Banff national park is one of the most visited spots in all of Canada and there’s no question why. home to iconic places like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Moraine lake, Banff also boasts a ton of LESSER-KNOWN areas that are just as beautiful.
So you’re planning a trip to Banff? We are SO excited for you! It is one of our favourite places on the planet and we can’t wait to show you around. In this blog post, we are going to share 15 of the most beautiful lakes near Banff and why we think you’ll love them, too.
There are countless alpine lakes scattered throughout the Rockies that vary in size, colour, and accessibility. This list highlights the best of the best with options for drive-up lakes, moderate day hikes, and multi-day backpacking trips.
How to Get to The Lakes Near Banff
If at all possible, we would highly recommend having a vehicle for your time in Banff National Park. While you can get around with public transportation, having your own vehicle will give you more flexibility and allow you to visit off-the-beaten-path places.
Another great option is hiring a guide and our favourite tour operator in the area is Big Nature. They offer small group and private tours in Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks with pickups in Calgary, Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise. For 10% off all tour options, use the code MADETOEXPLORE10.
As far as accommodation goes in Banff, you have 3 options. You can choose to stay at a hotel or hostel, an Airbnb, or a campground. Hotels in Banff are known to be incredibly expensive, but there are a few budget options and hostels available.
Airbnbs are limited, however, you can find a few in the townsite if you book well in advance. When it comes to camping, there are several reservable and first come first serve sites throughout the park. This is our favourite method, and the most budget-friendly!
When to Visit Banff
Banff is a popular year-round destination known for hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, ice climbing and skating. If you are here specifically for the turquoise blue lakes, though, you will want to come in the summer or early fall.
It shocks many people that in the alpine areas, most lakes are still partially covered with snow and ice in June! Mid-July to mid-September is our recommended window to ensure you get to see all of these places.
Now that we’ve got the housekeeping items out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff! Here are 15 jaw-dropping lakes near Banff you can’t miss this summer!
15. Vermilion Lakes
Access: DRIVE UP
Vermilion Lakes is a chain of lakes located only 2.4 kilometres from the town of Banff. This is the only place on this list that you can easily walk to from the main street, but you can also drive right up. Many people choose to explore this area by bike, canoe, or SUP.
Vermilion Lakes are famous for the iconic photo of Mount Rundle reflected in the water. If you are visiting with your camera, sunrise or sunset will give you the best lighting.
14. Waterfowl Lakes
Access: DRIVE UP
Waterfowl Lakes are lesser-known than some of their neighbours on the Icefields Parkway. In our opinion, they are completely underrated! This is actually a bonus for those of us who choose to visit because it makes them less busy.
There is a short trail that will lead you along the shore of both lakes and a great spot for swimming not far from the parking lot. The reflection and the mountain backdrop here is hard to beat!
13. Lake Minnewanka
Access: DRIVE UP
Lake Minnewanka, meaning “Water of the Spirits” in Nakoda, is a massive lake only about 14 kilometres from the town of Banff. This is a popular area to have a picnic, go for a hike along the shore, and enjoy the scenic mountain backdrop.
At over 140 metres deep, Lake Minnewanka is one of the most unique lakes near Banff because you can scuba dive here in the summer months. Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake are the only two lakes in the park where this is possible.
12. Taylor Lake
Access: 13.2 kilometres & 911 m of elevation gain
Do you love experiencing stunning mountain lakes but hate having to share them with swarms of people? If so, Taylor Lake may be for you. This is a fantastic overnight hike and a very doable day hike that offers access to tranquil blue water without the crowds!
When we stayed, we were lucky enough to get a campsite right on the shore and it was absolute magic. If you have time, we would highly recommend hiking to the waterfall at the end of the lake.
11. Two Jack Lake
Access: DRIVE UP
Two Jack Lake is a picturesque emerald lake with fantastic views of Mount Rundle. Its easy accessibility from the town of Banff and the drive is phenomenal. It is located along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive road, very close to Lake Minnewanka.
Two Jack Lake is a great place to catch sunset or sunrise. Amenities include hiking trails, a picnic area and a lakeside campground if you are lucky enough to reserve a spot. Make sure to bring your paddle board, this is a great place to get out on the water.
10. Marvel Lake
Access: 26.4 kilometres & 350 m of elevation gain
Marvel Lake is located on the trail into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park (in BC) from the Mount Shark Parking Lot in Kananaskis. This can be a bit confusing. You actually park in Kananaskis Country and hike across the border into Banff National Park on your way to Marvel Lake.
While it is technically possible to visit for the day, it makes a much better multi-day adventure. The Marvel Lake Campground is a great place to stay on its own or add it to a longer loop that includes stops in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.
If you are camping at the lake, we would encourage you to stay two nights and hike up into Wonder Pass on your second day. From there, you will get incredible views of Marvel Lake and the lake that feeds into it, Lake Gloria.
9. Skoki Lakes
Access: 39.4 kilometres & 1,526 m of elevation gain
This was one of the first overnight hiking trips David and I ever took and YOU GUYS! If you have the time and are lucky enough to snag campground reservations or a few nights at the lodge, you are guaranteed to be blown away.
The entire Skoki Backpacking Loop is 39.4 kilometres and 1,526 m of elevation gain. It passes several marvellous lakes and has 4 backcountry campgrounds along the way. When we visited, we stayed at the Skoki Lodge and did not hike the entire circuit. When you book a night at the lodge you have the option to take a bus part way up, making the hike 11 kilometres each way with 500 m of elevation gain.
A stay at the lodge is expensive, but a once-in-a-lifetime adventure! It includes all your meals and gives you access to the Canadian wilderness from your doorstep.
