It may not get the international fame that Lake Louise and Moraine Lake get, but don’t let that fool you. Aside from being the largest lake in Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka is very beautiful with stunning natural scenery. The scenic boat cruise is the main draw for this lake, but there are many other great things to do at Lake Minnewanka. Getting out to enjoy nature is one of our favorite things, so it’s no surprise that these Lake Minnewanka hikes are some of our favorite hiking trails in Banff National Park.
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Lake Minnewanka Lake vs Lake Minnewanka Loop
Although Lake Minnewanka is an actual lake, it’s also the name of an area within the national park. The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive is a circular loop road just east of the Town of Banff. Along the Minnewanka Loop, there are three beautiful Banff lakes: Lake Minnewanka (of course), but also Two Jack Lake and Johnson Lake.
With all of these stunning Banff lakes and towering Rocky Mountains all around, there are some great hiking trails in the Lake Minnewanka area for you to enjoy.
The 6 Best Lake Minnewanka Hiking Trails
We’ve been hiking the Lake Minnewanka area for decades, and some of our favorite hiking trails in Banff are found here. It’s true the Minnewanka Loop doesn’t have a super-star hike like Larch Valley or Lake Agnes, but there are some really great hikes around Lake Minnewanka. There are hard hikes, easy hikes, kid-friendly hikes, historical hikes – you name it and Lake Minnewanka has it.
It’s virtually impossible to rank these Lake Minnewanka hikes from best-to-worst as they are all very enjoyable and everyone has different abilities. That said, to help you pick the very best, we’ve chosen to rank them in order of our favorite Lake Minnewanka hikes. We tend to enjoy harder hikes, so before you decide if a hike is right for your ability level, be sure to read the full post on each hike for all the details.
We hope you’ll enjoy these six amazing Lake Minnewanka hikes!
1. Alymer Lookout Trail
If you don’t mind a little effort to get here, the views from the Alymer Lookout Trail at Lake Minnewanka are some of the very best in all of Banff National Park.
The first thing that you need to know about the Alymer Lookout trail is that you can’t drive to the trailhead. First, you’ll need to hike or mountain bike (in-season) the first 7.8 km along the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail, which in of itself, is another of the best Lake Minnewanka hikes (described below).
The Alymer Lookout trail begins in a beautiful aspen forest as you venture up a beautiful river valley between Mt. Alymer and Mt. Astley. It’s a steady uphill for the first 2.5 km, but you can always stop and rest while enjoying the sounds of the river flowing below and the incredible views of Mt. Inglismaldie and Lake Minnewanka behind you.
As you enter a proper forest, take a moment to notice the abundance of buffalo berries – a favorite food of grizzly bears – we advise you to take your bear safety seriously here. Keep your bear spray handy, in an easily accessible location like a holster, not inside your daybag.
You’ll hike up a few switchbacks, but when you are done, most of the difficult uphill climbing is behind you. The trail becomes a much easier walk through a beautiful evergreen forest, with the sound of birds and a brilliant green carpet of spongy moss.
The final 400 m before Alymer Lookout is incredibly scenic as Lake Minnewanka, Tunnel Mountain and Two Jack Lake come into view. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the iconic Lake Minnewanka cruise boats on the water down below.
As you reach the end of the Alymer Lookout trail the trees are gone and its much windier, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best scenery in Banff. Lake Minnewanka is a S-shaped lake and the Alymer Lookout is high above the first bend. From here, you can see the shimmering waters of Lake Minnewanka for over 20 km, with jagged, towering Rocky Mountain peaks all along her shores.
The views from this excellent Lake Minnewanka hike to Alymer Lookout are simply incredible. It’s one of the best Banff viewpoints in the whole national park. We hope you enjoy it too. We will return to Aylmer Lookout again and again to soak in this beautiful Banff scenery, and we hope you will too!
Aylmer Lookout Hike – Quick Details
Distance: 23.6 km Elevation: 560 m elevation gain
Learn more about this excellent Lake Minnewanka hiking trail in our full blog post about the Aylmer Lookout Hike.
2. C Level Cirque
Of all the Lake Minnewanka hikes, the C Level Cirque trail was previously my favorite hike in the area, before Aylmer Lookout bumped it out of top spot. With a winning combination of Banff coal mining history and incredible scenery, C Level Cirque is the Lake Minnewanka hiking trail that I have enjoyed the most times most over the years.
