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Paddling the Mountain Parks Around Banff National Park

by K Gordon Schultz
Banff National Park Activities, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park

Few mountain activities offer the serenity, solitude, and perspective that are provided by a day of paddling on the magnificently turquoise waters of a glacially fed lake or river. Grabbing a paddle and hitting one of the many accessible waterways around Banff and Lake Louise is a great way to see the mountains from a different viewpoint while escaping the crowds. On a hot day it is a great way to cool down and relax while still doing something active.

As a photographer, canoeing or kayaking offers a unique angle from which to point the lens. Paddling at dawn or dusk offers the best lighting to capture the glow of a snowy peak and the vibrant colours of a reflection on the water. Banff wildlife is also most active at those hours of the day as well so a sighting is likely as you explore the shores and bays of the waters. Paddling is less disruptive than hiking or biking so an early riser may see a moose or bear grabbing a morning meal before disappearing into the bush. Lakes and rivers also provide excellent bird watching opportunities. Osprey and eagles often nest on the far sides of lakes away from the sounds and smells of the parkways and people. Just don’t forget to bring waterproof storage for your equipment!

Easy to get to lakes in the Banff area include Lake Minnewanka, Vermillion, Johnson, and Two Jack Lakes. Near Lake Louise are two of the most scenic lakes in Canada; Moraine Lake and of course Lake Louise. If you are driving north on the Icefields Parkway, Herbert, Hector, Bow and Waterfowl lakes are all great for paddling and you typically won’t find many people on the waters. More experienced paddlers can take on the Bow River in a canoe for day or multi-day trips. If you are not looking for the serenity of a gentle lake paddle consider going whitewater rafting on the nearby Kicking Horse River for some awesome hard hitting rapids.

Always check with Parks Canada or the company who you are renting a boat from before hitting the water to check weather and condition reports. Be aware of sudden weather changes that can bring strong winds and always be prepared before you go. Never go on the water without a lifejacket as hypothermia is a real risk in glacially fed water. The Parks Canada website has much more information on water safety and tips for what to bring with you. Above all, have fun and take pleasure in the experience of gliding over the beautiful, crystal waters of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

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