Moraine Lake is easily one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada. There is no image more iconic of the Canadian Rockies or Canada for that matter than Moraine Lake. It’s on every visitor’s bucket list, but when is the best time to visit Moraine Lake?
Moraine Lake is an alpine lake with wild turquoise blue fed by glacier melt and set with a backdrop of the Ten Peaks. This pristine piece of wilderness draws in millions of visitors a year and once graced Canada’s twenty-dollar bill. However, there are only a select few months out of the year that you can actually visit this iconic lake. And even then, it’s not as easy to visit Moraine Lake as you may think. Let’s dig into the best time to visit Moraine Lake!
- How to Hike Through Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass
- 7 Amazing Moraine Lake Hikes to Consider
- Everything You Need to Know About Canoeing on Moraine Lake
- A Guide to Visiting Canada’s Most Beautiful Lake
When is the Best Time to Visit Moraine Lake?
Typically I would break this down month by month like I did when discussing the best time to visit Lake Louise. However, I don’t have to do that for Moraine Lake because the access road to Moraine Lake is only open five months out of the year. From mid-October to late May/early June, the road to Lake Moraine is completely closed off.
Since Moraine Lake lies at a high elevation and is accessed by one small road, it is prone to high avalanche risk. This means for safety, the road is closed to all vehicles during the Banff winter months. It usually opens around late May and closes the Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday (the second Monday in October).
There are no set dates regarding the opening and closing of the road as it’s entirely subject to the weather/snow conditions. When Parks Canada feels the route is safe, they will plow the road and open it to the public. However, you can expect this to happen the first week of June and close around the second or third week of October.
Only a few people will get back there during the other months and are typically well versed in avalanche safety.
Moraine Lake in June
June is the first full month that Moraine Lake is accessible to visitors. This means that Parks Canada has cleared the road, and it is deemed safe to drive on. In early June, Moraine Lake has just melted, and you may get there when the lake has not hit its full blue potential yet.
Moraine Lake is a glacier lake meaning it recedes in the winter. So when the snow melts in June, the lake begins to fill up again. This means you may arrive at Lake Moraine and find it less full than you are expecting.
If it’s been a long winter, you may even find ice on the lake in June, but don’t worry, warmer temperatures are coming. By late June, Moraine Lake will be full and absolutely beautiful.
Moraine Lake in July
July is peak season in Banff and easily one of the best times to visit Moraine Lake. You can expect the lake to be melted by now, and scrambles like Tower of Babel are good to go. However, you’ll need to wait a bit to attempt and get up to Sentinel Pass, Eiffel Peak, and Mt. Temple. The easiest Moraine Lake hike you can do right now is go up the Rockpile trail or walk around the Lake Moraine lakeshore.
By mid-July, Consolation Lakes should be unthawed and are also a great easy trip out. July also means the crowds are insane, especially at Canada’s most famous photo point. You can expect Moraine Lake to be busy from 6am to 7pm at night. If you want to guarantee yourself a parking spot in the morning, you’ll need to get to Moraine Lake Road by about 5am-5:30am. There are only 150 or so spots at Moraine Lake, and once those get filled, Parks will shut down Moraine Lake Road to vehicles.
Still, July provides visitors with almost 17 hours of daylight, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy all that Lake Moraine has to offer. It’s a great time to take a canoe out on Moraine Lake.
Moraine Lake in August
If you thought July was busy, it’s not going to get much better in Banff in August. It’s a busy time, even more than in July. By August, Moraine Lake is still thawed, and most of the hikes and scrambles are good to go. Late August is even a great time to summit Mount Temple. August, hands down, is the best time to visit Moraine Lake, and temperatures will be the best they will be all year.
Parking is still an issue in August, and you are pretty much looking at the same struggles you were in July.
Moraine Lake in September
You know what September in Banff means? It’s officially fall! While we don’t have pretty Maple trees that turn colors, we do have larches. By mid to late September, you can expect the larches up around Moraine Lake to be absolutely stunning.
