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Alberta is a land of contrasts, where soaring mountains eventually give way to high prairies and rugged boreal forests. But one of the most beautiful features is the province’s colorful lakes.
Lakes in Alberta are unlike those in other parts of Canada. The mountain lakes, many of which are a stunning turquoise color, are set against an incredible panorama of snowcapped peaks. These glacier-fed mountain lakes are cold. Apart from the sightseeing opportunities, mountain lakes are for doing things on, like boating, kayaking, and even stand up paddleboarding.
Lakes in the boreal forest, with its abundant wildlife, or under the wide-open skies of the prairies, are where you’ll find beaches and warm water for swimming. Prairie lakes are for doing things in, and families flock to these shores in the summer.
Access to most bodies of water mentioned here is easy and, in many cases, places to stay are nearby and range from secluded campsites right through to five-star luxury hotels.
Discover some of the most beautiful places in the province with our list of the best lakes in Alberta.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Lake Louise
The most famous lake in Alberta, if not the entire country, is Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Set in a long valley with towering mountains framing the scene, the lake has been a destination for camera toting tourists since 1890.
The lake is two kilometers in length and is, surprisingly, 70 meters deep. The lake changes color throughout the summer, from a light blue in June eventually becoming an impressive turquoise color in late August. It also changes color throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.
An easy walking trail, aptly called the Shoreline trail, leaves from the area in front of the Chateau Lake Louise and follows the lake down the right side. Several beautiful hiking trails in the Lake Louise area offer great opportunities to explore the landscape around the lake. One of the most popular hiking trails is the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, which leaves directly from the Shoreline trail.
If you’d like to get out onto the water, canoe rentals are available at the boathouse on the left side of the lake. Alternatively, you can bring your own equipment. The walk down from the parking lot to the lake is short and easy.
To fully experience Lake Louise, consider staying a night or two at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, set right on the shoreline of the lake. Rooms have stunning views out over the lake towards the Victoria Glacier. If you are just here for the day, you may want to pop in for a meal.
2. Moraine Lake
Just a short drive from Lake Louise is the equally, if not more, stunning Moraine Lake. Although Lake Louise is the main draw, a debate rages on about which is more beautiful.
Moraine Lake is smaller and has sheer rock falls descending directly into the lake, and it was once featured on the back of a Canadian 20 dollar bill. Several hikes of varying distances and difficulty leave from the parking lot and provide exceptional vantage points of the lake. Apart from the lakeside trail, one of the easiest is the Rockpile trail. This short walk leads to the top of an ancient rock slide that blocked the natural outlet of the lake. From here, you’ll find one of the best views of the lake.
One of the most spectacular lodges in Banff National Park, the Moraine Lake Lodge is set just back from the shoreline. Soaring floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow you to take in the spectacular view while being sheltered from the elements.
3. Bow Lake
As you drive north from Banff along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Bow Lake is the first large lake you’ll come across and without a doubt, you’ll be pulling in to stare at this colorful spectacle. Some hardy folk even believe that this is a good place for a swim in the icy waters.
The view out from the turnout looks out over the turquoise waters to the Bow Glacier in the far distance. To your left, you’ll see the Crowfoot Glacier perched on the flanks of the mountain of the same name. The unique stone and wood building with the bright red roof off to your right is the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Accommodation here is basic, but the location can’t be beat.
The Bow Glacier Falls hiking trail leaves from the lodge. It follows the lakeshore and back through some spectacular scenery to the base of the falls. This is one of the best day hikes in Banff National Park.
4. Peyto Lake
If you thought Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Bow Lake were a pretty turquoise color, then you’ll be completely astounded when you see Peyto Lake. Viewed from a high vantage point, the lake is a turquoise gem set against the dark green trees that surround it. Off in the far distance, north of the lake, another imposing mountain range rises up from the valley floor.
You can’t see the lake from the highway, but a high lookout point gives you the best view. This is one of the sightseeing stops along the Icefields Parkway and is well signposted. A hiking trail departs from here as well.
There are no services, hotels, or any type of accommodation at the lake itself, although camping is available nearby.
About 20 minutes farther north on the Icefields Parkway is Waterfowl Lakes (Upper and Lower Waterfowl) and the Waterfowl Lakes campground. This area does not get much attention or promotion but is also a blue-green colored lake of outstanding beauty. It’s a wonderful place for photography, paddling, or just sightseeing and admiring from the shore.
5. Waterton Lake
Waterton Lake is located in the southern portion of Alberta, in Waterton Lakes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is geographically unique, as the mountains suddenly give way to the prairies.
The stunning setting of the historic Prince of Wales Hotel at the base of the lake is one that has been forever immortalized in countless photographs. Waterton Lake extends back into the mountains, with soaring peaks along both shores.
Scenic boat tours that take in the history and geology of the area are one of the most common things to do in Waterton. This area is also windy much of the time and as a result, water activities like kiteboarding, windsurfing, and sailing are popular.
6. Maligne Lake
A 45-minute drive up a valley from the scenic town of Jasper brings you to Maligne Lake. Although the shoreline is relatively scenic, the best way to experience the lake is to take a boat tour that stops in at Spirit Island. This is one of the most photographed spots in Jasper National Park.
