One of three lakes on the scenic Lake Minnewanka drive, Two Jack Lake is a scenic, easy option for kayaking, canoeing and SUPing. From-the-water views include Mount Rundle, Cascade Mountain and Mount Aylmer. More adventurous paddlers on SUPs or kayaks can pull themselves under the low bridge across the canal and go another 1.5 km south along the canal before turning back.
Take the Cascade Ponds/Lake Minnewanka exit just east of the Banff Townsite. At the T-junction past Cascade Ponds day use area, turn right towards Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake.
If you arrive early enough, park in the small lower lot, where it’s easy to set up and launch from the pebbly beach. We arrived about 7:30 on a Saturday morning and were the third car in the lower lot. Two stand-up paddleboarders took to the water just after we arrived.
When we left, just after 10 a.m., the lower lot was more than full. Later arrivals can park in the somewhat larger upper lot and carrying your water craft down to the shore. Motorized boats are not permitted on Two Jack Lake. There are a couple of outhouse toilet stalls between the upper and lower parking lots.
Heading South (Counterclockwise)
For those keeping score, we improved our set-up time from 50 minutes for our first outing to just 20 minutes for this second kayak adventure!
We opted to head south, into the wind, to begin our kayaking circumnavigation of Two Jack Lake, named for John “Captain Jack” Standley (1865-1946), operator of a Lake Minnewanka tour boat and John “Jack” Watters (1878-1950), a manager at the Bankhead mine from 1905 to 1922.
Just past the the small peninsula where some early arrivals were settling in for the day, we spotted two male Common Loons near the shoreline. So Mr GeoK immediately regretted not bringing his big camera with telephone lens. But we made do with our fully-waterproof, pocket-sized camera.
Next stop: a wide, shallow “bay” with a fantastic view of Cascade Mountain. The water is very shallow along the northern shoreline, so we paddled more to the middle before pulling out our camera.
We passed Parks Canada’s Two Jack Lakeside Campground as we paddled along. Families were out on the boot-beaten lakeshore trail. Others were sitting at picnic tables. We looked for Parks Canada’s unique oTENTiks, but didn’t see them from the water.
Two Jack Canal
Just past the campground we reached the lake outlet. Continuing the counterclockwise loop along the lakeshore would make for a short paddle: less than 3 km. So we opted to head south, following the outlet into Two Jack channel that ends 2 km further south, at the water intake for TransAlta’s Cascade hydro power plant. (BTW, it’s the only power development in a Canadian National Park.)
The reflections were stunning. And Mount Rundle was full ahead to the south.
I heard a loon calling overhead. Perhaps it was one of the two we spotted earlier. In any case, I looked up to see it flying across a puffy white cloud – one of many dotting a patch of blue sky.
Low Bridge Ahead
We’ve spotted this low bridge through the trees, while cycling Lake Minnewanka Loop. As we approached, wondering whether to proceed, the two SUPers we’d seen earlier emerged from under the bridge.
On their advice, we went under the bridge on the left (east) side, where they reported a little more clearance. I tried to get photos, but they were either blurry or totally blown out. BUT, you can get a good idea what it’s like to pull yourself under the bridge using the support beams by watching Mr GeoK’s Relive video recap.
After that, it was smooth water to the end of the canal and our turnaround point. And it was near the turnaround point that we noticed we could see the Three Sisters peaks, with Big Sister partially obscured by the Ship’s Prow in Canmore.
Return to Two Jack Lake
We took our time returning to Two Jack Lake, floating for several minutes while enjoying a snack. Birds chirped all around us. We heard a train whistle down on the tracks beside the TransCanada Highway.
As we approached the lake, a red canoe approached. We called “good morning” as we paddled on by. And they called back. It sure is easy to physically distance when you’re out on the water!
Closing the Loop
Paddling along the eastern shoreline of Two Jack Lake, we spotted campers launching an inflatable kayak. In addition, we noted that clouds still hung around the summit of Cascade Mountain.
Just a few minutes later, we spotted seven Canada Geese paddling along the shoreline. They were closer to the shore than we were, as the water was quite shallow in close. Do you think it’s mom and dad with five almost-grown goslings?
Looking across the lake to the parking lot and day use area, it seemed to be almost full in the lower lot.
We continued to paddle north, towards Lake Minnewanka, and the head of Two Jack Lake. No wildlife or scenery of note until we approached another yellow, floating boom line and another piece of TransAlta’s power infrastructure.
Crossing the narrow end of the lake and turning back to the south, to the parking lot, we noticed the wind had picked up quite a bit. Therefore, it was choppy. And Mr GeoK “enjoyed” a little (maybe alot?) of splash as we neared our finish point. Our inflatable kayak bounced just a little bit as we paddled across the direction of the waves.
The pebbly shoreline was crowded, with everything from inflatable rafts, to more SUPs, canoes and kayaks. We waited for an opening and the headed for shore.
Following Parks Canada’s Recommendations
Our first time disembarking in the water, everything went smoothly.
But the gusts of wind kicked small pebbles onto our tarp and into our kayak as we went through the deflate, dry and fold routine. As a result, we used a garden hose to rinse the tarp and kayak once we got home, and dried everything off once again. Basically: clean, drain, dry the kayak and associated equipment. Then wait 48 hours before paddling on another body of water. Why? To prevent the spread of whirling disease and invasive quagga mussels.
Full details of Parks Canada’s June 12, 2021 RESTRICTED ACTIVITY bulletin re: the use of non-motorized watercraft, fishing equipment and aquatic recreational equipment can be found here. According to the Parks Canada staff member I spoke with, Self-Certification Permits will be available at all the popular lakes and trailheads to popular lakes by June 16 or 17. Although new to Banff National Park in 2021, a similar program has been running in Yoho, Kootenay and Waterton National Parks for the past couple of years.
NOTE TO SELF: add a pencil, pen or fine-tipped sharpie to our bin of kayaking supplies. 😉