One of the most famous “larch march” hikes is Sentinel Pass. By September, the summer crowds are dying down, but there are also the autumn lovers that chase after the larch trees in Banff, so it’s still busier than you would guess.
There are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in September. Hiking is still in full swing. Weather can be changeable, so make sure you check the forecast before heading out on an adventure (and be prepared with waterproofs). The average temperature is around 18°C, but nights – as always – can feel quite cold.
Moraine Lake in October
October is the last month you can visit Moraine Lake until next year. Visitors who wish to see the awesome lake and ten peaks should plan to arrive somewhere before October 15th. Around mid-October, Moraine Lake access road will close for the season. Exact dates vary depending on the year and snowfall.
Expect Moraine Lake to be cold in October. You’ll probably see some snow and ice, and the lake may not be as blue or full as you are expecting. Still, it’s an awesome time to visit Lake Moraine – just dress warm!
So When Is The BEST Time To Visit Moraine Lake?
Unless you’re an experienced adventurer with avalanche knowledge and snowshoes or skis, you can only visit Moraine Lake from late May to October. The road is closed for the rest of the year because it is snow-covered and crosses avi paths. If you want to cross country ski or snowshoe in the winter, that is an option. Since the lake sits at a high elevation, it remains frozen until late May. So any visit to see Moraine Lake in its prime should be planned for June to late September.
Since the lake is fed by Glacier melt, its water level and color changes based on temperatures. The water level upon first melting remains low until Fay Glacier begins to melt in June. It’s during this time Moraine Lake reaches its peak fill and beauty.
To ensure warmer weather, it’s never hot in the Rockies, and a good chance to witness the most vivid turquoise water visit Lake Moraine from late June to August. That being said, the color never leaves, and you can witness the lake until early October, when the road to the lake closes due to avalanche risk. However, the lake recedes by then, and there may be snow, but in my opinion, the ten peaks are amazing when blanketed in a fresh layer of snow.
What Time Should I Visit Moraine Lake?
We’re pretty sad to say that’s Moraine Lake’s beauty and popularity are also its downfalls. The demand to see the lake by almost every visitor to the park on a narrow mountain road with a small parking lot means that to drive to the Moraine Lake means arriving around 5:30 a.m. or earlier in the summer months if you want to park.
Your other option, and one we’ve done a few times, is wait until sunset around 8:30pm or later. If you’re visiting early June or late September/October, you’ll have better luck parking at Lake Moraine at normal hours. Moraine Lake has updated parking policies – read all the details here.
This is particularly tough for those who plan to tackle some of Moraine Lake’s more arduous hikes/scrambles, such as Eiffel Peak or Mount Temple. If you don’t feel like waking up at 4:00 a.m. to see the lake, don’t fret too much. Parks Canada has a bus service available from the Lake Louise parking lot next to the restrooms and Lake Louise Park & Ride in the morning, though shuttles for the lake connector are by reservation only.
The Shuttle To Moraine Lake
Parks Canada runs a shuttle service to Moraine Lake for visitors unable to park or drive. The shuttle service departs from the Lake Louise parking lot and then proceeds to Moraine Lake. Upon departing Moraine Lake, the shuttle takes a different route driving to Lake Louise Village and then the Park and Ride parking lot or Overflow parking off the Trans Canada Highway.
This makes for a convenient loop for visitors who park at the Park and Ride to visit Lake Louise, then Moraine lake, and then return to their car. If you parked at the Lake Louise Shore parking lot, you can get another shuttle from the village or Park and Ride back.
Canoeing at Moraine Lake
Beyond walking around Moraine Lake, canoeing is the most popular activity at Moraine Lake. It’s an amazing experience to paddle across the alpine lake with the mountains towering high above. The dock is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm from mid-June to mid-September.
Canoe Rentals are run by the Moraine Lake Lodge, and rates start at $120 CAD an hour. The canoes include paddles, life jackets, and some basic instructions. Each canoe can accommodate two or three people. Reservations are not accepted, and the canoes operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, keep in mind the dock is weather dependent and can shut down in case of inclement weather such as heavy snow, rain, or wind.
