Canada is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with dramatic towering mountains, breathtaking ancient glaciers, lush forests, never-ending prairies and striking coastal shores.
But no trip to Canada is complete without witnessing the country's scenic bodies of water that serve as passageways, playgrounds, viewing pleasures and sources of refreshment. In honour of Explore’s 40th anniversary, we’re taking a look at 40 of the best scenic lakes, rivers and waterways across the country.
Let’s dive in!
1. Emerald Lake
Located in Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is one of BC's greatest natural wonders. True to its name, Emerald Lake shines vividly green under the sun, and is surrounded by striking mountains and a forested trail that loops around the lake. There is an adjacent lodge and cafe for those wishing to stay and soak in the view.
2. Okanagan Lake
Lake Okanagan is blissfully beautiful, attracting sun soakers for a refreshing beach day, boating, watersports, kayaking, paddle boarding and other fun activities. Its peaceful ambience, ample campgrounds and holiday homes, and surrounding vineyards make this a perfect place for a getaway no matter the time of year.
3. Joffre Lakes
Joffre Lakes is a popular trail located just north of Pemberton, known for its Instagram-famous blue colour. Comprised of three main lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper), the scenery here is absolutely stunning and at only a three-hour drive from Vancouver, it makes for a perfect city getaway.
4. Cultus Lake
Cultus Lake is one of the most popular gems in the Lower Mainland. Visitors love to spend summer days at the day-use areas and campgrounds. There are plenty of boats and other vessels making the most out of the lake and nearby hiking trails. Cultus is also known for its neighbouring waterpark.
5. Kalamalka Lake
Another one of British Columbia’s peaceful interior lakes, Kalamalka is known for its beautiful colour and surrounding landscape. It’s a popular summer getaway spot, with space for canoeing, cycling, fishing, hiking, and all the water activities you could ask for. You may even spot wildlife such as deer, bears, coyotes, and a variety of birds and snakes.
6. Fraser River
Clocking in at 1,375 kilometres as British Columbia’s longest river, the Fraser River serves as home to many people and wildlife. It’s particularly known for its fishing, as it is the largest sockeye producer in the world and contains incredibly large sturgeons (over 11 feet and 800 pounds!). It also produces pink, chum, chinook, coho and steelhead salmon.
7. Lake Louise
One of Canada’s most iconic attractions, Lake Louise is worth every bit of the hype. This milky aquamarine glacial lake is simply breathtaking with its backdrop of glacier-topped mountains. Enjoy lunch with a view from the Fairmont Château Lake Louise or hike up the Big Beehive Trail for a bird’s eye view—the lake looks surreal from every angle.
8. Lake Moraine
Lake Louise’s neighbour is every bit as stunning and is certainly not to be missed. Moraine features a deeper vivid blue—think Gatorade—and is framed by stunning cliff faces that create a hush over the serene setting. Stroll along the lakeside trail, rent one of the kayaks or climb up to the rocky outcrop for sunrise. You won’t regret it!
9. Vermilion Lakes
Tucked just outside of Banff, the Vermilion Lakes offer a serene escape with beautiful views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. The three lakes and their surrounding viewpoints are well-known spots for catching sunrise and sunset and also offer hiking, paddling and wildlife viewing opportunities.
10. Maligne Lake
Tucked outside of Jasper, Maligne Lake is most famous for Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in Canada (which is no mystery as it’s a real-life postcard). Wildlife lovers may be treated to moose or bear sightings surrounding the lake, especially when visiting early in the morning.
11. Two Jack Lake
One of many aquatic attractions in the area, Two Jack Lake is nestled just outside of the town of Banff and is perfect for camping and exploring. It has a peaceful ambience, only allowing non-motorized boarding, and you may even see wildlife nearby such as elk. There are many viewpoints and day-use areas, as well as a 3.2-kilometre loop for those looking for a bit of exercise.
12. Lake Annette
Lake Annette is stunning and turquoise like many of its neighbouring glacier-fed lakes in the Rocky Mountains, it's perfect for diving in and cooling off in the summer! Bring a floatie, picnic basket or a good book, and enjoy the summer day away at this Carribean-esque lake.
