Lake Minnewanka, Alberta, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Alberta -

Also known as:  Minnewanka Lake

Lake Minnewanka holds the distinction of being the largest lake in Banff National Park. The 17-mile-long lake lies between scenic mountain ranges and supports a wealth of wildlife along its shores. Only three miles north of the Town of Banff, this spectacular lake provides rustic recreation to a large number of active visitors each summer. Located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Lake Minnewanka’s waters fill the valley of the Cascade River, with little access to most of the shoreline except on foot. At almost 5,000 feet in elevation, the climate is harsh in winter, but summers are delightfully cool; breezes blowing down the long reach of water keep pesky bugs away, making it a favorite for back country camping via canoe.

The only lake in Banff National Park that allows motor boats, Lake Minnewanka is famous for its excellent lake trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish. The lunker-class lake trout make this one of Canada’s ten top lake trout fisheries, so large numbers of avid anglers seek out the services of fishing guides in nearby Banff. All fishermen in Banff National Park are required to hold either a single-day permit or an annual permit obtained at any of the park’s information centers, campground kiosks or sauna pools, as well as local tackle shops. Lead tackle, chemical baits, and natural baits are forbidden. Non-fishermen can also enjoy and explore the lake from the regularly-scheduled tour cruises that ply the waters during the summer months. A boat launch is located on the southern shore for those who wish to bring their own boats, or visitors can rent small aluminum boats with motors from the tour operation.

The long narrow lake is excellent for sailing, although the distance from ‘civilization’ makes the lake less populated than would be the case in more populated areas. The most popular watercraft for exploring and camping is the canoe or kayak. Care must be taken to watch for sudden winds creating waves, but hugging the shoreline and exploring the inlets are the best ways to view wildlife and enjoy the picture-perfect scenes created by the sharp nearby peaks reflected in the lake’s surface. Mount Aylmer at 10,374 feet is the highest mountain in this area of the park and is located a few miles north of the lake.

The wildlife is spectacular in Banff National Park. The park has 56 recorded mammal species. Grizzly and black bears inhabit the forested regions and sometimes require the closing of the popular trail along the north side of the lake to avoid confrontations. Cougar, lynx, wolverine, weasel, northern river otter, wolves, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer are common in and around Banff, while moose tend to be more elusive, sticking primarily to wetland areas and near streams. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots and pika are widespread, with the bighorn sheep often sharing the only road in the area, the Lake Minnewanka Loop. Other mammals such as beaver, porcupine, squirrel, and chipmunks are the more commonly observed smaller mammals. Bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawk, osprey, falcon and merlin are the most common predatory bird species seen, while huge numbers of other small songbirds and shorebirds are right at home along the wooded lakeshore.

A hiking and mountain biking trail runs along the northern shore of the lake, passing Stewart Canyon and six back-country campsites (permits required). Tour operators offer guided horseback tours in the area. Although there are no organized campgrounds at Lake Minnewanka, two campgrounds are provided at Two Jacks Lake just downstream from the lake.

The lake was originally a much smaller natural lake. The lake was first called ‘Water of the Spirits’; First Nations tribes living along the lake spoke of a half-man, half-monster lake creature that some of the original settlers swore they had seen. The lake lay in Stewart Canyon along the Cascade River and was fed by glacial streams flowing from Mount Inglismaldie, Mount Girouard and Mount Peechee on the south side of the lake. The lake was a popular resort location, and a small wooden dam was built across the outlet in 1895 to stabilize water levels at Minnewanka Landing. In 1912 the dam was rebuilt and enlarged for hydropower, drowning Minnewanka Landing. A second expansion of the dam increased the size and depth of the reservoir considerably to supply hydro power to Calgary and Banff. Now under 60 feet of water, the old village site and 1912 dam are a favorite with scuba divers who enjoy exploring the old foundations, original dam blockhouse, and even an old potbellied stove sitting on the lake bottom.

The nearby town of Banff lies completely within Banff National Park, and all lands belong to the park system. Only those with a demonstrated ‘need’ to live here are allowed to live in the town. The town is centered around park visitors. Banff offers several types of lodgings such as hotels, inns, resorts and spas, and is supplied with all kinds of shops, recreational facilities and historical venues. Some of the ‘must-see’ attractions are the Banff Center, the Whyte Museum, the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and several art galleries. An annual Dragon Boat Festival is held on Lake Minnewanka each summer and draws many spectators and participants. Banff’s original hot springs still attract visitors. There is no real estate available in Banff or along Lake Minnewanka unless one wishes to operate one of the licensed recreational facilities. But Banff makes an excellent home location for a week or two of exploration within Banff National Park. Located on the Trans-Canadian Highway, Banff is easy to get to nearly year round and provides winter activates such as skiing , ice skating, snowboarding and ice fishing on the smaller local lakes. One look at the spectacular rugged peaks of the Canadian Rockies and you’ll want to stay awhile and explore Lake Minnewanka. We’ll be expecting you!

*The surface acreage is estimated conservatively by Lakelubbers. Other statistics – volume, average depth, catchment area, and more – are not available.

Things to do at Lake Minnewanka

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Minnewanka

  • Lake Trout
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Lake Minnewanka Photo Gallery

Lake Minnewanka Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: TransAlta Corp

Surface Area: 6,500 acres

Shoreline Length: 33 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,992 feet

Maximum Depth: 466 feet

Completion Year: 1941

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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