The Ultimate Guide to Vermilion Lakes: All You Need to Know

Vermilion Lakes

Vermilion Lakes is a three-lake wetland, 440 hectares (1087 acres) in size and located at the foot of Mount Norquay in the Bow River valley. Its excellent accessibility via Vermilion Lakes Drive makes it a perfect location to relax and enjoy the view from one of the benches or jetties.

Coordinates: 51°10′41″N 115°35′56″W

The three lakes are fed by the Bow River. The third lake also has a hot spring. Because Vermilion Lakes is in a wetland area, it’s a habitat for many birds, some not found anywhere else in the park. The site is also home to many other animals, such as muskrats, beavers, elk, bald eagles, ospreys, and occasionally bears and moose.  

Remarkable about this place is that the view makes you believe you’re in the middle of the wilderness. At the same time cars drive along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) right behind you. And behind the trees, on the edge of the lakes and at the foot of Mount Rundle, lies Banff town

Thanks to its accessibility, you can easily take the famous photo of the lakes with Rundle Mountain dominating the sky in the background. Many photographers visit Vermilion Lakes at sunset because of the beautiful sky colors. 

It often results in stunning photos. But also a visit around sunrise ensures spectacular images with the dew hanging over the water. In both cases, you are also more likely to encounter wildlife. 


Vermilion Lakes lies in the middle of the Bow Valley, at the foot of Norquay Mountain to the north and northwest of Rundle Mountain. To the west, Mount Bourgeau rises high above the valley. The three lakes are about a 2.5 kilometer (1.54 mile) walk from the center of the town of Banff, perfect for a nice walk after dinner and enjoying the sunset. 


You can visit Vermilion Lakes year round. Even in winter, the road along the lakes is perfectly passable. However, the best months are June through September. During this time, the water is not frozen and the lakes provide a beautiful backdrop for stunning pics.

If you’re in the area in the winter, don’t miss Vermilion Lakes. It’s a great place for skating and the ice has an extraordinary texture due to the frozen methane bubbles, which makes for beautiful and remarkable pictures. That is, of course, if the lakes are not (yet) covered in a thick layer of snow. With a snowy Rundle Mountain in the background, you have all the ingredients for Insta-magic.


It doesn’t matter when you get to the lakes. They are always beautiful. However, it can be chilly in the mornings, sometimes even in the middle of summer.

If I had to tell you the best times to visit Vermilion Lakes, I’d say sunrise and sunset. It makes for beautiful pictures and the lakes aren’t crowded at these times of day.


If you’re there to take in the scenery, take pics, have a drink and a quick bite, 1 hour at Vermilion Lakes should be enough. But it really depends on your desires and interests.

If you want to hike, you could spend a couple of hours more at Vermilion Lakes. There’s basically only two hikes you can do, see below.

You can also take a canoe trip on the lake to explore the lake and its surroundings from the water. Banff Canoe Club offers canoe rentals, see below.

Dramatic sunrise over Vermilion Lakes with Mount Rundle dominating the background


Vermilion Lakes is located between the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) and the CRP Railway, west of the town of Banff. You can reach the lakes via the 4.3 kilometer (2.65 miles) long parallel road Vermilion Lakes Road.

The start of this road is only two kilometers from Banff town center. Coming from the direction of Lake Louise, you’ll find Vermilion Lakes Road at the junction of Mount Norquay and Banff town. Then take the first exit on your right-hand side.   

Vermilion Lakes has few parking facilities. Fortunately, you can easily park your car along the road in many places. It is rarely swamped, so finding a place is no problem. The road is a dead-end, but at the end, it is widened so you can turn around your car or campervan.


Vermilion Lakes is one of the most iconic and famous views in Banff National Park with Mount Rundle in the background, so you’ll always find a few tourists here in high season. The good thing is that the lakes are never really crowded.


Vermilion Lakes typically starts to melt in the spring, usually between late April and the end of May. Vermilion Lakes typically starts to freeze over in November.


The weather is often moderate and pleasant during the summer. But since you’re in the Rocky Mountains, that could change at any moment, so it’s important to pack accordingly. Here’s a short list of things you should pack for your visit to Vermilion Lakes.

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Warm jacket for the cooler evenings
  • Long pants (in case there are too many mosquitoes, it varies from year to year)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun glasses
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Bug repellent
  • Camera (or smartphone)


Staying overnight at Vermilion Lakes is not possible, but Banff town is within walking distance. There you can choose from many dozens of accommodations.

