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13 Things to KNOW about the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

13 Things to KNOW about the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

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Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park and also one of the most beautiful. With its bright blue waters and surrounding snow-covered peaks, there’s no denying this place really does belong on a postcard (or at least on your Instagram feed)!

We took a cruise on Lake Minnewanka and found that it was the best way to truly enjoy the lake. From the stunning scenery to the chance to spot wildlife and its unique history, this is your ideal Banff activity.

We put together this comprehensive guide to help you plan a fantastic day out on Lake Minnewanka. We’ll cover details like how to get there, what your cruise options are, and our top tips so you can enjoy it as much as we did!

1. About Lake Minnewanka

The dock at Lake Minnewanka where the cruise leaves from
Lake Minnewanka is stunning!

Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake in Banff National Park that covers 22 square kilometers (8.5 square miles), making it the largest lake in Banff and the second largest in the whole of the Canadian Rockies. It’s also 142 meters (465 feet) deep at its deepest point, so this is no small puddle!

Lake Minnewanka is among the most picturesque destinations in Alberta. One of our favorite things about Lake Minnewanka is that it’s also a fantastic place to see animals including bears, wolves, deer, and bighorn sheep, so it almost doubles as a wildlife tour! In fact, we highly recommend bringing binoculars with you on your cruise to scan the shore, as you’ll be sure to spot something interesting.

The Stoney Nakoda First Nation first inhabited the shores of Lake Minnewanka, for around 10,000 years. The name “Mini-waki” translates to “Lake of the Spirits” because it’s said that people could hear ghostly voices when they traveled close to the water. It’s a respected and feared place in Stoney Nakoda culture, and the early European settlers noted this and began calling it “Devil’s Lake.”

And to be fair, the development of Lake Minnewanka’s shores didn’t exactly do much to change anyone’s mind about this. In 1886, the first beach house was built on the original lakeshore, and by the early 1900s, the tourist village of Minnewanka Landing was thriving.

However, in 1941, a new dam was built that raised the water levels and left the entire place underwater, so now, only scuba divers can access it! Maybe it was just a coincidence, but maybe the spirits were just sick of being disturbed by tourists…

Related Read: If you’re hoping to see even more wildlife here, check out our favorite wildlife tours in Banff!

2. Where is Lake Minnewanka and where do the cruises depart from?

Fall colors with the Lake Minnewanka dock
The dock is right by the parking lot!

Lake Minnewanka is located inside Banff National Park. It’s about 15 km (9.3 miles) from Banff town, so it takes about 20 minutes to drive there. If you’re driving from Calgary to Banff, it’s 132 km (82 miles). And if you’re coming from Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka is 70 km (43 miles) away.

Cruises across Lake Minnewanka depart from the main dock along the southwest side of the lake. You can go and check in at the boathouse before your departure and take some time to explore before you climb aboard.

3. How do you get to Lake Minnewanka?

Stunning mountain views from a Lake Minnewanka Cruise
Don’t miss these views!

If you’ve got your own car or are renting a car, then the best way to get to Lake Minnewanka is to drive yourself. The lake is a 20-minute drive from the town of Banff, and there’s free parking close to where the cruises depart – but more on that later.

Public transportation

There’s also a Roam bus that goes from Banff town and stops at the lake. From the Banff High School Transit Hub, take the Route 6 Roam bus. It departs every 35 minutes starting at 8 am and costs $2 CAD for adults, $1 CAD for youth and seniors, and is free for kids 12 and under. However, the bus doesn’t run in the colder months, so check their website for the updated schedule.

We also learned that if you show your Lake Minnewanka cruise tickets to the driver, you get a free return ride. The ride to the lake should take 25-35 minutes. While getting there by bus can take a bit longer, you won’t need to worry about parking, which is always a plus in my book! The lake gets pretty busy during the summer, so we often prefer this option.

Cycle or walk

If you’re a keen cyclist, you can bike from Banff to Lake Minnewanka. Head north along Banff Avenue to get out of town, then cycle along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, which is a beautiful route. It should take around 50 minutes to get to the boathouse to check in for your cruise. Or, if you prefer, you can hike there instead, which should take around 3 hours.

Guided tour

If you’re coming from Calgary and want to see the lake, taking a guided tour is a super easy option. I recommend you take this Lake Minnewanka tour and best of all this is a private full-day experience that is customizable – so you can see all the sights on your list!

I love full-day tours because the tour company takes care of everything for you, from pick up in Calgary to dealing with parking at Lake Louise! Since this is a private tour, you get to customize your schedule. It always includes stops at Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Lake Minnewanka, but you can add in bonus stops at Johnston Canyon, Banff Upper Springs, and more.

It’s important to know that when you visit Lake Minnewanka, you’ll typically drive around the scenic loop. But, if you’d like to stop and take the Lake Minnewanka Cruise as well, let the tour operator know ahead of time and they can easily arrange that for you!

