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Exploring Moraine Lake in Banff Canada (Rockpile Trail & Canoe Tips)

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Perhaps the biggest highlight to my recent trip through Banff National Park was having the opportunity to visit Moraine Lake, explore the Rockpile Trail and canoe on its vivid turquoise waters. While I had seen a million photographs of Moraine Lake’s vibrant color, I was somewhat skeptical about what I’d actually see in person.

After soaking up views from the Rockpile trail, hiking around the lakeshore multiple times and spending time canoeing on the lake, I can happily say that the colors you’ll see in person might even exceed what you’ve seen on Instagram and the internet.

We visited during a particularly sunny stretch of weather, so by midday the sun was beaming down into the icy waters of Moraine Lake without a cloud in sight.

The vibrant turquoise colors are produced from sunlight interacting with the rich mineral content of the glacial lake, so we were fortunate to have some of the most colorful water conditions you could have during a trip to Banff.

Man taking a selfie on a canoe in the middle of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park Canada
Canoeing on Moraine Lake was a highlight of our trip to Banff National Park

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After arriving to the Moraine Lake lakeshore via the Parks Canada Shuttle, we made our way over to the Rock Pile which is to the left, just past the public restrooms.

couple posing at the Moraine Lake Rock Pile in Banff National Park
There are tons of great photo ops near the Moraine Lake Rock Pile

If you arrive early in the morning, the crowds will still be relatively tame and there should be plenty of space to take photographs and soak up views of the incredible lake. During this time you’ll also enjoy some really beautiful soft light from the late morning sun.

For the die hard photographer hoping to catch a full sunrise at Moraine Lake, you’ll need to book a private early morning shuttle or stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge. The lake is not open to private vehicles and the earliest Parks Canada Shuttles won’t get you down to the lakeshore in time for sunrise.

Once you’ve had your fill of lake views from the Rock Pile, there are a few different activities I would recommend to enjoy your time here.

I would suggest starting your day with a hike, before the trails become crowded and while the sun is still relatively low in the sky.

A great shorter hike leads out to Consolation Lakes. It crosses a large field of rock debris near the Tower of Babel before tracking Babel Creek through a forest for much of the hike. Once you reach Consolation Lakes you can either stop for lunch or enjoy some moderate difficulty scrambling across the large rocks that cover the terrain.

Two hikers scramble on large rocks at Consolation Lakes in Banff National Park
Hikers climbing rocks near Consolation Lakes

If you’re searching for a slightly longer hike, one of my favorite hikes in Banff National Park originates at Moraine Lake. The hike to Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley is slightly longer than Consolation Lakes, but offers incredible views of Larch Valley once you reach the top of Sentinel Pass.

Hiker posing atop Sentinel Pass in Banff National Park
Having access to downloaded trail maps via AllTrails is always a smart decision!

We spent two afternoons at Moraine Lake so we had an opportunity to knock out both of these hikes. Once you’ve done the hike of your choice, head down to the lakeshore and rent a canoe to experience the turquoise water firsthand.

This would also be a great time, if you’re brave enough, to take an icy and refreshing dip in the water of Moraine Lake to cool off from your hike. Just be warned that the water here is icy cold year round, even in the dead of summer.

If swimming in Moraine Lake is too cold for you, consider swimming in Emerald Lake which is located in nearby Yoho National Park. Yoho is also home to the massive Takakkaw Falls waterfall, which is the second largest waterfall in Canada and well worth a visit.

After spending some time enjoying the water, you can head over to the Moraine Lake Lodge Cafe for a coffee and light snack. At this point I’d suggest catching a Parks Canada Shuttle back to your vehicle, or you can connect over and spend some time at the Lake Louise lakeshore.

Where is Moraine Lake located?

Nestled in the heart of Banff National Park, Canada, lies one of the most picturesque sites in the region, Moraine Lake. The lake is located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, amidst the Canadian Rockies.

Views of Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada
The hike to Sentinel Pass originates along the shores of the beautiful Moraine Lake

Banff National Park is located within the Canadian province of Alberta. The lake is also within close proximity to Yoho National Park and British Colombia which border Banff to the west.

Where is the best place to stay when visiting Moraine Lake and Banff Canada?

