Peyto Lake: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go to Banff’s Most Beautiful Lake
Peyto Lake: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go to Banff’s Most Beautiful Lake was originally published in July 2023.
Peyto Lake, in my opinion, is Banff National Park’s most stunning lake with its almost neon turquoise waters. The ease of access to Peyto to boot, makes it one of the best stops along the Icefields Parkway.
My friends had driven the Alcan when moving back to Alaska from Colorado in 2019 and customized their routing to drive through Banff National Park on their way up and raved that Peyto Lake was their favorite stop along their road trip that took them through both Banff and Jasper National Park.
Ultimately I knew I needed to have Peyto Lake on my itinerary as I made the move from Alaska to Colorado in 2022, so I built it into my big fat moving away from the AK road trip.
Although Peyto Lake is easy to get to, there are still a few things to know before you go to ensure you have the best time possible on your visit to this gem of the Canadian Rockies.
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How Did Peyto Lake Get to Being That Beautiful Shade of Blue?
Peyto Lake is fed by the Peyto Glacier whose sediments give it that dazzling turquoise hue.
As glaciers shift and move, it grinds the rock underneath them into fine sediment which eventually gets mixed in with glacial meltwater and swept into these glacier lakes.
The rock sediment refracts light and depending on the composition the sediment is made from can vary from vibrant turquoise to sky blue to emerald teas.
This is the same process as other glacial lakes you’ll see nearby such as Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.
The waters from Peyto Lake flow out and create the Mistaya River before eventually melding into the North Saskatchewan River.
Where Did Peyto Lake Get its Name?
One of Banff’s first guides back in the early 20th century was a man named Bill Peyto.
What is the Elevation of Peyto Lake?
Sat high in the Canadian Rockies, Peyto Lake is situated at an elevation of 1880 meters. The deepest part of Peyto Lake is 90 meters deep.
When is the Best Time to Visit Peyto Lake
The best months to visit Peyto Lake is between May and October in terms of weather, though it’s possible to see it in winter too.
The best time of day to see the lake is either sunrise or sunset, though midday it’s just as beautiful.
Can You Visit the Shoreline of Peyto Lake?
Yes, you can reach the shores of Peyto Lake, but the best views are from above.
There is a trail that leads to the shore from near the viewing platform which is a breeze going down but a steep uphill coming back.
Swimming at Peyto Lake
If you do make the journey down to the shore of Peyto Lake you can take a dip if you dare (though I wouldn’t recommend it for most as hypothermia can be a real potential risk).
The waters of Peyto Lake are ice cold, just barely hovering above 0°C, so you’ve been warned.
The Easiest Way to Visit Peyto Lake
If you’re short on time or just don’t want to (or physically can’t do any trekking), you’re in luck. Peyto Lake has a viewing platform, making access to those perfect views a breeze.
The only downside to the Peyto Lake Viewing Platform is that it can get crazily crowded, especially in the popular summer months of June-August.
The bus turn around sits right next to the viewing platform, so if you’ll be taking a tour bus trip through Banff National Park, you’ll walk a very short distance to reach the viewpoint.
If you’ve self-driven in Banff, you’ll have a short uphill hike along a paved path to reach the Peyto Lake Viewing Platform.
How to Escape the Crowds to the Peyto Lake Panorama Overlook
So as I mentioned above, the viewing deck at Peyto Lake can get quite crowded.
I visited Banff National Park in late September 2022, and to say that the viewing platform when I arrived was a zoo of selfie sticks and people pushing their way to the railing was an understatement.
That said, on my way back past the viewing platform, it wasn’t so bad- what had happened was I had first arrived at the same time as a packed tour bus.
I saw the status of the Viewpoint and thought f*** that and continued on the hiking trail towards Bow Summit from the Peyto Lake Platform. The crowds thinned to almost none just a short distance from the lake.
On my way back down I noticed some paths veering to the south of the platform and followed one into the forest.
