Though it seems unbelievable, Canada is home to an estimated two million freshwater lakes, which cover more than 7 per cent of the country. (No wonder the canoe is a symbol of Canadiana and cottaging is one of our most popular summer pastimes.)
Though it would be impossible to determine which lakes are the “best,” there are certainly several across the country that serve as preeminent destinations due to the activities they offer, or the flora and fauna they showcase, or even just how photogenic they are.
Abraham Lake, Alberta
You’d never guess that Alberta’s picturesque Abraham Lake is not, in fact, natural — it is actually the province’s largest human-made lake, created along with the Bighorn Dam in the early 1970s.
There is one additional characteristic that sets the body of water apart from others in the area, and serves as its primary draw: the peculiar, entrancing pattern that it takes on in the winter. Methane bubbles from matter on the lake’s bed rise to the surface and freeze, creating beautiful layers of crystallized circles.
(Unfortunately, these bubbles harm the atmosphere when the lake thaws and the methane is released.)
Peyto Lake, Alberta
Peyto is one of Canada’s most photographed lakes, and for good reason. Its turquoise waters, characteristic of glacial lakes, look almost too bright and clear to be real, and reach from a stunning mountainscape on one side to dense forest on the other. The whole scene is quintessentially Canadian.
An added bonus? There are multiple lookout pointson an easily-hiked trail that offer the perfect view.
Maligne Lake, Alberta
Located within the sprawling Jasper National Park, the views at Maligne Lake are straight out of a Bob Ross painting. The second-biggest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, the 22km-long Maligne offers great fishing, canoeing and kayaking on its crystal waters, as well as boat tours to its adorable little isle, Spirit Island.
Lake Louise, Alberta
Standing on the shores of Lake Louise flanked by the imposing mountains of Banff National Park on all sides is awe-inspiring, to say the least. A scenic, skateable wonderland in winter — even after dark, as night skating is lit — and bright-blue and reflective in summer, it’s easy to see why the area is such a popular tourist destination.
If you’re willing to splurge, you can stay at the luxurious Fairmont Lake Louise, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with history dating back to the late 1800s (and which offers ideal views of the lake).
Garibaldi Lake, B.C.
Garibaldi Lake is accessed via a 9km hike from the Sea-to-Sky Highway leading out of Whistler. Like many lakes across B.C. and Alberta, it boasts waters that are tinted aquamarine from glacial silt, and unparalleled views of mountains and glaciers in the background.
The hike to the water also gives the option to explore Taylor Meadows, where you can camp among alpine flowers with a view of the impressive Black Tusk stratovolcano.
Emerald Lake, Alberta
Yoho National Park’s Emerald Lake is named for its stunning green colour. A 5.2km hiking trail traces the lake’s perimeter and provides vantages of Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain.
The area has a number of quaint lodges and restaurants that may be a preferable alternative to the more well-known and touristy Lake Louise, which is just a short 20 minute drive away.
Spotted Lake, B.C.
There is nothing quite like this unique spotted lake, which reveals its bizarre pattern when most of its water evaporates in the summer months. The lake’s pools are coloured by various mineral deposits, meaning its appearance is ever-changing.
The site has been sacred to the Okanagan Syilx peoples for thousands of years, and is the private property of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Chiefs Executive Council — so visitors will want to make sure to take it in from a respectful distance.
Golden Ears Provincial Park Heart Lake, B.C.
One of a few heart-shaped lakes in the world, this little natural wonder is only an hour outside of Vancouver. Camp in one of three campgrounds in Golden Ears Provincial Park, rent a kayak or canoe at nearby Alouette Lake Beach, or horseback ride, cycle and hike on one of the numerous trails in the area.
Heart Lake, Ontario
This lake near Ompah, Ontario — less than 2 hours southwest of Ottawa — is even more unnaturally heart-shaped than its B.C. sibling above, and makes for an absolutely jaw-dropping photo, especially in the fall months.
Unfortunately, the local county has formally requested that the public stop visiting the site, as it is on private property and has been getting a bit too much attention thanks to platforms like Instagram.
Kinney Lake, B.C.
In yet another of the west coast’s provincial parks — Mount Robson Provincial Park — Kinney Lake is fed by the Robson River. (Though it seems like B.C. is covered in national and provincial parks, protected park lands only 14 per cent of the province’s area.)
Visitors can hike to the lake on an eponymous 13.4 km trail that is suited for all skill levels and is heavily trafficked during peak summer times.
Kluane Lake, Yukon
This 81 km-long lake, named after the Kluane First Nation, is the largest in the Yukon territory. It is known for its vibrant fish and wildlife population, which includes large-bodied whitefish and trout, as well as northern mountain caribou and Dall sheep.
Though there are a few nearby communities along the Alaska Highway, the Lake is predictably remote and untouched, and sits near Mount Logan, the highest peak in Canada.
Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories
At a whopping 615 m deep (making it the deepest lake in North America) and 28,568 km², Great Slave Lake has been a staple of livelihood in the Northwest Territories for generations and presents endless activities.
More than half of the Territories’ population resides on its perimeter, including in the capital, Yellowknife, and in a number of Métis towns.
There are also numerous fishing towns on the lake, as it is renowned for its trophy fishing and ecological diversity. From hiking to sailing to learning about the region’s rich history, there is no shortage of things to do — or space to do it in — on Great Slave.
Franey Mountain, Nova Scotia
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which offers 26 different hiking trails on the northern tip of Nova Scotia, is one of few parks in Canada where you can experience both mountains and ocean alongside multiple historic sites.
And, of course, some gorgeous lakes, like MacDougalls Lake, Canns Lake and countless others around scenic Franey Mountain.
Lake Ontario, Ontario
But, there’s nothing quite like the view of the Toronto skyline from a kayak on the lake, or the countless things to do: from ferrying to one of the Toronto islands, to biking along the waterfront, to bar-and-restaurant-hopping along Queen’s Quay to catching an event at the Harbourfront Centre.
Clear Lake, Manitoba
Clear Lake appears to be exactly as it sounds: a calm, idyllic little lake that is perfect for camping and cottaging. Located in the town of Wasagaming within Riding Mountain National Park, the lake has a slew of accommodation options (all of which look adorably wholesome) among boreal forest and aspen parkland.