#1 Juniper Hotel

✓ Free bicycle rentals
✓ 24/7 front desk

Book it


The Juniper Hotel and Bistro is the closest hotel to Vermilion Lakes. It’s just across the Trans-Canada Highway. A perfect base for exploring the park.

Juniper Hotel
Address: 1 Juniper Way, Banff 

#2 Banff Park Lodge Resort

✓ Indoor swimming Pool
✓ Spa

Book it


Banff Park Lodge is located on the edge of downtown Banff and close to the TransCanada Highway. You’ll be quickly on your way to explore the park and within walking distance of the many shops and restaurants Banff’s downtown has to offer.

Banff Park Lodge resort
201 Lynx Street

#3 Mount Royal Hotel

✓ Hot tub
✓ Airport shuttle

Book it


Located right on Banff Avenue, in the heart of the shopping district, the Mount Royal Hotel is perfect for exploring the town of Banff and all the good things it has to offer on foot.

Mount Royal Hotel
138 Banff Avenue


It’s possible to camp near Vermilion Lakes. The best place to do this is the Tunnel Mountain Village Campground. It’s located close to the town of Banff and consists of three separate campgrounds. A little further on, you’ll find Two Jack Lakeside Campground and Two Jack Lakeside Campground at Two Jack Lake.

Tunnel Mountain Village I Campground

Address: Tunnel Mountain Road, Banff
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783
Overnight stay: subject to availability, reservations possible
Number of sites: 618
Facilities: camp kitchens, picnic tables, fire pits, firewood, hot showers, flush toilets, handicap access, sani dump
Campfire permit: available at the campground
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Price: CAD 28.00
Period: 13 May – 4 October
Distance to Vermilion Lakes: 7 km (4.35 mi)

Tunnel Mountain Village II Campground 

Address: Tunnel Mountain Road, Banff
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783
Overnight stay: subject to availability, reservations possible
Number of sites: 188
Facilities: camp kitchens, picnic tables, fire pits, firewood, hot showers, flush toilets, handicap access, sani dump
Campfire permit: available at the campground
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Price: CAD 33.01
Period: all year
Distance to Vermilion Lakes: 4.7 km (2.9 mi)

Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court

Address: Tunnel Mountain Road, Banff
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783
Overnight stay: subject to availability, reservations possible
Number of sites: 321
Facilities: camp kitchens, picnic tables, fire pits, firewood, hot showers, flush toilets, disabled access, sani dump
Campfire permit: available at the campground
Kind of accommodation: motorhomes
Price: CAD 39.04
Period: 13 May – 4 October
Distance to Vermilion Lakes: 4.7 km (2.9 mi)

Two Jack Lake Main Campground

Address: Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr, Alberta T0L 2C0
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783
Overnight stay: based on availability, reservations possible
Number of sites: 380 
Facilities: drinking water, flush toilets, cooking area, picnic tables, fire pits and sani dump 
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Price: CAD 21.97
Period: 24 June – 7 September
Bus stop: Roam Transit
Distance to Vermilion Lakes: 11.9 km (7.34 mi)

Two Jack Lakeside Campground

Address: Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, Improvement District No. 9, AB
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783
Overnight stay: subject to availability, reservations possible
Number of sites: 74
Facilities: camp kitchens, picnic tables, fire pits, flush toilets, hot showers, disabled access
Campfire permit: available at the campsite
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Price: CAD 28.00
Period: 21 May – 4 October
Distance to Vermilion Lakes: 10.7 km (6.65 mi)

Two women sitting on a jetty on Vermilion Lakes and enjoying the sunset


There are several activities that you can do around Vermilion Lakes, like hikes around them. And you can do canoe-, kayak-, or paddleboard tours on the lakes. In winter, there is excellent snowshoeing and ice skating.

Hiking around Vermilion Lakes

There are only two hikes you can do near Vermilion Lakes. Both are short and easy. It’s a nice extra to visiting the lakes without spending a whole day on it.

Fenland Trail1.8 km (1.11 mi)0.5 hour55 m (180 ft)Mount Norquay Road
Echo Creek Heritage Trail3.5 km (2.16 mi)1 hour137 m (449 ft)End of Vermilion Lakes Road
Hikes around Vermilion Lakes

Fenland Trail

The Fenland Trail near Vermilion Lakes in Banff is a choice for a quick hike, and the trailhead is located just a few minutes from downtown Banff.

