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It’s no secret that Banff National Park is home to some of the most beautiful lakes in the world (looking at you, Moraine Lake). Once your legs are tired of hiking up mountains, we recommend stand up paddle boarding in Banff and the surrounding area as one of the best ways to truly appreciate the beauty of these lakes surrounded by towering mountains.

Whether you are out at first light to capture an incredible sunrise or enjoy the heat of the afternoon, these are some of the best lakes in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis for paddle boarding. Most of these lakes in Banff National Park and area are also calm enough that they are ideal for families or individuals new to paddle boarding.

Paddle Boarding – Banff

You might be wondering, can you paddle board on Lake Louise and other alpine lakes in Banff National Park. Stand up paddle boards are allowed on all lakes and rivers in Banff National Park, but it’s important to be safe and only attempt paddle boarding within your skill level.

While you can bring your own paddle board to Lake Louise, Moraine Lake or any of the other spots mentioned, don’t expect to use private boat launches to get in the water. Thankfully, stand up paddle boards are easy to start right from the shore.

1. Moraine Lake

The most iconic lake in Banff National Park and the one that EVERYONE is trying to get to, Moraine Lake. While it’s most popular for canoe rentals, you can paddle board on Moraine Lake.

If you had your heart set on paddle boarding on Moraine Lake, you’ll need to beat the rush to get a parking spot before they close the road when the parking lot is full.

How early do you need to be at Moraine Lake to get a parking spot? Nobody really knows, but in the summer people arrive before sunrise all vying for that picture of the sunrise on the mountains with the turquoise water. In July, the sun rises around 5:30 am, so that’s really early. You might have better luck later in the day.

2. Lake Louise

Similar to Moraine Lake, Lake Louise is also popular with canoe rentals but it is another stunning option for paddle boarding. If you are planning on paddle boarding Lake Louise, you’ll have much better luck at getting a parking spot at this still very popular lake in Banff National Park.

You’ll have a slightly longer distance to carry your paddle board to Lake Louise, but we think the views are more than worth it. Again, given its popularity for canoe rentals, getting there early is your best chance at getting those stunning mountain reflections on glass-like water.

3. Johnson Lake

Popular with Banff locals, Johnson Lake is the perfect place to spend a summer day. With a sandy beach (though small), a short hike, paddle boarding, and one of Banff’s best picnic spots, the whole family will love it.

The lake itself is only about 1 km in length, so it won’t take that long to paddle, but it’s a great way to start the day! The views of Cascade mountain are worth all the effort to pump up that inflatable stand up paddle board.

At Johnson Lake there are toilets and a spot to clean off your stand up paddle board. To get to Johnson Lake take the Lake Minnewanka Road from Hwy 1.

4. Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka, also accessed along the Lake Minnewanka Road, is a good choice if you can get a calm day. Lake Minnewanka is known to get strong winds and big waves, so choose your day wisely. Also important to note is that Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in this list that will have motorized water crafts to contend with.

We recommend Lake Minnewanka for experienced paddlers or stay close to the shore.

Like many places in Banff National Park in the summer, the free Lake Minnewanka parking lot fills up fast. Getting there early is your best bet for a day of paddle boarding on Lake Minnewanka.

5. Two Jack Lake

A third option for paddle boarding in Banff along the Lake Minnewanka Road is Two Jack Lake. Two Jack Lake can also get windy, making it difficult to paddle. As with most other options, the mornings or early evenings are usually when you’ll find the most calm waters.

Two Jack Lake also has an outflow canal which is fun to paddle and will have calmer waters, perfect for anyone visiting Banff National Park with kids.

Camping at the Two Jack Lakeside campground will get you out on the water first thing!

If you aren’t camping at the popular Two Jack Lakeside campground, then access Two Jack Lake from the parking lot, where you’ll also find toilets.

6. Herbert Lake

Herbert Lake is just minutes up the Icefields parkway, but is well worth a stop. This pretty little lake right along the highway makes for a fun paddle in Banff.

From the parking lot, you’ll follow a small trail down through the forest to the lake. You can access the lake right from the banks. Once on the water, you can circumvent Herbert Lake. If you start counter-clockwise, you’ll find a small inlet with the greenest shallow water.

Herbert Lake parking lot has toilets. Though it’s a small parking lot, most people just make it a short stop to look at the lake and then continue on their way.

7. Vermilion Lakes

You won’t have to travel far to paddle board on Vermilion Lakes. Accessed right along Vermilion Lakes Road, off Mt. Norquay Rd at the entrance to the town of Banff, Vermilion Lakes has a couple of docks making it quite easy to get out on the lakes.

We recommend dropping your paddle boards off near the dock, then driving back to the parking lot. It’s a short walk, but more enjoyable if you aren’t carrying your paddle boards.

A secondary option for accessing these three lakes is to start at the Banff Canoe Club docks, at Bow Avenue and Wolf Street in Banff. From there, head up Echo Creek to Vermilion Lakes. Keep in mind that crossing the waterways between the lakes will only be possible when the water levels on Vermilion Lakes is high.

