I thought Lake Minnewanka would be a good way to ease into the majesty of the Canadian Rockies – a place to meander along a lakeshore and relax a bit before our vistas became saturated with jagged, glacier-capped peaks enveloped in swirling mist. I hadn’t seen photos of it, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. At least, I didn’t think I had seen photos of it.
If you Google ‘Banff images’, you will see loads of photos of the town of Banff, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake (all of Banff’s Greatest Hits). There will be some photos from Lake Minnewanka mixed in there, but it’s kind of treated as a secondary destination in the park, despite the fact that it’s Banff’s largest lake. But, as it turns out, Minnewanka has no shortage of fabulous vistas.
We actually visited the lake twice – the first time on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, where we milled about on the lake shore with loads of other tourists, gawking at the sky and rock and turquoise blue water, and trying to avoid photo-bombing people’s selfies. Then we came back the next day, as the weather was getting a bit touchy, for a short hike along the lake shore.
The lake is a major stop on most big tour bus itineraries, so it can get quite busy. There’s a big overflow parking lot near the turn-off for the lake, about 5 miles down the road, and I suppose that in the peak of the summer you might be forced to take a shuttle to the lakeshore. If you’re not into hiking along the lakeshore, you can take a cruise on one of the many boats docked at the west end – I’m sure that’s spectacular too….just a bit too cushy for us!
Most people don’t go too far beyond the cafe near the lakeshore. So, as it is with most places, if you go a quarter mile down the trail, the crowds thin quickly. We started out on the Stewart Canyon trail, which meanders along the lakeshore, with an option to follow a short spur trail up the canyon.
On a bridge near the mouth of the canyon, we encountered this ewe – she really wanted to cross the bridge, and even dared approaching this people (at a full gallop!) to get across.
I would have liked to spend a lot more time hiking along the lakeshore, but despite the fact that we were armed with bear spray, we felt a bit deterred by this sign.
In fact, starting in July, they don’t want anyone on the trail in groups smaller than four. Instead, we followed the short spur along the Cascade River up Stewart Canyon.
The trail skirts the edge of the canyon, through a forest carpeted with thick moss. I’m always so fascinated by mossy forest floors. I’ve lived (and visited) so many places where dry air makes moss an impossibility. Mossy forest floors always make me feel a bit like I’ve walked into a fairytale. A small assortment of brightly colored wildflowers add to that ambiance.
The trail drops you off at the rocky confluence of a small tributary and the Cascade River. At this little bend in the river, the river was racing – fed by recent rain and snowmelt.
All told, we only hiked about 3 miles round-trip, up the canyon and back to the west end of Minnewanka. If you’re up for a long hike – and you’re bear-ready – this would be a fun place for a multi-day trip.
We managed to beat a smattering of rain and cool wind back to the parking lot – and I couldn’t resist another photo of the lake, with the storm moving in from the east.