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Visiting Moraine Lake
If you’re planning a visit to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, a visit to the famous Moraine Lake should be at the top of your list. I have traveled all over the world, and there are few places that rival the beauty of Moraine Lake. Although Moraine Lake is only half the size of it’s neighbor, Lake Louise, it is just as beautiful, if not more beautiful! The photos that I took at Moraine Lake have gone viral on the internet, and been featured in a number of publications, and yet they still don’t do justice to the beauty of this Canadian lake. A visit here is definitely one of the top items on my 3 Days in Banff itinerary.
Moraine Lake is a glacier-fed lake, with the Canadian Rockies clearly reflected in the bright blue hues. The view is so iconic that it was even featured on the old Canadian $20 bill. Read on to find out everything you need to know about visiting this lake!
Where is Moraine Lake?
The lake is located in Banff National Park, just 8.5 miles (or 14 kilometers) outside the Village of Lake Louise. Located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the lake is at an elevation of approximately 6181 feet (1,884 meters). The easiest way to get to Banff, unless you are driving, is to fly to Calgary International Airport. From here you can rent a car, as it is about a 90 minute drive from Calgary to Banff.
What Time to Visit Moraine Lake
One perk, and downside, of visiting is that it is super accessible. There is an access road with a parking lot, from which you’ll only need to walk a minute or two to reach the lake. Unfortunately, more accessible means more people. This means that the parking lot fills up quickly year round. We were actually turned away on our first visit, when we tried to visit during midday in September. During the peak months, it is even more crowded.
I recommend visiting Moraine Lake for either sunrise or sunset, in order to capture the perfect reflection of the mountains in the water. We arrived at 5:30 pm and the lighting was absolutely perfect! We, fortunately, didn’t have any issues parking at that time, however, during the summer months, it might be worth trying to arrive by sunrise. It is said that the afternoons tend to be windier, so you may have better luck arriving early anyway.
What to Do if the Moraine Lake parking lot is closed?
If you arrive at the lot and the Moraine Lake parking lot is closed, you can either choose to come back at a later time, or take the shuttle. You will be directed to another parking lot called the Park and Ride. From here you will need to take a shuttle bus. However, similar to the parking lot, starting in 2020 these buses require a reservation in advance and become quite full. There is also an option to book a shuttle in advance between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. You can learn more about booking a shuttle on the Canada Parks website.
When to Visit Moraine Lake
While the lake is technically open year round, but there are only a few months out of the year that the service road to the parking lot is open. The Moraine Lake Road is only open from mid-May to mid-October due to an avalanche risk. It is still possible to enter via snowshoe or cross country skis, but know that this is a risk and I don’t necessarily recommend!
The summer months, specifically July and August, are the best time to visit Moraine Lake, as the water will have melted, and you will experience the crystal blue water in all of its glory. You may be surprised if you visit in May and find that the lake is still frozen over. Additionally, the water levels remain low until late June, when the glacier above that feeds the lake starts to melt.
I visited in early September, and experienced a perfect day on the lake without too many crowds. However, this is definitely a risk as well, as the next day there was a snowstorm.
Best Things to Do at Moraine Lake
Rent a Canoe
Canoe rentals are available at the lake from July 1st to mid-September. Rentals start at 80 CAD ($59 USD) plus tax for a one hour canoe rental. A paddle and life jackets are provided. Each boat can accommodate up to 3 people. Boats are available on a first-come basis, as reservations are not available.
Hike the Trails around the lake
There are a number of trails around the lake, but you won’t need to go far to get the best view of the lake!
Rockpile Trail – the rockpile trail is probably the easiest trail at Moraine Lake. While it is not much of a hike, it is worth mentioning as the views from the top are some of the best in the world.
Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail – The Lake Shoreline trail is an easy trail that originates by the Moraine Lake lodge. The trail follows the lake shore for approximately 1.5 km, with no elevation gain.
Consolation Lakes – a 3.6 mile trail starting at the lake. While there is a bit of scrabbling in the beginning, it is perfectly suitable for beginners. It is less trafficked then some of the other trails around this famous lake.
Larch Valley Trail – Larch Valley Trail is one of the longer, more difficult trails that originates from this lake in Banff. The trail is about 6.8 miles, and offers 360 view of the mountains. The conditions are best during the summer months, but it is also a great trail in the fall for seeing the foliage. It is known to be one of the best hikes in Banff.
Where to Stay Near Moraine Lake
If you’re planning a visit to Moraine Lake, you will have a range of accommodation options to choose from, from luxury hotels to camping. However, if you have the budget and book early enough in advance, I recommend the Moraine Lake Lodge. The lodge is located right on the lake, so you won’t have to worry about getting to the parking lot on time. Staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge with allow you to experience the lake at both sunrise and sunset, as well as the moments when the crowds have left.
You can find more information on booking the Moraine Lake Lodge here.
There are a number of options for both backcountry and front country camping in Banff. Here you’ll find a list of some of the best campsites in Banff.
Things to Note when visiting:
- Moraine Lake is located in Banff National Park. Please leave no trace behind, taking any garbage with you as you leave. This includes food scraps.
- Do not feed the wild animals in the area.
- Drones are not prohibited in any part of Banff National Park.
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