Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop in Banff National Park

Author: Celine Brewer

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Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop is a popular route for road cyclists in Banff National Park. Anyone comfortable riding with traffic will want to add this scenic route to their must-do Banff road bike routes while visiting the Banff National Park.

This road cycling route in Banff takes cyclists on a scenic ride past the popular Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake and even Johnson Lake, with a slight detour. Not only that, but cyclists will also enjoy panoramic mountain views throughout the ride.

While many road cycling enthusiasts may be looking to cover as much distance as possible, there are plenty of opportunities to stop along this route. If you have the time, we recommend enjoying one of the excellent Lake Minnewanka hikes or a picnic by the lake into your plan.

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Loop past Two Jack Lake in Banff

Anyone who would rather not bike on a road with vehicle traffic has a new opportunity in May 2021 to cycle the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road without public vehicle traffic.

What’s new in 2021 for the Lake Minnewanka Loop?

In 2021, Parks Canada is conducting a 3-week pilot project on the Lake Minnewanka Road where it will be closed to public vehicles Monday through Thursday. This pilot project starts on May 1 and continues until May 21st.

The Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive will be open to vehicle traffic on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of May.

Cycling Minnewanka Loop Road without Vehicle Traffic

We took the opportunity to cycle Lake Minnewanka Loop Road in early May and loved every minute of it. We aren’t serious enough cyclists to do bike the Lake Minnewanka Road Loop mid-summer with plenty of tourists on the road, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it without any vehicle traffic.

We started cycling the Lake Minnewanka Road at 9:30 am on a Thursday and had the road almost entirely to ourselves, meeting only a couple of groups along the way. This is something we highly recommend doing if you have the chance.

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Road - Banff Road Bike Route

If you enjoy this road closure, be sure to watch for opportunities to participate in surveys. In 2020, there was an overwhelming positive response to having the Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive closed which likely contributed to the closure again in 2021 giving us the opportunity to cycle the Bow Valley Parkway with minimal vehicle traffic.

Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop Details

Is Lake Minnewanka Loop open in 2021?

Yes, Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive is open to public vehicle access in 2021, with a few exceptions.

  • In May 2021, from Monday to Thursday the entire Lake Minnewanka Road Loop will be closed to public vehicle access. This starts on May 1st until May 21st. Though you can still expect to see Parks Canada vehicles and service vehicles, so obey all rules of the road even during the closure.

  • Part of this road is seasonally closed in the winter, though you can still reach Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake.
Lake Minnewanka Loop Road Closure in May 2021

Where does biking Lake Minnewanka Loop start and end?

The closed part of the Lake Minnewanka loop begins at the first T-intersection on Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive which is about 1 km from the exit off the Trans-Canada Highway. This only applies to anyone cycling this route in on Mon-Thurs May 1 to 21.

Biking Minnewanka Loop in Banff National Park

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Road from the Legacy Trail

Want some serious distance? Bike Canmore to Lake Minnewanka!

The Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail is a multi-use pathway that connects the two mountain towns of Canmore and Banff. Cycling the Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff, you’ll encounter an intersection as you approach Banff. Staying on the Legacy Trail will bring you into the town of Banff. If you turn right towards Cascade Ponds, you can continue your bike ride up along the Lake Minnewanka Road Loop and add on approximately 16 km. 

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Road from the Town of Banff

You can start this ride from anywhere in the town of Banff, which is a great place to grab some snacks before heading out for the day. In Banff, you can find parking at the Fenlands Recreation Centre or the Train Station.

From there cycle through town and get on the Banff Legacy Trail on the east end of Banff Avenue. Shortly after crossing Tunnel Mountain Road, the Legacy Trail will turn right and be parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway. Turn left at the first intersection, going under the highway, towards Cascade Ponds. From there you can cycle past Cascade Ponds to the parking lot then out onto Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Road from Cascade Ponds

Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Road is easiest from Cascade Ponds (or from the small parking lot opposite the turn into Cascade Ponds). Simply leave from the parking lot back to the road and make a right onto the start of the Lake Minnewanka Loop.

Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive from Cascade Ponds

How long is the Lake Minnewanka Loop?

The Lake Minnewanka Road loop is 13.1 km from the T-intersection. This 13.1 km includes only the cycling on the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive and no additional stops along the way. Riding from the parking lot Cascade Ponds will add on an additional 2 km for a total of 15 km.

