The Ultimate Guide to renting a canoe in Banff and Jasper (2020 edition)

If you’re heading to the Banff this year, renting a canoe and paddling on one of our famous lakes or rivers is an absolute must. Canoeing in Banff is so quintessentially Canadian, that it really should be at the top of your bucket list!

But where can you rent a canoe from and how much do they cost? Is there anywhere you can rent a canoe if you’re on a budget?

We’ll answer these questions and more in this list of 9 places you can rent a canoe in Banff, Jasper and few other spots in the Canadian Rockies. To make things easier, we’ve listed them from the least expensive to the most expensive.

Note, this is not a complete list of all the rivers and lakes that you can visit with a canoe, but rather a list of lakes and rivers that allow you to rent on-site.

To give you a quick summary, here’s a table with all the locations and prices for canoe rentals:

Canoe Rental Prices in Banff (and Beyond)

Rental locationPriceArea
University of Calgary$26 per dayCalgary
Pyramid Lake$40 per hourJasper
Banff Canoe Club$45 for non-membersBanff
Cameron Lake$50 for one hourWaterton
Lac Beauvert$55 per hourJasper
Maligne Lake$75-$95 per dayJasper
Emerald Lake$70 per hourYoho
Moraine Lake$80 per hour + TaxBanff
Lake Louise$95 per hour (non-guests) + Tax, $45 for hotel guestsBanff

These prices are accurate as of July 2020, unless otherwise specified.

2020 Summer shuttle bus update:  Tickets for the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Shuttle buses will now only be available by making an online reservation in advance. In 2020, it will no longer be possible to purchase a walk up spot for either bus. Tickets for the 2020 buses will be released on April 1, 2020; please check the Parks Canada Website and register for email alerts for important updates.

The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre

  • Cost: Approximately $30 per day, depending on the canoe you rent.
  • Hours:
    • September – June: Tuesday – Thursday: 8 am – 6 pm, Friday – Monday: 8 am – 8 pm
    • July – August: Everyday: 8 am – 8 pm (except holidays)
  • Location: Kinesiology B180, 2500 University Drive NW. Calgary T2N1N4
  • Website: https://outdoor-centre.ucalgary.ca/rentals-services/rental-prices

Rent from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre for the probably the cheapest canoe rentals in the province. Great equipment for a fraction of the cost of renting at the actual lakes. You can also rent a number of different types of equipment, including rafts, kayaks, white water rafts and more. Click here to check out their equipment and prices.

Why we love renting from the University of Calgary

You can rent for an entire day for a fraction of the cost of any of the other lakes. As there are no restrictions on taking your own boats to any of the lakes, you can easily take your canoe out on Lake Louise or Moraine Lake for less than $30.

The downside

Renting from University of Calgary requires you to be able to transport the canoe yourself. This may not be possible for visitors from out of town. Renting from the University of Calgary also means driving back to Calgary, which will be a 2 hour 40 minute round trip from Banff

Pyramid Lake in Jasper

canoeing on pyramid lake jasper

Pyramid Lake in Jasper is an extremely secluded Lake, hidden away in Jasper. You may know this lake from popular photos of Pyramid Island.

Why you’ll love canoeing on Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake doesn’t get an awful lot of traffic, and it’s not a particularly popular spot to canoe in. As a result, you may well find yourself to be the only paddlers! Incredible views with mountains on all sides. On a quiet day you can hear the loons and wildlife around you, and you’re just a few minutes’ drive from the town of Jasper.

The downside?

When we canoed here, there was a very strong wind blowing away from the dock. This meant that it was quite challenging to get back within our allotted hour. This is not just an issue with Pyramid Lake, as you’ll find this happens on most lakes you can rent from around these parts. Life jackets are included.

Pyramid Lake isn’t glacial fed, so the waters aren’t bright blue, just your typical brownish lake colour. It isn’t the same as canoeing in Banff, honestly. This may be why it’s so cheap (aside from the fact that you have to trek all the way to Jasper!)

Banff Canoe Club

  • Cost: $45 per hour for non members, $25 for members (membership is included when you pay $45 for your first hour).
  • Location: Corner of Wolf St. & Bow Ave, Banff (behind the hospital)
  • Website: banffcanoeclub.com/

The Banff canoe club is the most economical option for anyone staying Banff, and it’s the only place you can rent from that allows you to paddle on a river. It’s also the only place you can actually go canoeing in Banff itself – you can easily walk there from most hotels.

From the Canoe Club, you’ll be paddling upstream along the Bow River. You can also decide to detour from the river and head into Vermillion Lakes.

