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Hiking the Lake Minnewanka Trail in Banff

The Lake Minnewanka trail is one of the best things to do at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. Hiking along the Lake Minnewanka reservoir shoreline offers impressive views across the lake at mountain peaks and rocky shores. Lake Minnewanka is a popular place to visit in Banff in summer, but you can leave the crowds behind on this beautiful Banff hike.

The beauty of the Lake Minnewanka hike is that you can go as long or as short as you want. The Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail is an out-and-back trail that leaves from the Lake Minnewanka Day Use area for 15 km to the warden’s cabin. Apparently, the trail continues past the end of Lake Minnewanka and on to the Ghost Lakes, but we haven’t been out that far.

Mountain views from Lake Minnewanka Hike

Lake Minnewanka Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: Lake Minnewanka trailhead

Distance: 30 km out-and-back

Elevation: 300 m elevation gain

Expect to see hikers and mountain bikers on the trail in the spring in fall. More importantly, given that this hike is on the edge of core grizzly territory, there are seasonal restrictions in place. Between July 10 and September 15, cycling is not permitted, hikers must hike in tight groups of 4 or more (carrying bear spray) and dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon Bridge.

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Lake Minnewanka Hike Highlights

The hike along the northern shores of Lake Minnewanka is a beautiful walk along the biggest lake in Banff. The first kilometre or so of the Minnewanka trail is along a paved trail through the day use area. This is where you’ll find the tourist facilities, such as the Black Anchor Café, picnic tables, the Lake Minnewanka boat cruise and toilets, so this is also the busiest part of Lake Minnewanka.

Boat Rentals Lake Minnewanka

It doesn’t take long to leave the crowds behind and start hiking the Minnewanka trail through the forest. Once on the actual Lake Minnewanka hiking trail, the scenery is especially nice with views of the lake and the majestic Mt. Inglismaldie on your right and a lush, mossy forest on your left.

The Minnewanka trail eventually meets up with the Cascade River, who’s rapidly flowing waters drain into Lake Minnewanka. A fun wooden bridge spans the Stewart Canyon, so be sure to stop and enjoy the views in both directions from the bridge as they are both spectacular.

Crossing Stewart Canyon Bridge at Lake Minnewanka

After the Stewart Canyon Bridge the trail becomes a short, steep uphill with lots of rocks and roots.

Rocky section on Lake Minnewanka Hikes

At the 1.9 km mark of the hike, you’ll arrive at a trail junction. The very enjoyable Stewart Canyon hike is to the left, while the lakeside Minnewanka trail is to the right.

The next 400 m of this popular Banff hike is heading back towards Lake Minnewanka. It’s a pleasant uphill section of hiking trail through a dense evergreen forest with a mossy carpet. Watch for beautiful calypso orchids in the dappled sunlight.

Orchid blooming in Banff National Park

At the 3 km mark, the trail is getting close to the shores of Lake Minnewanka and the trees become more sparse, allowing for some incredible views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains over Lake Minnewanka. The majestic group of Mt. Inglismaldie, Mt. Rundle, Sulphur Mountain and Tunnel Mountain can all be seen across the beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Minnewanka.

hiking or mountain biking lake minnewanka banff

For the duration of the Minnewanka trail you will follow the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka. At this stage, you’re pretty high up allowing for outstanding vistas of this incredible Banff lake.

You’ll be mesmerized by the Lake Minnewanka views, but take a moment to look above on your left to see a towering cliff overhead belonging to Mount Astley. Over time falling rock from this cliff has covered the hiking trail in large, loose, somewhat jagged rock. Hiking boots are preferred for rocky terrain like this.

Views on Lake Minnewanka Hiking Trail in Banff

After 3.5 km of hiking the Minnewanka trail, you start to descend towards the lakeshore.

At 4.2 km, you’ll hear the roar of rushing water. Look down towards the shores of Lake Minnewanka to see a short, powerful waterfall flow into the lake. There is no visible stream uphill of the waterfall, meaning this Minnewanka waterfall is fed by a mountain spring.

A little ways ahead at the 4.5 km mark of the Minnewanka trail, there’s a trail leading down to a rocky beach along the lakeshore. A good spot for a rest, some pictures, or a picnic.

Lake Minnewanka - Banff National Park

The forest is especially beautiful around the 5 km mark of the Minnewanka trail. There are clematis flowers growing around the bushes and bright lichen growing in rocks. The lake can be seen between breaks in the trees. Such a beautiful spot!

wildflowers on lake minnewanka hiking trail in Banff

One of the nicest parts of this Minnewanka trail is the variety of Banff scenery you get along the way. Another kilometer along the trail and you’re very close to the shores of Lake Minnewanka. The turquoise color of the water is captivating on a sunny day, especially with Mt. Inglismaldie looming so dramatically behind the lake.

