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Banff National Park is home to some of the most stunning natural scenery in the world, including some exquisitely beautiful lakes. The turquoise and emerald-hued lakes in Banff are truly exquisite and are surrounded by forests and tall mountains. So if you’re looking for a getaway full of fresh air, relaxation, and nature, this is the place to be!
The lakes in Banff are also the perfect setting for many fun outdoor activities, and we love coming here to hike and kayak. Sometimes when we’re close to the lakeshore, we even spot some of Banff’s awesome wildlife, like elk and bighorn sheep.
We know this area so well because we used to live in Canmore, which is just a 20-minute drive from the town of Banff. Whenever we wanted to escape city life, we’d visit one (or more!) of these lakes. We became very familiar with the area’s lakes, from the super famous ones to some of the lesser-visited gems.
If you love lakes as much as we do, you’ll want to visit Banff National Park! And to help you out, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to Banff’s best lakes. Keep reading to learn which you should visit and what to expect at each. Trust us, you don’t miss out on seeing these beautiful bodies of water!
- 12 Best Lakes in Banff
- 1. Peyto Lake
- 2. Waterfowl Lakes
- 3. Bow Lake
- 4. Lake Minnewanka
- 5. Two Jack Lake
- 6. Lake Louise
- 7. Lake Agnes
- 8. Moraine Lake
- 9. Consolation Lakes
- 10. Vermilion Lakes
- 11. Emerald Lake
- 12. Lake O'Hara
- Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
- Where to Stay in Banff
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car in Alberta
12 Best Lakes in Banff
1. Peyto Lake
- Location: Along the Icefields Parkway, 100 km (62 mi) from Banff and 46 km (28 mi) from Lake Louise.
- Access: By driving to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint and walking for 10 minutes
Peyto Lake is your quintessential alpine lake. Its turquoise waters look even brighter against the background of forested mountains (which you can see above!).
Since the lake is along the Icefields Parkway, it makes a great stop on a road trip. This isn’t really a lake where you hang out for a long time, but it’s still a must-see while you’re in Banff. Because it’s just a quick viewpoint, it’s great if you are short on time or only have one day to spend in Banff. If you’re traveling from Banff to Jasper, I’d suggest stopping to stretch your legs here!
If you’re driving past, you absolutely have to stop at the Peyto Lake Viewpoint! The viewing platform is just a 10 to 20-minute uphill climb from the free parking lot. There’s a closer parking lot to the viewpoint – but this is reserved for coaches and accessible parking. However, you can always drop passengers off there and walk up on your own.
There is another, lesser-known viewpoint that’s another 10-minute walk from the top. Thankfully, the path there is flat so you may as well go and enjoy more beautiful views while you’re here!
You can visit Peyto Lake all year round, although the road does close when there’s really heavy snow. However, we recommend going during the summer when the lake has its sparkling turquoise hue. In the winter, the water freezes over and isn’t quite as magical.
It’s pretty easy to get to Peyto Lake from Banff or Lake Louise, but we stayed nearby at the HI Mosquito Creek Hotel. It was a super rustic hostel just a 15-minute drive from the lookout but felt like the remote mountain escape we were hoping for. In winter, there was also on-site cross-country and backcountry skiing and a wood-heated sauna!
If you want to sleep in style, The Lodge at Bow Lake is a luxurious option just a 7-minute drive from Peyto Lake. However, it is pricey and it books up fast!
Tour to Peyto Lake
To avoid worrying about logistics, take this full-day tour which stops at Peyto Lake along with many other top sights! You can tick off many of Banff’s most beautiful lakes in a single day since you’ll also visit Lake Minnewanka, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Bow Falls, and the Crowfoot Glacier. It’s such a great way to explore the region if you don’t have your own vehicle but prefer a small group setting.
It costs $180 CAD including pickup from your accommodation in either Banff or Calgary. You just need to be ready around 9 am and bring some money for food and drinks! This great deal sells out fast so check availability and book online in advance!
Note: When traveling along the Icefields Parkway, there is rarely cellphone coverage. So if you’re driving yourself, it’s best to plan your route in advance and don’t expect any phone calls.
2. Waterfowl Lakes
- Location: Along the Icefields Parkway, 117 km (73 mi) from Banff and 65 km (41 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: See the lake from the roadside viewpoint or park along the access road by the campground and hike to the Upper Lake.
Waterfowl Lakes is 19 km (12 mi) from Peyto Lake, so if you’re driving along the Icefields Parkway this is a logical next stop! Waterfowl Lakes actually refers to two lakes, a lower and an upper portion with the Waterfowl Lakes Campground in between.