If you decide to paddle upstream, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see local river wildlife, such as muskrats and beavers.

Why we love the Banff Canoe Club

It’s super cheap and whereas normally you’re fighting the wind to get back to the dock, the return journey here is downstream so it’s super easy. You’ll see lots of wildlife and there are plenty of boats to rent. We rented 4 canoes at the same time, allowing us to fit our whole family in at once!

You can literally rent 3 boats here for the price of one at Lake Louise, prompting us to ask ourselves, “is it really worth renting at Lake Louise?”. Plus, if you buy a membership to the Banff Canoe club, subsequent visits become $25 per hour, instead of $45.

In my personal opinion, renting from the Banff Canoe Club feels like a real Canadian canoe experience. Within minutes, you feel like you’re paddling alone down the river, like a pioneer. It’s much more exciting than lake canoeing, if you ask me.

You can also detour up a small tributary and paddle into Vermillion Lakes.

You can also rent kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) from the Canoe Club too!

The downside

Again, this is cheap because it’s not a bright blue glacial lake. Other than that, there aren’t any downsides!

Cameron Lake in Waterton

  • Cost: $50 for 1 hour, $75 for 2, $105 for a half day
  • Location: Akamina Parkway in Waterton Lakes Nationals Park, 16km from the town of Waterton. Located at the shore of Cameron Lake.
  • Website: banffcanoeclub.com/

If you’re looking to go a little further afield, Waterton is a great place to explore. Unfortunately much of the forest was destroyed in a recent forest fire, but most of the previous closures have now been lifted. The only major hike that still remains closed is the Bear’s Hump hike.

If you’re looking for an adventure, take the bus to Cameron Lake and walk the challenging Alderson Carthew Hike back to the town. It’s a one way beast with incredible views!

Why we like canoeing at Cameron Lake

CAnoeing on CAmeron Lake Waterton

The backdrop at Cameron Lake is just stunning, and it’s located at the start of one of our favourite hikes in Waterton; the Alderson Carthew Hike! It’s also pretty cheap, especially if you want to hang out for a few hours, or if you have a big group that wants to take turns using the canoe.

On a side note, one of Canada’s top hikes, Crypt Lake, is in Waterton, so it should be on your radar regardless of whether or not you intend to paddle!

The downside?

This is a big lake that often gets strong winds. We got blown right to the back of the lake and had to hug the edge to get ourselves back. It was a real struggle to fight such strong winds. This obviously won’t be the case every time but it was for us!

It’s also a bit more of a mission to get to. Waterton is really out in the middle of nowhere and almost demands a couple of days to make it worth while.

Note: Waterton does not allow you to bring your own boats unless you have a valid permit!

Canoeing on Lac Beauvert in Jasper National Park

This is a beautiful, calm, blue (ish) lake in Jasper National Park. It doesn’t quite have the blue colours of most glacial lakes, but it’s certainly more interesting than Cameron or Pyramid Lake.

Lac Beauvert happens to have the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge on its shores, so although guests can’t canoe for free, they do have free access to pedal boats and SUPs.

The lake is relatively small, and has plenty of sheltered pockets that allow you to stay out of the wind. On a beautiful day, this is a hard lake to beat, and is significantly cheaper than canoeing in Banff.

Why we love canoeing on Lac Beauvert in Jasper

Not many people think you can paddle here if you’re not staying at the Fairmont, so it tends to be pretty deserted. The lake is beautiful with stunning scenery and the price is very reasonable compared to Banff. You can also go inside and get some fantastic food from the Fairmont when you’ve finished!

Lac Beauvert is also pretty close to the town of Jasper, so is easily accessible (although you’ll definitely need a car). While you’re in Jasper, make sure you check out some of the other amazing things to do!

The downside?

It’s not quite a glacial lake like Lake Louise or Moraine, so the water isn’t bright blue, however it is a beautiful shade of green. Otherwise it’s pretty awesome to paddle here!

Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park

Canoeing to Spirit Island

Maligne Lake canoeing adventures have the potential to be the most epic of all these options. This is because Maligne Lake is the home of Spirit Island, a spot which has become extremely popular with photographers. There is a backcountry campground at Spirit Island which is only accessible by boat, therefore taking a canoe for a 2 day, overnight trip has become quite popular.

Canoe rentals for a single day are popular and start from $80 per day. However, the Spirit Island journey is a 17 mile paddle (round trip), along a large body of open water. It takes roughly half a day in each direction, with the return journey being noticeably harder as you’ll be fighting against the wind.

