Peyto Lake is a popular Canadian hotspot thanks to accessibility by car, easy access to elevated view, countless Instagram pictures and overall popularity of Banff National Park. We’re answering the most common questions about Peyto Lake.
You can learn all about Peyto Lake in this article where we answer all your questions. Everything you need to know about visiting Peyto Lake in Banff National Park is below, including swimming and alternative viewpoints during the 2020 closure.
About Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake lies at elevation 1,860 m, and it’s fed by glacial water from Peyto Glacier. Lakes at this elevation are frozen from November till the beginning of June. When Peyto Lake thaws, the water from it flows through Mistaya Canyon few kilometers downstream and later into Saskatchewan River.
Bill Peyto, whose name carries this most photographed lake in the Canadian Rockies, is the person with a pipe who welcomes you entering the town of Banff. The lake got its name to honour the person who was one of the first park wardens and outfitter and guided tourists on a hunt for true Canadian wilderness at the beginning of the 20th century.
Visiting Banff National Park? Read our comprehensive travel guides:
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- 100 things to do in Banff National Park
- Best time to visit Banff National Park
- 2-week Canadian Rockies itinerary
- Banff itinerary for 3 days
Why is Peyto Lake so blue?
Glacial fed lakes anywhere around the world have either grey or aquamarine colour similar to Peyto Lake thanks to the rock flour (also called glacial milk).
The rock flour is created by a glacier sliding down the valley. Glacier grinds the surface of the bedrock underneath, creating the dust that is carried away by melting water.
Depending on the type of rock, glacial milk can reflect sun rays in different hues of blue, green or grey. Swimming in these waters leaves a dusty grey film on your skin.
Many lakes around the world have similar and maybe even more breathtaking hues of aquamarine colour, for example, Laguna 69 in Peru and plenty of Chilean or Patagonian lakes. Another example is McArthur Lake in Yoho National Park, which has indigo colour, but to get there, you have to hike a couple of hours. The most significant amount of aquamarine water flow we’ve seen is the Baker River in Chile.
Where is Peyto Lake?
Peyto Lake is located in Banff National Park along the scenic road Icefields Parkway, 100 km north of Banff (or 40 km north of Lake Louise). On an ideal day driving time from Banff is about one hour (from Lake Louise about half an hour).
Once you pass a big open area with Bow Lake on the left-hand side with Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, it is your next stop on the left. As you reach the highest point of the pass, this is your turn-off. Watch out for highway sign for ‘Bow Summit’.
The viewing platform for Peyto Lake is at the highest point of the Icefields Parkway at 2,088 meters.
Peyto Lake parking lot
There are two parking lots at the Bow Summit (aka Peyto Lake lookout). The main (first) parking lot for visitors is about 500 m from the Icefields Parkway exit. Further up the road is a parking lot for buses and disabled right next to the viewing platform.
You can drive up here and use it to drop off your passengers. Parking is free and very busy during the summer.
Bow Summit Lookout
From the parking lot, it’s only about 10 minutes/2 km round-trip walking up to the viewpoint. The trail is paved, and wheelchair friendly with a slow incline. As you reach connectors, you are pretty much at the viewpoint. The trail will suddenly open up, and at the end is a wooden platform – main Peyto Lake viewpoint.
If you are coming to enjoy this place by yourself, you need to come very early.
After 8 am, both parking lots turn into a giant bus terminal when tour buses and crowds roll in. This is one of the most visited places in the Canadian Rockies. Either come early in the morning or late in the evening for gorgeous sunset photos.
Read our recommendation: A comprehensive Banff packing guide for Canadian Rockies.
Bonus view of Peyto Lake without crowds
There is one more lookout that not many people know about. Many of the Peyto Lake pictures you see on the postcards were taken from Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint.
- From the main Peyto Lake viewpoint, return to the paved path and continue a bit further uphill. At the circuit sign, go right and look for narrow dirt trails. They all go the Upper lookout viewpoint of Peyto Lake.
- From the upper part of the parking lot for buses, follow the old fire road to get to the old Bow Summit. If you like the solitude that Canadian Rockies offer, you can find it here.
If you continue on the dirt road past the old Bow Summit lookout, you can see the view of the Bow Lake and Bow Valley.
If you’re unsure, turn on your phone’s GPS and follow the map below (given that you downloaded the map before, there is no Internet on Icefields Parkway.)
Peyto Lake hike
You can hike down to the shore of the lake and dip your feet in it. It takes only about 40 minutes down and one hour back. The trail starts at the lookout through the well-worn exposed rocky area towards the right hand of the platform.
You can even bring own kayak or fishing rod (but need to obtain a fishing license at Banff’s visitor center) but prepare for a steep trail. There are better places in the Canadian Rockies for kayaking, such as Bow Lake with easy car access to the lake’s shore.
Can you swim in Peyto Lake?
The short answer is yes. You can swim in any lake in the Canadian Rockies.
And the longer answer is – depending on your level of bravery.
Peyto Lake (also Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and many others) is fed from a glacier, and therefore it’s very cold. Like VERY cold.
I’ve swum in a few glacial-fed lakes but was able to do only a few strokes before returning back to the shore. It’s a great experience on a hot summer day when your body is tingling from the cold and subsequently warming up from the sun.
Wearing a wetsuit would result in a more pleasant swim. Keep in mind that you’re swimming at your own risk.
Nevertheless, it’s a once in a lifetime adventure 🙂
Are pictures of Peyto Lake photoshopped?
The most common question that everybody asks when they see pictures of Peyto Lake is: Is the colour photoshopped? Is it real?
As you can see from our pictures and explanation above, Peyto Lake doesn’t need to be photoshopped. Most of the Peyto Lake pictures don’t use any editing at all. Same with other lakes in the Rockies. The colour really is that insanely blue. You need to visit to see it yourself!
Peyto Lake in winter
You can see Peyto Lake during wintertime as well. Although you might need to use snowshoes or cross country skis to get to the viewing platform as the trail is not maintained.
Another option is to walk on the snow-covered road that buses use in summer. We had no problem walking on it just in our winter boots.
If you visit in October (usually before the lake freezes), the Bow Valley and mountains around will be covered in snow while Peyto Lake will still be shining with its gorgeous blue colour, a truly amazing contrast.
Peyto Lake closure in 2020
The parking lot, washroom and the viewing platform were in desperate need of repair. Therefore it’s completely closed off for public until late 2020 for construction (no access until winter 2020).
Check Peyto Lake closure for exact dates.
Alternative ways to see Peyto Lake in 2020
Hike down to Peyto Lake
When travelling from Banff towards Jasper, you’ll see an unmarked parking lot (on your left-hand side) down the hill past the Bow Summit (the main parking lot).
It’s only 3.2 km round-trip and you will be at Peyto’s shore in about 30 minutes.
The blue colour doesn’t disappoint from the shore either and you will most likely have the lake to yourself.
Hike above Peyto Lake
A few scrambles with much more than a view of Peyto Lake:
- Observation Peak – 8 km difficult scramble
- Cirque Peak – 14 km difficult hike and scramble
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