Home Destinations Peyto Lake Viewpoint & Overlook, Banff National Park

Peyto Lake Viewpoint & Overlook, Banff National Park

by Karen Ung

Peyto Lake is a brilliant blue, glacier-fed lake north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway. After two years of construction and closures, Peyto Lake re-opened on October 9, 2021, so you can now hike to the beautiful viewpoint and overlook.

Peyto Lake Viewpoint and Overlook are beautiful in all seasons!

If you’ve never visited Peyto Lake, you’re in for a surprise. A short walk from the parking lot takes you to a elevated viewpoint of a dazzling turquoise lake you can’t see from the road. Although Peyto Lake is one of the most photographed spots in Banff National Park, seeing it in person is so much better – it’s a definite must-see if you’re traveling on the Icefields Parkway.

Ebenezer William “Bill” Peyto often camped near Bow Summit because Banff was getting “too crowded” for him (Source: Whyte Museum), so the lake and glacier that feeds it were named after him. I wonder what he would think of the crowds here now! Peyto was a legendary park warden, pioneer, trapper, and horse outfitter who lived in Banff in the early 1900s. On a related note, Peyto is pronounce pea-toe, NOT pay-toe as I’ve been saying it all these years.

If you’re wondering how Peyto Lake is so impossibly blue, you’re not alone! In short, it’s the magical work of glaciers. As Peyto Glacier advances and retreats, scouring the mountainside with its massive weight, rock is ground into tiny particles and washed into the lake. Sunlight reflecting off this “rock flour” gives Peyto Lake its vibrant blue color. Some other well-known and accessible glacier-fed lakes in Banff include Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Bow Lake.

While the Peyto Lake Viewpoint is lovely, it tends to get extremely crowded, so we recommend hiking a bit further to Peyto Lake Overlook. You will be amply rewarded with a panoramic vista that includes Peyto Glacier, waterfalls, Peyto Lake, and countless peaks.

Peyto Lake Viewpoint

An easy, paved trail leads from the Bow Summit Lower Parking Lot to Peyto Lake Viewpoint. On summer weekends, expect the trail and viewpoint to be quite busy. To avoid the crowds, go early or late; the bonus is that you can see the sunrise or sunset! Shoulder season is a lot quieter.

  • Distance: 1.2 km round trip
  • Elevation gain: 44 metres
  • Stroller friendly? Yes (though you may want to ditch the stroller during peak visiting hours)
  • Nearest washrooms: Bow Summit Lower Parking Lot
  • Trailhead & Parking: Bow Summit Lower Parking Lot

Going Further: Peyto Lake Overlook

If time allows, hike a little further to Peyto Lake Overlook for a better view of Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier (at left). Can you see a wolf’s head when you look at the lake? My kids swear it’s a corgi because its body is too long for a wolf, while some people say it looks like a bear’s paw. No matter what shape it looks like to you, everyone can agree that the lake is gorgeous.

To reach the overlook from the viewpoint, go south (left if you’re facing the viewpoint) on the paved trail. Take the second signed turnoff on the right (if you start going downhill, you turned off too soon – that trail goes to Peyto Glacier), and follow the narrow dirt path to a rock outcropping with panoramic views! Enjoy the scenery, then return the way you came or complete the 600-metre interpretive loop.

  • Distance: 2.5 km round trip (add 400 m to complete the interpretive loop)
  • Elevation: 94 meters
  • Stroller friendly? No – the dirt trail is narrow and bumpy
  • Nearest washrooms? Bow Summit Lower Parking Lot
  • Trailhead & Parking: Bow Summit Lower Parking Lot

When to Go

As of October 9, 2021, Peyto Lake is open year-round. Go in summer to see the brilliant blue water and wildflowers, or early fall to see the lake before it freezes (it’s prettiest when surrounded by snowcapped peaks). In winter and spring, you get a snowy view that looks best on a sunny day. Peyto is prettiest at sunrise, but sunsets are nice there too.

Know Before You Go

A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to drive the Icefields Parkway and stop in the national parks.

Peyto Lake/Bow Summit is a fragile alpine environment. Please stay on the trail, keep your dog on a leash, do not pick wildflowers, and pack out all trash! This area was closed from September 2019 to October 2021 for construction and rehabilitation (to allow plants the chance to re-grow on areas with trail braiding/erosion).

You are in avalanche terrain (another good reason to stay on the trail)! You can hike to the viewpoint year-round, but should check the avalanche report before going to the overlook in winter and spring.

Bow Summit is the highest point of the Icefields Parkway with an elevation of 2085 metres / 6840 feet, so it’s colder than Banff or Jasper. Dress warm and bring an extra windproof/waterproof layer so you can enjoy the view without freezing.

Bear sightings are common from spring until late autumn (yes, even in busy places like this! I saw a grizzly near the Bow Summit turnoff last summer!). Be bear aware and carry bear spray just in case. See our Bear Safety Tips for Hikers for more information.

Bug spray is recommended from June until September.

In winter conditions, we recommend traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Camper’s Village), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek). Snowshoes are recommended for winter/spring days above zero so you don’t sink into the soft snow.

Where to Stay

The closest campgrounds are:

  • Silverhorn Creek: 11.5 km north of Bow Summit, reservable June 2 to October 2 (reserve on Parks Canada), 45 campsites suitable for trailers (sites are in an open field)
  • Waterfowl Lakes: 15.7 km north of Bow Summit, First come first served, 110 campsites in the forest suitable for tents or trailers up to 9 m/31 feet, open June 23 to September 11.
  • Mosquito Creek: 17 km south of Bow Summit, First come first served, 38 campsites suitable for tents or trailers up to 10 m/35 feet, open June 9 to October 10.

Other lodging options on the Icefields Parkway include the following:

Note that hotels on the Icefields Parkway are closed from late fall until spring, but the wilderness hostels are open year round.

Getting Here

Peyto Lake is located 44 km north of Lake Louise, or 189 km south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93 N). Park at “Bow Summit” on the west side of the highway.

There are several beautiful roadside stops, walks, and hikes along this drive which has been touted as one of the most scenic drives in the world! For tips on where to go, see our story The Best Stops on the Icefields Parkway.

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