What’s beautiful about the Waterfowl Lakes is that their water is so calm that it reflects the Canadian Rockies. Plus, they don’t get a lot of visitors so it’s super quiet here. When we visited, we felt like we discovered a secret oasis with the amount of privacy we had!
If you bring a SUP board or kayak with you, you can also hit the water to explore further! It’s best to do this at Lower Lake because it has easier access. It’s a 20-minute hike to Upper Lake, which can feel like an eternity when lugging your gear.
There are two options to visit the lakes. You can park at the viewpoint and snap some photos of the Lower Lake. Or, you can park closer to the campground and hike to Upper Waterfowl Lake, which is actually the more scenic of the two. This hike to the Upper Waterfowl Lake is an easy 1.7 km (1.1 mi) out-and-back trek and takes roughly 30 minutes.
There aren’t any hotels around but you can camp overnight at the Waterfowl Lakes Campground. This campsite has running water, indoor flush toilets, picnic tables, and a fire pit. There are 110 sites for tents and RVs for $23 CAD per night functioning on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, with how quiet this area is, you should be able to find a site.
Tours to Waterfowl Lakes
Waterfowl Lakes aren’t super popular, despite their incredible beauty, so most tours don’t stop here. Luckily, we’ve got some sneaky workarounds if you don’t want to rent a car in Banff.
You can request a stop on this one-way tour from Banff to Jasper, which takes you along the Icefields Parkway. It’s a great (and very scenic!) tour for those transferring between the two towns. Hotel pickup in Banff is included and you’ll see the highlights all the way to Jasper, including some of the lakes on this list!
I loved this tour because it made our journey between the two locations effortless and also fun! Plus, we got to stop and relax for a nice picnic lunch (which is also included). The tour costs $282 CAD per person and can be booked online here.
Or, you can add it to your itinerary on this private tour of Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway. Sometimes, we prefer a private tour because we can tailor it to fit our exact needs. Plus, this tour is already designed to take you to at least 6 of the lakes we’ve listed in this blog!
The tour starts with a 9 am pickup at your hotel in the Banff area, where you’ll set off for a full day of adventure and sightseeing. Water and snacks are included, but plan to cover your own lunch. This guided tour costs $2,200 CAD per group and can accommodate up to 12 guests. What’s great is you can always reserve now and pay later for this one, so secure your date online here!
Related Read: Banff doesn’t just have beautiful lakes, it also has plenty of rivers. If you’re a fan of extreme activties, read about the best whitewater rafting tours in Banff here!
3. Bow Lake
- Location: Along the Icefields Parkway, 93.5 km (58 mi) from Banff and 38.5 km (24 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Either pull over at the viewpoint or park in the lot right next to the lake
Bow Lake is another bright blue beauty, and it’s one of the biggest lakes in Banff National Park. It’s also a really popular destination for backcountry skiing in the winter. However, we think viewing the lake makes a great summer activity in Banff. When the days are clear, the lake’s blue water shines bright and you can enjoy some hiking.
If you’re pressed for time, you can stop along the Icefields Parkway and admire it from the viewpoint. If you want to explore for longer, there are a few hikes you can take that start from the parking lot.
When we visited, we hiked this 8.9-kilometer (5.5-mile) trail to Bow Glacier Falls. It’s a moderate out-and-back hike that heads along the lakeside and then inland. However, you can make it shorter (and easier) by just doing the portion along the lake. Either way, you’ll have fantastic views of Crowfoot Mountain and Mt Jimmy Simpson.
Since Bow Lake is just 20.4 km (12.6 mi) away from Waterfowl Lakes, you could stay overnight at the Waterfowl campground. But to soak up some history in luxury accommodations, try the famous Bow Lake Lodge. Formerly known as the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, it was built by mountaineer Jimmy Simpson, who even has a nearby mountain named after him.
Tours to Bow Lake
On one of our Bow Lake visits, we took this small-group tour. It’s the perfect way to explore the Icefields Parkway without driving yourself, and we felt we got just the right amount of time in each place. We got to spend about an hour at Bow Lake alone, as well as visiting 5 other lakes on this list! We saw the famous Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, as well as incredible views of the Crowfoot Glacier.
This full-day tour covers hotel pickup in Canmore or Banff around 9 am. Guests must be at least 9 years old, but it’s perfect for older kids and adults. For just $180 CAD, you can pack many of Banff’s highlights into one tour. However, it sells out fast so book your spot ahead of time here.
Related Read: If you’re driving along the Icefields Parkway, we highly recommend stopping at the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields! It’s best visited during the summer months and tours operate May – October here.
