Alberta is a land of diverse landscapes, where towering mountains eventually yield to expansive prairies and rugged boreal forests. One of the province’s most captivating features is its array of colorful lakes.
The lakes in Alberta stand out from those in other parts of Canada. The mountain lakes, characterized by their stunning turquoise hues, are framed by an awe-inspiring backdrop of snowcapped peaks. These glacier-fed mountain lakes maintain a chilly temperature. Beyond their scenic appeal, these lakes offer opportunities for various activities such as boating, kayaking, and even stand-up paddleboarding. Additionally, they serve as a breathtaking backdrop for hiking trails.
In the boreal forest, rich with wildlife, and beneath the vast prairie skies, lakes feature sandy beaches and warmer waters suitable for swimming. Prairie lakes are meant for recreational activities, attracting families to their shores during the summer.
Most of the mentioned bodies of water are easily accessible, with nearby accommodation options ranging from secluded campsites to five-star luxury hotels.
Explore some of the most enchanting destinations in the province with our curated list of the best lakes in Alberta.
1. Lake Louise
The most renowned lake in Alberta, and possibly the entire country, is Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Nestled in a vast valley with majestic mountains framing the panorama, the lake has attracted camera-wielding tourists since 1890.
Spanning two kilometers in length and surprisingly reaching a depth of 70 meters, Lake Louise undergoes color transformations throughout the summer. It starts with a light blue shade in June, gradually evolving into an impressive turquoise hue by late August. The lake also exhibits different colors during the day as the sun traverses the sky.
A conveniently named walking trail, the Shoreline trail, starts from the Chateau Lake Louise area and traces the lake’s right side. Numerous picturesque hiking trails in the Lake Louise vicinity provide excellent opportunities to explore the surrounding landscape. Among them, the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, accessible directly from the Shoreline trail, is particularly popular.
For those wanting to venture onto the water, canoe rentals are offered at the boathouse on the lake’s left side. Alternatively, visitors can bring their equipment. The short and easy walk from the parking lot to the lake enhances accessibility.
For a complete immersion in the Lake Louise experience, consider spending a night or two at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, situated right on the lake’s shoreline. The rooms boast stunning views overlooking the lake towards the Victoria Glacier. If you are here for just a day, you might want to drop in for a meal.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Lake Louise
2. Waterton Lake
Waterton Lake, situated in the southern part of Alberta within Waterton Lakes National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its unique geographical features, where mountains abruptly transition into prairies.
The picturesque location of the historic Prince of Wales Hotel at the lake’s base has been captured in numerous photographs, showcasing its timeless beauty. Waterton Lake stretches into the mountains, flanked by majestic peaks on both shores.
One of the most common activities in Waterton is taking scenic boat tours that provide insights into the area’s history and geology. The region is frequently windy, making water activities such as kiteboarding, windsurfing, and sailing popular pastimes.
3. Moraine Lake
A short drive from Lake Louise brings you to the equally, if not more, stunning Moraine Lake. While Lake Louise remains a major attraction, an ongoing debate questions which lake is more beautiful.
Moraine Lake, though smaller, boasts sheer rock falls that cascade directly into the lake and was once featured on the back of a Canadian 20-dollar bill. Various hikes, ranging in distance and difficulty, commence from the parking lot, offering exceptional viewpoints of the lake.
Among these trails, the Rockpile trail stands out as one of the easiest. This brief walk leads to the summit of an ancient rockslide that obstructed the lake’s natural outlet. From this vantage point, you’ll enjoy one of the most remarkable views of the lake.
Nestled just beyond the shoreline, the Moraine Lake Lodge is one of the most spectacular lodges in Banff National Park. Its soaring floor-to-ceiling glass windows enable you to appreciate the breathtaking view while being shielded from the elements.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Banff National Park
4. Peyto Lake
If you marvel at the pretty turquoise hues of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Bow Lake, prepare to be utterly amazed by Peyto Lake. Visible from an elevated vantage point, the lake presents itself as a turquoise gem framed by the dark green trees enveloping it. In the distant north, another formidable mountain range emerges from the valley floor.