Lake Minnewanka trail for hiking or biking

There are long stretches of rocky beach along this section of the Minnewanka trail, making it a great place for kids to stop and throw rocks in the water.

By the 6.8 km mark of the Minnewanka trail, you’re probably getting used to the world-class Banff lake scenery. Take your eyes off the lake and admire the amazing mountain cliffs on your left.

Mountain biking Lake Minnewanka trail

Or stop and look at the small shrubs in the forest and see exactly how many of them are buffalo berry bushes. Once you start notice how abundant the buffalo berry bushes are, you’ll realize why this area is so popular with grizzly bears.

As you admire the grizzly bears favorite food, you may also notice how beautiful the forest is with the dappled sunlight through the trees. And then, as you admire the trees, you’ll see views of Lake Minnewanka popping in and out of the trees. This area of Banff is so beautiful.

Lake Minnewanka Hike - best hiking trails in banff

At the 8 km mark of the Minnewanka trail you’ll enter a beautiful aspen forest filled with a mixture of young, smaller aspens alongside some huge old aspens. Soon after you’ll meet up with a river which flows down the valley between Mt. Astley and Mt. Aylmer. After stopping to take pictures of the beautiful river and the mountain valley, you cross via a narrow 2-plank bridge with a hand rail.

Creek along lake minnewanka trail

You may notice an abundance of strawberry and raspberry bushes along the shores of the river. If you are hiking the Minnewanka trail in berry season, please resist the urge to pick the wild berries. The grizzly bears really need them to fatten up for the winter.

Just 100 m beyond the river crossing, the Minnewanka trail arrives at the Aylmer Pass Junction. The Minnewanka trail continues straight to the warden’s cabin for a total of 15 km. The LM8 (Aylmer Junction) campground is a few hundred meters to the right.

Or, you can do as we did and turn left to hike the Aylmer Lookout trail for some of the best scenic views you’ll find anywhere in Banff.

Standing at Aylmer Lookout Banff National Park

Most day hikers will either complete the Aylmer Lookout trail or turn back at some point along the way. We were pressed for time, so we opted to mountain bike the Lake Minnewanka trail and hike to Aylmer Lookout.

Lake Minnewanka Trailhead

The Lake Minnewanka trailhead is located at the Lake Minnewanka Day Use, following the paved trail past the boat launches and picnic areas until you reach the trail marker sign.

We recommend arriving early as Lake Minnewanka is very popular in the summer and you want to ensure you get parking.

lake minnewanka trailhead for

The seasonal restrictions are in place from July 10 to September 15 and it’s crucial you abide by these restrictions. Given that this hike is on the edge of core grizzly territory, between July 10 and September 15, cycling is not permitted, hikers must hike in tight groups of 4 or more (carrying bear spray) and dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon Bridge.

Lake Minnewanka Hike Stats

How Long is the Lake Minnewanka Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Lake Minnewanka trail is 30 km (one-way distance of 15 km).

How Hard is the Lake Minnewanka Hiking Trail?

Due to the length, we rate the Lake Minnewanka hike as “moderate”.

The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Lake Minnewanka hiking trail is 300 m.

Lake Minnewanka Hiking Trail

The climb and subsequent rock fall on the trail around the 3 km mark is the most difficult part of the trail. The trail then descends close to 100 m down towards the lakeshore over a very rocky section. Once past this point the trail undulates along the shores and is an easy trail to follow and walk on.

To complete the Lake Minnewanka trail to Aylmer Lookout, we would rate it as “difficult” given the incline and length of 23.6 km.

Lake Minnewanka hike - best banff hikes

How Long Does It Take to Hike Lake Minnewanka?

At a typical adult pace, we would expect the Lake Minnewanka trail to take 9-10 hours.

Cutting the Lake Minnewanka hike short and adding on Aylmer Lookout, it should take 7-8 hours.

Aylmer Lookout Hike in Banff National Park

As mentioned previously, we didn’t have the time to complete the full Lake Minnewanka trail to the warden’s cabin. To keep within our time constraints we opted to mountain bike to Aylmer Pass Junction then hike the Aylmer Lookout trail. It took us about an hour each way for mountain biking the Lake Minnewanka trail plus another 2.5 hours for the Aylmer Lookout hike.