If you’re hoping to stay on the lakeshore of Moraine Lake, you should consider checking out the Moraine Lake Lodge. Staying here will offer an intimate experience at Moraine Lake that few others will have. Just be mindful that restaurants, shopping and other amenities will be extremely limited.

For those who prefer staying near Moraine Lake but seek more traditional accommodations, the towns of Banff and Canmore could be ideal options.

Banff, located about 36 miles (58 kilometers) away, is roughly a 50-minute drive from Moraine Lake. It is a picturesque mountain town offering a diverse selection of accommodations, dining options, and shops. The town is pedestrian friendly and you’ll be centrally located.

Banff Canada walking bridge through town
With views like this, it’s no wonder people love staying in the town of Banff

During my trip we only spent two nights in Banff at the Brewster’s Mountain Lodge which is a budget friendly hotel option in Banff. You can view other hotel options in Banff here.

Canmore is another great option that is situated approximately 47 miles (75 kilometers) from Moraine Lake. It’s just over a 1-hour drive to Moraine Lake, so just slightly further than Banff.

We spent four nights in Canmore at a VRBO since there was a wider selection of properties here and at much better prices than Banff. I’d suggest splitting your trip between these two towns to experience the best of both worlds, while saving some money versus only staying in the more expensive town of Banff.

If you have a group you’re traveling with, a VRBO probably makes sense when staying in Canmore. Otherwise, check out some of the budget friendly hotel options in Canmore here.

Close up shot of the Three Sisters Viewpoint in Canmore Alberta Canada
The Three Sisters Viewpoint puts you in a great position to photograph the peaks

If you stay in Canmore, be sure to check out the Three Sisters Viewpoint hike which is conveniently located in town. It’s a short hike that is ideal for sunset after a long day exploring Banff National Park!

Where do you fly into for Moraine Lake and Alberta Canada?

When planning your journey to Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada, choosing the right airport to fly into will be one of your first considerations. The most convenient and preferred option would be Calgary International Airport.

Calgary International Airport (YYC) serves as the principal gateway to Alberta and is the ideal airport for your visit to Banff National Park.

Two trees framing a photograph of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Every angle of Moraine Lake feels like something that could be on a postcard!

Located around 135 km (84 miles) east of Banff National Park, the Calgary International Airport is only a 90 minute drive to the town of Banff. The drive transitions from cityscapes, to rolling farmland, until you eventually encounter the rugged Rocky Mountains.

For tips on booking cheaper airfare, be sure to read the post I wrote covering my favorite hacks for booking cheap airfare. It’s packed full of my favorite tricks for paying the bare minimum for flights. Alternatively, check out Wayaway, a flight booking tool that offers cash back!

Do you need to rent a car when visiting Alberta Canada?

With a rental car, you get greater control over your schedule and itinerary, making it easier to visit all the attractions smeared throughout Banff National Park at your own pace.

When planning your trip to Moraine Lake, you’ll quickly find that all of the main attractions worth experiencing throughout Banff are fairly spread out. While there are some ways to get creative with shuttles and guided tours, I’d suggest reserving a rental car to maintain better flexibility.

Bow Lake seen from the Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada
It’s hard to believe views like this exist directly adjacent to the Icefields Parkway

If you plan on visiting stops along the Icefields Parkway, such as the Bow Lake Viewpoint or the Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint, you’re definitely going to want a car.

A tool like Rentalcars.com is great for comparing prices across rental car agencies to ensure you get the best price on your vehicle.

Be mindful that peak summer season in Banff brings crowds. This means rental cars can sell out in advance or become extremely expensive if you wait until the last minute. Book your car well in advance!

What is Moraine Lake in Banff National Park best known for?

Moraine Lake is undoubtedly best known for its deep turquoise water color. The Valley of the Ten Peaks which frames the lake, adds to the picture perfect photo opportunity.

The ease of access adds to Moraine Lake’s popularity as the Rockpile trail is short, well maintained and only steps from the shuttle drop off area. The Rockpile trail leads to the most commonly photographed vantage point of the lake.

Young hikers posing for a photograph at the Moraine Lake Rock Pile in Banff National Park
There are plenty of great spots to take a photograph near Moraine Lake

Visitors can spend an afternoon in the area hiking into the mountains, renting a canoe or enjoying a coffee at the lakeside cafe.

What are some interesting facts about Moraine Lake?