13. Lake Agnes
Situated along the Beehive hiking trail past Lake Louise, Lake Agnes is a destination in itself. Tucked into the mountains, the lake features a lovely stopover called Lake Agnes Teahouse, which was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Go early to beat the crowds and soak in the lake at its most serene state.
14. Peyto Lake
Located along the Icefields Parkway, the strikingly vivid Peyto Lake gets its colour from the glacial rock flour that flows into the lake, where the suspended rock particles turn the lake bright turquoise. Its best viewpoint is from Bow Summit, which is the highest point along the drive from Banff to Jasper at approximately 2,070 metres.
15. Bow Lake
Situated along the Icefields Parkway, the picturesque Bow Lake is the head of the Bow River, which flows through Calgary and onto the Oldman River and ultimately to Hudson Bay. It’s a great spot to view the Bow Glacier, Wapta Icefield and surrounding mountains.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba
16. Little Manitou Lake
This small saltwater lake is known for its rich mineral content, which makes for easy floating and even delivers natural therapeutic healing properties to the skin and body. Nearby the lake is the town of Watrous, the resort village of Manitou Beach, two public beaches, Wellington Park, and several walking trails.
17. Saskatchewan River
The mighty Saskatchewan River runs for about 550 kilometres from the Canadian Rockies in Alberta to Cedar Lake in central Manitoba. It is well-utilized around Saskatoon, serving as the area for many festivals such as Taste of Saskatchewan, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and the Nutrien Fireworks Festival.
18. Lac La Ronge
Nestled in a thick boreal forest, Lac La Ronge is one of Saskatchewan’s best hidden gems. The surrounding provincial park is home to 100 lakes and more than 30 documented canoe routes, filled with beautiful pristine nature and opportunities for outdoor activities. The lake’s glacial waters make for a refreshing dip in the summer, and of course the pups love it too!
19. Niagara River
About halfway along Niagara River is the renowned Niagara Falls, one of the country’s most famous attractions and most notable sources of hydroelectric power in North America. It is a spectacular display due to the sheer mass of water that cascades through the falls—the forecast calls for some serious mist. Fifty-eight kilometres in length, the Niagara River flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
20. Lake Huron
While the Great Lakes aren’t known for their tropical allure, Lake Huron is an exception, with certain areas boasting turquoise waters that could be mistaken for the Caribbean. The unique blue hue comes from sediments arising after strong winds. Lake Huron's northeastern arm, Georgian Bay, is particularly known for its clear and refreshing waters.
21. Topaz Lake
Situated in Killarney Provincial Park, Topaz Lake looks like a painting with its turquoise and sapphire water surrounded by white quartzite cliffs. It’s a bit of a trek to reach this swimming hole, but once you arrive you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an alpine oasis.
22. Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, and is also the largest freshwater lake by surface area in the world, at 82,100 square kilometres. It contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined. Safe to say it earned its name and is a sight to be seen!
23. St. Lawrence River and Seaway
The St. Lawrence River and Seaway system is a large hydrographic system that is important both geographically and economically. Connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, the river allows deep-draft ocean vessels to pass through and enter and exit the lakes. Within Montreal, consider strolling by the Lachine Canal on a beautiful day.
24. Lake Tremblant
Located in the majestic Laurentides region, Lake Tremblant sits at the foot of Mont Tremblant. In the winter, it makes for a beautiful snow-covered scene to soak in between hitting the slopes and in the summer, it can make for a refreshing dip. There are also boat rides to take in its splendour.
25. Bras d'Or Lake
Tucked in the heart of Cape Breton Island, the Bras d’Or Lake is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is not to be missed. The lake is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and dotted with islands, making the perfect setting for picnicking, swimming, relaxing, paddling, sailing and birdwatching.
26. St. Peters Canal
Located on Cape Breton Island, the St. Peters Canal is a historic site that dates back to a fortified trading post that was built in the 17th century by French merchants. It is the oldest tidal lock canal in North America. Today, it attracts visitors for boating, fishing, and picnicking at the adjacent Battery Park.
27. Gaspereau River
The rural serenity of the Annapolis Valley is perhaps best experienced at the Gaspereau River, where tubes are available to rent and float down on a warm summer’s day. You may even find an encounter with the resident cows grazing along the shore!