The trail itself is a simple, flat walk that explores the marshlands around Echo Creek. Along the way, you’ll find many interpretive signs that provide information about the area’s wildlife and history.

The Fenland Trail is a 1.8 kilometers (1.11 mi) loop, and it’s accessible year-round. In the summer, you’ll be surrounded by greenery and wildflowers. In the winter, the trail is a popular spot for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Just be sure to check the trail conditions before heading out.

Echo Creek Heritage Trail

The Echo Creek Heritage Trail near Banff is a great scenic hike that’s not too challenging. The trail is a 3.5 kilometers (2.16 mi) out-and-back route that follows the Banff National Park Legacy Trail.

The trail is generally considered an easy route, and it’ll take you about one hour to complete. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by stunning mountain views and beautiful scenery. It’s also a popular spot for birding, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding.

The trailhead is located at the end of the Vermilion Lakes Road, near the town of Banff. Be aware of cyclists when hiking this trail.

Canoe, Kayak or Paddleboard Rentals

If you want to explore Vermilion Lakes from the water, renting a canoe, kayak or standup paddleboard (SUP) is a good idea. You can do this at The Banff Canoe Club on Wolf Street and Bow Avenue corner, in Banff town. Rentals are by the hour on a first-come, first-served basis. You can paddle up Vermilion Lakes via Forty Mile Creek. You can also explore Echo Creek.

Own Canoe, Kayak or Paddleboard

It is also possible to use your own canoe, kayak or paddleboard. You can launch yours at the corner of Wolf Street and Bow Avenue. The canoe docks are municipal recreation facilities and are open to the public. 

Canoe Rental Vermilion Lakes
The Banff Canoe Club
Address: corner of Wolf Street and Bow Avenue
Phone: +1 403 – 762 5005

Fishing in Vermilion Lakes

Fishing is allowed in Vermilion Lakes. However, a national park permit is required. This is available at the visitor center in Banff, most sporting goods shops in town and also online. Also, a national park pass is required. A provincial (Alberta) fishing license is not sufficient.

Any angler under sixteen may fish in the lake without a license if accompanied by someone under sixteen who holds a national park pass. The maximum number of fish to be caught equals the limit of the person holding a license.

There are two types of fishing permits: 
Day Permit: CAD 9.80 
Annual permit: CAD 34.30

– It is mandatory to put back caught fish to the place where it was caught.
– The use of natural bait is not allowed in Banff National Park.
– In addition to a fishing license, you must also have a National Park Pass.

Fish Species in Vermilion Lakes

Fish in the lake include brook trout, rainbow trout, redthroat trout and whitefish.

Skating on Vermilion Lakes

A frozen Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park with a snow-covered Mount Rundle in the background

Vermilion Lakes is excellent for ice skating in winter. In fact, because the lakes are not too deep, Vermilion Lakes are the first lakes in the park where you can skate. Often as early as November. Add to that its location near the town of Banff and it can get busy with skaters, early in winter. In November and often in December the lake is usually not covered by a thick layer of snow. So no snow shoveling before you can glide over the ice. 

Snowshoeing around Vermilion Lakes

In winter, you can also enjoy the view around Vermilion Lakes. One of those ways is snowshoeing. It allows you to walk with relative ease over the thick snow in the coldest months. There are no official snowshoe trails, but the Fenland Trail and the Echo Creek Heritage Trail (see above for both trails) are doable on snowshoes.


The area has been visited by first nations for many centuries. However, the railway construction through the Bow Valley has had the most significant impact on the area. Due to Canadian Pacific Railroad’s expansionism, a railway was built right through the area in the first half of the 1880s, which made human habitation possible for the first time. 

Before long a cart track was built for transporting building materials. Several years later the road fell into disuse, but in 1894 it was connected on the north side of the lakes to Lynx Street, near the railway station. It meant access to Vermilion Lakes.

After the founding of the town of Banff in 1885, boating on the lakes and the adjacent Bow River and fishing were among the first recreation modes. Later, Vermilion Lakes became the setting for ice skating, curling and ice hockey in the winter months.


Banff Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 
Address: 224 Banff Avenue, Banff
Phone: +1 403 – 762 1550

Lake Louise Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 9 am – 5 pm
Address: Samson Mall, 201 Village Rd, Lake Louise
Phone: +1-403 – 522 3833
E-mail address:


Can I swim in Vermilion Lakes?