If you bike to Johnson Lake and back, that will add another 3 km each way for a total of 21 km.

Is biking the Lake Minnewanka Loop hard?

While we always enjoy getting out on our bikes, whether it’s on the pathways with our kids or mountain biking, we aren’t hard core cyclists. We found the Lake Minnewanka Loop to be a relatively easy bike ride. There were 2-3 hills that required more effort but overall, we didn’t find it difficult and from Cascade Ponds it’s only 13.1 km.

How long does it take to bike the Lake Minnewanka Loop?

From Cascade Ponds, it took us approximately 1.25 hours to complete the loop. While we skipped the section to Johnson Lake, given that we go to Johnson Lake often with the kids, we also stopped for a lot of pictures.

Add on any extra time for stopping for pictures, a picnic lunch or for doing the additional 6 km to Johnson Lake.

What’s the best direction to cycle the Lake Minnewanka Road?

That’s the question of the day! When we drive the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, we always do it counter-clockwise. Perhaps that’s because we are often going to Johnson Lake and are used to turning that way.

When we cycled the loop, we opted to go clockwise (staying straight at the T-intersection) and only had a couple of hills to climb. We loved the views of Cascade Mountain as we had an extended downhill after Johnson Lake.

Cycling Lake Minnewanka Loop Road with Cascade Mountain in background

The benefit of cycling the Minnewanka Loop counter-clockwise, especially in the summer when the road is busy, is that almost everything will be on your right. There’s no need to cross traffic to get to any of the lakes.

Best Time to Cycle the Lake Minnewanka Road Loop

While we highly recommend taking advantage of biking the Lake Minnewanka Road in May when the road is closed to vehicle traffic, we also understand this won’t be possible for everyone.

For the months of June through September, the best time to bike the Lake Minnewanka Loop will be either in the mornings or later in the evenings when there is less traffic on the road. The road does not have much room on the sides or any shoulders, leaving cyclists exposed on the road with traffic.

Especially during high season in the summer when Banff is full of tourists, this entire area will be extremely busy, especially Lake Minnewanka.

Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park

Parking for Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop

While the Lake Minnewanka road is closed in May 2021, the best place to park is at Cascade Ponds or in the small parking lot opposite the turn into Cascade Ponds Day Use Area.

To get to Cascade Ponds Day Use Area, exit off the Trans-Canada Highway towards Lake Minnewanka and turn right. Cascade Ponds is the first right off Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.

Lake Minnewanka Loop Map

Parks Canada publishes a brochure on road cycling in Banff National Park that includes a map of the Lake Minnewanka Road Loop.

Bighorn Sheep on Lake Minnewanka Road in Banff National Park
Watch for the bighorn sheep near Two Jack Lake.

Places to Stop Along the Lake Minnewanka Loop

If you have time for more than just cycling Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, there are plenty of incredible places to stop along the way.

Cascade Ponds

Cascade Ponds is the ideal place to start this road cycle in Banff. Not only does it have plenty of parking, but it’s one of the best picnic spots in Banff. It’s the perfect spot to finish off a bike ride and enjoy a picnic lunch with stunning views of Cascade Mountain.

Cascade Ponds in Banff National Park

Lower Bankhead

Lower Bankhead is one of the kid-friendly hikes in Banff we recommend, but even adults will love it. The Bankhead ghost town hike is an easy 1.1 km trail through the remnants of an old Banff coal mining town.

Banff hiking trails with kids - Lower Bankhead Ghost Town

If biking the Lake Minnewanka Road clockwise, Lower Bankhead will be one of the first road side attractions at 2.8 km. There’s also a World War 1 Memorial on the opposite side of the road.

Upper Bankhead

Upper Bankhead is reached shortly after Lower Bankhead at around the 3.5 km mark.

The Upper Bankhead area has a picnic area, that will be much quieter than the other picnic areas of the nearby lakes. The C Level Cirque hike also leaves from here. It’s a 7.8 km out & back hike with 455 m of elevation gain.

Many hiking trails have free parking in Banff including C Level Cirque on the Minnewanka Loop

Check trail conditions before heading out, as in early May the C-Level Cirque hike still has plenty of snow and avalanche risk.

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka is obviously one of the highlights of the Lake Minnewanka Road Loop. It’s another great picnic spot. Alternatively, you can do the Stewart Canyon hike or mountain bike/hike the Lake Minnewanka Trail.

