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9 Jaw-Dropping Paddles You Need to Experience in Banff and Lake Louise

Published Date
Apr 30, 2024|
Active Travel
Two people paddling a red canoe on a summer day on Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Banff and Lake Louise's turquoise lakes, glacier-fed rivers, and stunning views make them perfect for a sightseeing paddle. These breathtaking canoe, kayak and SUP lakes in Banff National Park will wow anyone, from the novice to the experienced paddler.

9 Stunning Paddles

  1. The Bow River
  2. Echo Creek and Vermilion Lakes
  3. Johnson Lake
  4. Two Jack Lake
  5. Lake Minnewanka
  6. Lake Louise
  7. Herbert Lake
  8. Bow Lake
  9. Waterfowl Lake

Make sure to Clean, Drain, Dry, and Certify your boats, paddles, and other water devices before entering any body of water in Banff and Lake Louise. This helps to protect our precious lakes and rivers from Aquatic Invasive Species.

1. The Bow River

  • Launch Point: Banff Canoe Club
  • Rentals are available at the launch point.

If you’re staying in downtown Banff, you don’t have to drive to find waters that feel wild. Just walk to the Banff Canoe Club to rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP, (by the hour or the day) and launch from their docks on Bow Ave, just off of Wolf St.

Head upstream on the Bow River, and within minutes, you’re completely surrounded by mountain vistas, feeling like you’ve left the town far behind. You’ll be in good company with other paddlers on this stretch of the Bow.

If you explore this section in the evening, you’re bound to see wildlife like beavers, deer, and elk. Remember to give wildlife space, never approach and enjoy the view from afar.

2. Vermilion Lakes

  • Launch Point: Docks at Lake 1, 2, or 3
  • Rentals can be found in the nearby Banff townsite.

The three lakes that make up the Vermilion Lakes, nestled beside the Banff townsite, are a great location for beginner paddlers looking for the perfect place to dip their paddles. The lakes are free from all motorized watercraft and are generally calm. Best of all, you can paddle between all three lakes without leaving your boat, meaning you have plenty of open waters to explore.

To get to any of the three lakes, head to Vermilion Lakes Drive on the west side of the Banff townsite near the Mt. Norquay overpass from Highway 1. Along the road, you will find three different lakes with docks where you can put in your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

This popular 6 km road is used by vehicles, cyclists and people on foot, so be courteous and share the road.

The shallow, marshy lakes are home to plenty of wildlife. You could see elk, muskrats, beavers, herons, loons, and bald eagles.

Echo Creek

Echo Creek is an alternative way to paddle into the Vermilion Lakes area. You can access the lakes from the canoe launch near the Banff Canoe Club, taking the right-hand turn as you paddle upstream on the Bow River to enter Echo Creek, a shallow, narrow and scenic passage that meanders into the first lake at Vermilion Lakes. Please note that water levels vary and are, at times, too low to paddle into Vermilion Lakes.

3. Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake is the perfect place for a gentle float while soaking in the glorious mountain views. It’s big enough to meander but small enough to feel safe for inexperienced paddlers. Sunset is a spectacular gem and the perfect capper on a big day in the Canadian Rockies.

There are plenty of little hidden gems to paddle into, and the water is clear enough to see through to the bottom, where you may even be lucky enough to see a loon swim beneath your boat.

To access the lake, take Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr. off of Trans-Canada (Hwy 1). Turn right at the T-intersection and follow the signage to Johnson Lake, where you will find a day-use parking lot with a short walk to the beach.

4. Two Jack Lake

  • Launch Point: Lower day-use parking lot
  • Rentals are available in the Banff townsite

With Mount Rundle towering above the tree line, it’s safe to say you’ll want to bring a camera for photo-ops on this paddle. Two Jack Lake is next to Lake Minnewanka but is significantly more intimate. It’s a sure bet if you’re not ready to brave the often choppy waters of Minnewanka.

End your paddle with a lakeside picnic at one of the day-use sites along Two Jack.

Access to the lake and parking is off of Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr.

5. Lake Minnewanka

  • Launch Point: Minnewanka Dock
  • Rentals are available from Lake Minnewanka Boat Rentals.

Lake Minnewanka is not for the novice paddler. It takes some strategy to explore its shores as gusts of wind pick up quickly, often changing direction. The safest bet is to stay close to shore and explore a section of the lake. For more experienced paddlers, this lake is well worth the visit, but be prepared for other boats, including tour boats and recreational motorboats.

You don't need to bring a boat with you, as you can rent a boat from Pursuit's Lake Minnewanka Boat Rentals. Get a kayak, canoe or small motorboat from the dock, which you can use to explore the lake's shoreline.

Not only is the lake striking in its vastness, it also has a rich history. The name Minnewanka comes from Minn-waki, meaning “Lake of the Spirits” in Stoney, who inhabited the area for centuries.

Minnewanka is also a popular site for divers, with an old town buried underwater from before the lake's dam raised water levels.

If you are bringing your own boat, there is parking near the lake—take the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr. off of the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1). Your best bet is to drop your boat off at the dock and then grab a parking spot to avoid a long portage to the water.

If you are renting a boat, take Roam Transit Route 6 from Banff to Lake Minnewanka. This helps you avoid any potential disappointment of not finding parking at this popular lake.

6. Lake Louise

  • Launch Point: Lake Louise Lakeshore (portage from the parking lot)
  • Rentals available at the Lake Louise Boathouse

Lake Louise lives up to its reputation as one of Banff National Park’s most iconic sights. Brilliant turquoise water, stunning Victoria Glacier, massive mountains – everywhere you look, there is a jaw-dropping sight. With rentals available by the hour from the Lake Louise Boathouse, this lake is a great option if you’re visiting the national park without a canoe, kayak or SUP.

