Moraine Lake In Banff, Canada!
Moraine Lake is only half the size of its nearby neighbour Lake Louise, but perhaps even more scenic. It’s situated in the beautiful Valley Of The Ten Peaks in Banff National Park. This glacier-fed lake becomes the most intense and vivid shade of turquoise blue. The setting of the surrounding majestic mountain peaks makes the scene almost surreal.
Rent a canoe or try one of the trails in the area that range from casual walks to more strenuous hikes. Or just sit and take in the beauty of the lake.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Moraine Lake?
When the road first opens in May don’t count on seeing the turquoise water that Moraine Lake is famous for. The lake sits at a high elevation of 1883 meters. It can remain frozen until late May or into June depending on the temperatures. The water level remains low until the glacier above the lake starts to melt. It usually crests by late June or early July.
If you want warmer weather and the best chance to see the beautiful water the time to visit is from late June to August. The water colour can usually be enjoyed through to the time of the road closure in early October.
The photos below were taken in different years just shortly after the road to Moraine Lake was opened for the season in mid to late May.
When the melt water from the glacier up above starts to flow into the lake it brings with it rock flour or silt. Light reflecting off the silt gives the lake the stunning blue colour.
The two photos below were each taken in early October in different years. As you can see the weather and views can be drastically different.
The Twenty Dollar View
It’s more like a million dollar view, but the iconic image of Moraine Lake and the Valley Of The Ten Peaks was used on the back of Canadian twenty dollar bills issued between 1969 and 1979. The beautiful deep blue water with a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains is one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies and possibly in all of Canada.
The Rockpile Trail Offers The Best View Of Moraine Lake
The trail switchbacks along the back of the moraine with several sets of stone steps. It brings you to the top of the rock moraine where there are fantastic views overlooking the lake.
As you make your way along the trail watch for pikas, marmots, squirrels, chipmunks and variety of birds that are frequently spotted in the area.
You won’t be disappointed with the views. Keep working your way up to the highest viewpoint levels to get different vantage points.
- Trailhead – Starts from the lower end of the parking lot across the bridge on the outlet stream.
- Distance – 350 meters
- Elevation – 30 meters
- Time – 40 minutes return trip
Moraine Lakeshore Trail Will Leave The Crowds Behind, Even On Busy Days
Starting near the canoe docks there is an fairly flat trail that works its way along the shoreline to the back of the lake. As the trail weaves in and out of the trees it offers glimpses of the water and mountains.
Only a dent of the crowds will venture onto the Lakeshore trail and even fewer still will go the full distance of it. A boardwalk is located at the end of the lake where a stream of rushing water flows from the Wenkchemna. It’s a total of 2.9 km’s, returning back on the same trail. Allow approximately 45 minutes.
Other Trails At Moraine Lake And Seasonal Travel Restrictions
Due to bear activity some of the trails accessed near Moraine Lake have seasonal restrictions to maximize safety. During these times it is mandatory that hikers travel in a tight group of four or more. Occasionally trails may be closed off completely. It is always best to check ahead with Parks Canada for the current trail conditions. Information and a map of the Moraine Lake Group Access area can be found here: Bear Management Moraine Lake Group Access Restrictions
The Moraine Lakeshore Trail branches off to hikes to Sentinel Pass and Larch Valley Trails and to Wenkchemna Pass And Eiffel Lake.
Moraine Lake Lodge Accommodation
Moraine Lake Lodge is the only accommodation at the lake. Staying at the lodge allows you to take advantage of the early morning or late hours of the day when the tourists have left the area. It’s open from early June to early October. The amenities include a gift shop and a restaurant.
Below is a view from the top of the rockpile trail looking at the lake shore. On the right you can see the Moraine Lake Lodge accommodations.
Moraine Lake Canoe Rentals
The dock is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm from mid-June to mid-September. Rentals start at $105 plus tax for one hour per canoe. Paddles, life jackets and basic instruction are provided. The canoes available can accommodate two or three people. Reservations are not accepted, the canoes available on a first-come, first served basis. Guests of the Moraine Lake Lodge take priority.
The operation of the canoe dock is weather dependent. It can shut down without notice due to inclement weather such as snow, rain or strong winds.
Can I Bring My Own Private Canoe Or Kayak To Moraine Lake?
Yes, you can bring your own canoe or kayak to Moraine Lake or any of the lakes or rivers within Banff National Park. There’s no public boat launch at Moraine Lake, you will have to launch from the shore. Parks Canada offers more information here: Paddling in the parks.
Is It Possible To Visit Both Moraine Lake And Lake Louise In The Same Day?
Absolutely, these two beautiful attractions are just a 15 minute drive apart. Both Lakes are accessed from Lake Louise Drive. See the directions below or keep reading further for bus and shuttle options that are available to get you to both lakes.
Directions To Moraine Lake
From the Lake Louise Village located off Trans Canada Hwy #1 follow Lake Louise drive uphill for approximately 3 km’s. Look for the turn on the left hand side for Moraine Lake Road. Follow the winding road for 11 km’s to the parking area at the end. If you keep going past the turn off to Moraine Lake Road and continue up Lake Louise Drive you will reach the parking area for Lake Louise within a few minutes.