Make sure to check all trail conditions and be aware of the seasonal restrictions on this trail July 10 through September 15 when cycling is not allowed.

Biking past Lake Minnewanka on the causeway offers some of the best mountain and lake scenery!

Banff Road Cycling - Lake Minnewanka
In early May, Lake Minnewanka is still mostly frozen.

Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake is one of the most scenic stops along the way. Seeing it from high on the Minnewanka road on a calm day offers the most incredible view of Rundle reflecting in the water.

Two Jack Lake has picnic tables, the Banff red chairs and a pleasant walk around the shore. We highly recommend taking the time to stop and appreciate the views surrounding Two Jack Lake.

Picnic Area at Two Jack Lake on Lake Minnewanka Loop Road

Two Jack Lake is also home to two popular Banff campgrounds. If you are staying at either Two Jack Lakeside or Two Jack main, this would be an excellent starting point for biking the Lake Minnewanka Road.

Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake is a 3 km (each way) detour off Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, but there are plenty of things to do at Johnson Lake. With a small beach, picnic tables and a short but pleasant hike around Johnson Lake, you might just want to lock up your bike and spend the day.

Visiting Johnson Lake, Banff is a great thing to do with kids
Stand Up paddle boarding in Banff on Johnson Lake

Toilets can be found at Cascade Ponds, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake and Johnson Lake.

Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop with Kids

We wouldn’t cycle the Lake Minnewanka Loop with our young kids, who are 5 and 7 years old, when it is open to vehicle traffic. However, we couldn’t resist taking them for a fun bike ride during this pilot project when the road was closed.

Both our kids are on bikes with gears and managed the 13 km. We opted to go counter-clockwise with them, which seemed to be a lot of uphill, but they only had to walk one hill. Of course, we had plenty of snacks and stopped at several places along the way. We decided to skip Johnson Lake since we had started this bike ride mid-afternoon. With more time, we feel they could have managed this additional 6 km.

Cycling Minnewanka Loop in Banff with Kids

The only part that wasn’t enjoyable was getting through the insane parking situation at Cascade Ponds and dealing with cars turning around at the area where the road was closed.

These other kid-friendly bike rides in Banff and area are also worth doing with young kids.

9 Tips for the BEST Experience Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop

  1. Start Early

    The Lake Minnewanka Loop will be the busiest at mid-day on weekends. By starting early, you will have no issues getting parking but it will also be much quieter. The entire Lake Minnewanka area is extremely busy in the summer.

  2. Be Prepared for Animal Encounters

    It’s not uncommon to see bears along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, especially in the early mornings or evenings. Lake Minnewanka is on the edge of prime grizzly bear area. Ride in a group, carry spray in an easily accessible holster and make a lot of noise.

  3. Don’t Cause Parking Issues

    There are several options for free parking in Banff and closer to the Lake Minnewanka Loop. Please always park legally in designated parking lots. To ensure parking, arrive earlier or consider cycling from the town of Banff by parking at Fenlands Recreation Centre or the Train Station.

  4. Ride the Lake Minnewanka Loop on a Weekday

    If you can swing a weekday, the Lake Minnewanka Loop will be much less busy and a much more enjoyable experience. Even better, get out on a Monday through Thursday in May before the 21st and enjoy the road with only cyclists (and the odd service vehicle).

  5. Don’t Rush

    Take the time to stop and take pictures of the incredible views along this scenic road. Make a day of it by stopping at one of the lakes or other spots along the way.

  6. Be Safe

    This is still a road with some vehicle traffic, even during the closure. Wear a helmet and, if riding with kids, teach kids about biking etiquette, most importantly about following the rules of biking on a road.

  7. Dress for Cool Mornings

    You can expect mornings to be cool, even in the summer. Pack layers and even gloves. Don’t forget hats and sunscreen for stops along the way.

  8. Bring a Bike Lock

    If you stop to do a hike in the area, keep your bike safe by locking it up.

  9. Leave No Trace

    Please pack out everything you bring with you.
Cycling Lake Minnewanka Loop Road with Cascade Mountain in background

Bike Rentals for Biking the Lake Minnewanka Road

If you don’t have your own bikes while visiting Banff, bikes can be rented in Banff. Always make sure you get a lock and everyone in your party gets a well-fitting helmet.

Banff Bike Rentals: Ultimate Sports or Snowtips Bactrax

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Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop in Banff National Park. This is a popular road cycling route in Banff.
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.