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How to Get from Banff to Peyto Lake: Self-Drive or Guided Tours

How to Get from Banff to Peyto Lake: Self-Drive or Guided Tours

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It’s no secret that Banff National Park is home to some of the most scenic lakes in the world, including the famous Peyto Lake. This bright turquoise lake is a must-see for anyone visiting Banff, but if you’re like me when I was trying to visit the first time, you might be wondering how exactly you get here.

Banff can be a busy place that is tricky to get around. Luckily, I have visited Peyto Lake many times by car and on tours, and am here to outline the best ways to get there from Banff Town so you can see this gorgeous natural wonder for yourself! So get your camera ready to see one of the most Instagrammable places in all of Banff!

Drive Yourself

Stunning view of Peyto Lake as seen from Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
Peyto Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada!

One of the easiest ways to get to Peyto Lake from Banff is by driving! We love road-tripping here since it’s such a scenic drive through the Canadian Rockies!

Located just off the Icefields Parkway, the lake is super easy to reach and takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get here from Banff Town. That may seem a bit long, but trust me, it’s worth it! Plus there are many great areas to stop along the way to break up the drive such as Lake Louise, which sits almost right at the halfway point, only 35 minutes away from Peyto Lake.  

Having lived around Banff for a while, we have visited Peyto Lake many times and the view never disappoints. So whether you’re staying in Banff and taking a day trip, or road-tripping through the Rockies on your way to Jasper, we think you must include a stop here on your Banff itinerary!

Just note that in order to drive the Icefields Parkway and visit Peyto Lake, you will need to buy a Parks Pass for $11 CAD per person per day or $75 CAD for a full year.

Where is Peyto Lake?

Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park on the Icefields Parkway, Canada
What a place!
Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada at sunset
The brand new platform!

Peyto Lake is located in Banff National Park in the beautiful Canadian Rockies and in my opinion, is one of the best places to visit in Alberta!

If you’re traveling to Peyto Lake from Banff, the 100 km (62 miles) journey begins going west via the Trans-Canada Highway/AB-1 and then just outside of Lake Louise, you will take the AB-93 exit towards Japer/Rocky Mountain House. This is Highway 93 (AKA Icefields Parkway) and is one of the top ten scenic drives in the world!

The Icefields Parkway actually spans 230 km between Lake Louise and Jasper with many amazing stops in between, including Peyto Lake. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for animals while on the drive here, because this is one of the best places to see wildlife – we spotted a bear along the side of the road here last summer!

To get to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint, pull off the highway and follow the signs to the Bow Summit Peyto Lake parking lot (more on this below!), and then take a short hike (about 10-20 minutes) up the paved path to the lookout area and platform.

If you’re feeling adventurous, we recommend walking another 10 minutes further to the second viewpoint. It’s a flat walk there and we find it tends to be much less busy than the first lookout area!

Related Read: If you’re thinking of visiting Lake Louise as well, check out the gondola or go for a scenic hike around the lake!

What is Parking Like at Peyto Lake?

The main parking lot at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
The main parking lot at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada

Once you get to Peyto Lake, there are two parking lots. The first parking lot is the main parking lot, called the Bow Summit Peyto Lake Parking Lot. This is the lot where we always park and the best part, it’s completely free!

There is a closer parking lot to the viewpoint but this is reserved for buses and accessible parking only. If you have someone with you who doesn’t want to walk as far to the viewpoint, we recommend driving to this parking lot to drop them off and then parking down at the main lot.

We have been here many times, and find that parking can be a bit crazy during the busy summer season in Banff. To avoid the crowds and have your best chance at snagging a spot, we recommend going during the off-season, visiting on a weekday, and avoiding going at mid-day peak times.

Whenever we drive ourselves here, we go later in the day to catch the sunset. It’s so peaceful at this time of day, and there is nothing better than watching the beautiful blue hues of the lake change as the sun sets behind the mountain.

Go on a Guided Tour with Transport Included

Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park
The entire boardwalk!

If you’re staying in Banff Town another great option to get to Peyto Lake is on a guided tour! I recommend this so you don’t have to worry about driving, parking, or other logistics. Plus all these tours visit much more than just Peyto Lake, which is a huge bonus in my opinion. So if a stress-free trip is what you’re after, here are some of the best tours that visit Peyto Lake!

Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway Full-day Tour

If you want to see all of the best lakes in Banff National Park, then this full-day tour is the one for you! Not only did we get to marvel at the bright turquoise hue of Peyto Lake, but we also visited other iconic areas such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (my personal favorite)!

