Home Destinations Discover the secrets of the “Water of the Spirits” on the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

Discover the secrets of the “Water of the Spirits” on the Lake Minnewanka Cruise in Banff

by Karen Ung

The Lake Minnewanka Cruise is an awesome opportunity to discover the sights and secrets of Minn-waki, the “Water of the Spirits” (as its known in the Stoney Nakoda language).

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

The sun is already high in the sky when we arrive at the Lake Minnewanka dock. Puffy cumulus clouds parade across blue skies, high above aquamarine waters. We’ve hiked, paddled, and cross country skied around here many times, but today we’re stoked to be doing something different. On the scenic Lake Minnewanka Cruise, we will go further than we’ve ever paddled and learn some of the lake’s secrets!

Partnership Disclosure: We were hosted by Pursuit for review purposes, but all words and opinions are my own.

A movie starring Marilyn Monroe was filmed here

With Captain Grace at the helm, and Kenji as our guide, we head northeast in the Alberta Explorer toward Mount Aylmer. Kenji points out the Stewart Canyon bridge where Marilyn Monroe kissed Robert Mitchum in the 1953 movie, River of No Return. The kids say “Ew, gross!” but look for the bridge anyways (it’s a short and pretty hike if you get the chance!) and wave at hikers as we pass by.

Lake Minnewanka is Banff’s Biggest Lake

Shaped like a backwards S, Lake Minnewanka is much larger than it looks from the southern shores. Lake Minnewanka is the “deepest, longest lake in Banff National park: 500 feet [or] 150 metres deep at its deepest point.” On the one-hour cruise, you will travel almost halfway across the 22-kilometre long lake.

We pass fishing boats, a protected area where foxes den, a backcountry campground, and waterfall before leaving our cozy cabin seats for the back deck. In the open air, we get a panoramic view and can better appreciate how huge the lake is. Oh, and the deck is a great spot for photos!

Stoney Nakoda History

After 11 years of guiding this cruise, Kenji is the go-to person about all things Minnewanka. With great enthusiasm, he shares story after story about the lake, its history, and the people that lived here for thousands of years. Did you know artifacts over 13,000 years old, including Clovis spear tips, have been found near the lake?

The nearby lake we call “Minnewanka”, which means “Water of the Spirits”. Whenever our people traveled in the neighborhood of the lake, they heard the voices of the spirits.

As told by Enoch Baptiste, a Stoney Nakoda, to Horace Holloway in 1954

While the Stoney Nakoda gave the lake it’s name, Minn-waki (Water of the Spirits), it’s less commonly known how the Stoney Nakoda got their name. Kenji explains it was their “use of stones”; they put limestone rocks in the fire to heat water! Next, we watch a demonstration on starting a fire with flint and steel and learn how tea was “made with pine needles, full of Vitamin C” to prevent scurvy. Tea made from these waters would be delicious thanks to all the natural springs (50!) feeding the lake.

A submerged ghost town lies below

In the late 1800s, the summer village of Minnewanka Landing graced the shores of the lake. Locals and tourists came for lake cruises, carriage rides, and mountain scenery. When the third and largest dam was constructed from 1941-1943, however, the water level rose 30 metres / 100 feet, so the buildings were submerged and townsfolk had to relocate. The village buildings are now only accessible to scuba divers.

Wildlife abounds

Despite the lake’s popularity, tons of wildlife lives in and around it. Lake trout fishing is superb (Lake Minnewanka is one of the top 10 lake trout fishing spots in North America!), and the forests are home to deer, bighorn sheep, elk, bears, foxes, and wolves. Look for bighorn sheep by the dam and parking lot. If you’re lucky, you might see a bear from the boat!

Know Before You Go

The Lake Minnewanka Cruise will run from May 6 – October 10, 2022 weather permitting:

  • The Classic Cruise is one hour long and departs on the hour every hour during operating hours.
  • The Explorer Cruise departs daily at 10:30 am daily. 90 minute cruise with stop on the lake to view Devil’s Gap.
  • The Family Cruise departs at 12:20 pm and 3:40 pm daily. Kids go free (1 child 15 & under per paying adult) and get a journal book, commentary targets a younger audience, and all guests get a cool treat after the cruise.
  • The Beer Voyage departs daily at 5 pm. 90 minute cruise includes samples of local craft brews and a free gift. 18 & up only.

The boat is heated and covered, but we recommend bringing a light jacket for hanging out on the back deck (it can be breezy).

Parking at the lake is limited, so plan to arrive a couple hours before the cruise. You can walk the lakeshore, picnic, or get a treat at Black Anchor Snack Shop while you wait.

During the summer, you can ride ROAM Transit Bus 6 from downtown Banff to Lake Minnewanka & back for free when you show the driver your Lake Minnewanka Cruise ticket.

For More Information / Book Tickets

For more information, or to book tickets now, visit Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection | Lake Minnewanka Cruise.

Where to Stay

Elk + Avenue Hotel boasts stylish and spacious rooms in downtown Banff. For families, we recommend the loft suites with two queen beds on the upper level and a pull-out sofa bed and dining area on the lower level. The onsite restaurant, Farm + Fire, features farm-to-table deliciousness and has lots of gluten/dairy/nut-free and vegan options. 

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