The boat tours begin at the north end of this 22-kilometer-long lake, but the southern end of the lake is the most scenic spot. In the south, the mountains close in on the lake, and the waters become turquoise. Spirit Island is 15 kilometers from the north end of the lake.
Tours are 1.5 to two hours in length and cover the history, geology, and other information on the area. You can also join a six-hour Jasper National Park Tour: Maligne Valley, Medicine Lake, and Spirit Island, which combines the most popular attractions into one tour.
If you are an experienced canoeist, and want to do some canoe camping, three beautiful campgrounds are nestled along the shoreline at varying distances from the north launching area.
7. Two Jack Lake
Just a short drive from Banff townsite, Two Jack Lake is a wonderful aquatic playground. The lake is set in a picturesque valley with large pine trees descending to the shoreline. Those brave enough to go for a swim will find the water very cold.
The generally calm and clear lake is ideal for stand up paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking. If you are lucky enough to be one of the people who secured a campsite, the lake is right at your doorstep. This is one of the best campgrounds in Banff National Park, mostly due to its proximity to the town of Banff.
For those looking for more comfortable accommodation, Banff is just down the road, and here you’ll find everything from hostels right through to five-star luxury hotels.
8. Lake Minnewanka
Just up the road from Two Jack Lake is Lake Minnewanka. Framed on three sides by tall mountains, this glacier-fed lake is a stunning sight. The lake is 21 kilometers in length, 142 meters deep, and cold. A great way to fully experience the lake is to take a boat tour. These leave from the main dock near the parking area and head up the lake towards Alymer Pass.
Alternatively, rent a boat with a small motor, a canoe, or a kayak. If you have your own boat, launch it and plan out your own route. A large picnic area is set under tall pine trees and is a pleasant place to spend part of your afternoon.
For those looking for a bit more activity, the Stewart Canyon hiking trail leaves from the parking lot area. The trail follows the shoreline for 1.5 kilometers to an overlook. If you want to continue farther on and have the stamina for a 23.6-kilometer hike, the trail continues to Aylmer Lookout.
The Stewart Canyon trail also allows mountain bikes, (except for the time frame of mid July to mid September) so keep your eyes and ears peeled for bikes zipping along.
9. Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes
The Kananaskis area is considered Calgary’s outdoor playground, with mountains and lakes that provide unending recreational opportunities. The Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes are located in the valley bottom and are surrounded by an excellent selection of campgrounds.
Of the two lakes, Lower Kananaskis Lake is the larger. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are all popular things to do here. Some of the fish available to be caught include a variety of trout such as rainbow; brown; bull; and in the deep water, lake trout. The water in the lake is exceptionally cold, so swimming is not common. A biking trail connects both lakes and most of the campgrounds, so getting around is easy.
If you aren’t a camper but still want to experience the lakes, comfortable lodging is nearby at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.
10. Lesser Slave Lake
Lesser Slave Lake is three hours from Edmonton and makes for a great weekend getaway. A popular destination on the lake is Marten River Provincial Park. Here, you’ll find clear, cool waters and one of the best beaches in northern Alberta. Perfect for strolling and swimming, this long stretch of sand usually has plenty of driftwood, great for a bonfire later on if you’re camping.
Off the lake are hiking trails that take you through the boreal forest where you’ll be serenaded by the sound of birdsong. Fishing on Lesser Slave Lake is excellent. Species sure to put up a fight include walleye, burbot, whitefish, and northern pike.
A highlight of a visit to Lesser Slave Lake is the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation. This 6,000-square-foot facility is devoted to the study of the birds that call the boreal forests their home. Inside, you’ll find fascinating exhibits that provide insight into the environment.
Marten River Provincial Park has 110 campsites in a couple of loops, some of which have power.
11. Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake has long been the go-to destination for Albertans. It’s one of the best lakes in Alberta for swimming and enjoying warm water. Sylvan Lake Park is home to a 1.6-kilometer-long beach that is a mix of sand and grass. The water here is shallow and ideal for wading.
Just back from the shoreline is an area complete with picnic tables, volleyball courts, and grassy areas for a summer picnic. Every year, nearly a million people visit this park located in the heart of the town of Sylvan Lake.
Sylvan Lake is also a fun place for water sports. Three marinas offer areas to launch a boat or personal watercraft. The town just back from the beach is a fun summer town, with shops selling beach gear, fast food restaurants, and a main street perfect for people watching.
12. Lake Newell
The water in Lake Newell warms up nicely each summer, making it a great destination for water sports enthusiasts. Just minutes from Brooks, this lake, actually a reservoir, draws sun seekers from around the province. Waterskiing, wakeboarding, kiteboarding, sailing, and fishing are all popular pastimes here.
The best place to experience the lake is at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park. The long, wide sandy beach is one of the top attractions here for its shallow water and great facilities, including a playground. Camping is popular here; the park has 199 campsites, some of which have electricity. Sites can be reserved in advance online. If you have a boat, a launch is available at the park.
If camping is not your thing, a wide variety of accommodation options are available in Brooks. The lake is also well positioned for a day trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This fascinating park is well worth the 45-minute drive. There are no fees for day use of Alberta Provincial Parks.