Take a day trip to Vermilion Lakes when you visit Banff. The city of Banff and Lake Louise can get pretty busy, so if you want to see a beautiful place while still appropriately social distancing, Vermilion Lakes is a great choice. These lakes make for a fun day trip due to their proximity to Banff and because of their natural beauty, too. The drive to Banff is a delighteful preview of the views you’ll get to enjoy at Vermilion Lakes. If you visit in the winter, you will be awestruck by the snow-covered Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. Walking on the frozen lakes feels like a scene straight out of a Disney movie. Read on to find out what else to expect during your day trip to Vermilion Lakes.
A scenic drive to Vermillion Lakes
The drive to Vermillion Lakes is stunning. The jagged Rockies loom impressively over the Evergreen tree-lined highway. You can stop at Lac Des Arcs Scenic Highway Pullover on the way to Vermilion Lakes. In the winter, you can see some skaters expertly making their way around the lake. On your way to Vermilion Lakes, you may even see a bear or some elk. The hour-and-a-half drive from Calgary passes by almost too quickly with such beautiful scenery.
What can you expect when you arrive at Vermillion Lakes?
We arrived at Vermilion Lakes and saw ten cars or so parked on either side of the gravel road next to the frozen lake. It was on the weekend, so I imagine that it’s less busy during the week. While we looked for a parking spot, I caught a glimpse through the trees of several people skating away gracefully on the smooth, white lake. We bundled up quickly and I slung my camera around my neck. I mentally prepared myself for the cold and ran through the settings for taking pictures in the snow. This was going to be my first time taking sunset pictures in the snow, and I was hoping to get some good shots.
It’s cold. Dress accordingly.
We left the car and passed a young couple holding hands and carrying ice-skates, wearing a thin windbreaker—not a glove or hat in sight. Unless you’re a local, wear plenty of layers. I was dressed like a fluffy marshmallow in about four layers of clothing. I’m sure no one had a difficult time guessing I was a tourist with my sturdy boots, thick gloves, a beanie, and the hood of my jacket pulled over my beanie, or touque, as the Canadians call it.
Vermilion Lakes is a hidden gem that can’t be missed.
With half an hour of daylight left, the sun was just beginning to cast a perfect amber glow onto the white mountain peaks all around us as we stepped onto the dock. It was so different from stepping barefoot onto a wet, sunny, swaying dock at Lake Chelan in the summer. Under my boots, the dock was lifeless and covered in compact snow and ice. I had never seen a frozen dock; it was like night and day from what I was used to. I kept expecting to see to the bottom of the lake through the crystal clear water like in Lake Chelan. At the edge of the dock, I stepped onto the frozen lake with a crunch.
Have you ever seen frozen water bubbles in a lake?
I walked slowly, carefully stepping on patches of snow as much as possible to avoid slipping on the ice, as everyone skated around me gracefully and effortlessly. A man in sunglasses wearing a black, puffy jacket expertly glided back and forth on the ice, guiding a puck in front of him with a hockey stick as he went. Tap, tap, tap. Far in the middle of the lake, someone was windsurfing on skates, and two teenage girls held hands, laughing as they skated by.
Looking down and saw frozen bubbles beneath the surface of the lake. I’d heard of this icy phenomenon happening in Abraham Lake, but I hadn’t expected to see it here. A little gift from Mother Nature. Abraham Lake is a three hour drive from Calgary, and we hadn’t planned on visiting this winter.
Rookie Mistakes to Avoid
I picked up my camera and then immediately realized I had forgotten my memory card. At the same time, I became acutely aware of the cold penetrating my thick gloves. It didn’t help that I had to take my gloves off to use my phone to take pictures. I didn’t have my cell-phone gloves with me so I alternated between blowing on my gloved hands and shielding my face from the cold. It felt like tiny knives cutting slowly into my hands, face, and legs.
As I rubbed my hands together furiously, I took in the scene and calculated how much longer I could brave the cold. I didn’t have long because the wind makes the 20-degree weather feel about ten degrees colder. We drank tea and stared at the moon, mesmerized. Soon, I started to worry that my fingers might actually fall off so we walked back to the car as dusk set in. It was the coldest but most beautiful sunset.
What activities can you do at Vermilion Lakes?
The Vermilion Lakes are three different lakes. The lakes are connected by marshlands and surrounded by a beautiful view of both Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. Banff gets quite busy, so this spot is popular with the locals. During the summer months, enjoy canoeing, kayaking, walking on the trails around the lake, or picnicking on the shores. If you are lucky, you might spot some elk, moose or even a bear, depending on the season. I have always wanted to see a Grizzly but preferably at a distance and from the safety of my car. During winter, you might get lucky and see the Aurora Borealis or frozen layers of bubbles beneath the lake’s surface.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about taking a day trip to Vermilion Lakes, Alberta :
What else can you see during this day trip?
You can also stop by Lake Louise and Banff if you start your day early enough. I would recommend seeing Lake Louise first, then Banff, then Vermilion Lakes. Or vice-versa.
What is the weather like in winter and how cold does it get?
Have you been in super cold weather? It can drop to -40C so wear more layers than you think you’ll need. It’s better to have extra layers and not need them than to need them and not have them.
Where can I stop for food near Vermilion Lakes?
You can stop by Banff for a little pick-me-up to start your day or lunch/dinner after you’re done sightseeing. Banff is a short drive away and has many restaurants and bars available. We stopped by Eddie Burger Bar and loved it. They have a build-your-own-burger with a delicious vegan option that you can have on a lettuce wrap.
Are there ice-skate rentals?
No, skate rentals are not available here. If you can skate, take a pair of skates with you. We saw tons of locals skating, and generally, if they’re skating, it’s probably safe to do so. I’ve been told that the lakes are pretty shallow but always check first. They usually have a notice online. Check out these ice-skating safety tips provided by Banff National Park.