4. Lake Minnewanka
- Location: 15 km (9 mi) from Banff and 70 km (43 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Park in the lot next to the docks or take the #6 Roam Bus from Banff to Lake Minnewanka (only offered in the summer)
But the area isn’t just about the scenery – it also has a really interesting history. In Stoney Nakoda folklore, the lake is said to be haunted by spirits. And oddly enough, the tourist village that once existed here was submerged underwater in the 1940s.
But don’t worry, visiting Lake Minnewanka isn’t in the slightest bit scary! It’s incredibly beautiful, and lots of visitors flock here in the summertime to take the Lake Minnewanka Cruise. But if you’re visiting Banff during the winter, you can go snowshoeing around the lake or even skate on its frozen surface – how cool is that?
If you want to get some exercise, we highly recommend the Stewart Canyon Trail which starts near the parking lot. This super easy hiking route in Banff can be done any time of year, taking you 3 km (1.9 mi) to the Stewart Canyon Bridge. From there, you have the option to walk another 3.8 km (2.4 mi) for even more beautiful views. However, this section is more challenging and requires bear spray and a minimum of 4 people hiking together.
Lake Minnewanka is also great for wildlife spotting, so keep your eyes peeled for those must-see animals in Banff! On our summer visits, we’ve seen wolves, deer, bighorn sheep, and even a couple of bears around the edge.
Tours to Lake Minnewanka
The Lake Minnewanka Cruise is the most popular thing to do here – and for good reason because the scenery is stunning! On this 1-hour journey, you’ll explore the lake while learning about its rich history and spotting animals. It’s one of those experiences you don’t want to miss out on when visiting this lake!
The cruise is available daily from 10 am – 6 pm from late May to early October. Tickets cost $68 CAD from Monday to Thursday and $77 CAD on weekends. Since it’s so popular, it’s best to book in advance! Plus, when you book in advance, you can reserve a time slot so that you don’t need to wait in line.
If you’re more interested in animals than a cruise, this Summer Wildlife Tour is perfect for you! On top of Lake Minnewanka, you’ll visit some of Banff’s most naturally beautiful places, including the Hoodoos rock formation and Bow Falls. You’ll also stop in Bankhead Ghost Town for a unique look into Canada’s old mining history. Throughout the trip, your expert guide will teach you all about the area’s history, geology, and nature.
This is truly one for nature lovers, and at $88 CAD for a 3-hour small-group tour, it’s a great price! However, it’s only available from April through mid-October. So if you’re visiting during these months, book your tour online here!
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.
- 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!
5. Two Jack Lake
- Location: 11.4 km (7 mi) from Banff, 68 km (42 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Drive to the day-use area or catch the #6 Roam Bus from Banff (only offered in the summer)
Unlike the turquoise lakes we’ve mentioned, Two Jack Lake is an emerald-green beauty. Its rich color feels like a reflection of the forest that surrounds it. It’s a peaceful place with easy hikes and excellent views of Mt. Rundle.
I really enjoyed walking the 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) trail near the lake because it’s so mellow and not crowded. And if you visit in the winter, the trail is also a good option for snowshoeing. If you prefer relaxing, I recommend bringing a picnic lunch to the day-use area.
It only takes about 15 minutes to drive from Banff to Two Jack Lake. While there’s nowhere to rent canoes, kayaks, or SUP boards by the lake, you’re so close to Banff. So, grab some in town and bring them out with you. And if you’re visiting in the summer and don’t want to drive, take the Route 6 Roam bus which stops here.
If you’re a fan of camping, you’re in luck! There are two campgrounds at Two Jack Lake where you can stay overnight. If you plan to camp, we recommend reserving your campsites online in advance, especially if you want to stay by the lake!
The Two Jack Lakeside Campground has very pretty views since it’s right on the shore, but it’s a small site and it books up months in advance! It’s open from May to October and their unserviced sites are $30 CAD per night. However, if you want something more comfortable, try their oTENTik accommodations (similar to A-frame cabins) for $128 CAD a night.
There’s also Two Jack Lake Main, which isn’t as pretty but has over 300 tent sites, so you shouldn’t struggle to find a camping spot here. Two Jack Lake Main is open from June through September and offers unserviced sites for $23 CAD per night or equipped sites for $75 CAD.
Tours to Two Jack Lake
If you love animals, you should definitely try this small-group tour! It takes you to both Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka as well as Vermillion Lakes, Bow Falls, and the Suprise Corner Viewpoint. What we love about this tour is that the guide knows the area really well and keeps up-to-date with the latest wildlife sightings. They tailor the itinerary to maximize your chances of seeing animals like bears, foxes, elk, and coyotes.
