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 is an image that will last with you for a lifetime.
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 May to October. 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 late June or early July. It’s during this time the lake reaches it peak.
To ensure warmer weather, it’s never hot in the Rockies, and a good chance to witness the most vivid turquoise water visit Lake Morain 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.
The two photos were taken shortly after the lake opened in May and peak season in July.
How to get to Moraine Lake?
Fly into Calgary or Edmonton
The closest international airport is Calgary (YYC) 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 make a road trip to Jasper and down the Icefields Parkway to Banff. From Banff 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.
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
What Time to 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. in the summer months if you want to park.
This is particulary 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.
The Canoes At Moraine Lake
Beyond walking around the lake this 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 Morain 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. Of course, you can get inflatable SUPs like us and pack them into Moraine Lake via the shuttle bus.
The 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)
Hikes Around Lake Moraine
These are some recommended hikes around Lake Moraine. I’ve attempted to rank them in difficulty.
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.
Frequently Asked Moraine Lake Questions
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. 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.
Can you bike to Moraine Lake?
Yes, you can bike to Moraine Lake. However, we would not advise doing so due to the traffic on the narrow road. There is occasionally a period of time when the road is free of snow but closed for the winter season. 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 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. 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.
Holidays at Moraine Lake?
The Lake 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.
What to wear at Moraine Lake?
If we had a dollar for every time we saw a visitor wearing poor mountain clothes we would be rich. No, but seriously guys come to Banff dressed for mountain weather. That means packable down jackets and hats even in the summer.
The weather here can change at a moment’s notice and you don’t want to be underdressed. It’s extremely important to pack layers, thermals, and HIKING BOOTS.
Yes, hiking boots or shoes. If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Banff please do not show up in Converse shoes. It will not only make you uncomfortable and look like a fool, but it can be potentially dangerous if you attempt a mountain hike you are not prepared for. You can find our entire list of backpacking essentials here.
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 CAD 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. Which means staying alert, traveling in a group, minding children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.
Places to Stay in Banff
Fairmont Banff Springs
For apartment rentals in Banff consider looking at Airbnb. However, Airbnb’s in Banff don’t come cheap and you will need to book them well in advance. Especially in peak summer and around the winter holidays. You can read about choosing a good Airbnb here. Here is a coupon for your first stay with Airbnb!
Plan Your Trip to Banff
Get a Travel Credit Card
How do we travel so much and avoid going broke? Well, we actually have many travel rewards credit cards. How many? Over 20 to be exact. If you’re a responsible credit card user I highly recommend looking at these travel rewards credit cards and earning points and airmiles for your purchases.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Canada. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Skin cancer is for real, even in the mountains! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Jasper. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on in the Rockies. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything in the mountains. Even in July, you may still find yourself reaching for a jacket!
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourist that buys plastic water bottles in Jasper. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in the mountains. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding even traveling in the desert. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
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Pack Your Bags
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