girl sitting on slanted rock at secret viewpoint of Peyto Lake

How to Find the Big Rock Viewpoint at Peyto Lake

August 1, 2023laurenslighthouse

Last updated on September 16th, 2023

Peyto Lake is one of the most beautiful views you can get in all of the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been going back to it over and over again, in various seasons, for years! It’s that vibrant turquoise water that changes shade in the sunlight, and the lake’s unique shape from the upper viewpoints – is it a bear? is it a fox? – that makes Peyto Lake worth the long drive from town.

Most people who come to visit the Peyto Lake Lookout will hike in and out to the constructed viewing platform only. Heck, we did that for YEARS even when that platform was just a measly tight little area! We would head there and maybe venture downhill a bit to escape the crowds. But the journey would end there because unbeknownst to us, there was more to explore.

Not many people know about the “secret” viewpoint that lays surprisingly not far from the main viewing platform. But this second spot makes for a much better photo opportunity than the main observation deck we all flock to. If you’re looking to escape the crowds to capture Peyto Lake and its mountainous backdrop in all its glory – as well as yourself in the foreground! – then make sure to add this secret viewpoint to your itinerary when hiking around Bow Summit. Trade in the busy manmade deck for nature’s rocky platforms and an even better postcard view of iconic Peyto Lake!

Having been to Peyto Lake over a handful of times in summer, fall, spring and winter, this guide will provide you with the useful information on visiting this alpine beauty. What’s more, we’ll set you up for success so that you can easily find your way to the secret viewpoint with our step-by-step instructions and trail photos! Happy hiking!

Where is Peyto Lake?

Situated along the famous and scenic Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake is located near the main highway, Route 93, that connects Lake Louise to Jasper. Peyto Lake is actually within Banff National Park. You’ll have to add it to the list of incredible photo-worthy spots that you can’t miss in Banff!

This gem is about 40 km (25 miles) north of Lake Louise and 100 km (65 miles) south of Jasper. The only way to reach it is by taking Icefields Parkway which is undeniably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Peyto Lake is one of our favourites in our top 10 must-see spots along Icefields Parkway!

When is the Best Time to Visit Peyto Lake?

The summer months are when the lake glimmers and shines that out-of-this-wold turquoise blue! So the best time to visit Peyto Lake would have to be during summer. Between June and October, the lake is thawed and you’ll be able to to see the lake in all its vibrant glory.

End of October and Peyto Lake is still shining blue

A summer sunset can be unreal over Peyto as the sun would go down over the mountains in the horizon as you peer out from the upper viewpoint. But don’t dismiss a good sunrise! The calm lake reflects its neighbouring mountains in such a crisp way and you’ll be here with very few others. Sunset on the other hand might be a little busier. However, if you’re a night owl, you can work that to your advantage as Canada’s sunset time during summer equinox is past 10pm.

Perfect sunrise reflection

How to Get to Peyto Lake

If you’re driving from Lake Louise, it’ll only take about half an hour to reach the main parking lot of Peyto Lake. You’ll need to make a left turn from Icefields Parkway, so be sure to slow down and keep an eye out for the “Bow Summit / Peyto Lake” exit sign. From Jasper, it takes about 2 hours to reach Peyto Lake by car and will be an easy right turn exit from Highway 93.

If you’re staying in Banff, it’s about an hour’s drive to get to Peyto Lake. You’ll need to head west on Highway 1 and make the exit for AB-93. When we visit Peyto Lake for the day from our home in Calgary, it takes a 2.5 hour drive. But no matter how long the drive and how early in the night we have to wake up for sunrise over the lake, it’s worth it!

It’s not uncommon for cellphone service to cut out in this neck of the woods, especially along Icefields Parkway. The easiest way to navigate your way to Peyto is by punching in “Peyto Lake” into Google Maps and it’ll lead you right to the main parking lot. In case service cuts out while you’re driving, make sure to download the offline map prior to heading out so you don’t miss the turn.

Peyto Lake Parking

When you arrive, you can take the first right into the main parking lot which is quite massive. There are outhouses here so don’t fret if you gotta go after after your decently long drive! And necessary garbage and recycling bins that have a bear-lock mechanism are found near the trailhead.

The trailhead starts at the end of the parking lot opposite to where you enter it. There are plenty of signs showing a hiking person symbol pointing to the trailhead, making it easier to follow. To save yourself some walking energy, aim to park closest to the trailhead.

