Piggy-backing on my previous post, “5 Places To Visit Where The Motto is “Splendor Without Diminishment“, I can’t think of Beautiful British Columbia without thinking of Awesome Alberta!
I’ve travelled quite a bit in my 30+ years of being in the travel business, I’ve seen A LOT of natural beauty, and maybe I’m biased, but hand on my heart, western Canada is something extra-special! The only other place I’ve been that compares would be Switzerland and Austria.
I should back up a bit; I’d been to Alberta not only during my solo road-trip, but also, briefly, in September 2015 at the conclusion of my Rocky Mountaineer experience (will write about that in a future post, stay tuned!). The itinerary I had done aboard the Rocky Mountaineer was their, “Journey through the Clouds” which went from Vancouver to Kamloops to Jasper (you can do it westbound too).
So, being in Jasper gave me the opportunity to experience a cruise on the most beautiful lake in Jasper National Park (in my opinion). Jasper National Park has over 1,700 lakes, 107 of which are named…..which brings me to number one on the list of 5 Breathtakingly Beautiful Lakes in Alberta, Canada:
One – Maligne Lake
I’m sharing some photos here of the lake, but really and truly, photos can’t do this lake justice!
When artist and explorer Mary Schaffer became the first European to lay eyes on Maligne Lake in 1908, she called it “the Hall of Gods,” adding that “If Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.”
Maligne Lake is not only a gorgeous colour, but it’s surrounded by multiple snow-and-ice-capped mountain peaks:
- Leah Peak – 2,801 m/9,190 ft
- Samson Peak – 3,081 m/10,108 ft
- Mount Paul – 2,850 m/9,350 ft
- Mount Charlton – 3,217 m/10,554 ft
- Mount Unwin – 3,268 m/10,722 ft
- Mount Mary Vaux – 3,201 m/10,502 ft
- Llysfran Peak – 3,141 m/10,305 ft
In addition, another scenic attribute to Maligne Lake is Spirit Island; one of the most photographed places in Canada!
A few fun-facts about Maligne Lake and Spirit Island:
- Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies; 22.5 km/14 miles long
- Spirit Island is 14 km/8.5 miles up-lake and there is no road or trail access. While I was there, I learned that Spirit Island is not actually an island, not year-round anyway. In spring, with melting snow and heavy rains, it’s possible for the lake water levels to be high enough to cut the island off from the shore. The rest of the year, it’s connected to shore.
- The island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors.
- Apple used an image of Spirit Island when they launched the 2014 iPad model, to showcase it’s heightened photography capabilities.
- The colour of the water is different at Spirit Island as compared to where cruises depart at the Maligne Lake docks. The further south on the lake you travel, the closer you get to glaciers, and the more emerald-coloured the water becomes due to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.
Two – Peyto Lake
I had seen photos of Peyto Lake on Instagram, but I always thought they were filtered. Then I saw it with my own two eyes, and I was shocked to see that it is really that colour and it really is that shape! The photo below is unfiltered and unedited.
To get to Peyto Lake, you need to drive down the Icefields Parkway, which is a long stretch of beautiful road, going through the Rocky Mountains, with 360 degree views of towering mountain peaks and majestic natural beauty. Icefields Parkway is considered one of the most scenic routes in Canada; I’ve driven it several times and never, ever get tired of it.
Banff National Park has more than 40 man-made wildlife corridors of various design and it’s due to these wildlife corridors that collisions have been reduced by 80% in the last 10 years! I wish more areas of Canada would have these wildlife corridors!
Take the exit for Bow Summit, the highest point on the parkway (2,115 m/6,965 ft). This leads to the Peyto Lake Trail which is a paved trail suitable for most hikers. The trail is a mile and a half loop with easy access to multiple Peyto Lake viewpoints.
Peyto is a natural freshwater lake, less than 3 km/2 miles long and about 44 m/144 ft deep. Early in the year, the lake will appear dark blue, but as heavy glacial melting begins, remnants of the nearby glaciers, known as rock flour, made up of minerals such as quartz and calcite enter the lake, altering it’s hue, then the sunlight glimmers off of the surface, and voila! You get the stunning result of the brilliant blue hue you see in the photo above.
In order to get the most out of your visit, I recommend that you try to avoid the crowds by visiting early in the morning or later in the day; parking is limited.
