Travellers to Canada are drawn there by the stunning scenery and beauty, in particular the mountain ranges that dominate many a landscape throughout this vast country. It is a well-known fact that where there are mountains, there are lakes, but maybe not so well-known is the fact that Canada has more lakes than any other country put together.
The five lakes that make up the Great Lakes system – Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior – are the world’s largest series of interconnected freshwater lakes which occupy just over 20% of the fresh surface water on the planet, about 95,000 square miles.
In addition, there are some spectacular lakes that you will undoubtedly have seen pictures of – or if you are lucky enough, have photographed yourself (or plan to, in the future) – and here are some of our favourites.
Probably the most famous and the most photographed of all Canada’s lakes; it’s picture-postcard location at the foot of a cluster of glacier-clad peaks that reflect on its turquoise waters, it is effortlessly beautiful. The lake’s surface area covers less than a square mile, but there are some amazing hiking trails around the edge, some of which can also be traversed on two wheels or even four legs. A kayak or a canoe is one of the best ways to enjoy it, or in the winter, it becomes a skating rink extraordinaire. The views from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the shore of the lake are also outstanding.
Moraine Lake is half the size of its nearby neighbour Lake Louise, but perhaps, many would say, even more scenic. This glacier-fed lake, situated in the beautiful Valley Of The Ten Peaks in Banff National Park, becomes the most intense and vivid shade of turquoise blue as it thaws and with the surrounding majestic mountain peaks it seems almost surreal. Access to the lake is limited to the summer months and even when it does first open in May you may not see the turquoise water Moraine Lake is famous for; due to the high elevation of the lake, it can remain frozen until late May or into early June, depending on the temperatures. When it first thaws the water level is very low, but as the temperatures warm up the glacier melt from above the lake starts to feed into it and the lake water level increases. The vivid blue-green hue peaks from mid to late June through September.
Of all the stunning lakes in Alberta, the Vermilion Lakes are possibly the least well-known for tourists, but just 1.5 miles from downtown Banff, the views to Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain are spectacular, with the mountains often reflected in the lakes themselves. The three lakes that make up this network of lush marshlands are a perfect spot to watch sunrise or sunset, and you can often see wildlife on the shores too. They are just as magical in the winter; you could see the Northern Lights dancing over the water or when the waters of the Vermilion Lakes freeze over, you can sometimes see bubble layers in the ice – these are frozen methane bubbles, which form when microbes consume dead organic matter on the bottom of the lake.
Peyto Lake is another spectacular glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park, with easy access from the Icefields Parkway as you head towards Jasper National Park. The drive is extremely scenic, although so are the views of the lake that can be seen from the viewpoint, Bow Summit. Named for Bill Peyto, an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area, some of the lesser visited view points however are found by parking in the Bow Summit car park and taking one of the trails – probably originally found by Bill! – which lead up to the mountain via a paved footpath and gravel track.
Maligne Lake is the second-largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies and the famous cruise to the much-photographed Spirit Island is one of the most popular activities for anyone visiting Jasper National Park. There are many other activities in the Maligne Valley including fishing, canoeing and kayaking – the azure-blue waters are a little too cold for swimming though! For the more adventurous, there is a 27-mile trail from the Lake which finishes near the town of Jasper.
Over the provincial border in British Columbia is the gorgeous Emerald Lake, the largest of 61 lakes in Yoho National Park, which was discovered in 1882 by mountain guide Tim Wilson. He was led lakeside while rounding up horses that had gone astray and he was struck by the vivid emerald-green waters. You can hike round the lake in about an hour and there are many geological rewards for your efforts including world-famous Burgess Shale fossil beds, the Michael glacier and an avalanche slope where moose can often be seen grazing. Eagles, osprey and loons are also frequent visitors to the lake. As with many of Canada’s lakes, a beautiful lodge – in this case, Emerald Lake Lodge – has some of the very best views of the water.
Lake Kliluk – Spotted Lake
In the south of British Columbia, the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys are home to Canada’s only desert as well as a number of lakes, including the warmest freshwater in Canada (Lake Osoyoos). However Spotted Lake – or Lake Kliluk, as it known to the local Okanagan First Nations people – is a unique natural marvel. The lake is rich in minerals like calcium, sodium and magnesium and when the water in the lake evaporates in the summer, these minerals are left as colourful concentrated spots on the surface, hence the name of Spotted Lake. Not only that, but the lake is considered a sacred location by the indigenous people, and has a reputation for being a mystical lake with healing powers.
In the heart of the Okanagan valley, surrounded by vineyards and with one of the warmest climates in Canada, the 84-mile long Okanagan Lake is famed for its watersports, houseboats and magical sunsets. Oh and its own version of the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo; although with records of the first sightings of this mythical sea serpent going back as far as 1872, it predates its Scottish cousin. Okanagan Lake has lengths of long, sandy beaches and is very family-friendly offering a hive of activity year round; paddleboarding is particular popular on the long, warm summer days.
Head further north to the Yukon and in the mountains near the Kluane National Park is Kluane Lake, a glacier-fed lake with an amazing turquoise colour that often reflects the surrounding peaks. Kluane is a great fishing lake, particularly for lake trout and whitefish. Caribou herds migrate in the vicinity of the lake, which at 50 miles long, is the longest lake in the Yukon. The Alaska Highway runs along most of Kluane Lake’s southern shoreline, offering some spectacular views of the lake and its surrounding area.
When selecting one of the five Great Lakes to include, Lake Ontario is the smallest – although still the 14th largest lake in the world – but with 600 miles of shoreline that are home to some great, easily accessible beaches, it is worthy of attention. The urban beaches around Toronto are a complete contrast to the more remote, sandy beaches that can be found, while in the southwest corner of the lake, fine pebble beaches are set against the backdrop of Niagara’s vineyards and orchards. Some of the best views of the city of Toronto are from the lake itself, on a cruise, one of the most popular activities in the area.