7. Herbert Lake

  • Launch Point: Lake Shore (portage from the parking lot)
  • No rentals nearby

When you turn onto the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93 north) off of Hwy 1 West, you’ll have to keep a lookout for the Herbert Lake turn or you’ll miss it.

Tucked away at the start of the Icefields Parkway, this lake is worth the stop. Bring your canoe out and you’ll feel even more secluded on the water. It’s the perfect paddle if you’re travelling the Icefields Parkway with a canoe in tow.

Herbert Lake in Banff National Park on a beautiful sunny day.Herbert Lake in Banff National Park on a beautiful sunny day.Herbert Lake in Banff National Park on a beautiful sunny day.

8. Bow Lake

  • Launch Point: Portage to the lakeside from the parking lot
  • No rentals nearby

Nestled in the heart of Banff National Park, Bow Lake offers a serene and picturesque setting for canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Surrounded by the majestic Canadian Rockies, the lake’s turquoise waters reflect the stunning mountain scenery, making it a paddler’s paradise.

To reach Bow Lake, you’ll embark on a scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North), located approximately 38 kilometers north of Lake Louise. The journey itself is a breathtaking experience, with panoramic views of the Rockies and opportunities to spot wildlife along the way. Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself at an elevation of 1,920 meters.

The best time to visit Bow Lake for paddling activities is June to September. During these months, the lake’s turquoise waters, fed by Bow Glacier, are thawed and vibrant. The summer bloom brings hundreds of wildflowers to the lake’s shores, adding to the area’s natural beauty. It’s advisable to plan your visit for early or mid-morning to enjoy calm waters and avoid the afternoon winds that can create challenging conditions.

Remember to complete the mandatory Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Action before setting out on the water.

Bow Lake in the early morning in Banff National Park.Bow Lake in the early morning in Banff National Park.Bow Lake in the early morning in Banff National Park.

9. Waterfowl Lakes

  • Launch Point: Portage to the lakeside from the parking lot
  • No rentals nearby

Waterfowl Lakes, set within the splendour of Banff National Park, is a haven for paddlers seeking the tranquillity of pristine waters and the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. These twin lakes, Upper and Lower Waterfowl, are easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway (AB-93), offering a convenient yet remote experience.

To get there, if you're coming from Lake Louise, simply head north on the Icefields Parkway for about 61 km. The lakes will greet you with their shimmering blue waters and the rugged, glacier-covered peaks that stand guard around the valley.

The ideal time to paddle at Waterfowl Lakes is during the calm, warm summer months, particularly from June to September. Early mornings are especially magical, as the waters are often still, reflecting the towering mountains and the sky's changing hues.

It's important to be mindful of the weather, as sudden strong winds can arise, especially in the afternoon, making paddling more challenging. When packing for your adventure, remember to bring layers for the unpredictable mountain weather, a rain jacket, and of course, all the necessary paddling gear since there are no rental facilities at the lakes.

A group stands on the edge of Waterfowl Lakes in Banff National Park.A group stands on the edge of Waterfowl Lakes in Banff National Park.A group stands on the edge of Waterfowl Lakes in Banff National Park.

Help Fight Against Aquatic Invaders in our Waters

Parks Canada is on a mission to shield our precious freshwater ecosystems from aquatic invasive species (AIS). These unwelcome visitors—plants, animals, and diseases not native to our waters—pose a real threat. They multiply rapidly and can overtake the species that naturally belong here.

What’s the Plan?

To safeguard the crystal-clear waters of Banff National Park and waterways across Canada, Parks Canada has rolled out the Clean Drain Dry initiative. It’s a call to action for everyone who loves water sports!

How Can You Help?

It’s simple! Before and after you head out on the water:

  • Clean your watercraft and gear of any hitchhiking plants, animals, and mud.
  • Drain every drop of water onto dry land.
  • Dry for a minimum of 48 hours after use in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, or the territories of Canada, including use in the national parks AND a minimum of 30 days after use in the United States or provinces other than British Columbia, Alberta and/or the territories of Canada.
  • Certify Users must obtain an AIS Prevention Permit for all watercraft and water-related gear before entering a waterbody in Banff National Park or the surrounding National Parks - Yoho and Kootenay.

By embracing these easy steps, you become a vital ally in halting the spread of invasive species. Together, we can preserve Banff National Park's stunning beauty for generations to come.

Two people in a tandem kayak in Banff National Park on Lake Minnewanka.Two people in a tandem kayak in Banff National Park on Lake Minnewanka.Two people in a tandem kayak in Banff National Park on Lake Minnewanka.

Get Your Paddling Gear

You don't need to worry about hauling your canoe, kayak or paddle board all the way to Banff National Park to paddle one of these incredible lakes. You can rent a SUP, canoe, or kayak.

Where to Rent a Standup Paddleboard

You can rent a SUP in Banff for a half-day or a day from:

  • Black Diamond Rentals
  • SkiBig3 Adventure Hub 
  • Radventures
  • Banff Canoe Club,
  • Bow Valley SUP

Where to Rent a Kayak or Canoe

To experience a more classic mountain travel experience, try renting a canoe or kayak.

You can rent directly on the shores of the Bow River from the Banff Canoe Club or right on Lake Minnewanka from Lake Minnewanka Boat Rentals at the boat dock.

Where to Buy Paddling Equipment in Banff

If you are looking for a more long-term piece of memorabilia from your trip, head to Atmosphere.

Plan Your Trip to Banff and Lake Louise

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Molly Segal

Molly Segal

Molly Segal is a storyteller based in the Bow Valley. She got her start in media with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Nova Scotia and has split her time between Canada’s East Coast and Alberta, now settling in Banff. She has amassed experience in stories for all media platforms: radio, podcasts, TV, online and print.