This 3-hour tour is offered from late spring to early fall with 3 departure times daily: 4 pm, 4:30 pm, and 5:30 pm. It costs $138 CAD, including hotel pickup and dropoff. This is a popular one among nature enthusiasts and it does sell out. Luckily, you can secure your date by reserving now and paying later!
6. Lake Louise
- Location: 62 km (38 mi) from Banff to Lake Louise
- Access: Drive or take the Parks Canada shuttle to the lakefront
Lake Louise is arguably the most famous lake in Banff National Park and one of the best places to visit in Alberta! This breathtaking lake is well known for its incredibly blue water, which looks even more dramatic against the snow-capped mountains.
This lake is super easy to access as the road to the lakefront is paved, so there’s no hiking involved here! However, parking at the lakefront fills up super quickly and costs $21 CAD for general parking and $8 CAD for accessible parking. The lot charges this fee from mid-May until mid-October, although it’s still free during the winter! If you do want to drive here, we say get here before 8 am when it’s not as crowded. Since parking here can be quite tricky, we created this comprehensive guide on how to park at Lake Louise which will make it much easier for you!
If you want to avoid the hassle and fees of parking, you can always jump on a Lake Louise tour or take a shuttle or bus.
Parking at the Park and Ride is free, and you can pick up the Parks Canada shuttle from here to the lake. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time online (Click on the “Day Use” section). Online reservations require a nonrefundable $3 CAD fee and tickets themselves cost $8 CAD for adults, $4 for seniors (65+), and youth (17 and under) are free.
This ticket gives you a one-hour window for departure and access to both Lake Louise and nearby Moraine Lake, returning when you please. You can check the schedule and more information on the Parks Canada website.
Alternatively, you can take the 8X Roam Bus to Lake Louise. It picks up at Banff Highschool, the Banff Train Station, and Lake Louise Village North. It operates year-round, from morning to evening. Reservations are also required, and you can book your trip online. Adults cost $10 CAD, seniors (65+) and youth (13-18) cost $5 CAD, and children are free but still need a reservation.
Once you are at Louise Louise, take some time to enjoy it! One of my favorite things to do here in summer is go canoeing. I found the setting was idyllic, and it was the perfect way to experience the lake. You can rent one from the Boathouse for about $145 CAD per canoe per hour (which fits up to 3 people).
You can also walk along the lakeshore for free, and it’s a super easy 4-km (2.4-mile) stroll. This boardwalk is paved, meaning you can walk it all year round. And if you visit Lake Louise in the winter, the area is covered in snow and the lake is frozen over – which can be quite stunning!
There are a bunch of places to stay in Lake Louise village.
But, if you’re looking for luxury in this area, nothing beats the Fairmont Lake Chateau. This castle-esque hotel is right on the lake and offers many amenities like a heated pool, a fantastic gym, and a hair salon and spa. There are also 8 on-site dining options, and you must check out the full-wall wine library. A stay here is something you truly won’t forget! Prices start at about $600 CAD per night, and the place does book up – so book your stay online in advance.
If you can’t afford the high price tag but still want to visit this castle – you can! The Chateau offers a historic high tea for around $70 CAD per person. I loved choosing from their huge selection of teas, pastries, and cute sandwiches, and they were all absolutely delicious. Afternoon tea is available from noon – 2:30 pm daily, but you’ll need to make a reservation online.
Tours to Lake Louise
Our favorite tour to Peyto Lake is also great for exploring Lake Louise. You’ll visit both Lake Minnewanka and Moraine Lake, so if you’re in the mood to lake-hop, this is a great option! And with the small-group vibe, it feels more personal and you can get to know the other guests. It costs $180 CAD including pickup from your accommodation in either Banff or Calgary. You just need to be ready around 9 am and bring some money for food and drinks. This great deal sells out fast so check availability and book online in advance!
If you’re shorter on time, this 4-hour tour takes you to both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, with at least 30 minutes at each! You’ll also pass by the famous Fairmount Chateau to admire the architecture. Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will share the history of the area and give you some tasty maple cookies. It costs $105 CAD including all of your transport and hotel pickup around 8 am in Banff. However, this tour is only available from April – November. So if you’re visiting during this season, book your tour ahead of time here.
Related Read: If you don’t want to worry about transportation around Banff National Park, read about our favorite bus tours here. Some of these stop at Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and other places we mention on this list!
7. Lake Agnes
- Location: 4.4 km (2.7 mi) from Lake Louise, 61.6 km (38 mi) from Banff
- Access: Hike from Lake Louise
The historic Lake Agnes can only be reached on foot, which is part of its charm! And one of my favorite things to do in Lake Louise is hike here and relax at the Lake Agnes Tea House. It feels like the perfect reward at the end of the trail (even though it’s a pretty easy hike!).