These are places you can’t miss out on seeing while in Banff – believe me, these are some of the nicest lakes in the entire world! Because of this, they can be extremely hard to get to if you aren’t on a tour. I’ve found parking at Lake Louise is a nightmare most of the time, and since you can’t park at Moraine Lake, getting there proves to be quite the challenge – so this tour really is the most convenient option!

We got picked up from our Banff hotel around 9 am, giving us enough time to fuel up with some java at one of Banff’s cafes before getting on the bus. Thank goodness we did, because this day is jam-packed visiting Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Bow Lake, the Crowfoot Glacier, AND Peyto Lake. Talk about an iconic itinerary!

Not only did we learn so much from our guide, but for $195 CAD, this tour includes hotel pick-up/drop-off, and the park entrance fees. This tour is super popular and has a maximum of only 22 people. So make sure to secure your spot in advance, and you can always cancel up to 24 hours before you go.

Columbia Icefield Adventure 1-day Tour 

This full-day tour is one of the best Icefields Parkway tours. Not only does it visit Peyto Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, and Bow Lake, but it also stops by the Columbia Icefield where you can choose to board an all-terrain Ice Explorer vehicle to drive onto the Athabasca Glacier – the most-visited glacier in North America!

This tour departs from downtown Banff where you’ll head straight for the scenic Icefields Parkway to spend a full day exploring. This is one of our favorite drives in the whole world and it was so nice to leave the driving to someone else so both of us could enjoy the view!

The trip includes transportation, a guide, park fees, and even gratuities, so there is no need to budget any extra money except for lunch! It costs $210 CAD, with the option to add on the Ice Explorer glacier tour for $95 CAD extra. And with Viator’s “Reserve Now and Pay Later” plan, you don’t have to make any payments until just before you go!

Banff and the Icefields Parkway – Small Group Full-day Tour

This small group tour includes a lot of the same great stops as the other two tours and a couple of bonus ones! We still saw Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake, and the Columbia Icefield. But also got to visit the Weeping Wall and Mistaya Canyon – a beautiful limestone gorge carved out by the flowing river over thousands of years!

The tour includes transport in a comfy vehicle and friendly guides. Plus, with a maximum of 12 people, it didn’t feel crowded at all. We think it’s also a great price for the personal experience that you get at $288 CAD. We recommend packing snacks and lunch, but you can always reach out to the tour company in advance to pay for a packed picnic lunch, which we think is an awesome option!

This tour is likely to sell out, so book your tickets ahead of time for a jam-packed day of adventuring!

Exclusive Private Tour Icefields Parkway

Even though I love group tours and meeting new people, sometimes it’s nice to just do your own thing with a private tour like this one! We couldn’t believe the luxury experience we had, and our personal guide was really knowledgeable and made the day so much fun.

What’s great about this private tour is that you can do it in the summer AND in the winter! Dan and I went on this tour when we were in Banff during Christmas and loved seeing the frozen lakes and snow-capped mountains. Our tour guide and driver, Jerzy, was well-equipped for the snowy conditions and we felt safe the entire time.

This full-day private tour includes pick-up and drop-off from Banff and stops at Lake Louise, Bow Lake, Saskatchewan River Crossing, Columbia Icefields, and of course Peyto Lake. It costs $320 CAD per person and you can book for two or three people making this tour perfect for a group of friends or even a romantic honeymoon.

Related Read: If you have more time, I highly recommend checking out some of these other great tours in Banff!

General Info About Peyto Lake

Bailey with her dog rex at Peyto Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Canada
If you’re lucky, you may even see some cute furry friends while there!

The Peyto Lake Viewpoint (also called the Peyto Lake Lookout) is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park and it’s easy to see why. The lake is a miraculous bright blue color – it almost looks fake!

In the early 1900s, a man named Bill Peyto was an early guide of the area and today the lake and glacier are named after him. The distinctive blue color of the lake is caused by glacial rock flour coming into the lake from the Peyto Glacier in the Wapta Icefield. As the water moves, it erodes the rock into flour which flows into the lake and stays suspended in the water which causes the bright turquoise hue.

The most popular way to view the lake is from the Peyto Lake Viewpoint. On our last visit we got to see the renovation to the viewing platform! It’s now much larger and wheelchair accessible. The platform is over 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) above sea level offering unmatched views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

While you could walk down to the water and go for a swim, we don’t recommend this! The water is FREEZING cold and there isn’t a clear and easy path down to the lake. But if you’re craving a polar dip, we say go for it!

There are some other hikes in the area though that are worth a try. My favorite is the Bow Summit Viewpoint Hike. It’s 6.4 km (4 miles) and moderately difficult, but we think it’s worth it for the great views!

