The most fascinating features of Lake Minnewanka are actually the hardest to see. They're practically hidden. Some underground, and others, 26 metres underwater.
The beauty of the lake itself is immediate and striking: So perfectly jewel-toned, a giant polished emerald that stretches on for miles.
Then there are the options for recreation. Beautiful trails diverge from the lake area, including the lakeside trail that winds for 17 kilometres along the shore of Minnewanka. But there’s more to Banff National Park’s largest lake than meets the eye. The Lake Minnewanka Cruise is your access to its little secrets and juicy history.
Here are a few spoilers we discovered on the cruise:
1. A buried town
At a frosty three degrees Celsius on the day we were out, you’d think the water at Lake Minnewanka would deter dippers. Just the opposite! These cool waters are preserving a former townsite, a burial ground that is easily the best scuba diving site in Banff National Park. Thousands of divers suit up every year to scope out any one of the 16 features of Minnewanka Landing, a resort town that was fully submerged after a dam built in 1941 raised the lake 30 metres.
Established in the late 1880s, Minnewanka Landing grew from one log hotel (and the lake’s first tour boat) into a busy summer village with seven streets, hotels, restaurants and summer homes. Divers today come to see the old hotel and the buried bridge, viewed from a depth of 15 to 26 metres, or the shoreline from 1912, still visible today.
2. Pre-contact treasures
As we glided along calm waters, our guide Kat elegantly shared stories of the area’s original inhabitants. We learned that artifacts from as long as 14,000 years ago are buried at Sandy Beach, along a northwest stretch of the lake. This special location and other archaeological sites here document 10,000 years of the Pre-Contact Period. The lake got its name from the Stoney-Nakoda First Nations people. They called it Minn-waki or “Lake of the Spirits.”
3. Fishing hub
Lake Trout anglers love Lake Minnewanka. It’s one of the top 10 spots in North America to catch this game fish—one of Alberta’s largest. (License-holders can take home two per day.) Fifty natural springs feed into the lake, which runs as deep as 148 metres, providing a great habitat for Lake Trout. Rent a boat at the dock, spend the morning on the water, and don’t be surprised if a Rocky Mountain Whitefish or Lake Whitefish takes your bait as well! Visit the Lake Minnewanka boathouse to join a guided fishing trip or book a private fishing experience.
4. Cruising over the years
Boat cruises along Lake Minnewanka have operated for well over a century. Lake Minnewanka’s first tour boat, the steam-powered Lady Brooke, set out in 1889. Into the 1900s, the tradition of boat touring continued with two cruise boats, Lady of the Lake and Daughter of the Peaks. Brewster Transport Co. complemented the adventure with rides from Banff to the lake via horse-drawn carriage.
Spring forward to today and you’ll find the current cruise is a lovely way to see surrounding mountain views, and to relax and watch the water’s wake from the rear of the boat while your guide fills you in on all the fascinating history and lore of the lake.
5. Don’t leave so soon!
When your ride is over, chances are you won’t want to leave the lake just yet. Shake off the “sea legs” and take a cue from hikers walking toward the Minnewanka Lakeside Trail from above the boat dock. This winding trail follows the lakeshore and is clear in the early or late season. Head back whenever you like, or to keep on and explore the full 17 kilometres.
Along the way, you’ll reach the Stewart Canyon Trailhead. Veer up that path to catch views of the Cascade River flowing into Lake Minnewanka.
For a more challenging walk and panoramic views of the lake, climb up the Aylmer Lookout trail from Stewart Canyon. Or backtrack to the Aylmer Pass trail and emerge into a sea of wildflowers and open meadows.
Getting here: Lake Minnewanka is a 15-minute drive from the Banff townsite. The main parking lot tends to fill up fast, but you have a few alternatives for getting here and avoiding parking troubles. Bike along the Lake Minnewanka Loop, ride ROAM (Banff public transit) or book an Explore Banff tour with Brewster Sightseeing.