For those of you driving a trailer or an RV, or if you’re in need of better accessibility and handicap parking, have no fret! There’s actually a second parking lot located at the end of the road. Instead of turning right at the main parking lot, keep going straight and uphill to reach the lot. There are much more sizeable parking lanes here that are meant for buses as well as RV’s or trailers or folks who need wheelchair access.

Back in the day in the off season, when there wasn’t yet too much snow on the road, we would drive up to this car park and walk the shorter downhill trail to the Peyto Lake viewpoint. The trailhead is located at the northwest side of the parking lot where the wooden fence has an opening. You can’t miss it!

How to Reach Peyto Lake’s Main Viewpoint

The main viewpoint is the viewing platform that everyone visits when they come see Peyto Lake. It’s the Peyto Lake Lookout and you can’t miss it when you take the trail from either the main or upper parking lots.

From the main parking lot, hit up that trailhead at the end of the lot. There’s a big map, as there always is at a main trailhead in Canada’s national parks. The uphill paved path leads you directly to the viewpoint. 600 m (0.4 miles) of this trek is stroller- and wheelchair-friendly, but you might need a bit of effort as it is on an incline.

From the upper parking lot, if you’re driving or require to park in a handicap parking spot, it’s a mostly flat and downhill path to the viewpoint. Only 300 m (0.2 miles) and you’re there!

Trails leading back to main parking lot (left) and upper parking lot (right)

Over a couple of years, the whole viewing platform as well as the parking lots and trails were under construction and opened up once again to the public in the later half of 2021. It was a long time in waiting but well worth it! The previous platform was a small wooden deck with a few steps required to access. As the snow would start to fall in autumn, it would melt and create a thick sheet of ice on the platform and stairs, which was definitely a safety hazard. I would be holding on to dear life on those rails as I tried to get on and off the platform, and squeezing next to strangers to peer out to the view.

Now that the new platform is installed, there are ramps, railings and plenty of space to roam around and take your photos. Before, we used to avoid the viewing deck and walk down below it to get a better view instead of fighting for one on the deck with everyone else squeezing on the small platform. Now we don’t have to! Although it’s still nice to get down to the flat area below the observation area and away from the crowds.

How to Find Peyto Lake’s Second Viewpoint

Even better, if you want a fully unobstructed view away from manmade platforms, make your way to the “secret” rocky viewpoint.

Whether you came up from the main parking lot or down from the upper parking lot, you’ll want to walk on the paved trail that is parallel to the lake heading south. Essentially, it’s the continuation of the trail from the main parking lot, passing the main viewing platform on your right. Stay on the paved trail and don’t head downhill on the beaten path. That one leads down to the shoreline! More on that later.

Take the left paved path from the main viewpoint

After 2-3 minutes on that trail, you’ll reach a circle with this map showing the hiking path leading to Bow Summit. A lot of folks in search of the second viewpoint often get lost and end up hiking all the way to Bow Summit and missing the viewpoint entirely. This is why you can’t miss this next step!

We took the path that goes around on the right side of the map. Not even 20 feet from the map, we veered off the paved trail indicated by the arrow on the photo above. Continue on this trail as best you can. If you hit a dead end and the trail is no longer that obvious, and branches and bushes are brushing up against you, retrace your steps to where you may have reached a fork in the path.

There are a number of these well trodden paths that vein through the woods. It can be easy to get lost but the ones we took, always looped back to the trail we needed to follow. It only took about 7 minutes for us to finally reach the viewpoint we had been dreaming of finding for so long. Your goal is to never go downhill but to walk southwest in the direction of finding an opening that peers out to the lake. It’s fairly flat all the way with a slight incline. From what we can tell, this is the aerial view of the secret Peyto Lake viewpoint in comparison to the main viewpoint.

You’ll know you’ve reached the viewpoint when you see it! The opening shows rocky cliffs that overlook Peyto Lake. There’s plenty of space to find your own spot and set up to take your own photos and videos.

We were in search of this angled boulder that truly looks like the pinnacle viewpoint of the entire area. There are a few boulders you can imagine sitting and standing on, but this one takes the cake for us. Be very prudent when you climb it as there definitely is some height compared to the ground around it. I, being scared of unguarded heights, plunked my butt on the base of the rock and inched my way up to the top slowly.