8. Bow Lake
Access: drive up
Bow Lake, located on the Icefields Parkway, is one of the largest lakes in the Canadian Rockies. On a calm day, Bow Summit is perfectly reflected in the clear glacier water making it a great place for a picnic, a swim, or a short walk along the shore.
There are a few hiking trails in the area that offer excellent views from above. If you’re into waterfalls, follow the trail around the lake and hike up to Bow Falls!
7. Lake Agnes
Access: 7.4 kilometres & 435 m of elevation gain
Lake Agnes is a small mountain lake accessible from the Lake Louise parking lot. The trail to get here is 3.7 kilometres each way with 435 m of elevation gain. Most famous for the teahouse where you can order a drink and a meal, this is a beautiful way to ditch the crowds at Lake Louise.
If you have the energy, we would highly recommend continuing on to hike either Big Beehive (total 10.8 kilometres & 778 m of elevation) or Devils Thumb (total 12.7 kilometres & 939 m of elevation). Both of these trails begin with the hike to the teahouse and offer stunning views over Lake Agnes and Lake Louise.
After hiking Big Beehive, we found a quiet place along the shore to set up the hammock. I spent the afternoon reading while David fished. Lake Agnes is incredibly serene!
6. Glacier Lake
Access: 17.1 kilometres & 876 m of elevation gain
If you are into backcountry camping, this is a phenomenal place to visit for the night. The elevation gain doesn’t feel as bad as it looks and the campground is located directly on the lakeshore. The mornings here are notorious for being dead calm and absolutely stunning!
My favourite part? You can leave your vehicle, get to the lake, and set up your hammock in less than 3 hours! The trailhead for this hike is located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing.
5. Lake Louise
Access: drive up
Lake Louise is an iconic hamlet in Banff National Park known for its turquoise, glacier-fed lake. The surrounding mountains and Fairmont Chateau standing proudly on its shore make it an ever-popular tourist destination.
There is a canoe dock that offers rentals. This is an awesome way to get some peace and quiet while you explore the lake. I’ll warn you now, though, they are not cheap! If you have your own kayak, canoe or SUP, you can launch here for free.
TIPS: Tour buses start showing up around 9 AM. Make sure to get there beforehand if you’re looking for a quieter experience. For a view from the top and to escape the crowds, hike up to the Big Beehive Lookout (pictured below) or Devil’s Thumb!
4. Egypt, Mummy & Scarab Lakes
Access: 25.4 kilometres & 890 m of elevation gain
The Egypt Lake trail offers a portal into the untouched Canadian Rockies that is hard to beat. This jaw-dropping multi-day hike winds through mountain passes and meadows full of wildflowers. The turquoise lakes and rugged peaks show off some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Canada.
The easiest way to get here is to take the gondola up to Sunshine Village. From there it’s a 13-kilometre hike,a lott of which is downhill, to the campground and the lake.
I would recommend staying between 2-4 nights if possible. You could technically hike in one day and hike out the next, but you would be seriously missing out on the day hikes that are available to you from Egypt Lake Campground. Once you’ve made it that far, the backcountry is at your fingertips.
Our two favourite day hikes from Egypt Lake Campground are The Sphinx and Pharaoh Peak. They both offer marvellous views over Scarab and Mummy Lake. For more detailed information on how to complete this hike, check out our blog post linked below.
3. Peyto Lake
Access: 2.4 kilometres & 99 m of elevation gain
Peyto is one of our favourite lakes near Banff, so much so that we actually named our campervan after it! This unique mountain lake is known for its colour and the fact that it is shaped like a wolf’s head.
The trail to the viewpoint is an easy 15-minute walk from the parking lot. Although very convenient, this also means that heavy traffic will frequent the area each day. Last year the entire viewpoint was expanded, allowing tons more space to spread out and enjoy the scenery.
LOCAL SECRET: Want to ditch the crowds? We’ve got you! Once you’ve seen Peyto from the viewpoint, jump in your car and drive north for 2-3 minutes. You will soon see a small unmarked parking lot on your left, pull in there. Following the trail for about 2 kilometres will take you right to the shore of the lake! We hiked in on a Saturday with a SUP and had the entire place to ourselves.
2. Lake O’Hara
Access: 22 kilometres & 410 m of elevation gain
Lake O’Hara is without a doubt one of the most incredible lakes near Banff. While not technically located within Banff National Park, we couldn’t leave it off this list! This is our very favourite place in all of Canada for a number of reasons. We got engaged here and hiked back up two years later to take photos in our wedding attire.
The crystal clear water is surrounded by massive mountains, dozens of hiking trails and several other alpine lakes. One of the best things about Lake O’Hara is that you CAN NOT drive right up to it. You either have to book the bus (and be sure to book eeearly) or hike in and out on the 11-kilometre service road.
When you get to the top, you won’t find this place buzzing with tourists. The amount of people is always limited allowing you to truly enjoy the serene beauty of the area.
We would recommend staying for at least 2 nights, 3 if possible. Trust us, there is enough hiking here to keep you busy for weeks! The Lodge and campground book up quickly every year, so make sure to plan ahead.
1. Moraine Lake
Access: public shuttle from lake louise or bike the 11 kilometre road
Moraine Lake is one of the most photographed lakes in Canada and for good reason! The turquoise water and stunning mountain backdrop make this a perfect place to hang out for the day. Relax with a book, take a canoe out on the lake, or set out on one of the many hikes in the area.
IMPORTANT: As of 2023, personal vehicles can no longer drive up to Moraine Lake. In order to access it, you will need to hike, take a shuttle or bike up the 11-kilometre road. Our favourite way to visit Moraine Lake is with Big Nature. You can use the code MADETOEXPLORE10 for 10% off all small group and private tours.