The Lake Agnes Trail starts by the Fairmont Chateau parking lot. From there, the route takes you through the forest and past Mirror Lake, which is so named because it reflects the Big Beehive Mountain.
After 3.7 km (2.3 mi), you’ll arrive at the Lake Agnes Teahouse where you can sit back, relax, and admire the scenic lake as you fill up on tea and sandwiches. The Tea House is open daily during the summer months from 8 am – 5 pm. The roundtrip hike is 7.4 km (4.6 mi), so make sure to plan enough time to hike there and back and spend time at the lake.
This is our favorite hike in Banff and you definitely shouldn’t miss it! Plus, you can do it all year round (although the cafe may be closed in colder months). Outside of the peak summer months, the trail can be icy, so bring microspikes or crampons if you’re walking here outside.
Tours to Lake Agnes
If you’d prefer a guide to take you to Lake Agnes, then we highly recommend this 6-hour private tour. It’s a full-day experience outdoors so you’ll explore Lake Louise and then head to Lake Agnes. One thing I loved about this tour is that it’s really informative so you’ll learn lots of insider information about the area as you hike. And as a private experience, you also get to tailor it to your needs.
It costs $175 CAD per person (or $125 CAD if you’re in a bigger group). Tours can have a maximum of 8 people and the minimum age is 16. This experience really feels like you’re walking through a postcard and with tour guides helping, you’ll feel extra confident. But as a private tour, there’s limited availability so pick a date and book online here!
8. Moraine Lake
- Location: 11.5 km (7.1 mi) from Lake Louise, 45.7 km 28.4 mi) from Banff
- Access: Take the Roam bus from Banff or one of the Moraine Lake shuttles
Moraine Lake is a picture-perfect lake that’s surrounded by the Ten Peaks. It’s unbelievably beautiful but it can be a little tricky to access. Since you’re no longer allowed to drive yourself there (personal vehicles aren’t allowed as of 2023), you’ll need to find an alternative way to get to Lake Moraine – but trust us, it’s worth it!
Public transport and tours to Moraine Lake are great options for getting here. However, the access road is only open during the summer months, so you’ll need to visit between June and mid-October.
You can take the Lake Louise shuttle from the Park and Ride to Moraine Lake, leaving every 20 minutes from 6:30 am until 5:50 pm. Online reservations require a nonrefundable $3 CAD fee and tickets themselves cost $8 CAD for adults, $4 for seniors (65+), and youth (17 and under) are free. You’ll need to book in advance, which you can do weeks in advance or at 8 am two days before you go. Set an alarm because spaces go fast!
Another option is this privately-operated shuttle offered by the Moraine Lake Bus Company. You’ll skip the (long!!) lines for the Parks Canada Shuttles and you have the option to take their sunrise shuttle, which is one of the ONLY ways to make it to this lake for that magical time of day.
The #10 Roam Bus also stops at Moraine Lake but only runs seasonally. You can check the Roam website for updates and schedules and to reserve your ticket.
The best way to explore Moraine Lake is to hike the Shoreline Trail – one of the best hikes that starts from Moraine Lake. It’s a fairly easy walk that’s only 5.1 km (3.2 miles) out and back, and you get to enjoy amazing views of the lake from several different angles. It takes most people just under 2 hours, but it’s also a popular trail run in the summer if you brought the right shoes!
You should also definitely walk to the Rockpile, which has the ultimate vantage point of Moraine Lake – and it’s only 5 minutes from the parking lot. We actually got engaged right here, so it’s a really special place for us! And if you’re on a romantic holiday in Banff, it’s something to consider…just kidding (kind of)!
Another fun activity at Moraine Lake is canoeing. I absolutely love canoeing here because the water is so calm and the views are incredible. A 3-person canoe from the Moraine Lake Lodge costs $130 CAD per hour (plus tax), so it’s not actually too pricey per person. And if you stay overnight at the Moraine Lake Lodge, canoeing is included!
Staying at Moraine Lake is also a great way to get the lake all to yourself at sunrise and sunset, and it makes life a lot easier too. It’s a beautiful hotel although it certainly doesn’t come cheap with prices over $1,000 CAD in peak season. But people are willing to pay it for a reason – and this hotel does sell out, so it’s best to book your room well in advance.
Tours to Moraine Lake
As we said, Moraine Lake isn’t the easiest place to visit since the access road is closed to private vehicles. If you don’t feel like trying to book and navigate public transportation, a tour to Moraine Lake can make your life a whole lot easier!
