If stunning, crystal clear glacial waters hidden in giant mountain peaks are top of your list then you need to head into the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia and discover the top must see lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
Laura was born not far from the Rocky mountains in the capital city of Alberta, Edmonton but until 2017 I (chris) had not been to Canada, let alone the north american high country of Canada.
Certain images and emotions should stir up when you think of places like Jasper national park, the gorgeous Moraine Lake, Yoho national park and the greater Canadian Rockies as a whole.
Since leaving Canada after a month exploring the region, I have missed it sorely ever since and am longing for the day we get to go back there and simply immerse in the breathtaking hiking, camping, wildlife photographing and driving through the mountains.
One thing that stood out for us was how insanely beautiful the lakes of the Canadian Rockies are; the clarity and richness of blues and greens are something unrivalled anywhere else in the world (in our opinion)
Whilst we haven’t been to all of the lakes listed below, these are 11 of our top picks for lakes in the Canadian Rockies you must-see in your lifetime.
A brief history on the Canadian Rocky mountain ranges
The Canadian rockies sit on the border of Alberta and British Columbia on the southern border of Canada, but still within North America. They comprise a mountain range that spans Banff national park, Glacier national park, Yoho national park and Jasper national park.
Hundreds of kilometres separate the entire range across British Columbia and Alberta and there are more than 20 recognised lakes within the region.
The Icefields parkway is an extension of the Trans-Canada highway, one which connects the town of Jasper to areas in Banff national park, passing through mountains such as mount temple, cascade mountain and further west to Mount Assiniboine.
Best time of year to visit the lakes in the Canadian Rockies
The summer season runs from June to August in Canada, which generally attracts less snow, warmer weather but it’s also the busiest time of year to visit. Tourists from around the world come here for the great hikes, outdoor camping and picnics and moderately warm weather all season.
Prices to get jacked up a fair bit for both accomodation and main tourist attractions, particularly in banff where hotels and b&bs increase their prices for peak season trading.
Unless you love hiking in the snow we would suggest coming in the shoulder season of summer, as most hiking trails are open for business, and close when the snowfall gets too heavy and dangerous.
Want to see the best lakes in the Canadian Rockies? Purchase your discounted Banff and lake Louise sightseeing tour here in a small group through the most famous sights and lakes in the Canadian Rockies!
How to drive through the Canadian Rockies
Through the stunning scenery and spectacular views of the Rockies is the Trans-Canada highway which connects most of the major towns between Alberta and British Columbia but between Lake Louise visitor centre and Jasper lies the Icefields Parkway.
The Icefields is one of the picturesque roads in all of Canada and every turn and straight lies impressive mountains and hidden gems.
There’s a couple of things to remember when driving the Icefields parkway, always drive on the right hand side of the road, not the left!
If you see wildlife like Grizzly bears, Moose or Bison be sure to keep a very safe distance, preferably in your car and drive slow past them so you can avoid hitting them should they decide to cross at the last minute.
If you want to pull to the side of the road for photos, pull right off the road and keep yourself safe from passing cars.
11 Must-see lakes in the Canadian Rockies
Our comprehensive guide includes all these beautiful lakes
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Lake Minnewanka
- Maligne Lake
- Emerald Lake
- Kinney Lake
- Vermillion Lakes
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Two jack lake
- Pyramid Lake
- Medicine Lake
Lakes in Banff national Park
Topping our list of the most beautiful of all the lakes in the Canadian Rockies is Moraine Lake, the stunning turquoise blue lake situated in the Valley of the Ten peaks.
Moraine Lake is the first of all the lakes I ever visited in the canadian rockies and can honestly saw it took my breath away.
Located from within Banff national park it is easily accessible throughout most of the season but the road leading up does close during the height of winter due to the risk of heavy snowfall and avalanches from the mountains above.
Bringing the right gear to photograph Moraine is essential to taking the best photographs you possibly can and it starts with having the best travel camera in your bag.
A short 15-20 minute drive from the main road to the carpark, Moraine Lake is best viewed from the rock pile with views out towards the lake below.
There are a number of hiking trails around Moraine lake that attract hikers from everywhere that can take you to spectacular viewpoints over Mount Temple and the valley of the ten peaks.
