Lake Minnewanka is one of our favourite places to take beginner backpackers. The trail has gentle elevation gains (by rockies standards anyway), the views are spectacular, and you really can’t beat camping right next to the beach. The beautiful glacial lake combined with the rugged mountain views make this trail a very special place indeed. It can be a great place for a dayhike, or overnight trips up to 3 days.
The Stoney Nakoda First Nations people called it Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits). The lakeshore holds archeological sites with documented artifacts from as long as 10,000 years ago. The lake is much bigger today than it was before the dam raised the water level by 30m in 1941. The village of Minnewanka Landing was completely submerged, and is now a place scuba divers love to visit and see the abandoned structures.
9.4km (One way, to LM9)
3-5 hours one way to LM9. Check out our blog post on how to calculate how long a hike will take you
Lake Minnewanka Trailhead. There are outhouses and unreliable cell service at the trailhead.
A National Park Pass is required. If camping overnight, an overnight camping permit is also needed.
The trail can be hiked any time of year, but the best summer conditions are generally found May - October. If hiking in winter, be aware of avalanche risk. From July 10 to September 15 there are restrictions that require groups to be 4 or more people who stick close together due to bear activity.
The Lake itself is over 21km long, and there are 6 designated campsites all along the shoreline. The campsites are located roughly at the 8, 9, 11, 20, 22, and 31 kilometer marks along the trail, which makes it easy to choose the right hike length for any team. Since we were on a Women’s Intro to Backpacking and we had lots of learning to do in addition to hiking, we chose to hike out to LM9 (9 kms out) and keep our day relatively short.
After checking through everyone’s bags to make sure they had everything they needed (and not too many luxury extras), we set off on our hike. We passed the boat dock where kayaks and canoes were available for rent (thinking to ourselves perhaps we should do a padding adventure one day!) Soon we had left the busy parking lot behind us and were able to take in the beautiful mountains around us, crossing several bridges. Our trail was very well marked and easy to follow as it parallelled the shore, though some of the bridges did require some balance and a teeny bit of bravery.
The biggest hill of this hike begins just 1 kilometer in. While our legs were still fresh when we got to it, this is where we really felt the weight of our backpacks for the first time. Careful pacing and a water break mid-hill were needed to keep things enjoyable, but at least we had some amazing views to keep us company. After another water break and some high fives at the top of the hill, we continued on the pleasant path alternating between forest, rocky mountain sides, and occasional beach walking.
The day started off mostly sunny which then turned to cloudy with some rain, and we knew it had been raining heavily for a few days. This became evident when we came upon a raging creek at around the 8km mark! On most days, the creek is barely a trickle you wouldn’t think twice about stepping over; it’s not even big enough to have a name. The recent downpours meant that so much volume was coming down the creek that it just wasn’t safe to cross at the trail. We headed down to the beach, thinking that as the creek approached the lake it would spread out and be shallow enough to cross, and we were right! It was still tricky and we chose our way carefully, trying to keep our feet as dry as we could.
We made it to camp in the early afternoon, and were lucky to have improving weather. When mother nature gives you a break, take it! We learned how to pick a tent site that would stay dry, how to set up a tent, how to put up a tarp in the kitchen area, how to collect and treat water, and how to safely store our food. With all the important camp chores done, we even had time to explore the beach (without backpacks, yahoo!) and relax.
On previous trips to the area we’ve encountered bears (they left when we yelled hello), so this is a camping area where leave no trace is very important.
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