UPDATE: Parks Canada crews are working hard to clear the snow from Moraine Lake road. The seaonal opening is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22, 2018.
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 magestic 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 strenous 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.
Once the melt water from the glacier up above starts to flow into the lake it brings with it rock flour or silt. This is what the light reflects off of and gives the lake the stunning blue colour.
The two photos below were taken in different years, each in early October on the last day before the road to Moraine Lake was closed. As you can see the weather and views can be drastically different. On the day of the photo without snow it was still quite cold.
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 disspointed with the views. Keep working your way up to the highest viewpont 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: elevation of 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 easy walk that works its way along the shoreline to the back of the lake. As the trail weaves its way in and out of the trees there are views 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 near the stream of rushing water that flows from the Wenkchemna Glacier. The trail is fairly flat. You have to come back the same route, the return distance is a total of 2.9 km’s, 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
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 ammenities 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 9:30am to 5pm from mid-June to mid-September. Rentals start at $105 plus tax for one hour per canoe. Paddles, life jackets and basic instruction are provied. 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. Access to both lakes is from the same road. See the directions below.
Directions To Moraine Lake
From the Lake Lousie Village located just off the Trans Canada Hwy follow Lake Louise drive uphill for approximately 3 km’s until you see the access road for Moraine Lake on the left hand side. Follow the winding road for 11km’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 Lake Louise within a few minutes.
Tips For Avoiding The Summer Crowds, Traffic And Parking Chaos
The parking at Moraine Lake is very limited. In recent years the traffic has become so heavy that access restrictions have been put in place. During the summer months and during the fall larch hiking season vehicle access to the road is controlled. It’s opened as parking becomes available. available. If the lot is full you will be turned away at the beginning of the road and asked to try later or use the shuttle options.
For the best chance of finding a parking spot in the summer and through to early October try to arrive at the lake before 8am or after 6pm. The other option is to ride the private paid shuttle. (Shuttle details below) We used to recommend trying to plan your visit on a summer weekday instead of a weekend, but even that seems to offer little relief from the crowds.
The Larch hiking season has become another very popular time with both visitors and locals. The peak is during the 2nd and 3rd week of September. This is the time when the trees in the Larch Valley are showing off their golden colours. To avoid the excessive crowds on the trails try to plan your hike for mid-week into the valley. Parks Canada offers a free shuttle during this busy time. (details below).
Moraine Lake Transportation and Seasonal Shuttle Information
There is no public transportation in the Lake Louise area or to Moraine Lake. In the last few years a privately operated seasonal shuttle run was started to service Moraine Lake. It operates from July through mid-September.
The shuttle does pick ups and drop offs at the Lake Louise Inn, Samson Mall, the Lake Louise Village campground, Chateau Lake Louise hotel and the Chateau staff housing.
Six runs leave every two hours from the Lake Louise Inn starting at 8:30am and the last one leaving at 6:30pm. Only cash is accepted. The fare is $20 for adults return trip, $10 one way. Children 12 and under $10
The above shuttle information is subject to change, for the most current schedule and fares call Mountain Park Transportation at (403) 522-2525 or (403) 522-2700
The only other options for getting to Moraine Lake are hiring a local taxi, finding a ride with a fellow traveler or local or renting a bicycle. Keep in mind it is 14km’s from the village of Lake Louise to Moraine Lake with the first 3km’s being up an extremely steep hill. Bicycles can be rented at Wilson’s Sports at the Samson Mall in the village of Lake Louise. If you’re staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel check with the concierge for information on using the hotel’s bicycles.
Free Parks Canada Shuttle For The Busy September Larch Valley Hiking Season
In the last few years Parks Canada has been offering a free shuttle to Moraine Lake to help with the high traffic volumes during the peak of the Larch Valley hiking season. They operate the shuttle daily from approximately mid-September through to the road closure in October. Pick up and drop off is from Lake Louise Overflow Camping, located on the Trans Canada Highway 5.5 km east of the village of Lake Louise. More information can be found here: Lake Louise Park Shuttle Bus
When Does The Road To Moraine Lake Open And Close?
The drawback to this beautiful lake is that due to the high elevation and it’s setting there is heavy snowfall and high avalanche risks. The road is closed to all vehicle traffic during the winter.
The road usually opens in mid to late May and closes on the Tuesday after the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday (the second Monday in October).
The dates the road opens and closes are not fixed dates. Parks Canada monitors the avalanche risks and if neccesary the will open later or can be shut down sooner. Once it is closed there is no way to access Moraine Lake by vehicle.
Bicyling To Moraine Lake
In the few days prior to opening of the road if it is clear of snow there is an opportunity to ride a bicycle to the lake. You may not be totally alone, but you can enjoy the lake in relative solitude before the road opens to vehicles. The same opportunity can be done for a short period of time after the road closes (if there hasn’t been any snowfall). 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
Is There Any Way To Get To Moraine Lake In The Winter?
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’s no tour company, shuttle, dog sled or any other type of transport that can get you 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 comtemplate walking through the deep snow or attemptingt to snowshoe. It’s not recommend. Not only would the return distance of 22km’s be exhausting you would be crossing through hazzardous avalanche terrain.
Moraine Lake Road Cross Country Skiing
In the winter the road becomes a popular spot for crosscountry 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 15.6km 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 avalance 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.