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Devaan Ingraham
The Real Banff Blog / Published: Mon, 07/11/2016 - 14:20

Take in the Beauty of Lake Minnewanka by Canoe

Add to my moments

I’m sitting along the rocky shoreline at our campsite on Lake Minnewanka, soaking in the view of the Fairholme mountain range as the water washes over the rocks and a family of geese and their goslings settle in for the evening. It’s hard to believe you can access such remote-feeling beauty in the backcountry so close to the town of Banff.

Lake Minnewanka is one of those spots people sometimes overlook. They pick the higher-profile backcountry trips, usually further from the town site. And when people do book backcountry trips at Minnewanka, they usually choose to hike in. But I propose you do what my partner, Devaan, and I did instead: go by canoe!

Devaan Ingraham
When we told some of our paddling friends, all long-time river canoeists, about our excursion to Lake Minnewanka by canoe, the first thing they warned us about was the wind. It picks up quickly, can get strong and create choppy, dangerous water. So, is it crazy to try?

Molly Segal
I was a bit nervous, but my fears lifted when we left early on a relatively still lake, with a slight tail wind helping us out. So, don’t let the wind discourage you. Just plan around it by setting out on the lake early – 8 a.m. would be the latest I’d leave. Once you’re on the lake, stay to the left-hand shore so that if the picks up and the waves get big, you can jet to the side and wait until things calm down.

OK, now that I’ve sufficiently warned you about the challenges, let me sing the lake’s praises: Lake Minnewanka is stunning. Leaving from the boat launch, you paddle down the lake along the left shore, passing under the cliffs of the Palliser Range.

Devaan Ingraham
Keep your eyes on the shoreline and you’ll see wildlife camouflaging amongst the rocks (we saw two small Rocky Mountain big horned sheep, which are a common sight around the lake).

We bought a topographic map before our trip to help guide us along the shore to our campsite, Lm8, located on a small peninsula about 6 km down the lake.

molly segal
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the forest change from evergreens to lush aspens. The campsite is actually nestled in this aspen forest – like something out of a fairytale, with many along the shore leaning permanently from the wind. There’s a rocky beach along the shore and you’ll see signage for the Lm8 campground. The main path divides the campsite into two sides: the right, for tent pads are, and the left, home to the cooking area, fire pits and food storage.

Devaan Ingraham
Food, actually, is possibly the best bonus of canoe camping. The luxuries that are heavy to backpack in easily nestle in the bottom of a canoe in a barrel or cooler. Once you’re out at one of the first sites (Lm8-11), it’s worth staying put at the campsite for two nights.

Devaan Ingraham
Near Lm8, you can continue up to the Aylmer Pass, a steep and rewarding hike up to sweeping views of the different mountain ranges that skirt the entire lake. Or, if you’re looking for a more low-key, contemplative way to spend your day, find a driftwood log on the beach and hunker in with a book or take in the view.

Exploring the shoreline and Lm8 campsite itself you’ll find all sorts of beautiful wild flowers. A camera is an essential item on this trip. 

Molly Segal
If you’re looking for an overnight trip, check out Lm8, up until seasonal restrictions, or the second site just 1 km further down, Lm9. The lake has six backcountry sites, Lm8, 9, 11, 20, 22 and 31. This trip is a great introduction to overnight canoe camping. It’s also an amazing multi-day getaway for more experienced lake canoeists who want to venture further down the lake.

Devaan Ingraham

HISTORY

Lake Minnewanka means “Lake of the Spirits” in Stoney for the spirits that are said to reside there. Indigenous people lived near Minnewanka for thousands of years. And it’s clear why this spot has captivated people since for its vastness and views. In the late 1800s, settlers built a resort town along the lake. Shortly after, the lake was dammed to raise water levels. This trend continued, with a damn built in 1912, partially flooding the town, then another one in 1941 that completely submerged it. With some of the remnants hidden underwater, it’s not surprising this lake boats many popular dive sites

Devaan Ingraham

SAFETY AND ETIQUETTE

Carry bear spray. Don’t just have it at your campsite, have it on your person. Cook in the designated area and clean up after yourself to help deter bears. Keep your food and all scented products in the food storage zone. At Lm8 the deer, as cute as they are, come way too close to people, likely because some campers make the mistake of feeding them. Don’t contribute to that problem – keep your distance and don’t feed them. The more respectful you are of the site, the better it is for both wildlife and people.

Molly Segal

HOW TO BOOK

To book backcountry, please visit the Banff or Lake Louise Visitor Centres in person, or call the backcountry reservation lines at 403-522-1263 (Lake Louise) or 403-762-1556 (Banff). Remember, you also need a Parks Canada pass any time you’re in a national park – if you’re planning more than a handful of days a year in a national park, the annual pass will be the best adventure investment you’ll make.