28. Shubenacadie Canal
Linking Halifax Habour to the Bay of Fundy, the Shubenacadie Canal hosts a rich heritage from its settlement by the Mi’kmaq to its inclusion of nine locks and two marine railways. Today, it is known for its many recreational activities including hiking, biking, paddling, canoeing and for those seeking adventure, tidal bore rafting!
29. Lake Banook
Dartmouth is called the City of Lakes and that is no lie: lakes are abundant in this region and each one of them is worthy of a visit. Probably the most notable is Lake Banook, which hosts several aquatic clubs and public docks and is popular for rowing.
30. Chocolate Lake
Chocolate Lake is a popular family-friendly lake as it is easily accessible, has plenty of shade thanks to the surrounding trees and is patrolled by lifeguards during the day. The lake's name comes from its site, which was previously home to a chocolate factory.
New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
31. Saint John River
Flowing from northern Maine until reaching the Atlantic Ocean at the Bay of Fundy, the Saint John River is a defining feature of New Brunswick. Lined with rolling hills and farmlands, the river was called “Wolastoq” by the people of Wolastoqiyik First Nation, which is Maliseet for “the beautiful and bountiful river.”
32. West River
Located in central PEI, West River flows through a number of lovely landmarks as it runs into Charlottetown Harbour. Notable points are the St. Catherine’s Bridge, a prime location for catching the Brook Trout run, and the quaint and rural town of Clyde River, which has many scenic viewpoints for taking in the peaceful landscape. It’s also popular for boating in the summer!
33. Western Brook Pond
Located in the scenic Gros Morne National Park, the Western Brook Pond is one of Canada’s most stunning natural sites. It’s a glacier-carved freshwater fjord that is best explored by hiking, boat or helicopter. Keep your camera ready for waterfalls and wildlife!
34. Lomond River
Running through Gros Morne National Park, Lomond River and its adjacent campground are surrounded by beautiful nature that can be explored on walking trails. The river is known for its superb salmon and sea trout fishing, and it’s not uncommon to see moose in the area!
35. Humber River
Located in the Humber Valley, the Humber River reaches from Gros Morne National Park to the Bay of Islands. Historically, loggers would float the logs down the river to a paper mill in Corner Brook. Nowadays, it is beloved by visitors who come to float down on tubes on a refreshing summer day.
36. Quidi Vidi Lake
Located at the east end of St. John’s, Quidi Vidi Lake provides a quaint escape into nature and is a very family- and dog-friendly area. A leisurely 3.8 kilometre gravel and boardwalk trail loops around the lake. It is also a popular spot for rowing, boat racing and trout fishing.
Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut
37. Emerald Lake
Located on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon's own Emerald Lake shines blue and green and is surrounded by beautiful green forest. Also known as “Rainbow Lake," it’s the most photographed Lake in the Yukon, and for good reason!
38. Yukon River
Stretching 3,185 kilometres, the Yukon River is the fifth-longest river in North America. Historically, Klondike gold seekers paddled along the Yukon River, an activity that is available today and offers views of beautiful mountains and wildlife.
39. Kakisa River
Named for the local South Slavey dialect as K'ágee, it means "between the willows." With a beautifully rustic setting framed by evergreen trees, the highlight of Kakisa River is where it cascades into Lady Evelyn Falls. Time it right and you may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights!
40. Baker Lake
Named ‘Qamani’tuaq’ in Inuktitut, meaning “where the river widens," this lake in Nunavut is surrounded by tundra landscape, which is home to plenty of wildlife including muskoxen, caribou, arctic foxes and arctic wolves. Common activities here include hiking, camping, canoeing, hunting, fishing, dog sledding and snowmobile riding.
PS. Why 40? Because Explore Magazine is 40 Years Old!
In Spring of 1981, the first issue of Explore Magazine went up for sale on newsstands around Canada.
Forty years later, explore is still on newsstands coast-to-coast; we’ve expanded to create a unique subscription box, adventure-focused podcast and a trusted online magazine, drawing in readers from around the world.
Don’t forget to pick up your free e-book copy of the Top 40 Hiking Trails in Canada.