After a great day paddling Upper Kananaskis Lake, we headed for another big lake for our next kayaking adventure. Lake Minnewanka is the longest lake in Banff National Park, and a popular choice for mountain biking, hiking, boating, scuba diving, backcountry camping, photography and skating!
Take the Cascade Ponds/Lake Minnewanka/Two Jack Lake exit off Highway 1. Traveling westbound, it’s the first exit for Banff. But instead of heading into the Banff townsite, take the underpass towards looming Cascade Mountain. Rather than the more scenic route past Two Jack Lake, we opted to drive the more direct route straight to the boat launch at Lake Minnewanka.
NOTE: Summer of 2021, Parks Canada is running a mandatory boat inspection station for motorized boats. It’s along the more scenic half of the loop. Follow the signs when they’re lit up and flashing arrows to turn here! For non-motorized watercraft, a new-to-Banff National Park self-certification permit system is in effect as of June 2021. At Lake Minnewanka, the permit forms/drop-off box are located at the top of the boat launch.
Parks Canada staff were directing traffic: RVs and vehicles towing trailers to one lot, passenger vehicles to the other. There’s a flush toilet facility between the two parking lots. Remember to bring a mask! I forgot mine and had to pull my shirt up over my nose and mouth. 😉
For the first time ever, we opted to drive down the boat launch! There was no one else using the boat launch facilities, so we unloaded our folded and deflated kayak and other gear right onto the dock.
As soon as set-up was complete, I loaded the crate into the trunk of our car and parked in the passenger vehicle lot. Then I dropped our self-certification permit into the box and rejoined Mr GeoK at the dock. Total set-up time approximately 15 minutes.
Unlike Vermilion Lakes, where we launched from the dock, the sizable drop from the top of the dock to the water meant we launched from the bottom of the ramp. So yes, wet feet to start our paddle. I look forward to wearing neoprene booties as soon as they arrive.
Heading South (Counterclockwise)
We paddled south from the boat launch/dock area. Why? Partly due to the sun position for photography. But mainly because Lake Minnewanka is considered advanced paddling territory and we’re still beginners. It’s fine when it’s calm, but given it’s 21 km long, there’s a lot of distance for waves to build up in a hurry. So even though it was pretty calm when we set out, we wanted to stick close to the shore, for safety.
We’d talked about parking at the small lot at the south end of the causeway. There’s room for a half-dozen vehicles, a pit toilet and access to the shoreline. Paddling past this spot, we spotted a set of stone steps between the small parking area and the shoreline. While we probably could have managed, we are glad we opted for the boat launch instead.
The first point of photographic interest? The spillway. Apparently this piece of infrastructure in the Cascade hydro power reservoir management system has been opened just once – during the June 2013 floods. Who knew? Also, this area is one of the popular scuba diving spots in Lake Minnewanka.
Since our plan was to try to make it to the Aylmer Pass Junction backcountry campground, we moved at a steady pace along the south shoreline. Despite the annual snowmelt and some rain earlier in the week, the water level was well below the high water markings on the rock bluff shoreline.
Mr GeoK spotted a couple of submerged logs. From then on, he kept a sharp lookout.
Fortunately, the only thing he spotted that caused us to change course was a group of three Common Loons.
If there’s one thing he’s confirmed, it’s that telephoto lens photography is much harder from a kayak. Even the slightest wave action can make you miss your shot. Case in point – one turned out well, but most of the shots are discards, like the second one in this grouping.
We agreed to pull in to shore for a couple of photos. The sky was clouding up, and we wanted at least some blue sky in the frame.
Over the 10 minutes or so that we were ashore, the wind really picked up and not-so-gentle waves started rolling down the lake.
We assessed the sky, the wave conditions and how far we’d come from the boat launch (about 3.5 km). And keeping in mind our limited paddling experience (this was our fourth outing), we decided to paddle like made for the far shoreline before deciding whether to continue.
Crossing the Lake
The lake is roughly one km wide for most of its length. We paddled steadily. The wave action, coming from the east, pushed us inexorably west. The largest waves were whitecaps, and we were fairly wet by the time we turned parallel to the north shoreline. Because we were busy paddling, we didn’t really stop for photos here, but there’s a video clip or two in Mr GeoK’s Relive video recap of our Lake Minnewanka kayaking adventure.
Between the waves pushing us westward and our fairly damp clothes, it was an easy decision to abandon our plan and start heading back to the boat launch.
We spotted a large group of hikers on the Lake Minnewanka Shoreline Trail where it is well above the shoreline.
The closer we got to the little bay that leads to Stewart Canyon, the more motorized boats we saw.
Inlet to Stewart Canyon
The wind and waves died back by the time we reached the inlet to Stewart Canyon. I held the kayak relatively steady while Mr GeoK shot a video clip of the waves around the toe of Mt Astley.
Then we paddled up the inlet, where we noticed “area closed” signs on the shore.
We also spotted people in rental canoes and motorized boats. These two weren’t doing much paddling, just enjoying the experience of being on the water.
Return to Boat Launch
We had to wait our turn to exit at the boat launch. Then, while Mr GeoK started the deflating process on the dock, I ran up to get the car.
Meanwhile, two other vehicles towing boat trailers lined up to use the launch. The second guy waved me ahead to park on the side of the ramp while the first guy floated his boat of his trailer.
We had the kayak deflated, drained, dried and stowed away before the first guy had his boat tied up at the dock.
And we sure appreciated the second guy letting us go ahead of him. I’m thinking we should read a bit about boat launch etiquette before our next outing, because it was all a bit awkward and we should really know what we’re doing! 🙂
Total paddling distance: 8.9 km
Total time: 2 hrs 30 minutes including 30 minutes for shoreline stop and photography
We did not make it to our planned destination (the end of the yellow line). Not sure we’re keen to kayak Lake Minnewanka again any time soon: too many motorized boats and too big for these fairly inexperienced paddlers. Maybe when we’re more experienced?