Although the lake remains hidden from the highway, a high lookout point offers the most spectacular view. This designated sightseeing stop along the Icefields Parkway is well-marked, with a hiking trail starting from this location.
Services, hotels, or any accommodations are not available at the lake itself, but camping options exist nearby.
About 20 minutes further north on the Icefields Parkway lies Waterfowl Lakes (Upper and Lower Waterfowl) and the Waterfowl Lakes campground. Despite receiving limited attention or promotion, this area boasts another blue-green-colored lake of exceptional beauty. It serves as a fantastic spot for photography, paddling, or simply indulging in sightseeing and admiration from the shore.
5. Bow Lake
Heading north from Banff along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, the initial grand lake you’ll encounter is Bow Lake, undoubtedly prompting you to stop and admire this vibrant spectacle. Some resilient individuals even consider it a suitable spot for a refreshing swim in the chilly waters.
From the turnout, the view extends over the turquoise waters to the Bow Glacier in the far distance. To the left, the Crowfoot Glacier is nestled on the slopes of the mountain bearing the same name. On your right, the distinctive stone and wood structure with a bright red roof is the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. While accommodations here are basic, the location is unparalleled.
Commencing from the lodge, the Bow Glacier Falls hiking trail traces the lakeshore, guiding you through breathtaking scenery to the base of the falls. This ranks among the best day hikes in Banff National Park.
6. Lake Newell
Lake Newell’s water gradually warms up each summer, making it an ideal destination for water sports enthusiasts. Located just minutes from Brooks, this reservoir attracts sun-seekers from across the province, offering popular activities such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, kiteboarding, sailing, and fishing.
For an optimal lake experience, head to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park. The expansive sandy beach is a major draw, known for its shallow water and excellent amenities, including a playground. Camping is a favored choice, with 199 campsites, some equipped with electricity, available at the park. Online reservations are accepted, and for those with boats, there’s a convenient launch at the park.
If camping is not your preference, Brooks provides a diverse range of accommodation options. Moreover, the lake’s strategic location makes it convenient for a day trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Drumheller, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a 45-minute drive away. Exploring this captivating park incurs no fees for day use of Alberta Provincial Parks.
7. Two Jack Lake
A brief drive from the Banff townsite, Two Jack Lake presents itself as a delightful aquatic playground. Nestled in a scenic valley, the lake is surrounded by tall pine trees that gracefully reach down to the shoreline. Those daring enough to take a plunge will encounter refreshingly cold waters.
The generally serene and transparent lake offers an ideal setting for stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking. Lucky campers with secured campsites will have the lake right at their doorstep, making it one of the best campgrounds in Banff National Park, primarily due to its proximity to Banff town.
For those seeking more luxurious accommodations, Banff is conveniently located nearby, offering everything from hostels to five-star luxury hotels.
8. Lesser Slave Lake
Situated three hours from Edmonton, Lesser Slave Lake serves as an excellent weekend getaway destination. Marten River Provincial Park, a popular spot on the lake, boasts clear, cool waters and one of northern Alberta’s finest beaches. Ideal for strolls and swimming, the extensive sandy stretch typically features abundant driftwood, perfect for a later bonfire if you’re camping.
Beyond the lake, hiking trails wind through the boreal forest, where the melodic sounds of birdsong serenade your journey. Lesser Slave Lake offers superb fishing opportunities, with species such as walleye, burbot, whitefish, and northern pike known to provide a challenging fight.
An essential visit at Lesser Slave Lake is the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation, a 6,000-square-foot facility dedicated to studying the birds inhabiting the boreal forests. Inside, captivating exhibits offer insights into the local environment.
Marten River Provincial Park provides 110 campsites arranged in a couple of loops, some of which are equipped with power.
9. Maligne Lake
A scenic drive of 45 minutes up a valley from the scenic town of Jasper to Maligne Lake. While the shoreline offers relative beauty, the optimal way to appreciate the lake is by partaking in a boat tour that includes a stop at Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in Jasper National Park.