Yes, you can swim in the Vermilion Lakes, but the water is freezing. You can only swim for a short time, usually about 15 minutes, before you become hypothermic. The water in Vermilion Lakes is also very shallow and marshy, so it’s probably not the best place in the park to take a dip.

Do I need a park pass for Vermilion Lakes? 

Yes, you need a valid park pass to enter Banff National Park, which includes Vermilion Lakes. You can purchase a pass online or at various locations throughout the park, including the Banff and Lake Louise Visitor Centres.

Are dogs allowed at Vermilion Lakes? 

Yes, dogs are allowed at Vermilion Lakes but they must be on a leash at all times and you must clean up after them.

Can I fly a drone at Vermilion Lakes?

No, flying drones is not allowed in Banff National Park, including at Vermilion Lakes.

Can I picnic at Vermilion Lakes?

Yes and no, there are no designated picnic areas on the lake itself. However, you can sit on one of the jetties on the lakes, have your picnic there, and enjoy the majestic scenery.

Can I rent ice skates at Vermilion Lakes?

No, you can’t rent ice skates at Vermilion Lakes in the winter. However, there are several outdoor stores in the nearby town of Banff that rent skates, like Snowtips-Bactrax (225 Bear Street), and Ultimate Sports (206 Banff Avenue).

Can I hike around Vermilion Lakes?

No, but you can hike along Vermilion Lakes Road along the north shores of the lakes to the Legacy Trail. It’s an easy and nearly flat hike.

A dramatic sunset over Vermilion Lakes with Mount Rundle dominating the colorful background

Can I bike around Vermilion Lakes? 

No, you can’t bike around Vermilion Lakes. But you can ride along the north shores of the lake by following the Vermilion Lakes Road. And if you follow the paved road along the Bow River from the Cave and Basin parking lot into Sundance Canyon, you can also see Vermilion Lakes in places.

Can I bike to Vermilion Lakes? 

Yes, you can bike to Vermilion Lakes. It’s very easy to get there on paved roads. It’s only a short ride from the town of Banff.

Can I drink from Vermilion Lakes?

It is not recommended to drink water directly from Vermilion Lakes, as it is not treated for consumption.

Can I get altitude sickness at Vermilion Lakes?

Vermilion Lakes is located at an elevation of 1,418 meters (4,652 ft), which is not technically considered high altitude. However, you may still experience symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. To avoid these symptoms, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and strenuous activity, and acclimate slowly to the altitude.

Can I see the northern lights at Vermilion Lakes?

While it is possible to see the northern lights (aurora borealis) at Vermilion Lakes, it is not a common occurrence. The best time to see the northern lights is typically in the winter months, when the nights are longer and darker.

Can I see Vermilion Lakes from the Banff Gondola?

No, not really. The slopes of Sulphur Mountain block a proper view of Vermilion Lakes. You might be able to make out the easternmost lake if you look closely.

Do I need bear spray at Vermilion Lakes?

Yes, bear spray is recommended at Vermilion Lakes and all areas of Banff National Park. Bears are common in the park, and can be unpredictable. 

You can rent or buy bear spray in Banff as well as in Lake Louise.

In Banff, it is available at the Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue) and at most sporting goods stores, such as Atmosphere (124 Banff Avenue), UNLTD Skate & Snow (319 Banff Avenue), and Monod Sports (129 Banff Avenue). 

You can also visit the Visitor Centre in Lake Louise (201 Village Road) and Wilson Mountain Sports (101 Lake Louise Drive). 

To keep bears at bay, make noise by talking, singing, or clapping your hands. Bears are more likely to avoid you if they hear you coming. 

And always hike in a group. As Vermilion Lakes is busy there will always be other people on your trail which makes a bear encounter less likely.

Other articles you might be interested in:
How to Make Sure Mosquitoes Don’t Ruin Your Stay in Banff
Plan Your Banff Itinerary – Know the Distances
How Much Does a Banff Vacation Cost in 2023? (Crazy Numbers)


As a former Banffite, I love writing about my favorite part of the world. I keep coming back to enjoy the park's mesmerising beauty. It never fails to impress me. With my extensive knowledge of the area, I aim to provide you with the best information on Banff that you can find on the internet.

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