Discovering Lake Minnewanka in Banff
Lake Minnewanka is a stunning Canadian Rockies turquoise gem with an intriguing past and a wonderful range of activities for all the family.
Everything is quiet and peaceful – all you hear is the gentle lapping of the water against the shore. Above you, enormous craggy peaks stand out against the blue sky, leaning in with their jagged, snowy tops.
Today there are hiking and mountain biking trails to discover, fish to catch and scuba diving adventures to enjoy. But before you jump into exploring the postcard-perfect Lake Minnewanka, make sure that you take a moment to drink in the tranquil silence of the water, rocks and sky.
Lake Minnewanka is located only a short 15-minute drive from the town of Banff, resting in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached via the Trans-Canada Highway and Lake Minnewanka Road. This glacial lake is fed by the Cascade River, which flows east from Cascade Mountain and runs south through Steward Canyon.
For over 10,000 years, the First Nations people hunted and camped along the shores of Lake Minnewanka – they called it the “Lake of the Spirits.” Ancient paths through the region have been identified after local archaeologists discovered stone tools and spearheads in the area.
First Nations people respected and feared the lake because they believed spirits lived within it. Today, these waters are protected by the national park to ensure Lake Minnewanka continues to receive the respect it deserves.
But at the same time, this area has become a hotspot for divers, kayakers, mountain bikers and pretty much anyone else who appreciates the pristine beauty of an enchanting Rocky Mountain Lake. Luckily, most of the lakes in the Banff area provide for a full days worth of activities.
EXPLORE WHAT LIES BENEATH THE SURFACE
Most visitors to the Canadian Rockies don’t expect scuba diving to be on the itinerary. But if you don’t mind the chilly waters, there’s a lot to discover beneath the surface of Lake Minnewanka.
Back in 1888, a summer resort village called Minnewanka Landing was established containing hotels, restaurants and other buildings. However, in 1941 the Calgary Power Company built a new dam here for a hydro-electric plant, placing the town completely beneath the waters of Lake Minnewanka (the original lake was much smaller).
Power-generation dams built in 1912 and 1923 had previously increased the size and depth of the lake, flooding several small settlement sites that were built around its shores.
Visitors can now scuba-dive through the underwater buildings and streets, which are considered the best preserved example of a submerged historic village in Canada. There are several dive shops in Calgary that offer organized trips to Lake Minnewanka.
A HAVEN FOR ROCKY MOUNTAIN WILDLIFE
At approximately 5,000 feet in elevation, the climate at the lake is chilly because of the cool breezes that blow along the water.
The Lake Minnewanka area contains an abundance of wildlife, including bald eagles, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, elk, deer and more. If you are lucky, you might spot a moose, although they tend to be elusive and stay away from humans. However, there’s a good chance you will see smaller mammals such as marmots, chipmunks, squirrels, beavers and porcupines.
Fishing enthusiasts descend on the lake to troll for impressive trophy-size Rocky Mountain Whitefish and Lake Trout hiding beneath the waters. There are guided excursions available, which provide excellent opportunities for angling.
THRILLING MOUNTAIN BIKE ADVENTURES
If you ask a Banff local about their favourite nearby mountain biking trail, there’s a good chance they will mention the scenic singletrack trail that runs along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka.
When you give this thrilling ride a try, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular. The narrow rolling trail offers exciting technical sections, creek crossings and breath-taking views of the long blue lake.
The best season for riding it is in the spring or the fall and if you start very early in the morning you will avoid the majority of hiking traffic. Keep in mind that the trail is closed from July to September due to the amount of bears in the region.
Whether you are looking to hurtle down a mountainside on your bike, scuba dive through an underwater historic village or want to simply relax and soak up the stunning alpine scenery, visiting Lake Minnewanka is a must during your Rocky Mountain travels in Alberta.
PLANNING A TRIP TO BANFF?
If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Banff National Park, we have our highly knowledgeable Destination Experts on call to help at 1.877.902.1616. They can answer any questions you may have about Lake Minnewanka, or about accommodations for rent. You can view our Banff accommodations online here.