We feel this tour from Calgary is perfect if you are short on time, but want to experience as much of Banff National Park as possible. The price varies by group size, so if you have just two people it is $694 CAD per person, but if you have six people, it goes down to $456 CAD, for up to 14 people. It’s definitely a good option if you’re traveling as a big group!

4. Is there parking at Lake Minnewanka?

Views of the mountains from a Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park

Yes, there is a big parking lot at the lake. However, Lake Minnewanka is a very popular destination, so it fills up quickly during the summer. If you’re visiting the lake in summertime, it’s best to go either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. We typically try to avoid the peak time from around 10 am until 3 pm.

Alternatively, if you want to go in the middle of the day during the summer, it’s best to take the Route 6 bus from Banff. This way, you don’t need to worry about parking.

5. How much does a cruise on Lake Minnewanka cost?

Sailing along the lake on a Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park

The Lake Minnewanka cruise costs $69 CAD for a 1-hour scenic cruise. This is actually a great price for how immersive this experience is, and you’ll learn a ton from the commentary on board. Don’t worry, the stunning views are complimentary!

We prefer booking this tour on Viator since they have the lowest price guarantee. It’s nice and simple to book online ahead of time so you’re guaranteed a spot on the cruise, which can sell out during peak season!

You’ll notice that the price on Viator appears slightly higher than when you book directly via the official website. This is only because they include Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the price displayed (so it actually works out the same in the end).

Related Read: The Lake Minnewanka Cruise is well worth the money. But if you want to offset the cost, check out these free things to do in Banff!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

6. When can you do a cruise on Lake Minnewanka?

A lady walk's along a frozen Lake Minnewanka in Banff
In winter, this is Lake Minnewanka!

Lake Minnewanka cruises run from late May until early October every year. They depart every hour, on the hour, from 10 am until 7 pm. In the peak season (from late June to early September) departures run every hour from 9 am to 7 pm.

The lake freezes over during the winter, so you can’t go on a cruise during that time. However, I still love visiting the lake and snowshoeing some of the nearby hiking trails. This is also a great spot to go ice skating, so really visiting during the winter is just as fun as visiting during the summer (minus the cruise, of course!).

7. How long does a Lake Minnewanka cruise last?

View out the back of the boat on a Lake Minnewanka cruise
Off we go!

A Lake Minnewanka cruise lasts for about an hour, which is plenty of time to take in the stunning views and spot wildlife.

There are many things to do in Banff National Park in the summer, so Lake Minnewanka could be a quick stop before heading onto one of the many other beautiful destinations in the area. However, if you have time, you can hang around for longer and explore the shore before or after your cruise.

8. What can you expect on a Lake Minnewanka cruise?

Distant views of the mountains in Banff National Park on a Lake Minnewanka Cruise

The biggest draw of Lake Minnewanka is obviously the amazing views of one of the best lakes in Banff that you get along the way. But we also really enjoyed the educational commentary.

As you cruise around the lake, you’ll learn about the area’s natural history, the wildlife, and its significance to the Stoney Nakoda people. We were also excited to see plenty of wildlife on our cruise. So look out for elk, sheep, and lots of birds when you go. Read our full review of the Lake Minnewanka cruise here!

9. Do you need to book your Lake Minnewanka cruise tickets in advance?

Views from the window of a Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

Not necessarily. If you’re going at a quieter time of year, like May or late September, you should be okay. But during the peak summer months (June through early September), we highly recommend booking your tickets in advance.

A Lake Minnewanka cruise is easily one of the most popular things to do in Banff National Park during the summer, so it’s best to get your tickets ahead of time so that you don’t miss out! Plus, you can reserve a time slot when you book to ensure that you won’t be waiting around for ages.

Another big advantage to booking in advance is that when you show your tickets at the Roam bus office, you can get a free return ride between Banff and Lake Minnewanka. Why not save money on transportation, right?!

10. Are Lake Minnewanka cruises suitable for children and families?

View of the dock on Lake Minnewanaka as seen from our cruise

Yes, children of all ages are welcome on the cruises and we think that it’s a great family day out.

It’s a wholesome experience with pretty views and many chances to see animals grazing on the shore. The cruise only lasts an hour, so it’s not too long for little ones, and kids under 5 are free. Plus, the lake is calm, so there’s no need to worry about anyone getting seasick.

11. Are Lake Minnewanka cruises wheelchair accessible?

Views of the Rocky mountains as seen from a Lake Minnewanka cruise

Not completely.

There is storage for standard wheelchairs on board, but guests in wheelchairs must get out of their chairs to board the boat and sit in a regular seat during the cruise. It’s best to phone the boathouse (1-866-474-4766) beforehand to arrange this and discuss any concerns that you might have.

