Canada has more lakes than all other countries combined. Seriously. More than half of the world’s natural lakes are located in this country, and their gorgeous blue shades will make you wonder whether they’re actually real.
These glacial lakes – which are formed by glaciers that have moved, eroded land and melted – get their brilliant blue colors from glacier silt and rock flour. And with the backdrop of the vast Canadian Rockies, they’re must-sees for anyone visiting Banff National Park or nearby Yoho and Jasper national parks.
Get a glimpse of their beauty in the short video below!
We spent a week lake-hopping throughout Alberta and British Columbia and narrowed down our favorites to help you plan your True North adventure.
You’ll find nine of the top lakes in Banff, Yoho and Jasper in this blog, and learn how we rank each lake’s beauty, which are most convenient to visit and additional perks we consider a “bonus factor”.
9 Must-See Lakes in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks
1. Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
Coordinates: 51.3217° N, 116.1860° W
Beauty rating: 10/10
The photo above is completely untouched – no Photoshop or Lightroom. No quick touches to make the blue water a little more vibrant. In fact, this is just an iPhone photo I snapped as I climbed my way up the aptly named Rockpile in search of the perfect view.
Moraine Lake was by far our favorite lake in the Canadian Rockies. There was something so special about this place – how the fire burning inside Moraine Lake Lodge warmed your soul, how the water mesmerized you and how the mountains in the background felt like a curtain surrounding the lake, adding a sense of privacy in an otherwise vast and open landscape.
Convenience rating: 5/5, if staying at Moraine Lake Lodge
We stayed at Moraine Lake Lodge and it was the best decision we made on this trip. Not only did we get to see these stunning waters change colors at different times of day (and in different weather conditions), but we received a free pass to canoe on Moraine Lake, which was one of the highlights of our trip.
Plus, staying at the lodge gave us 24/7 access to the lake. Getting to Moraine Lake during peak season (July through mid-September) is a bit tough unless you’re staying at the lodge.
Banff is super busy during the summer months, so Parks Canada regulates inbound traffic to Moraine Lake to minimize congestion. Roadblocks are set up at the beginning of Moraine Lake Road, so you’d have to park farther away and take a shuttle in if you’re not staying on-site.
As a guest at Moraine Lake Lodge, though, you have private and designated parking and are also given the right of way to pass through all traffic controls by showing the attendant your booking confirmation letter.
Bonus factor: Jump into the lake with locals!
If you’re brave enough, you can even jump into the nearly freezing water (36 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact) with the locals like Mike did!
2. Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
Coordinates: 51.7255° N, 116.5227° W
Beauty rating: 10/10
We didn’t think it was possible to find a lake bluer than Moraine, but here it is! (Glacier Freeze Gatorade, anyone??) Other travelers told us that Peyto Lake was well worth a pit stop during our trip in the Canadian Rockies, and we were glad we took their advice.
This stunning lake is fed by Peyto Glacier (pictured below), which you can see from the Peyto Lake Overlook.
Beware that there will be crowds at nearly every overlook. With views like these, Peyto Lake is sure to be on everyone’s Canadian Rockies bucket list.
Convenience rating: 4/5
The hike to Peyto Lake Overlook is 2.7 kilometers (about 1.7 miles) and is doable for hikers of any skill level.
The overlook gives you more than just a breathtaking view of this lake; it gives you perspective on just how small you really are. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, take in the gorgeous blue shades and feel inspired by your surroundings. Oh! And take lots of pictures.
Bonus factor: Along the loop trail, you’ll find signage about the area’s diverse wildflowers.
Honestly, we raced past the signs on our way up to the lookout – can you blame us? – but we took our time heading back down, reading each sign and scouting for the flowers that were described.
The western anemone (pictured below) is a rare find, as the peak season for wildflowers doesn’t last long in this area. The flower gets a head start by producing its bud the summer before. As soon as the snow starts to melt, out pops the flower. Then the leaves appear. The shaggy seedhead remains all summer until the last seed hair blows away.
3. Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Coordinates: 51.4254° N, 116.1773° W
Beauty rating: 9/10
With the iconic Fairmont Chateau standing guard at one end, Lake Louise is another stunning glacial lake in Banff National Park.
Even after seeing pictures of the lake on Instagram, its turquoise color wowed us, making the hike up to Fairview Lookout well worth our effort.
Convenience rating: 2.5/5 if hiking to Fairview Lookout
For inexperienced hikers like me, the trek up to Fairview Lookout will have your glutes and calves burning. Mike, on the other hand, was barely breaking a sweat.
This short but steep trail is 2.4 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) out and back and is rated as “moderate” – although my muscles would disagree. My best advice for those less fit like me is to put mind over matter and remember that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Pack a water bottle and be sure to layer on bug spray! There are lots of mosquitoes on the way up.
4. Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park
Coordinates: 51.4434° N, 116.5308° W
Beauty rating: 8/10
We saw the bluest blues and, at Emerald Lake, we saw the greenest greens. Emerald Lake is as peaceful as it is beautiful. The trail around the lake features various viewpoints, which makes it feel much less crowded.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to take grid-worthy shots of Yoho’s largest lake, with different backdrops as you continue along the trail.
Convenience rating: 5/5
The parking lot is less than a five-minute walk from the lake. Even when the lot fills up (which it will), you’ll be able to park along the road and walk to the trail.
Bonus factor: Pack a picnic and eat by the lake. There are plenty of picnic tables and benches where you can relax and take in the scenery.