Another great thing about Peyto Lake is that, unlike Moraine Lake, you can visit it year-round. We recommend visiting when the lake is thawed so you can really appreciate the color. This usually happens around June and then it will start to freeze again around mid-October. I love going around October because the lake usually isn’t quite frozen yet, but there is usually some snow and the contrast between the blue lake and white mountains is truly breathtaking!

If you want some more detailed information about Peyto Lake, we wrote a blog about everything you need to know before visiting here!

Where to Stay Near Peyto Lake

Cozy fire indoors at HI Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway
Us at Mosquito Creek Hostel enjoying the cozy fire.
Outdoor fire pit at the HI Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway
Outdoor firepit at Mosquito Creek Hostel

If you are driving yourself to Peyto Lake, then we recommend staying the night nearby instead of driving back to Banff! Here are a few great options:

Accommodations close to Peyto Lake

We grabbed a room at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel, which is only about a 10-minute drive away from Peyto Lake. This is a cute, rustic log cabin-style hostel surrounded by nature. It’s a step up from camping, but be warned there’s no running water or electricity. You can grab a bunk here by booking online for around $40 CAD a night and really unplug and enjoy the Rockies!

For a step up in accommodation, the only real hotel nearby is The Lodge at Bow Lake. It’s located on Bow Lake, 5 minutes south of Peyto Lake. As it’s the only accommodation close by, it gets booked up quickly, so book far in advance if you would like to stay. 

Campgrounds

Unfortunately, you cannot camp at Peyto Lake, but we’ve found a few campsites where you can stay along the Icefields Parkway. These are open during the summer, but you can check the exact dates here. All are about a 15-minute drive from Peyto Lake Lookout.

The Silverhorn Creek Campground is open from the beginning of June to early October. Sites cost $17 CAD per night and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, you can reserve Silverhorn campsites online, but only until late September.

When we stayed here, we noticed the campsites were unpowered and quite close together. There’s a hand pump and dry toilets, but you’ll need to go to Waterfowl Lakes Campground for potable water or RV sani stations. Also, fire permits cost an additional $9 CAD a night.

Waterfowl Lakes Campground is open from late June to early September. It operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. RV and camping sites are $22 CAD without a fire and $31 CAD with a fire. They have both dry and flush toilets as well as hot and cold running water and a sani station.

Mosquito Creek Campground is open from early June to early October and operates on a first-come, first-serve basis as well. The RV and tent sites are very basic and cost $17 CAD without a fire and $27 CAD with a fire.

Lake Louise  

If you’re looking for more selection, you can always stay in Lake Louise. It’s only a half-hour drive away, so it’s super convenient and gives you tons of options for accommodations. Plus, you’ll be perfectly placed to explore Lake Louise too!

The Lake Louise Inn is a nice mid-range hotel with some recent renovations. It has an indoor pool, onsite restaurant and bar, modern rooms, and even apartments for larger groups. My favorite part is that all guest rooms have balconies, cozy fireplaces, and views of the mountains!

If you really want to spoil yourself, the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise is my pick. This grand hotel sits on the shoreline of Lake Louise – it’s a location you’ll have to see to believe! Spending a night or two here is on my personal bucket list for sure.

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

Bailey at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Waterfall at Johnston Canyon!
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake!

Once you’ve arrived in this part of Alberta, there are so many things to do in Banff! But with so much to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. So below, I’ve picked some of my favorite activities in the area.

  • Look for wildlife – Banff is home to pretty incredible wildlife. You might just spot elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more! The best chance you have of seeing the most critters is on a wildlife tour in Banff. We really liked this small group tour where the guides tailor the itinerary to recent wildlife spottings, and you get to see highlights of the national park along the way.
  • Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see more stunning lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and impossible at Moraine Lake!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
  • Ride the Banff Gondola – If you want the best vantage point in town, ride up the Banff Gondola! You’ll climb to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a view of six different mountain ranges. Tickets for the Banff Gondola do sell out in the busy season, so make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time!
  • Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at the Peyto Lake Lookout, Canada
Thanks for reading!

Peyto Lake is a must-see destination in the Canadian Rockies! It’s easy to reach either by driving yourself or taking a guided tour along the beautiful Icefields Parkway. We know you will enjoy it as much as we did!

If you’re traveling through other parts of the country, check out my other blogs about Canada! I love sharing information about where to go and what to do all over the country. And if you’re sticking to Western Canada, here are some useful articles about nearby attractions:

30 MAGICAL Things to do in Lake Louise in Winter (2024 Guide!)

16 Things to KNOW Before Riding the Jasper SkyTram

11 BEST Stops on the Drive from Edmonton to Jasper