Eventually, I arrived at an epic viewpoint that I nearly had to myself bar two women and their dogs having professional photos taken with their dogs (I’m guessing their wedding photos since they looked like wedding gowns they had on).
So, if you want to see Peyto Lake and get away from the mob of people at the platform, get on a path into the woods heading to the south. If you use Maps.me, you’ll see some of these “secret” viewpoints marked on the map.
Another Hack to Avoid the Crowds: Get There Early
Get an early start and catch the sunrise over Peyto Lake. Not only is it supposed to be beautiful but you’ll also beat the masses here.
The Bow Summit Hike Above Peyto Lakes
If you’re looking to get out and stretch your legs and go on a hike you may want to consider the Bow Summit Hike to get a different perspective of Peyto Lake.
The Bow Summit Hike is an out-and-back trek that is 6.6 kilometers (4.1 miles) in total. There’s a bit of elevation gain at 313 meters (1027 feet).
The hike takes the average hiker 2-3 hours to complete.
The Bow Summit Hike is best done in the summer months of June to September. It’s still possible to hike to Bow Summit in winter and spring but crampons and snowshoes might be helpful (and even necessary in some cases).
Areas surrounding are quite steep so caution should be taken as there is a considerable avalanche danger here.
A Different View of Peyto Lake: Observation Peak
While I didn’t do this one myself, Observation Peak offers great views of Peyto Lake at more of a challenge than Bow Summit.
The trek is much steeper with 1100 meters (3600 feet) of elevation gain over a short 4 kilometers one way (2.5 miles).
See the Aurora Borealis Over Peyto Lake
The aurora, or northern lights, can be viewed here at Peyto Lake. It’s a popular spot to head if there’s a chance there’s a solar flare and clear skies.
March and September are the best chances of viewing the northern lights but don’t count on seeing them in the summer months of May-August as it’s probably too light late into the evening to see them at this northerly latitude.
How to get to Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is located just off of the Icefields Parkway which connects Banff National Park to Jasper National Park.
Look for a sign pointing out the way to Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Lookout and take this turn (left if coming from Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, on the right if coming from Jasper National Park.
Once you reach the parking lot, you will see the trailhead to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint on the west side of the lot.
The hike from the parking lot is along a paved path and should take about 10 minutes. It is uphill, so if you’re out of shape, take your time.
If you are on a tour that includes Peyto Lake, you will be dropped off at the bus turnaround next to the viewing deck which eliminates the need to do this short uphill walk.
Handicapped parking is available up top next to the viewing platform as well.
Camping Near Peyto Lake
Camping is not permitted at Peyto Lake, unfortunately, but there are plenty of places nearby to camp in Banff National Park.
There are several campgrounds operated by the Canadian national park service around Banff to choose from.
They vary in price between $15-30 CAD per night. Some are by reservation while others are first come first serve.
Entry Fees to Peyto Lake
While Peyto Lake itself doesn’t have an entry fee, it does sit within Banff National Park which does have a fee for visiting. The fees to enter Banff National Park are as follows:
- Adults 18+: $10.50
- Youth under 18: Free
- Seniors 65+: $9.00
Note that the entry fee gets you into both Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Facilities at Peyto Lake
At Peyto Lake, you’ll only find basic facilities that include garbage bins and outhouse toilets.
Other tips for Visiting Peyto Lake
- Dress warmly: Weather can be erratic here at Peyto Lake and can get cold at certain times even in summer. Bringing layers would be wise.
- No Phone Signal: There is no mobile service in the area around Peyto Lake. If you plan to hike bring a GPS device or download some offline maps to use.
- Pack sunscreen and bug spray: Given that Peyto is at a bit of an elevated altitude you’ll want to take care to avoid sunburns. Mosquitos can be quite annoying, especially in the summer so bug spray will come in handy.
Have any questions about visiting Peyto Lake?
Ask in the comments sections below.