The Best Lakes in the Canadian Rockies

They glimmer a pale blue colour as they sit nestled in tranquil valleys bordered by tall green pine trees. They are guarded by the peaks of the surrounding Rocky Mountains, which always seem to be lightly coated by fluffy snow sprinkled like icing sugar. They are often outlined by tourists hoping to capture the light, the colour, the image, and most of all the spirit so that they can show their jealous friends upon their return home. They are majestic and raw.  They are the lakes of the Canadian Rockies.

The excited guides explain that the colour of the water is a result of floating limestone rock flour, which reflects the turquoise shade that is soaked in by the eyes of visitors. But from above it seems impossible, the lakes seem to full of colour, of texture, of life. They look as though the liquid which puddles in these glacially created depressions isn’t water at all; instead it is thick blue syrup derived from fairytale stories. To describe the colour in words is pointless, but the views too, more often than not, seem too unreal to believe. The only true way of experiencing the view and the feel of this amazing place is by standing on a cliff side looking down and drinking in the view in person.

Standing tall and proud above the lakes, great mountains jealously seeking to steal the visitor’s attention. They are charming as well, however as raw and powerful as they may be, they seek to exude a sense of calm, and they certainly force a humble feeling on all visitors. Generously thick glaciers find their homes on top of the mountains and stretch out into the valleys like a cold hand desperately holding on to its possession. The cool summer air refreshes the senses and persuades a sense of calm and tranquillity only until the great thunderous sound of an avalanche shooting down the slopes breaks the steady air.

As the night begins to draw out the evening moon, the sun finds refuge behind nature’s mountain wall and rays of white light jut between the clouds.  The peaks glow a bright orange as their imposing shadows cast shade on their neighbours.  At night there is a sense of calm that crawls over the senses of the many intruders to nature’s realm.  Sharp winds carrying air from the glaciers glides along the lakes with a freshness only dreamed of being controlled by the producers of car fresheners.

But it is the morning, yes the morning, where the true rewards are found on the lakes of the Canadian Rockies.  As the sun prepares to start its daily ritual of chasing the stars and moon into hiding, birds begin to chirp their morning hymns.  Light mist rises magically from the silky smooth water as a deer awkwardly hops through the tall wet grass.  And just as the sun returns to its rightful place in the sky an eerie calm sets over the waters of the lakes.  A calm so powerful that, like sheets of a princess’ finest mirror, all of the Rockies’ majestic image is reflected, as if seeing this beauty in only one view wasn’t enough.  These are the Canadian Rockies, majestic and proud, awe inspiring and humbling, royal and great.

My Favourite Lakes in The Canadian Rockies

With so many beautiful lakes to choose from in the Canadian Rockies, it’s hard to shorten it down to my favourites. However, the below are my favourite spots not only for photography, but just to hang out.

Waterton Lake – Waterton Lakes National Park

One of the unsung lakes of the Rockies is Waterton. In fact, even as a park in general it’s relatively unknown to non-locals. However, the local love Waterton, not only for the lake, but the fact that it has one of the highest concentration of wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.

Lake O’Hara

Much like Waterton, Lake O’Hara is a lesser known lake. But, it’s still very popular with those who do their research. In the summer, you’ll have to hike here or be lucky enough to catch the bus up.

In the winter, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski up here.

There’s a cabin up at the top that’s rented out by the Alpine Club, but it’s often booked up a year in advance. If you get the chance to come up here, do it.

Lake Louise

From the less obvious, to the most obvious.

Lake Louise is one of the most famous lakes on the planet. If I’m being honest, it gets way too busy here on most days. However, you can’t deny the beauty, and even if you’re shoulder to shoulder with 100 other people, watching the mist rise from the lake at sunrise is something special.

Moraine Lake

Sadly, things have changed a lot at Moraine Lake. Early in my photography days I was able to arrive just before sunrise with my camera and be all alone at the Canadian Rockies classic.

That’s not the case anymore.

In fact, things have gotten so busy at Moraine Lake that the parks have decided to close it to non-commercial traffic. You can now only visit the lake by shuttle bus, taxi, or on a tour.

Still, despite the extra effort you need to visit the lake, it’s so beautiful you do need to make the journey.

Bow Lake

If Moraine Lake has gotten crazy busy, at least you’ll always have Bow Lake to yourself – we hope.

Over on the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake is a massive body of water that has one of the most iconic cabins in the Canadian Rockies on it. It’s a really cool photo spot, and the best part is you generally have it mostly to yourself.

Peyto Lake

Last but not least, Peyto Lake is just unreal.

And, beyond the lake, I totally recommend you read some history on Canadian Rockies legend Bill Peyto – who the lake is named after. He is one of the more interesting characters in Canadian history, and definitely worthy of a lake.

Icefields parkway winter