How to avoid Crowds at the 5 Most Beautiful Lakes in Banff National Park
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
Are you hoping to have the world-famous lakes in Banff National Park all to yourself? Dream on! In reality, the Canadian Rockies are a popular summer destination and Banff National Park is the most crowded of them all. With its easy access to some of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies and its proximity to the hub of Calgary, the park receives approximately four million travelers yearly. Add to that the small window to visit the Canadian Rockies thanks to the extremely short summers. It is challenging to avoid the crowds at the lakes in Banff National Park!
In the summer of 2019, we managed to time up our visit to each of the 5 most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park so we had them almost all to ourselves! Read in this article our dirty little secret for each lake...
Are you prepared for the Rockies? Download our free Canadian Rockies Packing List to make sure you are ready for the changing weather conditions of the mountains. Also check out our 20 best hikes near Banff and Canmore article for more hiking inspiration.
If you google the Canadian Rockies, I will promise you that Moraine Lake will be the first picture to pop up. Situated in the Valley of Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is the most iconic lake in the Canadian Rockies. There is a good reason for that… Not only does it have the most jaw-dropping mountain backdrop and turquoise color of all the lakes in Banff National Park, but it is also easily accessible by car. A paved road will take you from the town of Lake Louise near the base of the peaks at an elevation of 1,883 m (6,177 ft), making you feel so close to the mountains. This is a very unique situation as to most lakes at this altitude you would have to hike or climb.
Unfortunately, this is why Moraine Lake attracts SO MANY TOURISTS each and every day during the peak season. The parking space is very limited and because of the high traffic during the summer months, there are a few restrictions put into place. The Parks Canada staff controls the road throughout the day (from 7:30 AM to 6 PM), meaning that vehicles are only granted access when there is a parking spot available. Thus the chances are pretty high that you won’t be able to access the road and will be asked to use the shuttle service. I wouldn’t recommend doing that as you will lose a lot of precious time that could’ve been spent elsewhere in this breathtaking destination!
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How to avoid crowds at Moraine Lake: GO LATE!
Some blogs advise visiting Moraine Lake either early or late on a summer day. We, however, don’t suggest to go early. Arriving prior to 8 AM does not guarantee a parking spot as many travelers visit as early as 6 AM! Neither is it a great time to visit as the sun will be behind the mountains, making for a “less impressive” colour of the lake.
During the summer, the sun in the Canadian Rockies sets as late as 9 or 10 PM. We arrived around 8 PM and the parking lot wasn’t at full capacity at all. We made our way to the rockpile and found our own “private” spot on one of the many rocks, allowing us to take incredible pictures. After taking some pictures, we enjoyed a picnic while taking in what is probably the most beautiful lake we’ve ever seen.
Located along the scenic Icefields Parkway about 40 km (25 mi) north of the town of Lake Louise, Peyto Lake is one of the must-see destinations in the Canadian Rockies! The vivid blue color of Peyto Lake is something different than any other lake you've ever seen before. Its unique electric blue color is what makes Peyto Lake one of the 5 most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park.
The best views of this glacier-fed lake can be observed from the Peyto Lake Lookout, right off the Icefields Parkway. The Bow Summit lies at 2,070 meters (6,791 feet) and is considered the highest drivable pass in the national parks of the Canadian Rockies. Unfortunately, this accessibility is what makes Peyto Lake and the Peyto Lake Lookout one of the highest tourist-ridden destinations in the Canadian Rockies.
How to avoid crowds at Peyto Lake: FIND THE SECRET VIEWPOINT!
Unless you arrive very early or late in the day, you will need to use the parking lot at the bottom entrance. From there, it is a 15 mins walk up either via the paved trail or forested trail (both extremely crowded!). Once you reach the wooden balcony, look for a dirt trail past the Peyto Lake Lookout in the forest. Consult your MAPS.ME App to find this self-guided nature trail and viewpoint. Most people will stay at the wooden balcony, not knowing that there is a WAY BETTER viewpoint a little further. After about 10 mins you will arrive at a wide-open viewpoint that looks across the Bow Valley and over Peyto Lake and the Waterfowl Lakes to the north. Sit down on the rocks, grab a beverage, take some photos, and enjoy one of the best views in the Canadian Rockies.