This Peyto Lake Tour will also take you to Moraine Lake and several of the other beautiful spots on this list. We’ve mentioned this tour a few times because it’s just so great if you want to hit up lakes in the Banff area! You’ll travel along the Icefields Parkway and see Lake Louise as well as Lake Minnewanka.
It costs $180 CAD including roundtrip transport from your accommodation in either Banff or Calgary. You just need to be ready around 9 am and bring some money for food and drinks! This great deal sells out fast so check availability and book online in advance!
Sunrise tours to Moraine Lake
Watching the Sunrise at Moraine Lake is breathtaking and we highly recommend going then if you can. Watching the sun lighting up the mountains and reflecting off of the lake is an otherworldly experience. However, now that the access road to the lake is closed to private vehicles, it’s pretty tricky to get there for sunrise. There is a Sunrise Shuttle to Moraine Lake, but tours can be a great way to get more for your money.
With this Earlybird Explorer Tour, you’ll start the day by watching the sunrise over the lake with a hot drink in hand. After, you’ll visit Lake Louise before it gets too busy. You’ll have 1.5 hours at Lake Louise, which gives you enough time for a short hike or to rent a canoe for an additional cost.
This tour costs $288 CAD and departs from the Banff Train Station at 4 am sharp – it’s a very early start, but we think it’s 100% worth it! The sunrise isn’t something you’ll want to miss here, so book your trip online!
Related Read: Lakes are just one way to experience Banff’s natural wonders. To get an awesome vantage point, read about visiting the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift in Banff here.
9. Consolation Lakes
- Location: 2.9 km (1.8 mi) from Moraine Lake, 12.3 km from Lake Louise, 42.8 km (7.6 mi) from Banff
- Access: Hike there from the Moraine Lake parking lot
Consolation Lakes are twin lakes surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks, and the only way to access them is to hike from Moraine Lake. We’ve done this hike a couple of times – and definitely recommend it – which is why we created this handy guide to the Consolation Lakes Trail!
The Consolation Lakes Trail starts at the Rockpile, which is a 5-minute walk from the parking lot, and then it’s an easy 2.9-kilometer (1.8-mile) hike to the first lake. There’s a ton of wildlife along the way which is really cool, but it does mean that it’s mandatory to go in groups of 4 or more. If you don’t have enough people with you, you can just wait for some other hikers and team up – this is a popular trail, so you won’t be waiting long!
There are lots of streams and small waterfalls to check out as you head through the forest towards the lakes, although sadly we were in a bit of a rush so we didn’t have a lot of time to do this! When you get to the first lake, you can see Panorama Peak, Bident, and Quadra Mountains covered in snow.
The second lake is roughly 0.8 km (0.5 mi) further, but you’ll need to clamber over boulders to get there. As such, it might not be the best for small children. However, we wouldn’t worry too much since we thought that the first lake was prettier anyways!
Since you can only access Moraine Lake in the summer, the same is true for the Consolation Lakes. Remember that you can’t drive to Moraine Lake in your own vehicle, so you’ll need to take either the #10 Roam bus or one of the Moraine Lake shuttles from Lake Louise and then begin the hike.
Since you can only access the Consolation Lakes from Moraine Lake, so it’s best to combine a visit to the two lakes in a single day. Make sure you have plenty of time to explore both and bring a picnic lunch!
Tours to Consolation Lakes
If you want a guide to lead you (and share cool info along the way), go for this small group hiking tour! What I love about this tour is that you can choose between 4 different routes in Banff National Park, including the option to explore Consolation Lakes. Plus, you don’t need to worry about bus schedules or stress about reserving your ticket. You can simply show up and enjoy the beautiful hike and a tasty picnic lunch!
This 7-hour tour starts at 7:40 am. There are only 12 people per group which felt like the perfect amount to hike and picnic with. And after the hike, they gave us enough time to explore Moraine Lake on our own.
The $130 CAD price includes roundtrip transfer, your guide, and lunch. For a stress-free trip to both Moraine Lake and the Consolation Lakes, book your trip online here!
10. Vermilion Lakes
- Location: 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from Banff, 57.8 km (36 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Park near the first lake or walk from Banff Town
Vermilion Lakes are three interconnected lakes located just outside of Banff. The water here is super calm so you can see the stunning reflection of Mt Rundle and Sulphur Mountain on the surface. Unsurprisingly, this is a big draw for photographers!
It’s also easy to explore the lakes on foot and it’s our favorite way to see this area! The Fenlands Trail is just 2 km (1.2 mi) long and takes you through the marshlands via a series of boardwalks, while the Echo Creek Heritage Trail is longer at 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) but is similarly flat and accessible.