You know that iconic image of downtown Banff with a majestic mountain in the background? That’s Cascade Mountain and the C-Level Cirque trail leads you up the lower slopes on the east side.
The C Level Cirque Trail begins on a 2-person wide gravel path. The hiking trail is remarkably well maintained, with no roots or rocks to contend with. Don’t be fooled by this as the trail gets much more natural further up Cascade Mountain.
The hike begins through a mixed forest of evergreen and aspens, with an impressive carpet of wildflowers in spring. I love the ambience of a forest with Old Man’s Beard Lichen and it’s plentiful along this Lake Minnewanka hiking trail.
The first 3 km is a reasonably steady uphill, but there are some interesting stops along the way. The first is an abandoned 2-room coal mine building, which is fun to peek in and explore. Also watch for a short spur trail near the building which leads to an actual coal seam, which helps bring the whole coal mining story together.
In short order, you’ll pass several fenced off coal mine shafts. Carefully approach the fences to take a look at these deep shafts, but go no further as these shafts are very dangerous.
After 4 km, you’ll emerge from the forest and the majesty of Cascade Mountain in revealed in front of you. No matter how many times I hike C Level Cirque, I’m always in awe of this view of Cascade Mountain. You’ll be standing at the bottom of an amphitheatre, with a 1,000 m tall rock cliff looming straight overhead towards the summit. It’s a humbling and truly amazing sight in Banff National Park!
Over the millenia, boulders which have fallen from these towering rock walls have yielded a large boulder field at the base. This is where most hikers on C Level Cirque stop and have a snack or lunch. But if you have the time and ability, you can continue hiking for another 1 km to where the forest meets the alpine zone.
You’ll walk along (and sometimes through) the entire length of the boulder field before reentering the forest. The C Level Cirque trail becomes very steep at this point, but you can use the many tree roots to help gain traction.
As you leave the trees behind, you’ve reached the end of the hiking trail. From here, you see all three lakes in the Lake Minnewanka Loop – Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and, of course, Lake Minnewanka. This is a breathtaking vista of one of the most beautiful regions within Banff National Park.
C Level Cirque Trail – Quick Details
Distance: 7.8 km out and back Elevation: 455 m elevation gain
Learn more about this rewarding Lake Minnewanka hike in our full blog post about the C Level Cirque Trail.
3. Bankhead Ghost Town
The first two hikes on our list of the best Lake Minnewanka hikes are the most scenic, but without question, the Bankhead Ghost Town hike is the most fun. A walk through Bankhead ghost town leads you through the remnants of a once thriving coal mining operation and town dating back to the early 1900’s. It’s a unique opportunity to take an easy Banff walk through a fascinating piece of Alberta history.
Before you begin one of Banff’s best easy hikes, take a moment to read the interesting interpretive signs in the parking lot near the trailhead and enjoy a nice view of Mount Rundle in the distance.
After descending a staircase, the walk through the Bankhead ghost town begins. Along the way you’ll pass the remains of many coal mining operations buildings including the lamphouse, the powerhouse, the boiler house, the briquette building, the Tipple and many old & rusted pumps, motors and rail carts.
As you reach the far end of the Bankhead Ghost Town Loop, you’ll pass huge piles of coal slack heaps. Watch for rhubarb plants growing in this area – these are ancestors of the rhubarb plants grown by the Chinese immigrant workers, who were not welcome to live in the town itself.
But what makes the Bankhead Ghost Town trail one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes in Banff is the remnants a very rusted coal mining train engine and coal mine cars. Kids of all ages love walking around this old coal mining train – an amazing piece of Alberta’s coal mining history.
Bankhead Ghost Town Hike – Quick Details
Distance: 1 km loop Elevation: There are 70 steps on the staircase from the parking lot, otherwise the hiking trail is flat.
4. Stewart Canyon Trail
If you are looking for an easy hike near Lake Minnewanka that is a bit more challenging than the Bankhead Ghost Town trail, we highly recommend the Stewart Canyon Trail.
The first 1 km or so of the Stewart Canyon hike is through the popular Lake Minnewanka Day Use area, but soon you’ll leave the crowds and enter a peaceful forest. Lake Minnewanka remains visible through the trees until you reach a bridge over the Cascade River. Hang a left shortly after the bridge to begin hiking along the Stewart Canyon Trail.
