Moraine Lake is usually the number one spot on any visit to Banff National Park; the breathtakingly blue water and the snow capped peaks make it absolutely unmissable on any trip.
So at this point, you’ve probably seen the incredible photos, but what you probably haven’t considered is how to get up there. The truth is, getting to Moraine Lake has become a bit of a logistical nightmare, and on a busy day, actually seeing it could potentially take you hours more than it needs to!
Before you plan any further though, take a minute to consider what time of year you’re visiting. The Moraine Lake Road is usually closed between late October and May long weekend, when it gradually becomes a cross country ski course. Visiting in Winter is not advised anyway because a) the route crosses avalanche terrain, and b) as the glaciers freeze, the lake drains! Make sure you visit during the summer!
Ok so back to planning your visit:
Here’s the way things work normally if you’re happy to see Moraine at a leisurely pace:
Total round trip time on a busy day – likely to be a minimum of 1.5-2 hours (see below for a look at the bus line)
If you’re on any type of time crunch, then taking hours is probably the last thing you want to happen. So the question is, how can you plan your Moraine Lake visit as efficiently as possible without wasting hours and hours lining up?
Ok, so for the type A’s amongst you, here’s the secret sauce for getting in to Moraine without too much drama, and without significant disruption to your trip: Timing!
If you visit between 6am and 7am, you should be able to get up to the Moraine Lake Parking lot before the road closes. In previous years we’ve been here around 7 and have had plenty of parking, but this year we visited just before 7 (week of July 1-7) and the parking area was already full, so be warned. This obviously varies week by week but 6-7am should be a safe bet.
If you visit during mid-summer, sunrise is much earlier than 7am anyway, so if you’re a photographer that’s probably not an issue.
After sunrise, most of the photographers start to clear out, so you’ll probably have a few more options if you find that sweet spot after sunrise and before the road closes. If you’re a little late you can hang around and wait for a parking spot (as long as a Parks Canada employee doesn’t shoo you away).
The other great time to head up to the lake is in the evening!
Parks employees generally call it a day around 6pm (from our experience), and you start to get a lot more freedom to head up the road. Most tourists have already visited by this point so you should have no problem finding a parking spot. I seriously recommend coming at this point in the day anyway (rather than midday) because the lighting is way softer for your photos!
During peak season I would recommend going even later – towards 7pm just to make sure you definitely can get in. The days are long and you’ll still easily be there during daylight.
So now it becomes a question of fitting Moraine Lake into the rest of the trip:
If you’re into hiking, the obvious thing to do is visit Moraine for sunrise and then check out one of the incredible hikes from Moraine Lake, like Sentinel Pass or Consolation Lakes. If hiking isn’t your thing, then it’s a great first stop before then heading on to Lake Louise and up the Icefield’s Parkway, or towards Yoho and Emerald Lake.
Alternatively, if you want to do Moraine Lake last, fitting it in on the way back from the Icefield’s Parkway or Yoho National Park would make the most sense. We usually recommend doing the Minnewanka loop and Banff related sights on one day, and then getting up bright and early and doing Moraine Lake and the Icefield’s Parkway on the next day. Logistically it makes much more sense to do it that way rather than go back and forth several times.
Finally, the easiest way to beat the crowds and not have to worry about the road being closed is by taking a tour. Tour buses and minibuses are allowed through the barrier and are far quicker than waiting for the regular free shuttle. Downside is that obviously you’re paying for a tour!
Just a quick post today, but hopefully a couple of good tips to take into consideration when planning your trip! Waiting in line is the worst, and with a simple bit of planning you can easily avoid it, and save yourself a ton of time!