Another thing we love about the Vermillion Lakes is it’s super close to Banff! It’s just a 5-minute drive and you can park by the first lake. But if you’re staying in Banff town, you can actually walk or cycle to the lakes. It’s just a 30-minute walk to the first lake or an 8-minute bike ride. Visiting this lake is actually one of the best free things to do in Banff.
Having such easy access means you can come here any time of day. We highly recommend visiting the lakes at the most photogenic times, around sunrise and sunset (and their accompanying golden hours).
You can visit the Vermilion Lakes at any time of year, and there are actually some unique advantages to visiting in the winter. When the lakes freeze over, you can often spot methane bubbles in the ice. Plus, you can observe the northern lights from here on occasion between September and April, which is insanely cool!
Tours to Vermillion Lakes
To be honest, I’d forgo a tour here and just explore it on my own! Parking by the lakes is limited and it’s so close that it hardly seems worth taking a car. It’s best to just walk to the Vermilion Lakes from Banff, which only takes about 30 minutes.
Or, you can cycle here in under 10 minutes. If you didn’t bring a bike, you can rent one from Banff Adventures in town. 3-hour rentals start at $40 CAD per person and there are options for E-bikes and fat-tire bikes as well. Banff Adventures is open from 8:30 am – 7 pm, and rentals operate on a first-come-first-serve basis
Related Read: If you’re visiting Banff in wintertime and hoping to try some snow sports, read about the best places to stay in Banff for skiing here!
11. Emerald Lake
- Location: Yoho National Park, 73 km (45 mi) from Banff, 38.5 km (24 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Turn off of the Trans-Canada Highway and park either in the official lot or along the access road
As you can probably guess from the name, Emerald Lake is well-known for its vivid green hue. This striking color is caused by rock flour at the bottom of the lake, and its mountain surroundings make it even more beautiful.
Also, we have to be honest, Emerald Lake isn’t technically in Banff, but it’s within such easy reach of both Banff and Lake Louise that we had to include it on our list! After all, Emerald Lake really is one of the best lakes to visit from Banff!
Before visiting, you can check out our guide to Emerald Lake here. We include lots of useful info on how, when, and why to come here, plus fun things to do! But if you just want the reader’s digest version, keep reading below!
When we visit Emerald Lake, we love to get active by canoeing. In the warmer seasons, you can rent canoes from the Emerald Sports Boathouse. They offer a triple canoe for $90 CAD per hour, which is pretty affordable compared to other companies in the area. An hour is enough time to get to the middle of the lake and back but if you want to cross the entire thing, you’ll need a 2-hour rental.
Canoe rentals are available on a first-come first-serve basis from 8 am – 2:45 pm, with the last canoe leaving at 2:45 pm. They’re very strict about these times so I wouldn’t push it! But they do allow one dog on the canoe (counting as a person), so if you’re a couple with a dog, it can be a family affair!
If you don’t feel like rowing, you can always walk the Emerald Lake Loop and soak in the beautiful views from the shore. The loop is 5.1 km (3.2 miles) long and takes you around the entire perimeter of the lake, so you’ll get to see it from every angle.
Emerald Lake is at its brightest during July and August, so this is generally considered the best time to go, but it’s also stunning to visit the lake during the winter when it receives a ton of snow and becomes a paradise for cross-country skiers.
You can also stay overnight at the Emerald Lake Lodge, which is right in the middle of the lake! This is a really magical spot and a really nice hotel to boot. Some rooms come with balconies and a wood-burning fireplace, and there are 3 dining options on-site.
It can be pretty affordable during the winter months when rooms start at $209 CAD, but in the peak of summer when the lake is at its most vivid, you’re looking at upwards of $589 CAD per night. The earlier you book, the better your chances are of snagging a good deal. So check availability and prices online here!
Tours to Emerald Lake
If you want to explore Banff National Park on your own terms AND see Emerald Lake, this customizable half-day tour is the best choice! Since it’s a private tour, you can tailor the itinerary and enjoy all of your must-do activities in the area.
This tour covers pickup at major hotels in Banff or Canmore at either 7 am or 1 pm and lasts 5 hours – which is a good chunk of time for a half-day excursion. The $195 CAD price covers water and all transport, but bring extra money for any admission fees and food. There’s limited availability for this tour, but luckily you can reserve it now and pay later if you’d like! So to secure your spot, pick a date online here.
There’s also a full-day version which gives you even more time for exciting activities. For example, you could spend time hunting for wildlife, witness Takakkaw Falls, which is Canada’s second-tallest waterfall, or see the bizarre Spiral Tunnels.
Tours begin at 8, 8:15, 8:30, 8:45, and 9 and lasts between 8 to 10 hours. The full-day option costs $691 CAD and also covers transportation. You can check the dates and book online in advance!