The Stewart Canyon trail follows the Cascade River while leading you through a lush evergreen forest. The hiking trail is usually well above the rushing river below, offering rewarding views of the river valley. Due to the humidity of the river, the forest floor is covered with a lush emerald moss and plenty of wildflowers. In June, the Stewart Canyon trail is an excellent place to see delicate purple calypso orchids growing from the moss.
The short, but very enjoyable Stewart Canyon trail ends when you arrive at the confluence of another stream flowing into the Cascade River. There’s lots of fallen trees and boulders to sit on, making it a great spot to stop and enjoy the beauty of this Banff river canyon.
Stewart Canyon Trail – Quick Details
Distance: 7.6 km out and back
Elevation: 277 m elevation gain
Learn more about this short Lake Minnewanka hike in our full blog post about the Stewart Canyon hike.
5. Johnson Lake Trail
With so many fun things to do at Johnson Lake, it’s one of our favorite places to visit in the Lake Minnewanka Loop. There’s picnic tables, a fun little beach for the kids and a highly enjoyable short hike around Johnson Lake.
The Johnson Lake hike is an easy hiking trail which circumnavigates this beautiful lake in Banff National Park. It begins by crossing a cute little bridge over a stream, where you can stop and enjoy views of Mount Inglismaldie, Mount Girouard and Mount Peechee.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, you’ll begin the Johnson Lake hike along the shoreline, through a lush, mossy forest. This is an especially beautiful leg of the Johnson Lake trail, as you’ll always have a nice view of the lake.
The real reason that the Johnson Lake trail is one of the best hikes for kids in Banff is the old hermit cabin hidden in the forest.
Approximately 2/3 the way along the southern leg, there’s a real treat hidden in the forest about 100 feet off the Johnson Lake trail. Over 100 years old, the Johnson Lake hermit cabin is in remarkably good condition and is fun for kids of all ages to walk around and explore.
You’ll cross another bridge at the far end of Johnson Lake, this time affording incredible views of the Cascade Mountain. After the bridge, the Johnson Lake trail reenters the forest and follows the northern shore of the Banff lake until you get back to the parking lot.
Johnson Lake Trail – Quick Details
Distance: 3 km loop
Elevation: 70 m elevation gain
There are a several hiking trails around Johnson Lake, making it confusing at times where to go. Get all the important details, including the exact location of the hermit cabin in our full post on the Johnson Lake hike.
6. Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail
Even if you are not a big hiker, the walk along the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail is one of the best things to do at Lake Minnewanka. This shoreline walk offers stunning views across Lake Minnewanka at the surrounding mountains.
The best part of this easy Lake Minnewanka hike is that you customize the length of it. The one-way distance is over 15 km, so hardly anyone hikes the whole way. Simply walk until you are ready to turn back!
The first 2 km or so of the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail is the same as the Stewart Canyon hike described above. Beyond the Stewart Canyon trail junction, the Lake Minnewanka trail runs through a lush forest heading downhill towards the shores of Banff’s largest lake.
After 3 km of hiking, the trees become sparse, which provides some amazing views of four surrounding mountains over Lake Minnewanka. From this point, the Lake Minnewanka hike follows the shoreline of the lake. At some points you’ll have climbed to the top of a hill, earning you some rewarding vistas of Lake Minnewanka below.
Along the way, you’ll pass through rock slides off Mount Astley, waterfalls, and a nice little picnic area. Watch for large clusters of buffalo berry bushes and you’ll soon realize why this area is so popular with grizzly bears. Take the Parks Canada warnings about grizzly bears seriously.
As you reach a beautiful aspen forest at the 8k m mark of the Lake Minnewanka trail, you’ll reach the Aylmer Lookout junction – our favorite Lake Minnewanka hike.
To help protect hikers and the Lake Minnewanka area grizzly bear population, between July 10 and September 15:
- mountain biking is not permitted
- hikers must hike in tight groups of 4 or more (carrying bear spray)
- dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon Bridge.
Lake Minnewanka Hike – Quick Details
Distance: Choose your own distance (maximum of 30 km out-and-back)
Elevation: 300 m elevation gain
Learn more about this enjoyable Banff hike in our full blog post about the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail.