conditions. In the winter months, water temperatures can be as low as 0 to 3°C (32 to 39°F). In the summer months, the water temperature can increase to around 10 to 15°C (50 to 59°F).

Are there any boat tours or other activities available on the lakes? 

Yes, there are boat tours and canoe tours on certain lakes within Banff National Park. At Lake Minnewanka, you can find 1-hour boat cruise tours departing for Devil’s Gap (taking you to the eastern end of the lake).
There’s also the Banff National Park Big Canoe Tour on Bow River.
Canoe/kayak rentals are available at Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake.

Are there any nearby restaurants or cafes where I can grab a bite to eat and soak in views?

Yes, there are several restaurants and cafes located near hotspots like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, including the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Moraine Lake Lodge. You can also find small snack bars at some of the smaller lakes.

Are there any wildlife or safety concerns that I should be aware of when visiting the lakes? 

Visitors should be aware that the lakes are located in bear country, and it is important to take precautions to avoid encounters with wildlife. Visitors should also be aware of the risks associated with hiking in the mountains, including changing weather conditions and steep terrain.

Is fishing allowed in Banff National Park’s lakes?

Yes, fishing is allowed in some of the lakes in Banff National Park, including Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, Vermilion Lake, and Hector Lake. However, visitors must have a valid fishing license and must follow all fishing regulations and guidelines set by Parks Canada. A national park-specific fishing permit is also required (which is different than a provincial one). Be sure to check with Parks Canada for the most up-to-date information on fishing regulations and closures.

Essential Tips For Your Banff National Park Visit

Here are some essential tips for road-tripping through Banff National Park:

  1. Plan your route in advance: Make sure you have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you want to see in that day. Cell phone service is spotty and even non-existent in some parts of the National Parks lands.
  2. Parks passes are required at all Canadian national parks. If you don’t get the yearly pass ($145 for a family or group for one year), it will cost ~$10 per person per day (depending on if you’re an adult or senior). Youth (up to age 17) are FREE! You can find more info about NP rates here.
  3. Traveling with a larger group? The family/group rate ($21 per day) is going to be the best deal. Family/Group = up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle in a national park.
  4. Be aware that since Banff the town is located within Banff National Park, you will have to pay the national park entrance fee to enter the town if you don’t have the yearly pass. You’ll want to make sure you only visit Banff town on a day when you also plan to do national park things!
  5. If visiting Lake Louise, get an early start in order to get parking. Parking is such a hassle within Banff National Park, so it really does take some planning. As long as you arrive early (I recommend no later than 8 am), you won’t have too many issues with finding a spot.
  6. Lake Moraine is a pain in the butt to visit. Taking public transportation is likely the only viable option going forward. As of 2023, the Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses are the only vehicles permitted in the parking lot from June to mid-October. Find out more here to plan your visit.
  7. A great alternative to avoid all the parking issues is to opt for the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour from Banff OR this Banff National Park Tour. Both include visits to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake — without all the parking headache.
  8. Grizzly bears and black bears can both be found in Banff National Park. Learn more about the bears of BC and about wildlife safety here.
  9. Check the weather every morning before your day begins: The weather in the Canadian Rockies can be really unpredictable, so it’s important to check the forecast before you set out. Pack accordingly, including warm clothing and rain gear. Better yet, just keep a rain jacket or travel umbrella in the trunk of your car in the case of random rain showers.
  10. Bring a map with you in the car: It’s always a good idea to have a physical map on hand, especially if you’re going to be exploring some of the more remote areas of the Rockies. At the entrance of the national parks, be sure to grab one from the park ranger. Make sure you also have a GPS device or smartphone with a reliable map app. We like to have Google Maps downloaded for offline use!
  11. Pack plenty of supplies: This is a road trip! Expect hours of driving, especially if you’re coming from a larger city in Canada. Make sure you have enough food, water, snacks, and other supplies to last the duration of your trip. It’s also a good idea to pack a first aid kit, a flashlight, and a spare tire.
  12. Be prepared for wildlife encounters: The Canadian Rockies are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bears, moose, and elk. Be prepared for encounters by making noise when hiking, keeping a safe distance from wildlife, and storing food properly.
  13. Respect the environment: The Canadian Rockies and the national parks are a beautiful and fragile ecosystem, so make sure to leave no trace and follow Leave No Trace principles when you’re out exploring.
  14. Stay safe: Always drive defensively and be aware of your surroundings. Follow the speed limits and be mindful of other drivers on the road.


License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!

Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.

Jumper Cables / Car Jump Starter | A must-have for any road trip! If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool was sent from heaven and serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one!

iOttie car mount | This is my partner in crime on any road trip. It’s got an amazing grip and popping your phone in and out of the mount could not be easier. If you’re renting a rental car and you’re not sure if it has a navigation screen, bring a phone mount with you. The iOttie attaches by suction, so it’s easy to transport from car to car.

Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This convenient little kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.

Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.

Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more.

Looking for more Canada / national park travel tips? You may also like:

The Perfect 7-Day Banff And Jasper National Park Itinerary

32 Best Things To Do In Jasper and Banff National Parks

6-Day Banff Canadian Rockies Road Trip: 20 Best Stops To Make

5 Amazing National Parks Near Vancouver, British Columbia

45 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials For Your Next Road Trip

20 Beautiful Places To Visit In Washington

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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