We’d recommend getting there 45-60 minutes before sunset or purchase your discounted Moraine and Lake Louise tour pass ahead of time to avoid all the crowds and get front row seats to sunrise for the best price here!
Banff to Moraine Lake -57 minutes
Moraine Lake to Lake Louise – 18 minutes
The most well known and photographed lake in all of the Canadian Rockies is Lake Louise, set in front of the pristine Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. We found the colour to change from a mix of emerald green to blue, depending on how far out you journey on the lake.
In the setting of Banff national park surrounded by hiking trails and mountain tops wrapping the entire lake, it’s no wonder the crowds gather here all day long.
Canoeing on the lake is the reason most people visit Lake Louise in the summertime, paying upwards of $135 Canadian dollars for an hour on the water.
Summertime is your best opportunity to get out and paddle on the lake, or visit Banff national park during the winter months between November to June when the lake is frozen and try ice-skating across the lake.
A myriad of hiking trails like Big Agnes tea house, fairview lookout or Big Beehive are to name a few popular hiking trails around Lake Louise.
Banff to Lake Louise – 41 minutes
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Minnewanka is a large glacier fed lake by the Cascade River and runs for 21 kms long. Named ‘water of the spirits’ by the Stoney nakoda first nations people of Canada, Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful spot for both hiking, biking, canoeing and family fun picnics.
The easiest way to get to Minnewanka is via Lake Minnewanka scenic drive directly to the car park where you can board the cruise boat that runs along the lake where you will have stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks of Mt Girouard and Mount Inglismaldie.
Banff to Lake Minnewanka boat cruise – 19 minutes
Lake Louise to Lake Minnewanka – 51 minutes
A personal favourite of Chris’, Peyto Lake is the most rich, vibrant blue lake in all of the Canadian Rockies. Our goal when we were in Canada was to see as many lakes in the canadian rockies as we could; we very quickly figure out there’s a lot of distance (and driving) between them.
Peyto lake is within Banff national park, a little further down the Icefields parkway and is so interesting because Peyto lake is shaped like a wolfs head. The mountain peaks behind the lake is Caldron Peak.
They have recently refurbished and clean up the uphill trail head that leads up to the Peyto lake viewpoint and only takes 10-15 minutes to climb. Alternatively you can opt to hike up Bow Summit for an elevated view and less people!
In some ways Peyto lake was more impressive than Louise or Moraine, but you be the judge of that.
Peyto Lake to Banff – 1 hour 6 minutes
A little further down from Peyto, Bow lake is as impressive as is the rocky mountains that surround it. Roughly 5 peaks surround Bow Lake, it’s a fantastic lake to stop at without the crowds, particularly at sunrise when the wind isn’t as strong and the colours come out.
There’s a long wooden pier that juts out along the water in front of the car park where you can take really nice long exposure photography from.
There’s a small 1-2 minute walk from the car park to the lake and the option to stay in the Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah lodge.
Bow lake to Banff- 1 hour
Visiting the Bow Valley parkway is included in your Moraine and Lake Louise group tour!
A network of marshlands and lake networks connect the Vermillion lakes system through the Bow Valley only 5 minutes outside of Banff town.
Whilst they don’t quite compare to the beautiful lakes of the canadian rockies we’ve previously mentioned like Emerald lake or Lake Louise, there’s a certain charm to this stunning lake. The Bow River sits south of here jutted between Vermilion and the Trans Canada Highway.
You can see the lakes at the end of the day to at sunset to cap off what I’m sure has been a long day exploring Canadian Rockies lakes.
Vermilion Lakes to Banff -5 minutes
Two Jack Lake
For the most epic views of Mount Rundle head to this lesser known lake in the Canadian Rockies but one that should be high on your list of things to do in the Canadian Rockies.
On a beautiful starry night when the moon is new, head to Two Jack to capture the stars and milky way that set in Banff national park, and on a calm night the stillness of the water will show incredible reflections of the night time sky.
This beautiful lake sits at the entrance to Lake Minnewanka and one of the best attractions to see in Banff national park.
