There is no image more iconic of the Canadian Rockies or Canada for that matter than Moraine Lake. The alpine lake is a 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.
It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world than Moraine Lake. After taking in the spectacular scene go for a hike, climb, ski, or canoe in Banff National Park. Moraine Lake (or Lac Moraine) is an image that will last with you for a lifetime.
Visiting Moraine Lake (Lac Moraine)
Moraine Lake is 14 kilometers southeast of Lake Louise. The lake can attribute its brilliant blue color to glacier waters full of rock flour (fine particle of rock) that refracts the light. The time to witness this brilliant color is relatively short-lived as the majority of the year the lake is frozen, from October to June. This is due to its elevation of 1,885 meters or 6,183 feet.
There are a number of fantastic hikes and walks around the lake. The most famous is a short walk up The Rockpile Trail that leads to the “Twenty Dollar View.” It is the scene featured on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill and the vantage point for almost every photograph of the stunning lake.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Moraine Lake?
Unless you’re experienced adventurer with avalanche knowledge and snowshoes or skis you can only visit Moraine Lake from late May to October. The road is closed the rest of the year because it is snow covered and crosses avi paths. If you want to cross country ski or snowshoe in 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 it’s 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 the 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 in order 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.
This is particularly tough for those who plan to tackle some of the 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 from the Lake Louise Park & Ride in the morning.
The Shuttle To Moraine Lake
Parks’s 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 visit Lake Louise, then Moraine lake, and then return to their car. If you parked at Lake Louise Shore parking lot you can another shuttle from the village or Park and Ride back.
There is also the option to take part in the early bird shuttle that runs directly from the Lake Louise Park & Ride to Moraine Lake from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. We recommend this for photographers and hikers as most visitors shouldn’t skip Lake Louise because it’s also magical.
Moraine Lake Shuttle Fairs
- Adults: $6
- Seniors: $3
- Youth (under 18): $3
- Children (under 6): Free
Early Bird Moraine Lake Shuttle Fairs
- Adults: $8
- Seniors: $4
- Youth (under 18): $4
- Children (under 6): Free
Check out the map below to better understand the layout and where to park. If you’d like more info such as schedule and up to date fairs check out the Moraine Lake shuttle website.
Canoeing at Moraine Lake
Beyond walking around the 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 strong snow, rain, or wind.
Can you Bring a Private Canoe, Kayak, or SUP to Moraine Lake?
Visitors are allowed to 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.
Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail
The Rockpile trail brings you to the aptly named “Twenty Dollar View” because it is the scene used on the former twenty dollar bill and shot by almost every photographer. We like to consider it one of the best views in the world. Moraine Lakes deep blue is backed by the famed Ten Peaks, ten towering snow-capped peaks.
It’s a short walk up to the top of the rockpile a natural dam. The trail switchback along the backside of the rocky moraine. There are a number of stone and log steps that make it accessible to most able-bodied people. Keep an eye out for pikas and chipmunks that are frequently seen darting in and out of the rocks.
- Trailhead: Begins at the end of the parking lot and over the bridge.
- Distance: 350 meters
- Elevation: 30 meters
- Time: 20 – 40 minutes (return)
Biking to Moraine Lake
I’ve biked to Moraine Lake a few times in the past and it’s actually not as bad as it sounds. From Lake Louise, it’s approximately 14 km uphill. This takes me 50 minutes on a mountain bike and 40 on a road bike. It’s all uphill, but the ride down makes it all worth it. If you can’t seem to get parking one of your options is to park at Lake Louise Village, or there’s also a small parking area at the start of Moraine Lake Road.
There is also one short week from when they plow Lake Moraine Road and open the road to vehilces that you can bike to Moraine Lake and have it all to yourself – which is amazing!
If you’re a domestic traveler make sure to bring your bike to Banff or it’s possible to rent bicycles for the day in either Banff or Canmore.
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 shoreline of the lake and back. It’s a wonderful trail that moves in and out of the forest with great views of the lake and mountains.
You’ll be shocked at how few visitors to Moraine Lake go just a little further hike along one 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 it 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 the most stunning natural scenery in Canada. 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. It’s 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. 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. However, you can arrive as early as 4am to grab a spot.
Frequently Asked Moraine Lake Questions
Can You Drive to Moraine Lake?