5. Lac Beauvert, Jasper National Park
Coordinates: 52.8821° N, 118.0618° W
Beauty rating: 7/10
This calm, beautiful lake is the perfect place to escape the crowds. It’s off the beaten path and has a parking lot that’s too small for tour buses – making it ideal for couples looking to get away and enjoy some peace and quiet.
We arrived just before a storm rolled in, and were greeted with a moody scene that made for great pictures. Despite not being on many “top” lists, Lac Beauvert was one of our favorite stops.
Convenience rating: 5/5
The parking lot is at the water’s edge. All you need to do is turn around to see the lake!
Bonus factor: Lac Beauvert is truly a hidden gem. This was one of few locations where there weren’t crazy crowds.
6. Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park
Coordinates: 51.2641° N, 115.3746° W
Beauty rating: 6/10
The beauty of this area comes not just from the lake, but from the area’s wildlife and the expansive shoreline that offers a different view at every turn.
The area surrounding Lake Minnewanka is teeming with wildlife in the morning. This was our very first stop in Banff, and it didn’t disappoint!
We arrived around 8 a.m. and were getting our cameras out of the car when Mike looked up and said to a nearby park ranger, “Is that real!?” Sure enough, a black bear was grazing at the edge of the parking lot. The ranger’s response: “Oh, crap.”
We’ll never forget this experience! Not only was it our first stop in the Canadian Rockies, but it was also the first time we had ever seen a bear in the wild.
Not even 10 minutes later, as we made our way to the lake, we saw an elk casually walking across the parking lot.
The best time to see bears and other wildlife in Banff and Jasper national parks is at dawn or just after. If you time your visit to Lake Minnewanka just right, you may be lucky like us and see these beautiful animals!
Convenience rating: 5/5
The parking lot is close to the lake and large enough to hold plenty of vehicles. You should still plan to arrive early, though, because by the time we were leaving (around 11 a.m.), the lot was nearing capacity.
Bonus factor: This area, before it was flooded in 1941, was home to a resort town called Minnewanka Landing. The underwater ghost town can now only be seen by scuba divers, but knowing the story behind the lake makes this site even more incredible.
7 & 8. Valley of the Five Lakes – Fifth and Fourth Lake, Jasper National Park
Coordinates: 52°48’30.4″N 118°01’24.7″W
Beauty rating: 4/10
The Valley of the Five Lakes is considered one of Canada’s natural wonders. The lakes vary in color, each featuring a unique shade of blue or green. Our favorites were the Fifth Lake (pictured above) and the Fourth Lake (pictured below).
We went on a rainy day, so we didn’t get the full effect – the mountains were hiding behind layers of fog and clouds during our visit.
It also didn’t help that by this time in our trip, we had already seen Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise and Emerald Lake. If you’re going to do the Valley of the Five Lakes hike, do it early in your trip, because the other lakes in Banff, Yoho and Jasper blow these out of the water.
Convenience rating: 2/5
The entire loop around the Valley of the Five Lakes is 4.5 kilometers (about 2.8 miles). You can choose to hike clockwise or counterclockwise – either starting with the First Lake or the Fifth, respectively.
We chose the latter, which is considered to be a “difficult” hike, although I didn’t think it was as grueling as the hike up to Fairview Lookout to see Lake Louise.
A word of caution though: This can be a tricky hike in wet conditions, as the trail takes you through several elevation gains and losses. Be sure to wear appropriate shoes (hiking shoes/boots if you have them) so you don’t take a tumble!
The hike to the Fifth Lake is only 1.9 kilometers (about 1.2 miles). You’ll begin with an easy walk through a fairly flat forest, then reach a boardwalk to cross the Wabasso Creek wetlands. Beyond this, you’ll reach a junction, where you’ll continue on Trail 9a to reach the Fifth Lake. The Fourth Lake is just a few steps beyond the Fifth.
Bonus factor: There’s a white birch forest along the hiking trail on your way to the Fifth Lake.
9. Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park
Coordinates: 52.8543° N, 117.7572° W
Beauty rating: 3/10
Medicine Lake – which got its name from natives in the area who believed that it had magical powers – continuously drains through a network of underground caves. In October, this picture would look much different!
Making the lake even more eerie are the dead trees along the water. In 2015, a forest fire – ignited by a lightning strike – burned these trees, along with thousands of others in a fire that grew to be 1,000 hectares in size.
Convenience rating: 5/5
Like Lac Beauvert, the parking lot for Medicine Lake is at the water’s edge, making this pit stop quick and convenient. We had actually pulled off the road when we saw a washroom in the parking lot, only to realize that we had unknowingly stopped at the famed Medicine Lake.
Bonus factor: This lake vanishes and reappears every year, making the site a unique – albeit spooky – experience.
Tips for Viewing Canada’s Best Lakes
- Go in July or August, when the color of the lakes is the most intense.
- Hike or climb to a viewpoint, if possible. You can see the lakes’ colors better from above.
- Plan to stay in the area for several days to increase your likelihood of getting sunny, clear weather.
- Always wear hiking shoes or boots. Some hikes are trickier than others, but it’s best to have the appropriate footwear, regardless of the hike’s difficulty.
- Wear mosquito repellent and bring bear spray on your hikes. You can buy bear spray locally at a sporting goods shop or at some pharmacies. You’ll have to sign a waiver stating that you agree not to use bear spray against humans (which is illegal in Canada). Also, know that you can’t take bear spray on a plane with you, so if you’re flying home after your trip, leave your bear spray with the front desk at your final accommodation.
- Get started early each day. Parking lots fill up quickly, and you’ll also have better luck seeing wildlife first thing in the morning.
Is Banff National Park or the surrounding areas on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below. And, as always, safe travels!