12. Are there other things to do nearby at Lake Minnewanka?

Views of the bridge on Stewart Canyon, Banff
Views of the bridge on Stewart Canyon, Banff

Yes! There are plenty of things to do at or near Lake Minnewanka. Below we’ve listed some of our favorite activities in this area.

Go hiking

The most popular thing to do at Lake Minnewanka – other than take a cruise – is to go hiking.

You can’t hike around the entire perimeter of the lake, but the Stewart Canyon Trail takes you along the shore from the parking lot to the Stewart Canyon bridge. The whole trail is 6.8 km (4.2 miles), but it’s only 3 km (1.9 miles) to the bridge on a nice, easy route.

Once you reach the bridge, you can extend your hike by another 2.2 km (1.4 miles) each way and continue along the canyon. Again, this is an easy walk with minimal elevation gain, so it’s suitable for families. Plus, the views are pretty, so we highly recommend doing this if you have time. If you do the whole hike, it should take you about two hours out and back.

If you’re looking for a longer hike around Banff and want to escape the crowds, the Lake Minnewanka Trail is a great option to spot wildlife and see more of the area. It takes you along the northern shore from the day-use area near the dock to the east side of the lake. It’s 29 km (18 miles) each way, but you can turn back at any point to shorten the hike (otherwise it’s a very long one!).

A lady poses for a photo at Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park
Two Jack Lake is so gorgeous in the summer!

Visit Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is also just a 5-minute drive from Lake Minnewanka. We think it’s definitely worth checking out this smaller lake while you’re in the area. It’s a beautiful emerald-green lake and you can hike from the day-use area and along the shore.

The Two Jack Lake Trail is 4.8 km (3 miles) out-and-back and it’s pretty flat. As such, this trail feels more like a casual stroll with plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. Plus, if you don’t have your own wheels, the Route 6 bus also stops near the trailhead. 

Go swimming

You can also go swimming in Lake Minnewanka if you’re really brave, but bear in mind that it’s VERY cold! So if you’re not in the mood for an ice bath, there’s no need to bring your swimsuit. In fact, during the summer the water is still only a few degrees above freezing!

But, on a hot summer day, there truly is nothing more refreshing – trust me!

Enjoy some food or drinks

As for eating and drinking, the Black Anchor Snack Shop is the only cafe around the lake and is located near the dock. It serves ice cream, pizza, hot dogs, churros, and coffee – all of which are great lakeside snacks if you ask us! On our visit, we grabbed a snack after our cruise and sat by the shore, soaking in the views just one more time!

If you prefer to bring your own food, there’s also a picnic spot close by.

13. Is a cruise on Lake Minnewanka worth it?

Views from the outside of the boat on a Lake Minnewanka cruise
Yes!

Yes, the views of the lake, the mountains, and Devil’s Gap are sure to blow you away!

We had so much fun on our Lake Minnewanka cruise, it was relaxed and a fun, new way to experience the lake. I also loved learning about the ecology and history of the area, which is actually quite fascinating. After our cruise, we hit one of the hiking trails for a full day at the lake.

So if you enjoy being out in nature and want to see the wildlife along Lake Minnewanka’s shores, add this to your Banff itinerary! 

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

Banff gondola building and boardwalk on a early spring day with lots of snow
The top of the Banff Gondola
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake!

Visiting Lake Minnewanka is just one of 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Where to Stay in Banff

At the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Me, in front of the Fairmont in Banff.

This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider.

Below are some amazing hotels we recommend with options for all budgets:

Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$

Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel located in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose!

Depending on the season, you can find rooms for as low as $450 CAD – although they cost more in summertime. You can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$

The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is a mid-range hotel with a swimming pool, hot tub, and gym. Plus, all the rooms have either kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer.

The location is peacefully located on Tunnel Mountain, yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. With prices starting at $107 CAD, this hotel is a great deal. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Samesun Banff Hostel – $

Samesun Banff Hostel is a great budget choice with dorm rooms. Perfect for those who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. The rooms are modern and clean, and breakfast is included. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available.

Prices start at $47 CAD, and if you’re on a tight budget in Banff, you’ll want to book this option ahead of time! You can check availability and book the Samesun Banff either on Hostelworld or Booking.com.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I suggest booking a place ASAP! 

Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

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. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

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 pose for a photo on the Banff Gondola
Thanks for reading!

The Lake Minnewanka Cruise is one of the best ways to see the lake and its surrounding scenery! It is one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve been to and has such a fascinating story behind it. We definitely recommend going and booking your tour ahead of time, so they don’t sell out.

We also hope this guide proves helpful and makes your planning super easy! If you would like to learn more, you can read my other blogs about Canada here. Below, I’ve picked three articles about destinations near Banff. Thanks for reading, and happy travels!

17 BEST Stops on the Drive from Kelowna to Banff

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park

11 BEST Restaurants in Lake Louise