12. Lake O’Hara
- Location: Yoho National Park, 80.6 km (50 mi) from Banff, 25.7 km (16 mi) from Lake Louise
- Access: Drive to the Lake O’Hara parking lot and then take a shuttle bus or hike the 11 km (6.8 mi) access road to the lake
Let’s get one thing straight: Lake O’Hara is NOT easy to access. With that being said, it’s worth the effort.
There are lots of stunning lakes in the area that are much easier to get to, but Lake O’Hara is quite possibly the most unique and striking of them all. The southern end of the lake opens up into a wide valley covered in glaciers, which makes for awesome photos.
One of my favorite things about this lake is the nearby hiking trails. They lead you up to mountain viewpoints where you really appreciate the true beauty of this natural wonder.
Here comes the tricky part: getting to Lake O’Hara. You’ll need to drive to the Lake O’Hara parking lot because there’s no public transport or tours that come here.
From the parking lot, you can hike the 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) access road to the lake which doesn’t sound too bad… until you consider that it’s all uphill. You’re also not allowed to bike on the road (although we really wouldn’t want to with the incline!).
So if you want to hike here, it’s best to camp overnight and then head back in the morning unless you’ve got very impressive endurance levels. The O’Hara Campsite is basic and you’ll need to reserve it online or by calling 1-877-737-3783. There are only 30 sites available and they go fast, so reserve one as soon as bookings open at the end of March. You’re required to bring a tent (4-person max) and can stay a maximum of 3 nights.
Alternatively, you can stay at Lake O’Hara Lodge, which offers luxurious accommodations right on the lake. It’s quite expensive with prices starting at $860 CAD per night, but can be a nice way to treat yourself after that hike! They take reservations by phone at 1-250-343-6418.
Even if you don’t stay here, the Lodge has a restaurant with satisfying food and well-crafted cocktails. But call ahead to make sure they’ll be open to the public before you go. You don’t want to be stuck in the wilderness without a proper meal!
Lake O’Hara Day-Use Bus
You can also try to book the shuttle, which sounds ideal but the tickets are really hard to get. The shuttle generally runs from mid-June to the beginning of October. Since they limit visitors to protect the area’s ecosystem, there’s a big supply vs demand issue.
Basically, you need to sign up for a place in the lottery system and then they’re all released at once in a completely random order. So we’re not saying don’t try to get them, but just don’t bank on it. Also, dogs aren’t allowed on the bus or in the campground but can walk on the road when leashed.
If you love views and hiking, you’ll enjoy the trek out to Lake O’Hara. If not, this probably isn’t the lake for you. Luckily, Banff is full of amazing lakes and you’ve got plenty more on our list to choose from!
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 $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 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.)
- $21.00 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) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 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.
Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
Seeing the incredible lakes around Banff is just one of the many awesome things you can do in Alberta! To give you an idea of more places to explore, here are some of the other things you can do while you’re in Banff:
- Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. Or if you just want transport, take the hop-on-hop-off bus that stops here. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
- Ride on a gondola – If you want the best vantage points around, take in one of the four gondolas around Banff! You’ll climb up high above the ground with tickets for the Banff Gondola, the Banff Sunshine Gondola, Lake Louise Gondola, or the Mt Norquay Chairlift.
- Look for wildlife – Banff is home to some 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.
- 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
If you’re exploring the lakes in Banff, it’ll require some time and driving. Your best option is to stay nearby! There are several areas you can stay in Banff National Park – each with its own pros and cons. However, the fan favorite is usually Banff town itself.
Banff has plenty of great hotels and is used to tourists. But since the selection can be overwhelming (and book up months in advance!), we’ve chosen some of our favorite options for each budget below:
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap, but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose! Rooms here can start as high as $755 CAD, and you can check prices and room availability online here.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, and gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families since it also offers two and three-bedroom units. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. Rooms here start at $155 CAD and you can check availability and book online here.
Banff Inn – $$
The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries like a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. A room here starts at $166 CAD but you should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff!
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
Samesun Banff Hostel is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms. It has everything you could need on-site including laundry, a restaurant and lounge, and a common area. It’s also perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available. A bed here starts at $64 CAD, so for a great price and prime location, book your stay in advance on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com!
Renting a Car in Alberta
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!
If you love lakes, Banff is a fantastic place to visit. With so many stunning spots, you could spend a whole day (or week) just lake-hopping. As such, we hope this guide has helped you narrow down your list and find the right ones to visit.
If you’re exploring more of this beautiful country, check out my blog about Canada. As a local, I love sharing loads of useful tips and insider info on each location. And if you’re traveling near Banff, below are a few articles that might come in handy.