Length: 1.12 km (0.7 mi) one-way | Duration: 25 mins | Elevation gain: 170 m (560 ft)
Tip: Arrive around sunset time and watch the sun go down over Peyto Lake. This is by far the best sunset spot in the Canadian Rockies!
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Only a 20 mins drive from Moraine Lake, Lake Louise is another iconic destination in the Canadian Rockies. Located at a lower elevation, this lake is open year-round, offering fabulous ice skating opportunities during the winter and spectacular views and hiking during the summer.
Similar to Moraine Lake, Lake Louise attracts LARGE CROWDS at all times. The parking space is bigger but also controlled by the Parks Canada staff from 7:30 AM to 6 PM. During the summer and fall, the parking lot near the lake fills before sunrise! There is a high chance that you will be encouraged to take the shuttle. The shuttle bus runs frequently and is probably the best option if you are planning to go during the daytime. We went to Lake Louise around lunchtime and were lucky that there was parking available. It seems like the chances are higher to find parking at Lake Louise than at Moraine Lake. The parking lot is a lot bigger, allowing for more cars to arrive.
How to avoid crowds at Lake Louise: GO ON A DAY HIKE!
The shores of Lake Louise are at all times crowded, and that's why we suggest hiking around or above the lake instead. There are tons of great options with outstanding views of the lake. Here we'll a few hikes of varying difficulty levels:
If you are discouraged to take the shuttle to Lake Louise, you can decide to hike the Tramline Trail. This hiking path connects the Village of Lake Louise to the shores of Lake Louise. Park across the Lake Louise train station (restaurant) and start the hike. From Lake Louise, you can then connect to another adventure trail in the area.
Length: 4.5 km (2.8 mi) | Duration: 2.5 hours round-trip | Elevation gain: 195 m
Fairmont Lookout Trail
If you are looking for an easy hike with a lake view, follow the Fairmont Lookout Trail. This trail allows you to enjoy one of the world's most spectacular lakes away from the crowds. The uphill hike starts from the boathouse on Lake Louise towards a viewing platform that offers unique views of the lake and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The further you walk, the less crowded the trail becomes.
Length: 2 km (1.2 mi) | Duration: 45 mins | Elevation gain: 100 m (328 ft)
Plains of the Six Glaciers Trail
Another great alternative is the well-known Plains of the Six Glaciers Trail. This moderate hiking trail is 14.6km (9.07mi) out-and-back with moderate elevation gain. The path starts at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and follows the lakeshore to the back of the valley. There is a teahouse near the end of the hike. It's a pleasant stop for a warm cup of tea! The highlight is the Six Glaciers viewpoint, with a close-up look of the impressive glaciers as well as a view of Lake Louise.
Big Beehive Trail
The best alternative (in our opinion) to enjoy the surroundings of Lake Louise is to hike the Big Beehive Trail. This trail starts right at the end of the shoreline of Lake Louise in front of the Fairmont Chateau. The first leg of the journey takes you to Lake Agnes and the world-famous tea house via the Lake Agnes Trail. From the tea house, the trail curves around Lake Agnes and continues uphill with steep switchbacks towards the Big Beehive viewpoint. Take in this phenomenal, elevated view of Lake Louise while relaxing and breathing in the crisp air. And if you are an experienced hiker, you can take your hike a little further to Devil's Thumb. From this viewpoint, you'll have a view of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise in one shot!
Length: 10.3 km (6.4 mi) | Duration: 4.5 hours | Elevation gain: 647 m (2122 ft)
Check out the Big Beehive hike in the video below!
Only 5-10 mins away from Peyto Lake and 30 mins north of the town of Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway lies Bow Lake. Sitting at an elevation of 1,920 m (6,300 ft), this turquoise lake is one of the largest in Banff National Park. Most tourists park at the main entrance of the Bow Lake and then walk towards the Simpson's Num-Ti-Jah Lodge right at the lake. From there, you will have impressive views of both the lake and the surrounding mountains, but also of the tourist crowds around you. Alternatively, some travelers decide to hike the Bow Glacier Falls trail to observe different angles of Bow Lake and the Bow River, and see the Bow Glacier up close. We, however, don't recommend this as it is still relatively crowded as well as the views are not worth the 8 km (5 mi) round-trip.