The vibrant shade of blue-green that Moraine Lake is renowned for is a result of the light refracting off the rock flour suspended in the lake water. The rock flour, composed of fine silt-sized rock particles, is the product of glacial erosion.

Sunshine lighting up Moraine Lake a bright turquoise in Banff National Park
Sunny afternoons help create the most vibrant turquoise colors in Moraine Lake

As glaciers have ground away at the rocks surrounding Moraine Lake, releasing the rock flour, it is then carried into the lake by streams and meltwater. As these particles scatter the sunlight, they produce the lakes signature teal water color.

Another noteworthy aspect of Moraine Lake is its elevation. The lake is situated at an impressive 1,884 meters (about 6,181 feet) above sea level. This is something to keep in mind if you’re planning to do any hikes in the area since the air will be thin!

Is there cell phone service at Moraine Lake? 

Visitors at Moraine Lake should not anticipate reliable cell phone service. Due to the remote location of the lake, tucked within the heart of the Rockies, cellular connection can be weak or even nonexistent.

Be sure to download any trail maps, shuttle passes or GPS directions before adventuring out for the day.

Where is the best place in Banff National Park to rent a canoe?

Compared to Lake Louise, another popular canoe spot in Banff, renting a canoe at Moraine Lake is often easier, as Moraine Lake tends to be less crowded resulting in fewer crowds competing for the limited canoes.

Moraine Lake canoe rental in Banff National Park
Moraine Lake is usually less crowded than Lake Louise when it comes to canoe rentals

This means less time spent waiting in lines, ensuring you maximize your limited time in Banff.

It is important to note that canoe rentals at Moraine Lake can be expensive. However, I would encourage you to consider it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, make sure you get out on that turquoise water!

How do I reserve a shuttle to visit Moraine Lake in Banff National Park?

Parks Canada releases shuttle reservation slots in two waves for visiting Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Shuttle reservations for these areas start opening several months in advance, with Parks Canada releasing a second round of slots several days before the date in question.

Be mindful that these shuttle reservations commonly sell out within minutes of becoming available to the public. Use the link above, visit the Parks Canada website and determine when the dates you’re visiting Banff National Park will have shuttle reservations available.

You’ll generally need to be at your computer ready to make the reservations the moment they go live for the date in question.

If you’re unable to book the more affordable Parks Canada shuttle, your next best option for reaching Moraine Lake is to book a private shuttle service. You can book private shuttles to Moraine Lake using GetYourGuide.

Are dogs allowed at Moraine Lake? 

While dogs are permitted at Moraine Lake, you’ll need to check with Parks Canada or the private shuttle service you plan to use to ensure your pet meets the size and weight requirements for riding on their shuttles.

Hikers leaving the Peyto Lake Viewpoint with their dog
Most areas of Banff National Park are dog friendly

The lakeshore area can be crowded with visitors and some of the hikes originating from Moraine Lake could be difficult for smaller dogs. Make sure your pooch is up for a challenging day of hiking or is well behaved around large crowds of people!

Are there bathrooms at Moraine Lake?

The primary bathrooms at Moraine Lake are located near the parking lot and the shuttle drop-off point. You can’t miss them after exiting your shuttle. Just be mindful that these are outhouse style restrooms so they won’t be the nicest facilities you’ve ever encountered.

Can you swim in Moraine Lake in Banff Canada?

Yes, visitors are technically permitted to swim in Moraine Lake. However, it’s important to note that the turquoise waters are glacier-fed, meaning the temperature remains extremely cold, rarely rising above freezing, even on the hottest summer days.

If you’re going to travel all the way to Banff then you’ve gotta swim in at least one of the mineral rich lakes you’ll encounter.

Visitors swimming in Emerald Lake Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake is considered one of the best swimming spots in the Canadian Rockies!

We chose to canoe on Moraine Lake and instead of swimming there as well, opted for a dip in the slightly warmer waters of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. It’s still frigid, but we had a great time cooling off on a hot afternoon there!

Can you purchase souvenirs at Moraine Lake?

Located near the lake, you’ll find a gift shop that features a wide variety of souvenirs, including apparel, locally crafted items, artwork, and other mementos that represent Moraine Lake and the surrounding Banff National Park.

What is the best time of year to visit Moraine Lake and Alberta Canada?

If outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing are at the top of your to-do list, summer is the ideal time to visit Moraine Lake.

