Stunning lakes are scattered amidst the mountains all throughout Banff National Park. Waterfowl Lakes are a couple great ones to visit with blue waters, plenty of camping and hiking opportunities, and picturesque peaks surrounding the valley. These lakes are also located just off Icefields Parkway, making them easily accessible whether you are stopping quickly at a viewpoint or planning to stay longer.
Getting to Waterfowl Lakes
As mentioned, Waterfowl Lakes are located just off Icefields Parkway closer to the Lake Louise side of this famous road. If coming from the Lake Louise area, exit off the Trans-Canada Highway just north of the Lake Louise turnoff onto Icefields Parkway (AB-93).
Shortly after beginning the drive down Icefields Parkway, you’ll arrive at a Banff National Park fee station. From the fee station, it is about a 35-minute drive to the lakes. From this direction, you’ll arrive at Upper Waterfowl Lake first. If coming from Jasper, head south on Icefields Parkway from the fee station. After just under two hours, you’ll come to Lower Waterfowl Lake.
Parking at both Waterfowl Lakes is limited, so arrive early if possible or be prepared to have to wait for a spot.
A national parks pass is required to visit Waterfowl Lakes. You can buy your pass at the toll window as you begin down Icefields Parkway or you can purchase your pass online beforehand. It is $10.50 Canadian dollars per day for an individual or CAD$21 for a group of two to seven people. These passes expire at 4 p.m. the day after you select to visit the park for. We purchased a pass online for convenience, printed it, and presented it to the ranger as we passed the fee station.
If you plan to visit multiple parks in the area or visit one over an extended period, it’s worth looking into the Discovery Pass. This pass is good for a year from purchase and costs CAD$70 per adult or CAD$140 for a group pass.
Upper Waterfowl Lake
Hike Type: Easy out-and-back trail
Distance: 0.9-1.2 miles (1.4-1.9 kilometers) roundtrip – depending on how far along the lake shore you walk
Elevation Gain: About 112 feet (34 meters)
Duration: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Regulations: Dogs are permitted but must be leashed. Drones are not permitted. Do not feed wildlife. Camping is only permitted in designated areas.
Upper Waterfowl Lake was one of several stops along our drive down Icefields Parkway. We turned left off the parkway down a short dirt road, passed the campground, and parked in the small lot near the trailhead. Parking here is pretty limited with a dirt pull off fitting less than 20 cars plus some space to parallel park.
From the lot, the trail began down through the woods along the campground. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the river between the two Waterfowl Lakes. Here, multiple trails converge with the Upper Waterfowl Lake trail. For more hiking, you can cross the bridge and hike to Chephren Lake or Cirque Lake, or you can head north from the bridge for less than half a mile to Lower Waterfowl Lake.
We continued south (left if you’re facing the river) along the river towards Upper Waterfowl Lake. The scenery was so beautiful and peaceful along the flowing water with rugged peaks jutting up around us. Being there in September, bright splashes of fall colors began to pop up in the undergrowth.
Soon, we arrived at the north tip of Upper Waterfowl Lake. There was a small field along the shore with a picnic table. With the lake and beautiful peaks, this would be a wonderful place to hang out for an afternoon! However, since we still had much of Icefields Parkway to drive, we headed back up the trail the way we came after taking in the view.
Lower Waterfowl Lake Viewpoint
From Upper Waterfowl Lake, we got back onto Icefields Parkway and turned into the Lower Waterfowl Lake turnoff a very short ways down the road. The Lower Waterfowl Lake viewpoint is off to the left if coming from Upper Waterfowl Lake and is just a small, paved pull off.
From the parking area, we were rewarded with an absolutely stunning view of the blue waters and rugged peaks across the way. After snapping a few photos, we continued on our way.
Waterfowl Lakes Campground
Camping near Waterfowl Lakes provides a great way to take in more of the scenery, access multiple trails, and experience the lakes during times when the crowds have thinned. The Waterfowl Lakes Campground is one of the largest in the area with 116 sites. These sites are suitable for tents to small RVs and include picnic tables and a fire pit. The campground also has running water, sewage dump, restrooms, and food lockers.
Each site costs CAD$23 per night, plus CAD$9.25 if you want a fire permit and included firewood. Cash and card are both accepted payment methods. Campsites accommodate one to two vehicles and a maximum of six people. This campground is open from mid-June through mid-September and is occupied on a first-come, first-served basis with self-registration. For more information and updates, visit the park website.
Other Activities at Waterfowl Lakes
Beyond hiking and camping, visitors can also enjoy the lakes other ways. Many people love to fish in the Banff area, though we cannot speak to the quality of fishing at these specific lakes. Make sure you obtain your fishing permit and understand the fishing regulations for the area.
With the campground nearby, we have heard that this is a popular place to swim (brr!) and get out on the water. While we were at Lower Waterfowl Lake, we saw several people out on the lake kayaking and paddle boarding. Again, please make sure you check and comply with regulations, such as watercraft checks.
What to Bring to Visit Waterfowl Lakes
Parks Pass/Payment Method: Bring along your parks pass or cash or card to pay for one. Extra payment is required for camping and fishing permits.
Water: An essential for any hike.
Snacks/Food: There are quite a few places to enjoy a snack or packed lunch while taking in the views of Waterfowl Lakes. Please pack out all food scraps and trash.
Layers: Even summers in the Canadian Rockies can be chilly, so extra layers are a good idea. Also bring a rain jacket. In cooler months, heavier jackets, beanies, and gloves may be needed.
Comfortable Shoes: The trail to Upper Waterfowl Lake is fairly flat, so heavy-duty hiking boots are not required. It is dirt with some rocks and roots that simple trainers should be able to handle.
Extra Gear: If you plan to camp, kayak, fish, etc.
Camera: Capture those stunning lake and mountain views!