Commencing at the north end of the 22-kilometer-long lake, the boat tours span 1.5 to two hours, providing insights into the area’s history, geology, and other pertinent information. Notably, the southern end of the lake is the most picturesque, with mountains enclosing the lake, and the waters taking on a turquoise hue. Spirit Island lies 15 kilometers from the lake’s north end.
For those seeking a comprehensive experience, a six-hour Jasper National Park Tour is available, encompassing Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake, and Spirit Island, combining the most popular attractions into one tour.
Experienced canoeists looking for a canoe camping adventure will find three beautiful campgrounds along the shoreline, varying in distance from the north launching area.
10. Lake Minnewanka
Located just a short distance from Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka is surrounded on three sides by towering mountains, presenting a breathtaking sight as a glacier-fed lake. Spanning 21 kilometers in length, reaching a depth of 142 meters, and known for its chilly waters, this lake offers a stunning experience. To fully appreciate it, consider taking a boat tour departing from the main dock near the parking area, and heading up the lake towards Alymer Pass.
Alternatively, you can opt to rent a boat with a small motor, a canoe, or a kayak. For those with their boat, launching it allows for planning a customized route. A spacious picnic area, shaded by tall pine trees, provides a pleasant setting to spend part of your afternoon.
For those seeking more activity, the Stewart Canyon hiking trail starts from the parking lot area, following the shoreline for 1.5 kilometers to an overlook. Should you have the stamina for a 23.6-kilometer hike, the trail extends to Aylmer Lookout.
Additionally, the Stewart Canyon trail is open to mountain bikes (except from mid-July to mid-September), so be mindful of bikes zipping along as you explore the area.
11. Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake has been a popular destination for Albertans for a long time, renowned as one of the best lakes in Alberta for swimming and enjoying the warm water. The Sylvan Lake Park features a 1.6-kilometer-long beach, a blend of sand and grass, offering shallow waters ideal for wading.
Set just behind the shoreline is a designated area equipped with picnic tables, volleyball courts, and grassy spaces, creating a perfect setting for a summer picnic. Located in the heart of the town of Sylvan Lake, this park attracts nearly a million visitors each year.
In addition to its appeal for swimming, Sylvan Lake is a vibrant hub for water sports. Three marinas provide launching areas for boats or personal watercraft. The town, situated just behind the beach, is a lively summer destination with shops offering beach gear, fast-food restaurants, and a bustling main street perfect for people-watching.
12. Grassi Lakes
Embarking on a visit to Grassi Lakes requires a bit of effort, but the rewards are well worth the investment. Ideal for a family outing, the hike resembles more of a stroll along an old logging road, measuring a relatively short 1.9 kilometers with an elevation gain of 125 meters. In 2022/23, the local municipality implemented significant improvements to the Grassi Lakes hike and trailhead, enhancing the overall experience.
Nestled in a charming bowl, the lakes themselves boast impossibly clear and green water on sunny days. An alternative trail leading to the lakes is steeper and considered more challenging.
A popular choice is to create a loop for your trip by ascending the easy hike and descending the steeper route, which also passes by a waterfall. Regardless of the chosen trail, you won’t find yourself alone — these ranks among the most popular hikes in Alberta.
Following your hike, be sure to take a break in the delightful town of Canmore, whether it’s for lunch on a patio or treating the kids to ice cream.
Q: Are these lakes accessible year-round?
A: Yes, most of the lakes mentioned are accessible throughout the year, with each season offering a unique and breathtaking experience.
Q: Can I camp near these lakes?
A: Many of the lakes have campgrounds or nearby camping options, providing an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.
Q: Are there guided tours available for these lakes?
A: Yes, guided tours are available for some lakes, offering insights into the natural history, geology, and wildlife of the area.
Q: Which lake is best for water sports and activities?
A: Sylvan Lake is renowned for its water sports and summer activities, making it a perfect destination for those seeking adventure on the water.
Q: Are there accommodations available near these lakes?
A: Yes, many lakes have nearby accommodations ranging from cozy cabins to luxurious resorts, providing options for various preferences and budgets.