The summer season in Banff usually stretches from late June to early September. During this time, the weather is most favorable, with warm temperatures and longer days allowing plenty of time for outdoor exploration.

Turquoise waters of Moraine Lake during sunrise in Alberta Canada
Views of Moraine Lake during the late morning with shadows cast across the water

Be mindful that the lake itself can stay frozen until late May or early June. If you’re hoping to see snow capped mountains during your visit, go earlier in the season as much of the mountain snow will melt by August.

Winter can also be a great time to visit Banff National Park and Alberta, Canada if you’re more interested in skiing or winter photography. Just be mindful that the roads will be more difficult to navigate during this time and most of the hiking trails will be inaccessible.

What is the best month to visit Moraine Lake in Banff Canada?

I’m biased, but we really enjoyed our visit to Banff National Park during early September and think that this makes one of the best months to visit.

By early September the peak summer crowds begin to fade which means the park is less busy than July or August. Meanwhile, the weather is still warm, the days are still long and there’s clear conditions on the hiking trails.

Visiting in September means you’ll also save a little bit of money on hotels in Banff. As kids end up back in school, you’ll face less competition for the limited accommodations in the area.

If you time your visit during late September or early October, you’ll also have the opportunity to view the Golden Larches in Larch Valley which turn to Fall colors during this time.

What is the best time of day to visit Moraine Lake in Banff National Park?

The best time of day to visit Moraine Lake, like most places in Banff National Park, is early morning when you can beat the crowds. This is also a great time to start your day if you plan to do any longer day hikes so you can avoid the afternoon sun.

Arriving early also gives you an opportunity to photograph the lake from the Rockpile Trail before it’s completely overrun with tourists!

How long does it take to visit Moraine Lake in Alberta Canada?

Most visitors should budget one to two days for enjoying Moraine Lake and the surrounding area. If you follow the tips in this guide, I’d suggest arriving early for photos near the Rockpile Trail, followed by a longer hike out to Sentinel Pass or Consolation Lakes.

Once you’ve completed your hike, head back to the lake and enjoy an hour or two on the water by canoe. If you’re feeling brave, make sure you pack a swimsuit and take a cold plunge into the water while you’re at it as well!

After enjoying time on (or in) the water, enjoy a coffee and snack at the cafe. This is also a great time to do some souvenir shopping as well!

This itinerary should full out a full day at Moraine Lake. If you want to do more hiking in the area, you could justify spending a second day around the lake. Visitors looking to spend more than one or two days here should consider staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge for better access.

Do I need any special hiking gear for Moraine Lake in Banff Canada?

You won’t need to worry about having any hiking gear for walking around Moraine Lake or enjoying the Rockpile Trail since they’re both mild activities.

However, if you plan to do some day hiking here, or in other areas of Banff National Park, I’d suggest reviewing my day hike packing list while planning for your trip.

Cloudy conditions at Lake Agnes in Banff National Park
Be sure to budget time and money for a tea break at Lake Agnes (shown here)

That guide will cover all the essentials you’ll need to conquer longer day hikes in Banff such as the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike or the Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive hike.

Check out these activities available around Banff National Park!

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary to Banff Canada? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is visiting Moraine Lake in Banff Canada worth it?

Visiting Moraine Lake is sure to be a highly for any visitor traveling to Banff Canada and it’s well worth the effort. It’s renowned as one of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies and after experiencing the lake for myself, it’s easy to see why.

Man standing near Moraine Lake, Banff National Park during sunrise
If you arrive at Moraine Lake early, there will be fewer crowds to deal with

Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to leisurely enjoy the beauty that Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks has to offer, this is one place that every visitor is sure to enjoy.

This is a can’t miss for any Banff National Park itinerary and if there’s one piece of advice you cannot afford to neglect from this guide it’s that you need to make your shuttle reservations well in advance!

Shuttle seats will sell out and you’ll have a difficult time reaching Moraine Lake otherwise since it isn’t open to personal vehicles.

If you need general trip planning advice be sure to check out my guide that highlights my favorite tips for planning a trip abroad that I’ve perfected over my numerous travels.

Otherwise I hope you enjoyed this post covering Moraine Lake and the Rockpile Trail in Banff Canada, let me know what you thought about the lake after your visit in the comments below!

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