You can drive to Moraine Lake, but it comes with it’s own set of hassles as there is limited parking and Moraine Lake is the most popular thing to see in all of Alberta. To get to Moraine Lake you’ll need to drive on a 14 km paved road. I’ll cover parking below.
When Does The Road To Moraine Lake Open And Close?
Since the 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. So if you’re wondering is the road to Moraine Lake open consider the month.
It usually opens around mid to late May and closes the Tuesday after Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday (second Monday in October). Yes, Canada has its own Thanksgiving.
There are no set dates in regard to 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 period of time when the road is free of snow but closed to vehicles still. 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 Walk to Moraine Lake?
You can walk to Moraine Lake – and I’ve seen people do it (although I never have). Prepare for a 14 km walk up, following the road. I would plan at least 2.5 hours to walk to Moraine Lake from the start of the road. To get back may be a little shorter as you are going downhill, but not much. It’s possible you’ll be able be able to hitch a ride if you get tired.
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.
Are there Bears Around Moraine Lake?
If you plan to do any hiking around Banff you need to go to the local outdoor store (there’s a big one in Banff called Atmosphere) and purchase a canister of bear spray. This will set you back around $30-40 but it is more than worth it in the event of a threatening encounter with a bear.
Then before any hike in Banff National Park, make sure to pack bear spray, check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead. The valleys around Moraine Lake are well known for their bear sightings.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. It’s also a busy trail so you generally don’t need to make too much noise, but always be bear aware. This means staying alert, traveling in a group, minding children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.
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 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, there are 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 fist 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
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.
How to Get to Moraine Lake?
Moraine Lake is located up Moraine Lake Road, which is a 13 km road from Lake Louise. To get there all visitors must take the Lake Louise exit and turn left from Banff, or right from Field, BC. Continue past Lake Louise village. If you are low on gas this is your last chance to fill up, and you will need at least something in your tank to make it up the 13km to Lake Moraine and back.
Lake Moraine road is a two lane road, there is only one place to park and that is Lake Moraine itself. There are very few chances to pull over on this road. There are only 150 or so spaces at Lake Moraine so once the lot fills up Parks Canada will typically close the road down. In the summer this happens as early as 5:30 am. To get to Moraine Lake and around Banff here are your options and steps.
Fly into Calgary or Edmonton
The closest international airport is Calgary (YYC) which is located around 200 km from Lake Louise a two-hour car ride. It’s one of our favorite airports as it’s modern, not too busy, and has a number of flight connections within Canada. It’s also well connected to several major hubs in the United States and has several direct to Europe. If you’re coming from Europe we like to connect through London Gatwick Airport as Westjet offers an affordable flight with great service.
The alternative is to fly into Edmonton and make a road trip to Jasper and down the Icefields Parkway to Banff. From Banff you can drive to Calgary and depart from that airport. It’s a spectacular drive and considered one of the best road trips in the world! Of course, you can do the route from Calgary to Jasper and out Edmonton.
While public transport is greatly improving around the park it’s still tough to explore without your own car. So we recommend you pick up a car rental in order to best explore Banff National Park and the surrounding area.
If you do not feel comfortable driving or do not have your license it is very possible to have a vacation in the Canadian Rockies without driving. In fact, if you plan to visit the most popular attraction we even recommend it. Roam Transit offers public bus service around the Bow Valley.
The Banff Airporter offers a shuttle service for visitors to Canmore and Banff. They have multiple departures a day and will deliver you to the Coast Hotel in Canmore or direct to your hotel in Banff. They drive in modern vans or buses and have prompt friendly service. Even as locals we’ve used them to avoid parking our car at the airport and were very happy with the service.
Bow Valley Public Transport (Roam)
You’ll probably be surprised to learn that despite the fact Banff and Canmore are small towns of 8,000 and 14,000 people they have a public bus system that runs year-round to many of the most popular attractions around the two towns and connecting them. In the summer months, the Roam transit runs a direct bus to Lake Louise, Lake Louise Village, and Moraine Lake.
Private Tour Operators
You also have the option to use one of the countless number of tour operators in Banff who offer tours that include Moraine Lake. They also have a wide range of activities to test out for whatever suits your fancy. Want to go dog sledding, canoeing, horseback riding, ice walk, climbing, skiing, wildlife photography, hike, or white water rafting.