Lake Minnewanka is the most popular lake within a short drive from Banff. You can picnic on the shore, go mountain biking, hiking, camping, kayaking, or enjoy the lake from a different perspective on the Lake Minnewanka Cruise. Here’s everything you need to know about the largest lake and the Lake Minnewanka Cruise.
Nestled within the breathtaking landscapes of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Minnewanka is a pristine gem that beckons travellers from all around the world. This 21 km long glacial lake, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, offers a tranquil and awe-inspiring experience that’s truly unforgettable.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise is one of the most popular tours in Banff and an amazing way to explore this natural wonder. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find our honest review of the Lake Minnewanka Cruise experience and all our tips for your unforgettable visit, including more activities in the area besides the Lake Minnewanka Cruise.
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Let’s dive right in.
Where is Lake Minnewanka?
Lake Minnewanka is in Banff National Park, Canada’s most visited national park. It’s located in the eastern part of the park, about 10 kilometres northeast of Banff.
If you’re visiting from Calgary, it’s a 1.5-hour drive and a great Calgary day trip option we’ve done lots of times.
This pristine alpine lake is surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies, offering visitors a stunning natural panorama. Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park, extending for about 21 kilometres and reaching a maximum depth of approximately 142 meters.
The name “Minnewanka” is derived from the Nakoda First Nations people and means “Water of the Spirits.” Indigenous people inhabited the area around Lake Minnewanka for 10,000 years. It was a prime spot for hunting and remains rich in wildlife.
How to get to Lake Minnewanka
To reach Lake Minnewanka, you have several transportation options:
Public Transport to Lake Minnewanka
The Roam shuttle bus route 6 to Lake Minnewanka operates in the summer, typically from May to September. It leaves from downtown Banff and takes about 25 minutes to Lake Minnewanka.
Along the way, it also stops at Cascade Ponds, Two Jack Lake and Johnson Lake.
This is by far the easiest option if you’re visiting in summer. The parking lot at Lake Minnewanka fills up fast, and if you don’t arrive early in the morning, it might take a while to find a spot.
Your Lake Minnewanka Cruise tickets include a free return ride on the day of the cruise. Just show the tickets to the bus driver and enjoy the hassle-free journey.
Driving to Lake Minnewanka
If you prefer the flexibility of your vehicle, you can drive to Lake Minnewanka. Here are the directions from Banff:
- From Banff Avenue in Banff, head northeast on Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. Follow the signs for Lake Minnewanka, and you’ll reach the lake in about 15 minutes.
Biking to Lake Minnewanka
For the more adventurous travellers, cycling to Lake Minnewanka is also an option. The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive is one of the most popular bike routes in Banff National Park, and it’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. Once you pass Cascade Ponds, you can continue in whichever direction you want, making a loop along Two Jack Lake and part of Lake Minnewanka.
Be cautious if you’re riding in summer during the day as the tourists driving this road often rather look at the views than on the road.
Guided Tours to Lake Minnewanka
Guided tours are an excellent choice for travellers seeking a hassle-free and informative experience. A reputable platform for booking tours and activities is Viator, which offers several options for guided tours to Lake Minnewanka. These tours typically include transportation, knowledgeable guides, and opportunities to explore the area in depth. Some of the popular tour options include:
- Banff & Yoho National Parks: Visit two beautiful national parks on a day trip from Calgary, including visiting Lake Louise, Two Jack Lake & Lake Minnewanka (or Moraine Lake in summer), Natural Bridge, Emerald Lake, and Lake Louise Ski Resort
- Lake Louise & Banff Tour from Calgary or Banff: An amazing day tour departing from Calgary, Canmore and Banff and visiting the most beautiful places in Banff National Park: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake (or Johnston Canyon in winter), Vermilion Lakes, downtown Banff, Bow Falls, and Lake Minnewanka
- Banff National Park – Private Day Tour: Departing from your chosen pick-up point in Calgary, you explore Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, Banff Hot Springs, downtown Banff, Tunnel Mountain Drive, and Lake Minnewanka from the comfort of an SUV and flexibility to adjust your itinerary
Parking at Lake Minnewanka
If you drive to Lake Minnewanka, there’s a big free parking lot near the Lake Minnewanka Cruise departure point. The parking area is conveniently located, along with the washrooms. However, it can get busy during the peak summer months, so arriving early is advisable to secure a spot.