Can you Bring a Private Canoe, Kayak, or SUP to Moraine Lake?
Visitors can bring their own personal watercraft to any of the lakes or rivers within Banff National Park. The tricky part with Moraine Lake is acquiring a parking spot and then launching from the lakeshore, but it can be done if you time it right! All the photos in this post are with our personal canoe. Of course, you can get inflatable SUPs like us and pack them into Moraine Lake via the shuttle bus.
Hiking Around Lake Moraine
There are some very popular hikes around Lake Moraine should you want to get more activity in! These are some recommended hikes around Lake Moraine. I’ve attempted to rank them in difficulty. You can find all the best Lake Moraine hikes summed up here as well.
Moraine Lake Shore Trail
From the Canoe docks, this is a flat trail that works its way along the lake’s shoreline and back. It’s a wonderful trail that moves in and out of the forest with great lake views and mountains.
You’ll be shocked at how few visitors to Moraine Lake go just a little further hike along one of the easiest trails in the area. At the end of the hike is a boardwalk near the waters flowing down from Wenkchemna pass.
- Trailhead: Begins at the canoe docks.
- Distance: 2.9 kms
- Elevation: 162 meters
- Time: 45 to 60 minutes (return)
Consolation Lakes Trail
This is a family favorite as it can be paired with the Moraine Lake Rockpile, and it’s pretty easy with a little elevation gain. It’s a nice step up from the Lakeshore Trail as the terrain is more difficult with greater elevation gain and a short section that crosses over a boulder field.
Along the hike, you get views of the scree slopes from the Tower of Babbel. The hike passes through the old-growth forest before arriving at an alpine field and wetlands with the consolation lakes at its end. From the lakes, you get tremendous views of the backside of the Ten Peaks, Mount Babbel and Mount Fay, topped by glaciers.
- Trailhead: Begins from the Rockpile Trail
- Distance: 5.8 km
- Elevation: 255 meters
- Time: 1.5 to 2 hours (return)
Eiffel Lake Trail
Witness amazing views of the Valley of Ten Peaks as you climb to two mesmerizing glacial lakes on the Continental Divide. The trail from Moraine Lake is pretty easy to follow up to the fork for Eiffel Lake or Sentinel Pass.
The route up to the fork is pretty demanding as it climbs 350m at a relatively high grade for about 40 minutes. From the fork, you take the less-traveled path to the Eiffel Lakes. Past the lakes lies Wenkchemna Pass Trail that passes through the mountains into Yoho National Park. From the top of the pass provides stunning views of the Ten Peaks.
- Trailhead: Begins at canoe docks
- Distance: 11.7
- Elevation: 570 meters
- Time: 3 to 4 hours
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley
This is the quintessential Canadian Rockies hike. It’s fairly challenging, hugely popular, and offers some of Canada’s most stunning natural scenery. The hike follows a similar route at the Eiffel Lakes hike but departs at the fork and up into the Larch Valley.
The pass is most well known and attracts hundreds of photographers and hikers during the larch season in late September. During this period the valley trees turn to a bright golden color, and the mountains are topped with the first signs of the new season’s snow. It’s a soul-stirring scene that can easily be considered one of the best day hikes in the world.
- Trailhead: Begins at canoe docks
- Distance: 10.9
- Elevation: 792 meters
- Time: 2.5 to 4 hours
Scrambles Around Lake Moraine
This is for experienced hikers and people who have spent their fair share of time in the outdoors. All of these hikes are easy to moderate scrambles but occur on very serious mountains with real hazards that can result in death. Every year tourists are evacuated by Search and Rescue on one if not all of these hikes/routes. If you plan to tackle any of these, please plan accordingly and be prepared for the elements — also wear a helmet.
- Tower of Babbel
- Mount Temple
- Eiffel Peak
Moraine Lake Lodge Accommodation
There is only one place to stay at Moraine Lake, and that is the aptly named Moraine Lake Lodge, and it’s easily one of the best Lake Louise cabins. Staying at the lake allows you to take advantage of the lake at all times of the day, and they have a private parking lot, so you’re guaranteed a spot to park. It’s open from early June to early October.
At the lodge, you can find a cafe, restaurant, and gift shop. Please note there is no camping at Moraine Lake, and you cannot sleep in your car overnight to ensure parking. Parks Canada does check the area to make sure these rules are being followed, and you could be subject to a fine if you break them.
Frequently Asked Moraine Lake Questions
What are the Moraine Lake Hours?
There are no set hours at Moraine Lake. If you wish to get there are 4am and leave at 12 am you do that! Just keep in mind you cannot sleep in your car in the Moraine Lake parking lot to secure parking. Parks Canada does checks at night and will make you leave if they catch you parked and sleeping.
When Does The Road To Moraine Lake Open And Close?
Since Moraine Lake lies at a high elevation and is accessed by one small road, it is prone to high avalanche risk. This means for safety, the road is closed to all vehicles during the winter months. It usually opens around mid to late May and closes the Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday (the second Monday in October). Yes, Canada has its own Thanksgiving.
There are no set dates regarding the opening and closing of the road as it’s entirely subject to the weather/snow conditions. When Parks Canada feels the route is safe, they will plow the road and open it to the public.
Is it Easy to Get Parking at Moraine Lake?
In short, no, it’s not that easy to park at Moraine Lake. Lake Moraine is so beautiful and photogenic that nearly every visitor to Banff wants to visit. Parking is extremely limited, and with demand and traffic volume so high, Parks Canada had to step in with traffic control.
Vehicles will only be granted access to drive Moraine Lake road if parking is available; after that, they close down the road, and you will get turned away. In the summer months, this means you have to at least be there by 5:30 am or risk not getting a spot, and sometimes even getting there that early isn’t enough.
Can you Bike to Moraine Lake?
Yes, you can bike to Moraine Lake. However, we would not advise doing so unless you are a comfortable road biker due to the traffic on the narrow road. There is occasionally a time when the road is free of snow but closed to vehicles. During this time, it can be a great way to visit the lake if the avalanche conditions are safe. It’s best to check with Parks Canada in advance.
Can You Visit Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in the Same Day?
Yes, visiting both lakes is easily doable. If you aren’t planning any big hikes, you can easily see Moraine Lake in an hour and then head down to Lake Louise and spend another hour there. Or you can try hiking up to Lake Agnes and the Beehives. You can see a full list of example Banff itineraries here.
Can you Visit Moraine Lake During the Winter?
To put it simply, you can not visit Moraine Lake during the winter months, at least not to the average visitor that is. There are no vehicles permitted on the road during this time, and no tour operators are allowed to operate, so no sleigh rides, snowshoe, or dog sled tours will bring you to the lake. This is due to the avalanche risk on the road as it crosses avalanche paths.
In the winter months, several cross-country ski trails in the area, including one that utilizes the Moraine Lake Road. However, it stops short of the Lake when it approaches the first avalanche path. You can see the Ten Peaks in the distance at its trail end. Occasionally experienced skiers do make the trek as they are equipped to travel in avalanche terrain. We do not recommend anyone travel in such terrain without proper training and equipment.
How Can I Escape the Crowds at Moraine Lake?
Even in the heat of summer, it’s possible to have some alone time at Moraine Lake. Most visitors to Moraine Lake congregate at the rockpile and don’t venture past that. To get away from that walk the Lake Moraine Lakeshore trail, get out on a canoe, or try one of the hikes suggested above.
Your other option is to head to Lake Moraine for sunset or in the shoulder season when crowds die down. It’s also best to avoid holidays and weekends if possible.
When are the Holidays at Moraine Lake?
Lake Moraine is always busy in the summer, but you should take note of the following holidays as it’s even busier.
- Victoria Day Long Weekend – 1st Monday of May.
- Canada Day – July 1st
- Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
- Labour Day Weekend – 1st Monday of September.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: From luxury hotels to wilderness cabins, there are plenty of places to stay in the Rockies. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our full Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
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