I’m sure there are a number of you who can effortlessly walk up the boulder no problem. But for those of you like me, if you’re not comfortable getting yourself on it, simply don’t do it. There are tons of other beautiful spots and rock faces you can get photos on with the unobstructed view of Peyto Lake!

Can You Hike Down to Peyto Lake’s Shoreline?

Indeed, you can take a moderate but short hike down to the southern shoreline of Peyto Lake. We honestly stumbled on this hike along the Caldron Peak Trail by mistake in search of the secret viewpoint. Yes, we hiked all the way down because we made it so far anyway trying to find the viewpoint – might as well finish what we started. After doing it, we personally don’t recommend unless you just want to check it off your list or have nothing better to do and simply want to dip your toes in the water. If you have a paddle board, by all means, head down there!

It’s about 45 minutes each way but is a steep(ish) climb back up from the shore with a number of switchbacks. Over 1.4 km (0.9 miles) you’ll undergo an elevation change of 240 m (800 ft). We definitely don’t recommend this route if you’re hiking to the lake in the winter as the slopes will get very slippery. There’s a much easier way to the lake that we would recommend using in the winter if you have plans to skate on it. It requires parking at a different parking lot entirely, further north along Icefields Parkway, but at least the trail is flat from there and only about half an hour!

Is it worth hiking down to the shore of Peyto Lake? Not really, unless you want to reach it for a purpose. The lake just looks so much more captivating and majestic from above. From the shoreline, it looks like any other lake really. The benefit really is that you can completely escape the crowds and find yourself alone with this gem with no one else in sight!

Where to Stay When Visiting Peyto Lake

There aren’t any typical accommodations right by Peyto Lake. Most people visiting the lake will likely stay in either Lake Louise or Banff and make the short trip out. Again, Lake Louise is only about half an hour’s drive from Peyto Lake and you can stop at a few of our favourite spots along the way!

Staying in Lake Louise

There are only a few accommodations in the town of Lake Louise which get booked up quick at a high price in the summer. If you want to lock your stay in, it’s best to book many months in advance. For a luxurious and iconic stay, hands down the Fairmont Château Lake Louise is the place to have one. It’s the only hotel that overlooks Lake Louise which we’ve loved both in summer and in winter.

For a budget-friendly stay, the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre is great bang for your buck. And our favourite accommodation that is somewhere between hostel living and 5-star luxury is the Mountaineer Lodge. We absolutely loved how much space we had in our King Explorer Suite, but you can go for a standard room instead and still be very cozy.

Staying in Banff

I have a whole list of 10+ hotels we’ve stayed at and loved for different reasons. If you want to stay right on Banff Avenue and be in the heart of all the action, our favourite is Mount Royal Hotel. For the top of the top with a gorgeous view and being slightly on the outskirts of town, go for Fairmont Banff Springs. Buffalo Mountain Lodge is perfect for a cozy retreat on Tunnel Mountain and for the best cocktails in Banff at The Prow! And for a magnificent view while paying a much more affordable price, The Juniper Hotel is the place for it.

We all know how expensive Banff can be to stay in throughout the summer months. If you’re hoping to reduce your accommodations budget and meet some new people while you’re at it, Banff has quite a few cozy hostels that may suit your needs!

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Peyto Lake?

Peyto Lake is completely free to visit in and of itself with no fees for parking. BUT you do need a pass to enter Banff National Park as you would for any Parks Canada area.

If you’re just coming to the Banff for the day, you can get a Day Pass for your vehicle. If you’re here for multiple days or see yourself visiting various Canadian national parks within the next 12 months, consider getting yourself a Discovery Pass. This one is mailed to your home to be displayed on your rearview mirror until it expires. The Day Pass needs to be placed on your dash and be visible from the outside of your vehicle.

Check out the official Banff Lake Louise website to purchase your desired pass online! You can also head directly to Parks Canada’s website for additional info.

With Peyto Lake, what’s there not to love? The views are phenomenal, you can effortlessly escape the crowds, parking and the paved paths make the main viewpoint so easily accessible and it’s a quick drive from the renowned Lake Louise. Peyto Lake is one of Banff’s most precious jewels and you don’t want to miss it during your Canadian Rockies trip. And now that you know how to reach the secret rocky cliff spot, you can be sure that you’ll capture the view with the best vantage point!

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