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Paddle Banff’s Big 5

Banff National Park is full of incredible bodies of water that will be primed for paddling in the upcoming summer months. With so many breathtaking options, we’ve included five of the best canoe destinations within Banff National Park that are sure to impress paddlers of all experience levels.


The Bow River

Paddling the gorgeous Bow Lake. Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism

The Bow River is exactly what you think of when imagining Canada’s Rocky Mountains: A strong-flowing, bright-blue, winding river lined by tall pines and steep rocky cliffs. It’s an impressive sight, and even more impressive given it’s proximity to downtown Banff and Calgary. We strongly recommend renting a canoe from the Banff Canoe Club, launching from the docks on Bow Ave, and paddling upstream. In just a few minutes, you’ll be surrounded by storied Albertan wilderness, leaving town and city far behind.

Skill Level Required: Beginner in the area around the Banff canoe docks and advanced in most other sections


Lake Louise

Canoes can be rented at Lake Louis. This big red one comes with a Canada flag on the back. Photo: Destination Canada

Chances are you’ve already heard about the very iconic Lake Louise in Banff National Park. From late May to early June, the alpine water thaws and allows visitors to explore the lake by canoe. Stop by the Lake Louise Boathouse where you can rent canoes by the hour. Then head out and explore the lake’s famous turquoise water and amazing glacier views.

Skill Level Required: Beginner to intermediate


Echo Creek and Vermilion Lakes

Kayaking Vermilion Lakes Photo: Noel Hendrickson

The Vermilion Lakes are widely regarded as a great beginner paddle, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a go. These shallow marshy lakes are as beautiful and picturesque as the other paddles on this list and feature some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Access the lakes from the nearby Banff Canoe Club and paddle up the Bow and through Echo Creek. This scenic and winding paddle may be the gem of this list.

Skill Level Required: Beginner to intermediate


Lake Minnewanka

The windy and challenging Lake Minnewanka. Photo: Devaan Ingraham

Not for the novice paddler, Lake Minnewanka is a bit of a raw adventure as lake wind often picks up in varying directions rather quickly. Minnewanka is a big body of water, and as such, a popular lake for divers and recreational boaters. Even experienced paddlers may find this lake is best explored by navigating close to shore and taking on sections. If you want to make this one an overnight, Parks Canada offers some backcountry campsites only accessible by boat.

Skill Level Required: Intermediate to advanced


Two Jack Lake

It’s hard to beat a view like this one. Photo: Molly Segal

Bring a camera for this paddle as the beautiful Mount Rundle sits triumphantly above the tree line.  Two Jack Lake is a bit of an easier paddle than the nearby Lake Minnewanka but just as rewarding. This lake features two great day use sites that make for great stops for lunch, or you’re able to make it an overnight adventure by reserving one of the campsites on the lake. Just be sure to plan well in advance, the sites book up quickly.

Skill Level Required: Beginner to intermediate

You can view each of the locations mentioned in this article in the Google Map below:

Trip Details

For details on anything mentioned in this post check out these links

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