The most refreshing mountain swimming spots near(ish) Calgary

Five natural swimming holes located in Southern Alberta

Between last week’s extreme heat and this week’s extreme smoke, it feels odd to be writing about going outside. This essay on ‘What It Feels Like to Lose Your Favorite Season’ is worth your time and sums up some of the grief and worry we’ve been feeling in recent days about climate change, life and the great outdoors.

We debated if we should go ahead with this week’s regular programming (the blue-skied photos below are nothing like the dystopian views above we’re currently living through) or pivot to something different. We discussed writing about the weight of bringing a child into a world where summer = smoke, or other equally depressing topics, but decided that was a bit heavy. In the end, we’ve stuck with our initial plans to highlight some of our favourite swimming spots near(ish) Calgary. We’ve had several requests for a swimming entry and also dedicate this post to our dear younger brother, who is always complaining about the lack of quality swimming holes in Alberta. Here’s hoping for brighter skies and swimming-filled days ahead.

Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park

On a recent visit to Waterton Lakes National Park, Annalise stopped for a swim at Cameron Lake, which is at the end of the 16-kilometre, winding Akamina Parkway. The parkway and surrounding Cameron Valley were significantly damaged in the 2017 wildfire, and the parkway only re-opened to vehicle traffic this year following several years of rehabilitation work. There’s a large parking lot at Cameron Lake, washrooms, a day use area, a 1.6-kilometre trail that follows the western shore of the lake, and most importantly, a beautiful mountain lake that’s perfect for a dip on a hot day.

Beaver Mines Lake in Castle Provincial Park

We’ve raved about the camping and hiking at Beaver Mines in previous entries (the trailhead for Table Mountain is located at the campground) but we’ve neglected to mention it’s also a really lovely place for a swim.

Located about a 30-minute drive from Pincher Creek, Beaver Mines Campground has a day use area that features washrooms, a boat launch, picnic tables and a not-too-cold lake, that was busy with stand up paddle boarders, kayaks, floaties and swimmers on a recent visit.

Quarry Lake near Canmore

Located about a 10-minute drive from Canmore, Quarry Lake used to be a go-to swimming spot for us. We haven’t swum there in years (hence the pixelated old cellphone photo above) but our internet research shows it continues to be a popular swimming hole. This popularity led Canmore town council to approve a new parking fee for Quarry Lake, which came into effect on June 1, 2021. So, if you’re planning to visit, be prepared to pay $20 per vehicle for four hours of parking.

Upper Kananaskis Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Annalise took a dip in Upper Kananaskis Lake on a recent camping trip and has one word of warning: it’s cold! The glacier-fed lake is popular with kayakers, canoeists, stand up paddle boarders and brave swimmers and features a boat launch, picnic tables and washrooms. Annalise recommends the very pleasant, tree-lined bike ride between the Lower Lake Campground and the Upper Lake, where you can take a quick dip to cool off on a hot day! And if it’s not hot enough to swim, there’s plenty of stellar hiking in this area as well.

Rivers!

Our final recommendation is the river! Alberta is home to many rivers and while currents make most of our rivers not ideal for true swimming, they’re great for dipping your toes in, sitting in a lawn chair and lounging in, cooling off, etc.

The Cobble Flats Day Use Area is located just over an hour’s drive from Calgary and features accessible picnic spots and plenty of spots to dip your toes in the Elbow River.

Lounging in the St. Mary River in southern Alberta above, and the Bow River in Bowmont Park, Calgary below.

If you do go swimming in a lake or river this summer, remember to check conditions before you head out, be prepared and please, please, please wear a life jacket if needed! Alberta RCMP have already responded to 15 drownings this year and are recommending that personal safety be top of mind when heading out on the water. More important details here.

The Great Go Outside 2021 Summer Giveaway Closes Sunday July 25th

Thank you to the more than 300+ of you who’ve taken the time to enter our Go Outside Giveaway by filling out our Reader Survey. The giveaway will close on Sunday, July 25, so get your entries in, before it’s too late. We really, truly value your feedback as we plan for the months ahead and appreciate all the thoughtful responses and ideas we’ve received so far!

We’ve got two outdoor prize packs up for grabs, each valued at more than $125 and packed with useful outdoorsy goodness courtesy of a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

To enter this random draw, please take three minutes to fill out the Go Outside Reader Survey. Don’t forget to include your e-mail in the final question if you want to be entered to win.

Prize Pack #1 (on the left in photo above)

  • Smartwool Mountain Trucker Hat (Unisex, One Size)

  • Men’s Smartwool 150 Tee (Size L)

  • Men’s Smartwool PhD Cycle Socks (Size L)

  • Brand New Go Outside Patch

Prize Pack #2 (on the right in photo above)

  • Women’s Smartwool 150 Graphic Tee (Size M)

  • Spot 350 Black Diamond Headlamp

  • Women’s Smartwool PhD Cycle Socks (Size M)

  • Brand New Go Outside Patch

Each prize pack is valued at more than $125!

To enter, click here to fill out the Go Outside Reader Survey.


Go Outside is a newsletter about nature. Subscribe today and you’ll receive free advice, stories, trip reports and outdoorsy goodness in your inbox every Tuesday morning. If you like our writing, please share this post with your friends!