Two Jack lake to banff – 14 minutes
Jasper national Park
If you’ve ever seen photos of that tiny outcrop island with a few pine trees on it seemingly coming out of nothing? Well you’re looking at Spirit island that sits in the second largest glacier fed lake in the world clocking in at 22 km long; Maligne Lake.
Maligne lake is one of the most incredibly beautiful canadian rockies lakes and belongs to Jasper national park. The azure-blue coloured waters are a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and swimming.
Maligne Lake is a photographers dream to venture out here to take stunning golden hour photos of canoes on the glass like lake circling around Spirit Island.
When you camp in the region you have the option to canoe out onto Maligne lake overnight and camp on Spirit Island to get unprecedented views of sunrise.
Maligne Lake to Banff – 4 hours
This might help you >> Want to learn the fundamentals to landscape photography then read this article to help you get started on your professional photography journey.
This kidney shaped lake in Jasper park has a number of easy grade short trail hike beginning from the parking lot offering pristine views of the mountains above and the lake below.
Fishing and stand-up paddling are a top attraction here and when you’re done, enjoy a picnic in the designated picnic areas.
Pyramid Lake to Banff -3 hours 26 minutes
This geological anomaly will leave you scratching your head when you visit Medicine Lake. Within Jasper national park this mysterious lake’s water disappears underground into a system of passages that connect to other lakes and rivers in the region.
It’s been classified as a runoff catchment that flows from the Maligne River into Athabasca River. It’s technically a glacial lake fed from the surrounding glaciers and mountains but deserves a mention in our itinerary.
Medicine Lake to Banff – 3 hours 41 minutes
Yoho National Park
Crossing over into British Columbia, Emerald lake sits within Yoho national park roughly 16 km west of the province line. A fantastic Canadian Rockies lakes to add to your itinerary, but considering it is a little distance away you will want to make the most of your trip by staying at the cozy little cabins at the Emerald lake lodge.
Not surprisingly Emerald lake is the largest of all 61 lakes in Yoho national park and originally discovered during the construction of the Canadian pacific highway in 1882.
Imagine discovering this blue-green emerald water in a cloud of mountains and pine trees.
Emerald Lake to banff – 1 hour 7 minutes
British Columbia lakes
Nestled between Cinnamon peak and Mount Robson on the Berg lake trail is Kinney lake. This world renowned back-country hiking trail gains a mere 800m over 23km. Kinney lake is a glacial lake that traverses through the Valley of a thousand falls and has some of the best natural landscape views in all of British Columbia.
Rock climbers come to Mount Robson not only for the surrounding lake, but to tackle the almost pure ascent of 3000m.
The world renowned Berg Lake trail is one of Canada’s premier hiking trails that can be achieved over 2 days but preferably over 4-5 to enjoy your hike, and from just $10CAD/night this is one of the cheaper hikes you can do.
Asides from having one of the most beautiful lakes (Kinney Lake) at the foothills, Mount Robson is the highest peak in all of the canadian rockies.
Taking great photos in the Rocky Mountains
If you haven’t already you need to read our article on Photography tips for Beginners and learn what we consider to be the fundamentals of landscape photography.
There’s a few things to consider when photographing the Canadian Rockies lakes.
Sunrise and Sunset- day time photos in full sun of the beautiful lakes and surrounding mountains are fantastic, particularly the national parks of Alberta but you will want to get to places 30 minutes before sunrise, and stay until blue hour after sunset.
Use a tripod – using a quality, stable tripod will help you get the most sharp and in focus shots when taking landscape photos, particularly when you have a long depth of field and need everything in focus
Look for a unique perspective – The lakes in the Canadian rockies have been photographed countless times, so looking for new and unique perspectives of landscapes is not only essential to producing original images but it helps you grow as a photographer.
Sometimes taking a short walk away from the main hub of photographers can provide a different angle.
Go wide, and zoom in – Having both a wide angle and a telephoto lens in your kit will help offer both different perspectives of landscape, capturing the vastness of a scene, and having the ability to focus in on the small and interesting details of a mountain peak, or an animal that’s visible in the distance.
Plan your shots- It may seem silly, but the devil is in the details, and knowing when and where you want to shoot and at what time will leave you walking away with ideal images and not spending half an hour deciding where to shoot – and avoiding crowds at the same time!