A Tale Of Two Lakes in Two Canadian National Parks

Moraine Lake (top photo) in Banff National Park and Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park are two good reasons to paddle in Canada's national parks. At Moraine Lake, the overhanging glaciers (bottom photo) are much more evident than at Cameron Lake. Kurt Repanshek photos.

There is in the Canadian Rockies a bounty of water. Water streaming in rivulets dripping from glaciers, water impounded by glacial moraines and tinted aquamarine by glacial flour, and water running swift in rivers both thin and deep.

It's the water in lakes and rivers that most interests me as a paddler, and during a recent visit to Banff and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta my wife and I found two lakes perfect for wetting a paddle, if only for an hour or two.

The two lakes are similar in size and in personality, a bit less so in setting. Both slender and rimmed by the Rockies, the two -- Moraine Lake near Lake Louise in Banff National Park and Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park -- offer somewhat different experiences.

Though Moraine Lake has a surface area of just two-tenths of a square mile, it is a postcard lake thanks to its setting in the sawtooth-rimmed Valley of Ten Peaks. Its calm, Caribbean-hued waters are fed by glaciers hanging from the surrounding crags. It can be paddled end-to-end in less than 30 minutes, and much more quickly by determined paddlers short on time.

The most difficult aspect of exploring this lake, though, is simply getting there. An 8-mile-long road runs to the lake from Lake Louise Drive, and in summer thousands of visitors head up this winding two-lane to Moraine Lake. When we headed there in late July we encountered a parking backlog that created a wait of about 30 minutes up the road from the lot as attendants ushered cars in and out of the lot.

Once there, we hauled our Wenonah Odyssey, which, at 18'6" was a bit of an overkill for Moraine Lake, down to the Moraine Lake Lodge dock. There we had to wait while rented canoes (going for about $30 US per hour) were docked and launched, though the attendants were happy to give us a window to launch when canoe traffic eased.

A cruiser by design, the Odyssey rapidly carried us across the lake towards the overhanging peaks and their glaciers. There at the far end of the lake a handful of creeks dump their glacial-melt into Moraine Lake. While skimming through the aquamarine waters was an experience by itself, gazing up at the glaciers perched at 10,000+ feet, was even more surreal for paddlers accustomed to the glacier-less settings of most Lower 48 waters.

While Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes is cupped much the same way by the Rockies as its nearby cousin, the surrounding peaks aren't as jagged and its waters weren't the same Robbin's egg blue. That said, this was more of an intimate paddling experience, as fewer people head to Cameron Lake and so you don't feel like you're launching from a watery mosh pit.

Located 10 miles from the small Waterton Lake townsite via the Akamina Parkway, Cameron Lake has a public dock for those with their own boats. The canoe concessionaire (same $30 US hourly rate for canoeing) has its own landing zone, which made launching the Odyssey much easier than at Moraine Lake. There also are restrooms near the dock, a small interpretive kiosk, and the concessionaire sells cold drinks, hats, T-shirts, and other souvenirs.

At the lake's far end a number of cataracts carry glacial waters down to the lake. One or two small stretches of beach allow for picnicking, though the one we selected was overseen by a vocal marmot that didn't appreciate our presence, and so after a short stretching of the legs we moved on.

As with Moraine Lake, it takes less than 30 minutes to traverse the length of Cameron Lake, but skimming across these waters with their alpine backdrop makes for a great morning, or afternoon, paddle. And, if you paddle all the way to the end, you'll actually cross the US-Canadian border and be in Glacier National Park!

Though not large enough for true backcountry paddling, these lakes offer a decidedly picturesque experience in the Canadian Rockies.