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Darwin Wiggett | Travel Alberta

Alberta Has The Most Beautiful Lake In the World… And Then Some!

Moraine Lake tops the list of the World’s Most Beautiful Lakes - but an additional six Alberta gems should be added to the list

Condé Nast Traveler has deemed Moraine Lake the most beautiful lake in the World.

Duh… like we didn’t know that already.

In a recent story, the luxury American travel magazine released a list of the 48 most beautiful lakes in the world. 

Moraine Lake made the cut alongside Switzerland’s lovely Lake Lucerne, Italy’s famous Lake Como, Lake Titicaca (shared between Bolivia and Peru), the Dead Sea in Jordan, and a few dozen other postcard-perfect lakes worldwide.

“The lake owes its striking colour to mineral-rich runoff from the surrounding glaciers, some of which you can spot on the Vally (sic) of the Ten Peaks—a row of ten mountains that once appeared on the Canadian $20 bill—in the distance,” writes the list’s authors when describing Moraine Lake.

The iconic views at Moraine Lake are world famous | Rowan Sims Photography
The iconic views at Moraine Lake are world famous | Rowan Sims Photography

Loved to Death

The thing is, like a lot of beautiful places that you can drive to, Moraine Lake has been getting loved to death. 

The Moraine Lake road and parking lot became so overwhelmed with summertime looky-loos that in 2023, Parks Canada permanently banned all personal vehicles from accessing this popular destination.

You can still get there by pre-planning and booking a seat with On-It Regional Transit or on a Parks Canada shuttle.

Lists are sort of arbitrary, especially ones that appear in travel magazines.

So, here’s another arbitrary list from your local The Rockies.Life Staff of other beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies that you can hike or drive to with far fewer crowds.

The Obvious Lakes First

Beyond Moraine Lake, if you’re Albertan, you already know these three other world-class must-see lakes, but if you have never been to them, here is your reminder.

These lakes don’t require you to take a shuttle, but you’ll share the views with crowds unless you go in the off-season or very early or late in the day. 

Bow Lake    

Bow Lake, located 36 km north on Hwy 93 from the Lake Louise Junction, is fed by the Wapta Icefield and forms the headwaters of the Bow River

Most people see Bow Lake from a parking lot pull-off, The Bow Lake Viewpoint, lakeside on the Icefields Parkway. Tourist buses disgorge loads of people, ready with cell phones to snap a photo of the famous lake. 

If you want to get away from the parking lot crowds, head to the big parking lot near the Lodge at Bow Lake, formerly Num Ti Jah Lodge, and hike the 4.6 km (one-way) trail along the shores of Bow Lake up to Bow Glacier Falls.  

Plan a 3 – 6 hour outing because you’ll stop often to take in the scenery.

Bow Lake at sunrise with fireweed in the foreground | spotlight.it-notes.ru
Bow Lake at sunrise with fireweed in the foreground | spotlight.it-notes.ru

Peyto Lake

The aerial view of Peyto Lake from the wooden viewing platform is a Canadian Rockies icon. 

From the lower public parking lot, it is a 400-metre uphill stroll through mixed wildflowers (July and August) in a sub-alpine forest to the popular viewpoint. 

Expect big crowds as tourist buses disgorge gaggles of gawkers from the upper parking lot. But if you go early in the morning, there will be fewer people and better light for photos.

From this viewpoint, numerous footpaths skirt the open slopes of Mount Jimmy Simpson, offering many alternative (and less crowded) viewpoints for those willing to hike a short distance.

The incredible colour of Peyto Lake sparkles even on the cloudiest day | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo
The incredible colour of Peyto Lake sparkles even on the cloudiest day | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Waterfowl Lakes 

Further north on the Icefields Parkway, you’ll come across a pair of exceptionally beautiful lakes: Upper and Lower Waterfowl Lakes.

Most people drive by Upper Waterfowl Lake because it is hard to see from the highway. But if you pull off at the Upper Waterfowl Lake parking lot and spend 10 minutes walking down to the lake, you’ll be rewarded with views that few people see. 

To access Upper Waterfowl Lake, look for a small parking lot on the west side of the Icefields Parkway at kilometre 56.

Lower Waterfowl Lake is better known because the Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint beckons travellers to pull over and admire the scenery.

The less visited Upper Waterfowl Lakes is worth the short hike | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo
The less visited Upper Waterfowl Lakes is worth the short hike | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Lakes Off the Beaten Path

Abraham Lake

Further north on the Icefields Parkway, you’ll come to The Crossing, where Highway 11 heads east out of Banff National Park. Take this spur 32 km to Abraham Lake.

Many people have heard about Abraham Lake for its famous methane bubbles.

Peaking in late August and early September, after the lake fills with water containing large amounts of glacial rock flour, the lake turns an incredible turquoise. The suspended rock particles give the lake its bright, eye-catching colour.

The highway runs right along the lake from Preacher’s Point, kilometre 32, to Allstones Creek, kilometre 59, so there are many opportunities to pull over and explore.

Abraham Lake in full fall regalia | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo
Abraham Lake in full fall regalia | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Glacier Lake

Head to The Crossing and take the Icefields Parkway north a few kilometres to the Glacier Lake trailhead.

This 9-km (one-way) trail leads to a wonderful backcountry lake and campsite (camping permit required). The round-trip hike is a bit long for a day hike unless you are in good shape and get an early start.

If you like backcountry camping, this is a phenomenal place to spend the night, especially because the lake looks great at sunrise and sunset.

The elevation gain isn’t as bad as it looks, and the campground is located directly on the lakeshore. The mornings here are notorious for being dead calm and stunning!

The uncrowded wilderness views of Glacier Lake | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo
The uncrowded wilderness views of Glacier Lake | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Boundary Lake

Further up the Icefields Parkway, on the boundary between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, is a short trail to Boundary Lake, a hidden gem that few visit but should. 

The trail begins at an unmarked trailhead on the west side of the highway. It lies between the Parker Ridge Trail and the Wilcox Creek Campground and is about 4.4 km south of the Icefields Discovery Centre

The trail follows a well-maintained path that can be difficult to spot from the parking lot, but once you find it, the trail is easy to follow. 

The 2.9-km (one-way) trail starts by descending into a valley, ascending to the lake, and has an elevation gain of 121 metres. The uphill ascent is worth the views of a lake that is intense icy blue with peak colour in late summer and fall.

That’s our round-up of world-class lakes in the Banff Park area. 

Next time, we’ll head into Jasper National Park for more jaw-dropping lakes that could easily make Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the World’s Most Beautiful Lakes Only Albertans Know.

The hike few take to Boundary Lake is worth every footstep | 10adventures.com
The hike few take to Boundary Lake is worth every footstep | 10adventures.com

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