In Banff National Park non-motorized boats including canoes, kayaks and rowboats are allowed on all the lakes and rivers. Boats with motors (electric or gas) are only allowed on Lake Minnewanka.
If you have your own equipment there are several places where you can kayak, canoe or stand up paddle board. The local favourites close to the town of Banff include Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and Vermilion Lakes. In the Lake Louise area there are the beautiful settings of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. On the Icefields Parkway the waters of Herbert, Hector, Bow and Waterfowl Lakes all offer spectacular views.
For tourists without their own equipment there are on site canoe rentals at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The options are limited for renting canoes or kayaks to take off-site to other lakes and rivers. For more information on canoe, kayak and SUP rentals for visitors see: Canoe Rentals, Boat Tours and Rafting Trips.
More detailed information can be found below on the popular spots for canoeing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding.
Vermillion Lakes, 40 Mile Creek and Echo Creek
These are gentle shallow waterways where you can often see birds and wildlife and take photographs of the beautiful scenery. You can launch your own boat from the Banff Canoe Club launch at the corner of Bow Avenue and Wolf Street and paddle your way to Vermillion Lakes. Or do it in the opposite direction and launch directly into the lakes off Vermillion Lake Drive. They are accessed from Mt. Norquay Road. You can find public docks at the First and Second Lake. Even the upstream current is mild enough to travel on a stand up paddle board. Take note that making your way from one of these waterways to the other is only possible when the water levels are high.
Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake
Both of these lakes are accessed from the Minnewanka Loop Road.
Two Jack Lake has a nearby campground of the same name. The lake has drive up access making it easy to transfer your boat to the water. It’s water is much calmer than nearby Lake Minnewanka.
Johnson Lake is a small, but scenic lake with a picnic area and Banff’s only sandy beach. It’s one of the few lakes in the area with warm enough water to swim in during the summer. Check for Park’s Canada bulletins (link at the bottom the page) before heading to Johnson Lake. There have been access restrictions due to fisheries management in the past.
This vast lake is not for the inexperienced. It’s often very windy, with gusts that change direction. Staying close to the shore is the safest bet. Parking is available at the lake. Take Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive off of the Trans Canada Highway 1. You can drop a boat of at the launch area and then find your parking spot to save from having a long portage to the water.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
These two incredible scenic lakes each have docks with canoe rentals. You’re allowed to bring your own canoe. Just don’t expect to be able to use the private docks to launch it. For more information on these two lakes see our posts Canoeing on Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
A small lake that is the first body of water you come to along the south end of the Icefields Parkway. Reflections of Mount Temple can be seen in the water when it’s calm.
This lake offers beautiful views of the Waputik Mountain Range. It requires a portage. Access requires crossing the Bow River, only do so when water levels are low in the late summer.
This is the third largest lake in Banff National park. The setting is stunning, but watch for strong winds that can quickly turn it into choppy waters.
Further along the Icefields Parkway these lakes are close to the base of Mount Chephren. The Waterfowl Campground is nearby.
For an alternative to Banff there is the popular Barrier Lake in Kananaskis. It’s one of the smaller lakes in the area. The water tends to remain calm making it a great spot to canoe or stand up paddle board. Kananaskis is located to the east of Canmore. Take Highway 40 just south of the Trans Canada Highway. On a calm day the larger Upper or Lower Kananaskis Lakes are other good options.
Located just half an hour west of the Lake Louise area is another beautiful spot to canoe at Emerald Lake. Canoe rentals are available on site on a first come, first served basis.
See our post on A Visit To Emerald Lake for more information.
For More Experienced Canoe or Kayak Paddlers
Experienced canoeists or kayers may wish to paddle any of three different legs of the Bow River:
- Lake Louise to Castle Junction
- Castle Junction to Banff
- Bow Falls to Canmore
More information can be found here: Parks Canada Canoeing The Bow River
For Experienced Whitewater Kayakers
- Bow River (Banff Springs Golf Course to Canmore) – Class I-II
- Pipestone (at Lake Louise) – Class IV
- Red Earth Creek – Class V+
- Upper Bow River – Class III-V
V+ should only be attempted by expert paddlers, it includes 20 to 30 foot drops and log jams.
Tips Before You Head Out On The Water
Life jackets are a must on the lakes and rivers in the Rocky Mountains. Even in the summer months the glacier waters barely get above freezing. The average tempertature is 4.C. to 5C. If you fall into the water hypothermia can set in within minutes.
For important bulletins, tips and safety information visit these sites before heading out on the water.
Boats may be required to provide a provincial inspection certificate or be subject to inspection before launching in Lake Minnewanka to ensure they do not have any invasive mussel species. More information here: Parks Canada Banff Boating Navigation