What to expect on Lake Minnewanka Cruise
The Lake Minnewanka Cruise provides visitors with a unique opportunity to explore the lake’s history, geological features, stunning surroundings, and the possibility to see wildlife on the shore.
The enclosed boat accommodates around 30 people. Although it’s usually chilly by the lake in the mornings, the boat is heated with comfortable seating (but no washrooms on the boat). You can step outside on the deck whenever you like during the cruise.
There are speakers on the deck, so you don’t miss out on any information about Lake Minnewanka’s history or Indigenous stories shared by knowledgeable guide.
The boat takes you about halfway on Lake Minnewanka, stopping for a bit, then turning around back to the dock.
If you didn’t pack a picnic, you can grab an ice cream, pizza, hot dog, or sandwich at Black Anchor snack shop, close to the shore.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise schedule
The Lake Minnewanka Cruise typically operates from mid-May to mid-October. The exact schedule varies from year to year due to weather conditions.
During the summer months, the cruise operates every hour on the hour from 9 am to 7 pm. The early morning and late afternoon departures often offer a quieter and more serene experience on the lake and a higher chance of seeing wildlife.
I recommend booking the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in advance as it fills up days before the departure during the summer months.
If you’d like to see Lake Minnewanka in winter, you’ll be amazed to find out it completely freezes over and often becomes a giant ice skating rink for a few weeks.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise prices
The prices for the Lake Minnewanka Cruise are as follows:
- Adults (18-64): Approximately 66 CAD/person
- Youth (6-15): Approximately 43 CAD/person
- Children (5 and under): Free
- You can book your tickets here
It’s important to note that Lake Minnewanka Cruise (and other activities offered by Pursuit, such as Banff Gondola) operates on dynamic pricing. That means the higher the demand, the higher the price, so you can expect higher prices during summer weekends.
Best time for Lake Minnewanka cruise
I recommend booking the Lake Minnewanka Cruise for early morning or late afternoon. The water is calmer on the usually very windy lake, and the reflections are prettier. You also have a higher chance of seeing wildlife along the shore – deer, bears, and eagles.
We went on the cruise in October when colourful leaves popped, and they added gorgeous colours to the surroundings.
How long is the Lake Minnewanka Cruise?
The classic Lake Minnewanka Cruise, the most popular option, lasts approximately one hour. During this time, you’ll explore the lake, its history, and the beautiful surroundings with the guidance of a guide who provides interesting insights into the area.
Is the Lake Minnewanka Cruise family-friendly?
Yes, the Lake Minnewanka Cruise is family-friendly and suitable for visitors of all ages. The serene and informative cruise is an ideal way to introduce children to the natural wonders of the Canadian Rockies while providing a relaxing experience for adults.
For families with young children, it’s worth noting that children aged 5 and under ride for free. The deck is an excellent option if you have a toddler like we did, and you can’t expect them to sit still for an hour. We spent most of our time on the deck, watching the splashing water or lounging on the sun beds.
Is the Lake Minnewanka Cruise worth it?
If it’s your first time visiting Lake Minnewanka, I’d say the Lake Minnewanka Cruise is worth it. But if you’re short on time or the cruise is sold out, there are plenty of other ways you can enjoy your time: hiking to Stewart Canyon, bike & hike to Aylmer Lookout, rent a kayak or canoe or enjoying a picnic on the shore – see more details below.
Things to do at Lake Minnewanka
Aside from the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, the area offers many activities, making it a must-visit destination in Banff National Park. Here are some of the highlights:
Get on the water
You can rent a kayak, canoe or motorboat right on the shore of Lake Minnewanka. Alternatively, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard in Banff and explore the lake.
