Kayaking Third Vermilion Lake

Woohoo! We’ve added kayaking to the mix of our outdoor summer adventures. As totally inexperienced paddlers, we opted for the scenic and accessible Vermilion Lakes for our first kayak outing.

Vermillion Lakes is a group of three lake just outside Banff townsite, between the TransCanada Highway and the Bow River. We’ve cycled past Vermilion Lakes many times. And we’ve done some sunrise photography here, too. The lake closest to town is locally known as the first Vermilion Lake, with the third Vermilion Lake furthest east. The first and second lakes are connected by a channel that runs beside Vermilion Lakes Road.

We planned to put in at the second Vermilion Lake, but changed plans at the last minute to avoid Parks Canada’s roadside cleanup.

Parks Canada doing spring clean up along Vermilion Lakes Road


We opted for an inflatable kayak, mainly because we have an audacious, long-term goal that involves hiking into a lake to paddle to a scenic spot for photography. And we think that’s more do-able with an 18-kg (40-lb) inflatable kayak folded into a pack than it is carrying a two-person rigid kayak through the woods.

The downside is that it takes a bit of time to inflate and get ready to launch. This first time took almost 50 minutes. Fingers-crossed we get faster with experience!

Time lapse of inflating and setting-up our Gumotex Thaya kayak

We delighted in launching from the dock…no wet feet dripping water into the kayak for our first outing!

Kayaking the Third Vermilion Lake

The third Vermilion Lake small! We went around counter clockwise, and then clockwise, with a couple of side trips to photograph a Common Loon and a couple of trains and our total distance was 4 km over 2 hours. Our GPS tracked 1.5 hours paddling and about 30 minutes floating, mainly for bird photography.

The straight-ish line across the lake is to get in position to photograph the eastboud train and the infinity loop was to photograph the loon

Common Loon

We heard a lone loon calling several times during our set-up. Fortunately, the male Common Loon hung around for quite a while. At one point it swam underwater, right past our kayak! At another, it was so close that I heard the whuff as it blew water out its nose(?) after surfacing.

Male common loon on third Vermilion Lake
Male common loon on third Vermilion Lake

Mr GeoK packed a long telephoto, which he used to get these photos. He also learned that it’s a lot harder to get a tack-sharp shot when you’re on the water, even in very light wind. He’s going to try an even faster shutter speed next outing.


The rail line runs between Vermilion Lakes and the Bow River, and one advantage of paddling the third Vermilion Lake is that you can float within meters of the rail line. We saw a westbound train first. Then as we were heading back to the dock, we heard an eastbound train in the distance and paddled like made to get in position to photograph it as it passed. That’s when we reached our top speed of 6 kph!

First of two trains, this one heading west
Second of two trains that chugged along the lakeshore, this one eastbound

Scenery and Reflections

Mount Edith is visible from the third Vermillion Lake – that was new to us. Of course Mount Rundle is also visible from the water – the subject of so many sunrise photographs!

View of Mount Edith from a kayak on third Vermilion Lake
Sanson Peak and Mount Rundle reflected in third Vermilion Lake

A half-moon was hanging over Sanson Peak.

Day lit half moon above Vermilion Lakes

Deflate and Pack Up

After a couple of hours and twice around the third lake, with a couple of side channel explorations thrown in for good practice maneuvering our new kayak, we headed for the dock.

Good news! We only needed about 15 minutes to deflate, wipe down and pack up the kayak. We didn’t get it folded quite right to get it back in the pack, so need more practice on that front!

All-in-all, we consider it a very successful first outing and look forward to the next. If you’re an experienced paddler in the Canmore/Banff region and have a lake suggestion for beginners, please drop us comment with your recommendation.


Booking passage on the once-in-a-lifetime Labrador and Torngat Mountains National Park cruise was the first time we thought about adding kayaking to our mix of outdoor adventures. Aboard the RCGS Resolute, we met a fun couple from Ontario. Like us, they chose that expedition cruise to celebrate the same milestone anniversary we marked that year. Unlike us, they are experienced kayakers.

Long story short, Mr GeoK recommended the Gumotex Thaya inflatable two-person kayak to them while we were aboard (he’d been researching options). They ordered one as soon as they got home, and they enjoyed their new kayak during COVID summer #1. We dithered, and by the time we decided kayaking would be a good alternative to crowded hiking trails, we’d missed our window. All kinds of kayaks were sold out! And MEC no longer carried Gumotex inflatables.

But Mr GeoK persisted. He found the sole remaining seller in Canada and got on her waitlist. In April, we got the good news that a kayak was on its way! So Mr GeoK got busy purchasing all the accessory equipment: paddles, PFDs, throw ropes, a bailer, a battery-powered pump and more. By mid-May, we had everything needed to practice inflating/deflating our new kayak. After some equipment tweaks and trial and error, success! Our Ontario friends generously shared tips, tricks, equipment recommendations and checklists.

The only thing left? Choosing the location for our first kayak outing – somewhere vehicle accessible, small (so there’d be no big waves even if the wind came up), shallow (in case we flipped) and scenic (so we could try photography from the water). Vermilion Lakes ticked all the boxes. 🙂

Stay tuned for more details re: our equipment choices and our journey up the learning curve.

6 thoughts on “Kayaking Third Vermilion Lake

  1. Pingback: Kayaking Vermilion Lakes - Out & About with the GeoKs

  2. Pingback: Kayaking Lake Minnewanka - Out & About with the GeoKs

  3. Pingback: Kayaking Two Jack Lake - Out & About with the GeoKs

  4. Congratulations on your new outdoor activity. Easy paddling suggestions: up the Bow River from the Banff Canoe docks, Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake, Waterfowl Lake (my FAV!!!) from the campground, Consolation Lake (easy hike but off course, hard to access the parking). A little more challenging, and you need a calm day for sure, but we had a fabulous paddle on Bow Lake. We went all the way around and right down to just before it empties into the Bow River.

    1. Thanks for all the great recommendations. Several were already on our list of prospects, but a couple have just been added thanks to your advice. 🙂

  5. Susan

    This is an amazing post, once again!! I love the time lapse of setting it up and all the information on the journey and the many considerations in choosing the kayak and location for the first trip. You make adventures seem so accessible! Thanks for sharing…

Leave a Reply