Tips For Avoiding The Summer Crowds, Traffic And Parking Chaos
The beautiful setting of Moraine Lake continues to increase in popularity. The parking is very limited and in recent years the traffic volume has become so high during the pear tourist season that Parks Canada has implemented restrictions. From late May to October traffic control is in place 24 hours a day. Vehicles will only be granted access to Moraine Lake Road if parking is available. If the lot is full you will be turned away at the beginning of the road. If you are set on driving to the lake yourself be prepared get there very early, the parking lot can be full by sunrise. Or take a chance that it will be quieter in the evening after 6 pm.
Although the lake is busy all throughout the tourist season it’s worth noting the holidays below when there will be even larger volumes of visitors.
- Victoria Day long weekend – the first Monday of May.
- Canada Day – July 1 and the entire weekend if the holiday falls on a day that creates a three day weekend.
- Heritage Day Weekend – the first Monday in August.
- Labour Day Weekend – the first Monday in September.
The Larch hiking season is another crowded time at Moraine Lake. This is when the trees in the Larch Valley are showing off their golden coloured needles. The peak of the colours usually occur in the 2nd and 3rd week of September and can continue to retain some colour through the end of the month. Locals come from all around the area to hike and its become very popular with visitors as well. Expect the surrounding trails that are accessed from the Moraine Lake area to be extra busy at this time. You can try to avoid some of the crowds by planning your hike for mid-week.
The photo below shows the small parking area for Moraine Lake. There are approximately 150 parking spots.
Moraine Lake Public Transportation and Seasonal Shuttle Information
Banff Public Roam Bus
The public Banff Roam bus extends its service to Moraine Lake for the Larch Valley Fall hiking season. There are daily direct shuttles from Banff to Moraine Lake from the 3rd week of September to mid-October. Schedules and fares are available here: Roam Bus Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake Summer Season Shuttle Bus
To alleviate traffic congestion Parks Canada offers a shuttle service to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise from late May to mid-October. A new system for 2020 will require the shuttle seats to be reserved in advance. There will be no walk up sales. Demand for the seats is expected to be high so booking well in advance is recommended.
Reservations can be made starting on April 1st. At that time 75 percent of the seats will be released. The remaining seats will be released throughout the season and available for reservation two days in advance of the scheduled departures starting each day at 6am MST. Reservations can be made online or by phone. Information can be found here: Moraine Lake And Lake Louise Park Bus.
From June 22 to September 20, 2020 there will be an early bus departing every 30 minutes to Moraine Lake from 6am to 8am. Reservations are required and available starting April 1st from the same link above.
The shuttle starts from the Park and Ride lot that is located 6 km’s east of the Lake Louise Village on the Trans Canada Highway. When booking you will need to choose either Moraine Lake or Lake Louise as your destination along with a departure time. The return trip to the Park and Ride lot is included in the cost, however no booking time is required for the return trip.
A Lake Connector bus is available to reservation holders only that will take them between the two lakes if desired at no extra cost. These seats are on a first come, first served basis. Your valid wrist band will be your proof of purchase for the connector bus. Expect wait times of an hour or more during peak visitation times.
Hop On Hop Off Shuttle
From late May to the end of September the HopOnBanff company has a shuttle bus that offers options for accessing Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, the Lake Louise Village, Lake Louise Gondola and Johnston Canyon. Schedules, fares and information can be found here. HopOnBanff
Taxi Service To Moraine Lake
Keep in mind that taxi service is limited in the area and it will be the most expensive option for getting to the lake. The fares are usually a per person charge, not by a meter. Companies offering services to Moraine Lake can be found here: Banff Lake Louise Taxi And Shuttle Transportation
When Does The Road To Moraine Lake Open And Close?
The drawback to this beautiful lake is that due to its high elevation it receives heavy snowfall and the setting is prone to high avalanche risks. For safety the road is closed to all vehicle traffic during the winter. The road opens in late May and closes on the Tuesday after the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday (the second Monday in October).
The dates for opening and closing the road can be subject to change depending on the conditions. Once the road is closed for the winter season there is no way to access the lake by vehicle.
Bicycling To Moraine Lake
If you attempt to bike the road when it is open to vehicle traffic extreme caution is needed on this narrow road. There are alternative trail ride options to get to the lake. More information for road and trail riding can be found here: Biking in the Lake Louise area
In some years the road to Moraine Lake is still free of snow for a short period after being closed for the winter season. If you choose to ride a bike to the lake at this time check first with Parks Canada for the most current road and avalanche conditions.
Is There Any Way To Get To Moraine Lake During The Winter Road Closure?
This is the most frequent question we get about Moraine Lake. To clarify there are no vehicles of any kind permitted on the road once it is closed for the season. There are no tour companies, shuttles, dog sleds or any other type of transport that is available to get to the lake. The road is closed for good reason. There’s an extreme avalanche risk on the last few kilometers near the lake. Visitors are so eager to see the lake they contemplate walking through the deep snow or attempting to snowshoe. It’s not recommend. Not only would you be crossing through hazardous avalanche terrain it would be an exhausting return distance of 22 km’s. If you are a cross country skier you can enjoy the tracks that are set on the first half of the road. See below for more information.
Moraine Lake Road Cross Country Skiing
In the winter the road becomes a popular spot for cross country skiing. Once there’s enough snow Parks Canada sets tracks, but they end at the viewpoint for the Consolation Valley and the Ten Peaks. The total distance is 15.6 km return. The trail has a steady climb with gentle rolling and hilly stretches. It’s rated as easy/novice.
Going past the track sets the road crosses large avalanche chutes and is not recommended. Anyone attempting to go past the end of the grooming should be equipped and trained in avalanche rescue and first aid. There is a high avalanche risk from November to late April.