You cannot do a round trip to Spirit island with a single day rental. It has been known for people to paddle through the night in order to arrive for sunrise, but all of these people have brought their own canoes. This isn’t an option through a rental company, unless you pay for multiple days.

Multi-day Spirit Island canoe adventures

It is possible to rent canoes for multiple days in order to visit spirit island, but it’s very expensive (from $510CAD). On the plus side, it comes with a great deal of gear bundled in.

Why canoeing on Maligne Lake is awesome

If you can make it to Spirit Island, this will make for one epic adventure that 99% of people will never have time to do! As an alternative option, you can take the Spirit Island Cruise but I’ve generally heard pretty disappointing reviews- I’m told you’re not given nearly enough time at Spirit Island.

The downside?

This is a huge lake, and the wind generally blows you away from the shore. If you’re not careful you could drift a long way and really struggle to get back, even if your intention is to stay close to the edge of the lake. I don’t recommend paddling here if you’re inexperienced.

If you do opt to paddle to Spirit Island, it’s a gargantuan journey. I’ve heard many stories of choppy water, brutal winds, waves and massive sense of humour failures. Do your research and know what you’re getting into!

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park

canoeing on emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is probably our favourite place to canoe in the vicinity of Banff, although it’s actually located in Yoho National Park. Emerald Lake is just over an hour’s drive from Banff, so it’s an easy journey and well worth the effort!

Why we love paddling on Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake has a beautiful deep blue/green colour, and on a still day it feels like you’re paddling through glass. I’ve had some of my most memorable canoeing experiences here, and have even photographed a canoe proposal at Emerald!

Aside from the Banff Canoe Club, it’s also the cheapest place to rent a canoe near Banff.

The downside?

It’s a big lake with only a few canoes, so on a busy summer day, you may have to wait a little. It’s not possible to make reservations

Canoeing on Moraine Lake

canoeing on moraine lake, canoeing in banff
  • Cost: approx $80 per hour + tax (a $40 reduction from 2019 – as of July 2020)
  • Location: The shores of Moraine Lake
  • Website: https://morainelake.com/day-visits/
  • Hours: 9am-5pm – The season only runs during mid June to mid September due to water levels. Do not bank on the boathouse staying open until 5pm if it isn’t busy. Sometimes they close early.

For many, this is the holy grail of canoeing in the Canadian Rockies. It’s what most people picture when they imagine canoeing in Banff.. but if you want to paddle here it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. There was a time when a canoe wasn’t too expensive here, but every year the price seems to increase with the demand.

This lake is fantastic to paddle on because of the incredible blue colour of the water. This colour comes from rock flour; sediment deposited by glaciers that reflect blue and absorb every other colour.

Paddling in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is beyond beautiful, and to me, there’s nowhere more special to paddle. Guests staying at Moraine Lake Lodge may find themselves with free boat tickets!

Why we love canoeing at Moraine Lake

canoes on moraine lake

I mean, it’s pretty obvious right? And it’s about the only place you can escape from the crowds at Moraine Lake!

The downside?

Canoeing on Moraine Lake is very expensive (although with less demand this year, they’ve dropped the prices by 50%), and often there aren’t enough boats to go around. The season is also shorter than most, as Moraine Lake stays frozen longer and the water level recedes substantially in Winter.

Canoeing on Lake Louise

  • Cost: approx $95 + tax for non guests, $45 for guests (some Fairmont deals offer canoe rentals as part of your room). We were told that the prices will slowly increase as the season progresses if demand continues to rise, and that they were aiming to hit $150 per hour this year! So apparently visiting now is better than later! (We were told this in July 2020).
  • Location: The boathouse at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
  • Website: https://www.fairmont.com/lake-louise/activities/canoeing-on-lake-louise/
  • Hours: Generally around 9am to sunset. You can also extra for a special sunrise canoe with breakfast included. There are also special sunset paddles at 8pm in Summer that require booking in advance

Finally, we get to the last and most expensive option on this very, very long list of places to go canoeing in Banff, Jasper and the Rockies.

Lake Louise is, by far, the busiest and most sought after location to go canoeing in Banff. In summer, there are frequently long, long lines outside the boathouse before they open in the morning. Be warned, it is highly competitive and there are a lot of incompetent nincompoops on the water who will probably crash into you (ok not probably, but sadly I’ve seen it happen on several occasions).

Can you tell that this isn’t my favourite place to paddle?

Ok, crowds aside, this is an absolutely stunning place to paddle, and the milky blue water here almost defies logic. It’s truly magical and if you feel like blowing $130 $95, it’s quite an experience.

