It's worth mentioning that not all of these lakes involve a hike. Some of them are so perfectly situated on the roadside, you can drive right up the edge for a view that will take your breath away. I'll also point out that these are lakes we've been to ourselves so far. With plenty of staycations planned for the rest of the year (cheers COVID-19) I'm sure there will be plenty of other locations worth mentioning in the future. So without further ado, here is our list of 9 Alberta lakes worth hiking (or driving) for.
Barrier Lake, Kananaskis Country
Barrier Lake is a man made reservoir, but that doesn't make it any less majestic. On the edge of Kananaskis Country, Barrier Lake boasts an impressive backdrop of snow capped peaks and is home to some great hiking trails, including Jewell Pass and Prairie View Trail, the latter giving incredible 360 degree views from the top. Although Barrier Lake is impressive from the shore, I'd recommend the 16km round trip counter-clockwise for a steep climb along the Prairie View Trail, a breathtaking picnic spot at the viewpoint and a gentle descent through Jewell Pass before returning alongside the western side of the lake.
Elbow Lake, Kananaskis Country
Elbow Lake is one of those lakes you have to hike to. The good news is, the walk is short and sweet, albeit pretty steep. A 4km round trip, the first kilometre is all uphill to the lake shore but it's worth the sweat. Elbow Lake is home to a backcountry campsite and one of the most peaceful scenes on this list due to the lack of road traffic. The area is only accessible from June-December which makes this lake even more of a gem to visit.
Grassi Lakes, Canmore
We can't count the amount of times we've done the walk up to Grassi Lakes. With two routes to choose from (we go up the hard way and back down the easy path) it's a short walk suitable for most people. The harder route boasts incredible views of Canmore from above, as well as a spectacular waterfall and stone staircase which clings to the side of the mountain. There are two lakes to choose from once you're at the top, both gloriously turquoise, with the occasional brave swimmer taking a dip in the summer. Continuing up the path from the upper lake is a myriad of climbing walls and a great view that's well worth the hike.
Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park
It's hard to believe that it took us 18 months in Calgary before our first trip to Lake Minnewanka. This huge lake isn't one you need to hike to, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. The lake is so incredible that it has it's own legendary merman, and has a deep rooted historical and spiritual significance for Nakoda (Stoney) people, who referred to the lake as 'Minn-waki' meaning 'Lake of Spirits'. The lake is home to legends galore, and even a sunken town from the early 20th century. One of the only lakes in Banff National Park that allow motorized boating, it's sheer size and mystery is something to be respected.
Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Making it's mark on pretty much every natural wonders bucket list you're bound to read, Lake Louise truly deserves it's fame. A glacier-fed lake nestled between mountains, Lake Louise is the most popular spot on this list, and we're just as obsessed as everyone else. This was the first place we ever visited in the Rockies, in the deep freeze of winter, and even then it didn't disappoint. For most of the year, it can be a challenge finding parking at this incredible lake, and the crowds along the shores do take away from the experience somewhat. That being said, one of the real gems in visiting Lake Louise is tackling one of the hikes that lead away from the shoreline. We're fans of the Lake Agnes trail, which takes you to TWO more lakes, as if you needed any more beauty to fill your day. At the top of the trail at Lake Agnes is the Tea House, where you can grab a pot of tea and baked goods before making the descent or tackling the Beehive!
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
As you drive up the road to Lake Louise, you might notice a small slip road on the left that's often closed to traffic. Unless you're hitting the roads super early, you'd be hard pressed to get access down to Moraine Lake, which has a tiny parking lot compared to it's popularity. We've only been able to see the lake twice since being in Canada, and both of those times were in the pouring rain. Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is a brilliant turquoise no matter the weather. Although it's more of an uphill stroll than a hike, the best view is from the top of the Rockpile, which is prime photoshoot territory. I'm sure in warmer weather it's packed but our most recent trip in the rain was practically deserted. Moraine Lake is a sight not to be missed!
Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park
One of my personal favourites, Bow Lake is quite simply, beautiful. The lake is fed by the Bow Glacier and is close to the headwater of the Bow River. I find it quite incredible that this lake eventually leads to the winding waters through downtown Calgary and there are endless spots to admire the view along the shore. You can drive up to the edge of the lake which doesn't make it prime hiking material, although there is a trail that leads to Bow Glacier Falls through the forest. At the edge of the lake is Num-Ti-Jah Lodge where you can find a travellers map in the gift shop. Visitors come through and place a pin in the map to represent where they're from in the world, which I just find kind of neat.
Peyto Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park
The first time I saw a photo of Peyto Lake, I though 'there must be a filter on this right?' Wrong. Peyto Lake is a uniquely brilliant blue, made possible by the glacier rock flour that feeds into the lake from Peyto Glacier. The best view is from Bow Summit, the highest point along the Icefields Parkway, but honestly, Peyto Lake doesn't have a single bad angle. It's a short walk from the lower parking lot to the viewing deck, which is steep but worth it. There aren't enough words to describe how incredible this place is, so I'll let the picture do the talking.
Abraham Lake, Clearwater County
Although man-made, Abraham Lake is not without some natural magic. The real draw comes in winter, when the lake is completely frozen over. As plants on the lake bed decay, they release methane gas, creating frozen bubbles trapped in suspended animation just below the surface. The visual effects formed by the resulting stacks of bubbles combined with the clear blue water make Abraham Lake a worthy addition to this list.
That's it for now, but you can bet that as we explore more of the Great White North we'll find more natural wonders to share!