Three – Mirror Lake
I’ll be honest, I had never heard of Mirror Lake, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across it as we hiked around Lake Louise, on our way to Lake Agnes and the Tea House. Not only is the water clear and still, like a mirror, but it’s also beautifully framed and perfectly reflects the Big Beehive behind it.
The trail is quite busy, so again, I recommend heading out early in the morning, or in early evening.
Four – Moraine Lake
Weather in the Rockies, even in June, can be very unpredictable. It was nice and clear when I was on my way to Moraine Lake, but then it turned overcast, so the colour of the lake wasn’t as vivid as when the sun’s out.
There’s a “moraine”, aka a pile of glacial rocks and boulders next to the lake, which was formed by the Wenkchemna Glacier; you CAN climb this pile of rocks and boulders, but you do so at your own risk.
Moraine Lake isn’t very large, only about .5 km/0.19 miles) and is only about 14 m/46 ft deep, but it sure does glisten, like a rare gem, in the Valley of Ten Peaks; it has a surface elevation of approximately 1,884 m/6,181 ft above sea level. The highest peak reflecting off of Moraine Lake’s surface is Deltaform Mountain, at 3,424 m/11,233 ft, closely followed by the iconic Mount Fay (3,234 m/10,610 ft).
The jagged, snow-capped peaks make an incredibly beautiful sight! A photographer’s dream!! In fact, this picture-book scene was featured on the Canadian $20 note in 1969 and 1979, spawning the nickname “The 20-dollar view” but really it’s a million-dollar-view!
Similarly to Maligne Lake, Moraine Lake has been featured as background options on computers and electronic devices.
Five – Lake Louise
You really can’t talk about the lakes in Alberta and not talk about Lake Louise. Lake Louise is one of the most photographed sites in Canada, and possibly the world.
Fun-facts about Lake Louise:
- There are two distinct areas, the small hamlet (Lake Louise Village, population less than 700) and the actual lake which is situated 4 km/2.5 miles from the village, which gets up to 15,000 visitors a day during the summer months
- If you stand in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and face outwards towards the lake, you’ll be greeted with a fabulous view of Mount Victoria (3464 m/11,365 ft) and Victoria Glacier. On your left is Fairview Mountain (2744 m/9001 ft), with The Beehive (2,270 m/7,747 ft) on your right.
- Lake Louise doesn’t thaw until the first week of June. Both times I’ve visited the lake, mid-June, it had JUST thawed a couple of days before I got there; and hiking up to Lake Agnes and the Tea House we came across several icy and snowy patches on the trail.
- Like most of the lakes in the Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise is not a lake you would want to swim in. The temperature of the water rarely gets above 5 C (41 F.) The water is so frigid that the Lake Louise Polar Bear Dip is held during the Canada Day Celebrations on July 1st.
- At 1,540 m/5,052 ft, Lake Louise Village is Canada’s highest town
- The alpine community of Lake Louise offers visitors the rare opportunity to see grizzlies in the wild.
In summertime the ski resort gondola is known affectionately as the “Grizzly Gondola”. In July 2017, bears were spotted 29 out of 31 days, with 24 of those sightings being of the mighty grizzly. If you stay in town long enough, you may even see a black bear roaming the streets, or being chased from the staff accommodation area!
When it comes to that beautiful turquoise colour of Lake Louise, as with Peyto and Maligne, the colour is due to rock flour carried in the glacial melt that trickles down to the lake. The sun reflects off these particles, refracting blue and green wavelengths of light.
Visit between late July and August to see the water at its brightest (keeping in mind, as mentioned earlier, over 15,000 people gather along the lakeshore to get that million-dollar shot during July and August). Again best time to visit, to avoid the crowds and to be able to find a parking spot, is early in the morning.
Interestingly, despite being a relatively small lake, at only 2 km/1.2 miles long and less than 500 m/ 0.3 miles wide, you may be surprised to hear that Lake Louise reaches depths of up to 70 m/230 ft!
And there you have it! 5 Breathtakingly Beautiful Lakes in Alberta, Canada! I hope this was helpful to you! If you’re planning a trip to Western Canada, be sure to include Alberta in your itinerary!
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me privately or via the Comments section below.
Please note, all photos are my own. If you would like a print, please reach out to me and we can discuss.
***A few bonus photos: