Few places in Banff match Lake Minnewanka’s overwhelming popularity in the summertime. To my complete surprise, I enjoyed my solo Lake Minnewanka hike with barely a soul in sight. So if you’re looking for a long lakeside jaunt, with some peace and quiet during the week, add this lakeside winter trail to your list.
The Lake Minnewanka hike is a lengthy trail with minimal elevation gain. But the ease of use is not the only draw for this trail. Lake Minnewanka is also the largest body of water in Banff National Park and the second largest in the Canadian Rockies—this is one for your list!
The Lake Minnewanka area is a must-visit spot in Banff with tonnes of outdoor activities like camping, paddling, and hiking. Looking for an afternoon away when the days are sunny and warm? Pack a picnic and come relax by the lake. There really is something for everyone. After all, go-to places are popular for a reason, right?
About Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail
Location: Banff National Park
Distance: 18 kilometres out and back
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to length)
Elevation: 270 metre gain
Time: 4 – 6 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes (Bella loved it!)
Features: The trail features the beautiful Lake Minnewanka itself! This long lakeside trail provides stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountain landscape. There are also backcountry camping options and panoramic views from the top of Aylmer Lookout.
Read more: 5 Easy Hikes for Rocky Mountain Rookies (Plus a Bonus!)
Finding the Trailhead
As I’ve mentioned, Lake Minnewanka is a very popular destination, so you won’t have any trouble locating the trailhead. From Calgary, drive west on the Trans Canada Highway and take the exit toward Lake Minnewanka. Then follow the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive past Two Jack Lake toward the Lake Minnewanka Parking Lot. From here, find the outside toilets available for use in the winter (with more facilities accessible in the summer months).
Before arriving at the parking lot, remember to bring along your Banff Parking Pass or renew in the park for 2021 (the yellow pass looks great!).
In the summer months, there are several picnic tables available by the lake for groups use. To locate the trailhead, walk past the picnic tables and then find the lakeside trail ready to welcome you. Remember to bring water, nutrition, and other essential hiking gear.
Lake Minnewanka in the Wintertime
I visited the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail in January. In the colder months, remember to bring your winter layers to stay warm on the trail. Again, layers are especially important when the brisk wind comes from across the lake. In contrast, a calm and sunny day could mean less layers are required (but best be prepared anyhow).
Note: There have been several situations of people falling through the ice at Lake Minnewanka. Remember to check the ice before skating, as mild winters create higher risk for accidents to occur.
Read more: Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Hike is Wonderful in Winter
The Lake Minnewanka Hike is Fun For Everyone
For hikers of all backgrounds and skill levels, the Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail might actually be most ideal in the winter months—especially if you want to avoid the crowds. However, this beautiful lake is probably worth a visit in the summer (in a physically distant fashion, of course).
Wondering if this hike is for you? There’s not really anything technical about this hike, but you should be prepared for about 18 kilometres out and back to the Alymer Pass Junction Campground. Therefore, the major consideration is distance. This Lake Minnewanka hike is around 9 kilometres one way, and the modest elevation gain is about 270 metres. So this long hike with very little uphill is a great option for most.
The Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail begins just passed the picnic tables on the west side of the lake. The entire trail follows the lake quite closely. There’s also a short section of trail in the forest, with a gentle switchback gaining most of the elevation right off the bat.
Reaching the Aylmer Pass Junction
After nearly 9 kilometres, the Lake Minnewanka hike reaches Aylmer Pass Junction with several options to continue forward, relax at the campground, or turn back. I enjoyed exploring the campground and dreamed about possibly camping here in the summer.
For stunning panoramic views of Lake Minnewanka, the hike up to Aylmer Lookout is an additional 6 kilometres out and back from the junction. Further, there’s the option to continue on to the Aylmer Canyon Campground.
Read more: XC Skiing Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park (Perfect For Beginners!)
In the summertime, many backpackers (new and advanced alike) head out to Aylmer Pass Junction Campground (LM8) to enjoy tenting by the lake. And there’s another campground called Aylmer Canyon Campground (LM9) a few kilometres beyond. This is a very popular camping spot in the summer—hike in or paddle to the campground!
More outdoor winter fun near Banff:
- XC Skiing Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park (Perfect For Beginners!)
- Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Hike is Wonderful in Winter
- My Banff Ski Trip: Thrilling Time at Sunshine Village
- The Best Winter Hiking Gear To Keep You Happy Outdoors
Know Before You Go
Lake Minnewanka experiences seasonal restrictions due to bear activity. From July 10 to September 15, hikers must be in groups of at least four and carry bear spray at all times. Further, cyclists and canine companions are not permitted on the trail.
The Lake Minnewanka area has a lot to offer, from hiking, to camping, to paddling, to skating in the wintertime. It’s a go-to spot for many in Alberta, and can be very quiet in the winter. But if you find Lake Minnewanka too crowded, simply check out Two Jacks Lake or Johnson Lake nearby.
Have you visited Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park? Did you hike the lakeside trail, backcountry camp, or paddle on the lake? Leave a comment below!
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