Mountain Biking Lake Minnewanka Trail

In spring and fall the Lake Minnewanka trail is also a popular Banff mountain biking trail. This is rated as a “moderate” or blue mountain biking trail in Banff.

Mountain Biking on Lake Minnewanka trail

The most difficult section of the trail is at the beginning where you’ll find some large root sections and do most of the climbing. This is followed by a long descent across loose shale rock. This is an equally difficult climb on the way back with tired legs.

Rock shale section of Lake Minnewanka hiking trail

After that section, the trail is fairly easy as it undulates along the Lake Minnewanka lakeshore. There are sections of loose rocks and roots, but nothing that an intermediate mountain biker should have any issues with.

As you near the Aylmer Pass Junction there is a creek crossing over a very small two plank bridge. Definitely not enough room to walk your bike across. We found it easy enough to carry the bike in one hand and hold the hand rail in the other.

Bridge crossing on Lake Minnewanka hike

Mountain bikers should be aware that this is a popular hike and we recommend going early to not only get parking but to have less hikers on the trail. Always make plenty of noise not only to alert animals but the hikers as well.

Mountain biking is NOT ALLOWED on the Lake Minnewanka trail from July 10 to September 15.

Lake Minnewanka Trail Map

The Lake Minnewanka hike couldn’t be easier to follow. After the junction with the Stewart Canyon trail, you can follow the trail along the Lake Minnewanka lakeshore until you are ready to turn back.

To take a detour up to Aylmer Lookout, it’s well marked and easy to follow as well. We used the Alltrails app while hiking the Lake Minnewanka, but that was more for trail stats than for navigation purposes.

minnewanka lake hiking trail in Banff

To find the Lake Minnewanka trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail”. Cell service will be non-existent as you hike further away from the day use, so download your hiking maps prior to leaving.

A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.

The Lake Minnewanka trail map is found in the “Banff and Mt. Assiniboine” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Hiking Lake Minnewanka Trail with Kids

You aren’t likely to complete the Lake Minnewanka trail with kids, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a part of it.

We have not completed any portion of this hike with our kids yet. If you want to hike the Lake Minnewanka hiking trail with kids, we recommend picking a distance that your family is comfortable with and planning to have a break at that point before returning back.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The best place to stop for lunch or a break is along the Lake Minnewanka lakeshore on one of the rocky beaches. Alternatively, if you plan to hike to the Aylmer Lookout you’ll want a break there to take in the incredible scenery.

An easy to pack picnic blanket allows you to stop for lunch whenever you are ready to eat.

Beach along Lake Minnewanka hike

Lake Minnewanka Hiking Safety

After the first section of roots and the rocky shale section, this is a fairly easy hiking trail. The bigger concern for this hike is that it is along the edge of a core grizzly area in Banff. It’s important that you are aware of the restrictions and follow the guidelines.

Bear in Banff National Park

From July 10 to September 15, dogs are not allowed past the Stewart Canyon Bridge, cyclists are not allowed and hikers must hike in tight groups of 4 or more while carrying bear spray.

Please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park.

Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.

We recommend you check the Lake Minnewanka trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

From Parks Canada “Bear warnings, restrictions and closures are common throughout summer.”

Lake Minnewanka Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Lake Minnewanka hike outside of the seasonal restrictions from July 10 to September 15. Mountain biking is also allowed prior to July 10 and after September 15.

There are many amenities including toilets at the Lake Minnewanka Day Use before you start your hike.

Eating at Lake Minnewanka

This is a long hike, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.

You won’t get cell service for most of your hike and we don’t recommend counting on it for your safety.

What to Bring for Hiking Lake Minnewanka Trail

Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.

Best Banff Hikes - Lake Minnewanka Hike

The Lake Minnewanka trail is a very long Banff day-hike and we would like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Every member in your group should be carrying bear spray in an easily accessible location (not in your backpack).

  • Water – the Lake Minnewanka trail is a long hike and at times very exposed to the sun. You’ll need to pack a decent amount of water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pantsT-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • We don’t use trekking poles, but you will see many people using them on the Lake Minnewanka hike to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the descent.
Rooty sections on Minnewanka Lake Hiking Trail

Lake Minnewanka Footwear Recommendation

The Lake Minnewanka trail is in decent shape for most of its length. You will have to contend with some very rocky sections and roots along the trail. We recommend a good pair of hiking boots for this trail.

Mountain views on Minnewanka Lake hike

We are certain you’ll love this incredible Banff hike as much as we do!

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Lake Minnewanka trail is one of the best Banff hikes. Make sure to leave time to hike along the Lake Minnewanka lakeshore when you visit. The mountain and lake scenery is incredible.

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