The marsh areas and looming mountains make for some fantastic scenery. If you time it right you can even paddle along while the train is closely rolling past.

Paddle Boarding – Canmore

8. Rundle Forebay Reservoir

Better known to locals as the Reservoir, this is the perfect place for paddle boarding in Canmore. Ha Ling Peak and Mount Rundle make the perfect backdrop while on a SUP on the Rundle Forebay Reservoir.

With calm waters and incredible views, plus easy access to get your paddle board on the water, the Canmore Reservoir is a great place for families and beginners to stand up paddle board.

Parking is opposite the entrance to the Canmore Nordic Centre along the Smith Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail (Hwy. 742). If this parking is full, you can park in the gravel lot at the Canmore Nordic Centre and walk across the road (taking extra caution for vehicle traffic on the road).

  1. Quarry Lake

Quarry Lake is popular with both Canmore locals and visitors. This lake with panoramic mountain views is the ideal place to take your stand up paddle board in Canmore. The lake is small, so expect that you’ll make a few tours around the lake to justify the effort of pumping up that stand up paddle board.

As the day starts to warm up, the popularity of Quarry Lake will become evident. We recommend going early to get the lake with stunning reflections!

With a trail around the lake, a sandy beach, toilets and picnic tables, Quarry Lake is a wonderful place to spend a warm summer day.

Quarry Lake is also accessed along the Three Sisters Parkway (Hwy. 742).

Paddle Boarding – Kananaskis

10. Gap Lake

While technically in Kananaskis, Gap Lake is just 10 km from Canmore and 6 km from Exshaw. Gap Lake is found along the Highway 1A heading east from Canmore. Like many of the lakes in this list, you can expect to do some work when the winds pick up while paddle boarding this Kananaskis lake.

While Gap Lake may not have the stunning turquoise water, it still has plenty of scenic mountains as a backdrop and it’s not nearly as busy. There’s a small picnic area, toilets and a boat launch at Gap Lake.

11. Barrier Lake

Barrier Lake is the closest lake in Kananaskis that can be accessed from Calgary. Like so many of the other options in this list, the 360 degree view of mountains and turquoise waters is so enticing. Barrier Lake can also get very windy, so try to paddle board on Barrier Lake on a calm day.

Barrier Lake is easily accessed off Hwy 40, just 20 minutes south of Hwy 1. There’s a boat launch along highway 40 just past the Barrier Lake picnic area (where you’ll find toilets). It’s also popular with kayak rentals through Kananaskis Outfitters.

12. Upper Kananaskis Lake

Upper Kananaskis Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is another scenic mountain lake for paddle boarding in Kananaskis. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Upper Kananaskis Lake does get quite large waves when the wind is blowing. This isn’t ideal for beginner paddle boarders, especially given the chilly temperature of the water.

Like many of the other mountain lakes for paddle boarding around Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis, mornings and evenings are typically when you will find the water at it’s calmest for paddle boarding Upper Kananaskis Lake.

The Upper Kananaskis Lake has a large parking lot, toilets and a picnic area with stunning mountain views. To reach Upper Kananaskis Lake take Kananaskis Trail/Highway 40 for 50 km then turn right onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail and follow it for another 14 km until you reach the turn off for the lake.

Tips for Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Banff National Park Lakes

  1. Always wear a lifejacket or PFD. Transport Canada requires you to have one with you that’s available for immediate use, so you might as well just wear it.
    The chilly waters of the Banff National Park alpine lakes rarely rise above 10 degrees Celsius and falling in can result in hypothermia. Know the risks and what you are getting yourself into! 
  2. Pack warm clothes to change into and have easy access to your car. 
  3. Choose the best option that is suitable for your level and don’t venture out too far. Don’t attempt paddle boarding on rivers that you aren’t familiar with or that are above your skill level. 
  4. Always check the weather forecast. Mountain weather can change quickly. 
  5. Plan for cool mornings. Even on summer mornings, you might need to wear a fleece top under your life jacket. 
  6. Mornings and evenings are your best chance for calm waters. 
  7. Always clean your paddle board and dry it fully before using it in another lake.

What to Bring Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis

Stand Up Paddle Boarding with Kids

  1. Everyone should be wearing a lifejacket, parents included.
  2. The alpine lake water is cold and can result in hypothermia. If your kids want to swim, have them swim close to shore in warmer lakes like Quarry Lake or Johnson Lake.
  3. Your kids aren’t going to be working, so dress them extra warm.
  4. Pack all the extra gear mentioned above.
  5. Don’t let kids paddle on their own unless they are experienced.
  6. We only let our kids practice standing and paddling when we are close to the shore and almost finished. Just in case someone falls in, we want to be close to the car where we have a change of clothes.

Where to Rent Stand Up Paddle Boards

Inflatable stand up paddle boards are the easiest to transport. They take some work to inflate, but are the best option if you are looking to buy your own paddle board or rent a stand up paddle board in Banff and area.

Stand Up Paddle Board Rental – Banff

Stand Up Paddle Board Rental – Canmore

Stand Up Paddle Board Rentals – Kananaskis

Stand Up Paddle Board Tours in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis