Sunrise at Moraine Lake is a special experience that is on many visitors’ Banff itineraries. While catching sunrise at Moraine Lake has never been a simple task, it’s a bit more complicated now with the new parking restrictions at Moraine Lake.
Don’t fear though. There are still ways to welcome the day while the first beams of sunlight gracefully traverse the Valley of the Ten Peaks, casting their glow upon the serene waters of Moraine Lake.
Is Moraine Lake Open Year Round?
Access to Moraine Lake is not open year-round. Parks Canada typically opens Moraine Lake Rd around the first week of June and closes the road the Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving (the second week of October).
This means that Moraine Lake is only accessible to most visitors during Banff in the summer. Everything mentioned in this article is valid when Moraine Lake Rd is open to visitors. Moraine Lake Road is currently closed; the road typically opens near the end of May/early June. We will update this article when we have that information in 2024.
When is the Best Time to Visit Moraine Lake?
Seeing Moraine Lake at sunrise is something that many visitors have on their Banff bucket list, but does that make it the best time? I think any mountain and lake view in the Rockies is a great sunrise spot, and there are plenty of those around Banff. We have visited Moraine Lake during all times of the day, probably nearly 20+ times in total now. While sunrise is beautiful, I don’t consider it an absolute must-do.
With the new parking restrictions, most visitors are accessing Moraine Lake with the use of the Moraine Lake Shuttle, which does not start until after the sun rises in the summer months. That means a sunrise experience at Moraine Lake is relatively quiet compared to later parts of the day.
I suggest visitors try to book their Moraine Lake experience mid-week, at sunrise, anytime before 10am, or later in the evening after 5pm. These are all quieter times at the lake. However, even midweek on a beautiful August day means crowds.
What Time is Sunrise at Moraine Lake?
Sunrise at Moraine Lake changes yearly, but it’s pretty darn early in the summer.
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake in mid-June: 5:26 am
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake in mid-July: 5:44 am
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake in mid-August: 6:28 am
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake in mid-September: 7:15 am
- Sunrise at Moraine Lake in mid-October: 8:05 am
As you can see, the sunrises very early in Banff in the summer, and since you’ll already want to be at Moraine Lake and at a good vantage point by the time the first rays hit the Ten Peaks, you can pretty much count on getting no sleep. Some shuttles begin running to Moraine Lake as early as 4:20am, which, if you’re staying in Banff or Canmore, means at least a 3am wake up. You didn’t plan on sleeping on your trip, did you?
*Tour start times stagger throughout the summer based on sunrise, so double-check times!
Can You Drive to Moraine Lake for Sunrise?
Personal vehicles are not allowed to drive to Moraine Lake, except those with a disabled tag. You must find another alternative to get to Moraine Lake at sunrise, which we will break down below.
How to Visit Moraine Lake at Sunrise
Even with the new parking restrictions at Moraine Lake, it’s still possible to see it at sunrise. Let’s dig in.
Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle
Moraine Lake Bus Company came about last summer as one of the top operators that offers sunrise shuttles to Moraine Lake. This point-to-point shuttle service is solely a bus transport, not a guided tour.
Shuttles transport guests to Moraine Lake pre-dawn, as early as 4am, and guests can choose how long they want to stay. This is a fantastic option for hikers and climbers who wish for an alpine start. This service starts at $35 for a round-trip ticket and utilizes variable pricing, with tickets at 4am starting at $49. Long weekends, holidays, and last-minute weekend tickets are priced higher. The Moraine Lake Bus Company allows small dogs on their shuttles, inflatable paddleboards, and kayaks, so bringing your pet to witness the sunrise is a great option.
They also have four daily shuttles that include a one-hour Lake Louise stop. Check their schedule here.
Radventures Earlybird Explorer
Radventures is one of my favorite small companies in Banff. They offer small group (max 14 guests) guided tours, starting and ending with hotel pick up in Banff, with local interpretation and an amazing guide to answer questions.
Enjoy complimentary hot drinks, see the best spots at Moraine Lake to view the sunrise, and get set up for sunrise photos (as their guiding team has photography training). After Moraine Lake, guests can get an optional hot cafe breakfast at Trailhead Cafe before heading to Lake Louise. This tour includes hotel pick-ups and drop-offs in Banff, 2 hours at Moraine Lake, 30 minutes at Lake Louise Village, and 2 hours at Lake Louise, allowing you time to canoe on Lake Louise if you want! Book that tour here.
Stay at Moraine Lake Lodge
If you can secure a stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge, you have guaranteed access to Moraine Lake and can even drive up to Moraine Lake with your suitcases and luggage. Since room rates range between $900-1100 per night, rightfully so. Moraine Lake Lodge is the only lodging at Moraine Lake, so book well in advance if it’s within your budget.
Staying overnight at Moraine Lake Lodge not only means you get sunrise at Moraine Lake (without an insanely early wake up) but also sunset. Enjoy the tranquility of the lake under a blanket of stars. Imagine climbing the rockpile trail at midnight to catch Moraine Lake under the full moon. You can do that if you book a night at this lodge!
Bike to Moraine Lake
We love biking to Moraine Lake, although it’s no easy feat. Moraine Lake Road is over 12 km, and it’s all uphill from the turn-off from Lake Louise Drive. You know what that means, though, don’t you? That the way down from Moraine Lake is all downhill!
Bring a headlamp and bear spray to ride your bike to Moraine Lake before dawn. The ride should take 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on your fitness and bike type. It is allowed to bring e-bikes up to Moraine Lake.
Samson Mall is the best place to park your bike, but remember that this adds more distance and elevation gain. However, if you truly want to say you worked hard for your sunrise, this is your ticket!
Does the Parks Canada Shuttle Offer Moraine Lake Sunrise Options?
No, the Moraine Lake Shuttle operated by Parks Canada does not offer sunrise options. While the Parks Canada buses start running as early as 6am, this does not get you sunrise at Moraine Lake. Considering the bus ride from the Lake Louise Ski Resort to Moraine Lake typically takes about 30 minutes, the earliest you’ll reach Moraine Lake is 6:30am. It will still be beautiful and quiet during this time, but it won’t be sunrise.
The next cheapest option for getting to Moraine Lake at sunrise is with the Moraine Lake Bus Company (or by riding your bike!). Sunrise tickets start at $49 and go up on weekends and periods of high demand.
Why Does Everyone Want to Witness Sunrise at Moraine Lake?
When envisioning a conventional sunrise, one might picture the sun ascending on the horizon over the ocean, turning the clouds’ pink and purple hues into a beautiful and dazzling sight. The sun’s unique ascent from behind you at Moraine Lake sets the sunrise at Moraine Lake apart. It casts an ethereal glow upon the Ten Peaks in front of you and the lake. This particular moment offers optimal lighting, especially for photographers. It’s a magical sight that many wish to witness at least once.
Catching the sunrise at Moraine Lake also means you beat many crowds, which typically start their days around 8 or 9am, while also giving you a jump start to your day in Banff. Although you might be tired from your early rise, starting your day at sunrise means you can make the most of your Banff itinerary.
Before the parking restrictions, we would often make our way to Moraine Lake for sunset, as crowds thin out around this time, and it’s another magical time of day at Moraine Lake. However, with the Parks Canada shuttle stopping around 8pm, sunset at Moraine Lake is more challenging nowadays.
Where is the Best Place to Watch Sunrise at Moraine Lake?
The Rockpile Trail is easily the most popular place to watch the sunrise. It’s just a short 10-minute hike to the top of the Rockpile Trail, and once there, you can stake out a good spot to catch the sunrise from.
It’s also possible to watch the sunrise from the Moraine Lake Shoreline. However, I prefer the higher vantage point that the Rockpile trail provides.
Can I Bring My Dog?
The Moraine Lake Bus Company’s pet policies are the same as Parks Canada and Roam Transit, and animals are allowed on their buses. But only if in a carrying case that is small enough to fit on your lap. Certified service animals of any size are also allowed.
Moraine Lake: Sunrise vs Sunset
Both a Moraine Lake sunrise and a Moraine Lake sunset will not disappoint. However, after getting up early and staying late for both, I firmly believe the skies are better in the morning.
If you are a photographer, you will probably walk away with better photos of getting to Moraine Lake for sunrise. That said, Moraine Lake will likely be busier in the morning than in the evening, as everyone wants to catch Moraine Lake at sunrise.
What to Pack to Watch Moraine Lake At Sunrise
Moraine Lake is higher than Canmore, Banff, and even Lake Louise. Even on a summer day, you can bet it will be chilly in the morning at Moraine Lake. We recommend wearing layers and packing a jacket, even in August.
Remember that temperatures are lower in June, September, and October; you may even want a hat, gloves, and long pants. Always wear sturdy shoes, even if you only plan to hike up the Rockpile trail.
What to Do After Sunrise at Moraine Lake?
If you get to Moraine Lake at sunrise, you have plenty of time to tackle a little adventure.
Canoe on Moraine Lake: The Moraine Lake Lodge operates the canoe dock at Moraine Lake, and come summertime, they will be dolling out canoes to everyone who wants to paddle on the dazzling water. The morning is one of the best times to canoe on Moraine Lake, as the water is typically calm and glassy.
Hike: There are so many hikes around Moraine Lake to enjoy, but before you embark on any of them, ensure you have enough time to complete them, as you’ll have to catch your shuttle/bus back out. Our favorite hikes are Consolation Lakes, Eiffel Lake, and Sentinel Pass. If you’re up for a scramble, there’s Tower of Babel and Eiffel Peak.
What to Do in the Area?
After you visit Lake Louise, you should definitely head there; it’s easy to see both lakes in one day! Many tours include Lake Louise in their Lake Louise tour, including Radventures.
If you have booked the Parks Canada shuttle, you can hop on the Lake Connector bus, which will take you between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake with proof of your ticket. Once at Lake Louise, we recommend going for a paddle, having lunch at the Fairmont, or enjoying a hike.
Morant’s Curve is a fantastic viewpoint just a 10-minute drive from Lake Louise. Head there and see if you can catch the train coming around the corner.
If you’re not tired of bright blue lakes, drive further from Lake Louise into Yoho National Park and hike to Sherbrooke Lake. Sherbrooke Lake is a stunner with fewer visitors than Emerald Lake or Lake Louise. This is for any hikers looking for some relaxation in the mountains. The trail moves through the woods for several kilometers until it reaches the lakeshore, and views open up to views of Mount Ogden and Mount Niles.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service that will connect you right from YYC to the town of Banff or Canmore.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.