Don’t forget, you can still rent a canoe or kayak from Calgary for $30 and bring it here, even if it raises a few eyebrows. It’s totally legal (see photo below for proof)!

kayak on lake louise
That time we rented kayaks from the University of Calgary and took them to Lake Louise

Why we love paddling on Lake Louise

This is the iconic place to paddle. Everyone wants to say they’ve paddled here, and there’s something so Canadian about paddling in a bright red canoe on Lake Louise. It’s also quite a big lake, so there’s plenty of space to explore.

You’re also right in front of the Fairmont, so within seconds you can be indoors enjoying a delicious hot chocolate or afternoon tea (currently not available yet thanks to COVID). You can also go for a hike on one of the many incredible hikes that begin at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise!

The downside?

The crowds are out of control here, it’s super expensive and you might have to wait for a long time before you can get a boat. (We were told that when they opened, the canoes sold out in 28 minutes while we were there in early July, 2020, and the wait was 1.5 hours after that.

Oh and by the way, if you want the bright turquoise colour, you’ll have to wait until a little later in the season. Late July and August to be safe! Earlier on in the season it’s very clear.

When is the best time of year to go Canoeing in Banff?

Winter actually lasts a lot longer here than you might think. Many of the lakes retain some ice well into June, in fact. To be safe, I would say that the optimal season for lake canoeing in Banff is between late July and late September.

This varies from year to year, depending on seasonal fluctuations. Just know that conditions vary wildly here, and your experience canoeing in Banff might vary dramatically depending on the crowds and/or weather. If you plan to be here for several days, I would try to be flexible and book once you’ve had a good look at the weather forecast (fyi the 14 day forecast is useless here).

What should you wear to go canoeing?

honestly, you can wear anything if you’re just paddling gently, but know that the wind blowing off the water can be quite cold sometimes. I would generally pack some extra layers in case it’s cold, and possibly a waterproof layer in case you splash while you’re paddling (it happens).

If you have expensive equipment, I would recommend bringing a dry bag.

If you plan to wear a hat, make sure it’s securely fastened (because of aforementioned wind)

Other Important things you should know before you go canoeing in Banff

  • The water is COLD here. It is no fun getting splashed or even getting water on your hands. Wear warm clothes, especially if you come out before the sun comes up. A waterproof layer might also be a good idea to protect you from splashing
  • Do not jump in if you are more than a few feet from the shore. It only takes minutes to succumb to hypothermia in these waters, and some people may go into immediate shock.
  • Unless you are an experienced paddler, I wouldn’t recommend removing your life vest while you’re in the water
  • I don’t recommend moving around the boat or trying to change seats. Canoes are very wobbly and unstable. Don’t try to stand up or you’ll be going for a swim.
  • Put your heaviest, strongest person at the back of the boat
  • Always allow more time for the return journey. If you’ve booked for an hour, I recommend 20 or 25 minutes out, 35 or 40 minutes back. Many of the lakes have a strong wind blowing away from the dock.
  • It goes without saying but put your camera strap around your neck if you have something expensive!
  • If you want to take photos in the canoe, a wide lens is a good idea.
  • If you’re going on a longer trip, bring a dry bag with a change of clothes.
  • Wear sun protection on bright days. Sun reflecting off the water can burn you twice as fast.
  • Most opening hours and seasonal dates are weather dependent. The hours listed above are all just guidelines. Some prices increase as the season progresses.
  • Don’t drink the water in the lake, we have a parasite here called Giardia (otherwise known as Beaver fever) which you can get from drinking untreated water.
  • Just generally be sensible and use common sense!
  • A whistle is a good idea. Waving both your arms is generally an internationally accepted way of calling for help.
  • If there is thunder or lightning while you’re out on the lake, head back to shore immediately. Don’t try to wait it out.

In Conclusion

There are so many fantastic places and ways to go canoeing in Banff, Jasper or any number of places in the Rockies, so you really don’t have an excuse!

If you’re actually interested in our favourite places to go Canoeing in Banff (or elsewhere for that matter), taking into account our personal aversion to the crowds, the beauty, price, drive time etc. I suppose our list would look something like this (number 1 being our favourite, 8 being our least favourite):

  1. Emerald Lake
  2. Moraine Lake
  3. Banff Canoe Club
  4. Lake Louise
  5. Maligne Lake
  6. Lac Beauvert
  7. Cameron Lake
  8. Pyramid Lake

That’s our opinion, for now, but all it takes is one good or bad experience and the list changes dramatically.

Hopefully, after all that, you can plan your trip and get paddling!

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the ultimate guide to renting a canoe in Banff, jasper and waterton

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