Due to frequent and strong wind gusts, staying close to the shore is recommended. From my experience, I can tell you that it’s quite hard to get back when it’s windy. If you love stand-up paddleboarding, I recommend the nearby Two Jack Lake or other lakes ideal for stand-up paddleboarding in Banff.
Hiking to Stewart Canyon
- Distance: Approximately 7.6 kilometres round trip (about 1,5 hours)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Description: The hike to Stewart Canyon is a scenic trail that takes you along the northern shore of Lake Minnewanka. The endpoint is Stewart Canyon, where you can view a cascading waterfall and explore the area’s natural beauty.
Bike & hike to Aylmer Lookout
- Distance: 25 km round trip from the parking lot
- Elevation gain: 880 m
- Difficulty: moderate if you’re biking; difficult if you’re hiking only due to its length.
- Description: This hike offers a more strenuous adventure that rewards hikers with breathtaking views of Lake Minnewanka from a higher vantage point. The Aylmer Lookout trail is a longer and more challenging hike, but the panoramic views are well worth the effort. We loved our bike & hike combo experience.
The first 8.5 km trail along the lake is possible to mountain bike. Then, it’s an 8,5 hike to the Aylmer Lookout and 8,5 km back to the parking lot. The top of the hill offers scenic views of both sides of Lake Minnewanka.
- For all stats, details, and a full trip report, read about our Hike & Bike Trip to Aylmer Lookout.
- Two Jack Lake: Just a short drive from Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake is another beautiful spot for picnicking, swimming, and enjoying the serene mountain setting.
- Johnson Lake: A tranquil and family-friendly location, Johnson Lake is ideal for a leisurely picnic or a refreshing swim. It’s known for its clear, emerald-green waters, and it’s the only lake in Banff with a reasonable temperature for a swim (but still cold for most visitors)
Camping options near Lake Minnewanka
For those who want to immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty, there are camping options near Lake Minnewanka. Apart from backcountry campgrounds, there are two front-country campgrounds near the lake:
Two Jack Main Campground
- Operating dates: end of June – September
- Amenities: toilets, cooking shelters, hook-ups, dump station, drinking water, 32 equipped tent campsites (includes setting up a 6-person tent, bunk beds, stove & propane, sleeping bags and pots & pans are not included)
- Fees: 23 CAD per night per campsite (74.75 CAD per night for an equipped tent site)
- Number of sites: 380
Two Jack Lakeside Campground
Situated on the shores of Two Jack Lake, this campground provides a peaceful and picturesque setting for camping. It’s conveniently close to Lake Minnewanka and offers stunning views.
- Operating dates: mid-May – October
- Amenities: hot showers, toilets, cooking shelters, hook-ups, dump station, drinking water, ten equipped luxury campsites oTentik, fire pits (permit costs 9.50 CAD/day)
- Fees: 25 CAD per night per campsite
- Number of sites: 64
For more details and pictures of campgrounds in Banff, read our comprehensive Guide to camping in Banff National Park.
Which cruise is better: Lake Minnewanka or Maligne Lake?
While we enjoyed both the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff National Park and the Maligne Lake Cruise in Jasper National Park, if I had to choose just one, I’d go with the Maligne Lake Cruise.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise offers spectacular views, but they don’t change much. On the other hand, Maligne Lake Cruise’s views are on a whole new level. The area is more pristine, with lots of glacier views along the way. The cruise is longer and takes you to visit Spirit Island, the most popular photography spot in Jasper National Park, which you can only reach with the cruise or kayaking for several hours.
Visiting Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park
To visit any national park in Canada, you must purchase a Park Pass (daily or yearly).
- 10.50 CAD per person for a daily pass, 21 CAD for a group/family
- 72.25 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 145.25 CAD for a group/family
The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.
Enjoy your time at Lake Minnewanka!
Whether you embark on the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, explore nearby hiking trails or camp in the area, you will surely create lasting memories. When planning your visit, include Lake Minnewanka on your Banff itinerary for an unforgettable experience in the heart of the Rockies.