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How Long Does it Take to See Moraine Lake? + Tips from a Local

Moraine Lake is a bucket list item for many Banff National Park visitors. The lake is famous for its brilliant turquoise colour and stunning mountain scenery. But you may be wondering, how long will it take to see it?

Moraine Lake can be visited in as little as an hour for a walk around the lakeshore or as long as 3+ hours if you want to include a hike or a lake activity. But it really depends not only on what you plan to do but also on how you plan to get there.

View of Moraine Lake with mountains behind and people on the shore

As a Bow Valley local, I’m not a frequent visitor to Moraine Lake in the summer, preferring to leave that time to visitors. When I’m in the mood for a peek at the lake I’ll bike up because it’s the only way to spontaneously visit Moraine Lake. 

Keep reading to find out why and everything else you need to know and consider to determine how much time you’ll need to see Moraine Lake.

How to Get to Moraine Lake?

The first thing to do before visiting Moraine Lake is decide how to get there. Moraine Lake is closed to personal vehicles unless you are staying at Moraine Lake Lodge or have a disability tag. The only way to get to Moraine Lake is by a shuttle service, tour guide operators (taxis are not permitted), or bike – all of which require a reservation (unless you own your bike). Being able to visit Moraine Lake without pre-booked transportation is slim. If you are set on seeing Moraine Lake, secure transportation ahead of time.

Discover: Driving in Banff: 10 Things You Should Know

Map showing shuttle routes to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Shuttles

Most of the Moraine Lake Shuttles depart from the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot. The parking lot is big and it’s free. The ski lodge is open so there’s a place to hang out, grab a coffee or snack, and use the washroom while you wait for your shuttle.

The shuttles depart from the east side of the lodge. The area is well marked and each service provider has a check-in booth. 

Parks Canada Shuttle

The Parks Canada shuttle is the most popular choice to get to Moraine Lake as it’s the cheapest at ~$8/adult and free for youth under 17 (there is a booking fee), however, it’s also the hardest to get a booking. Reservations open in April, with additional seats released at 8:00 AM MST two days before the day of departure. Reservations are booked in hourly increments – you can board any shuttle within that time. 

TIP: Rolling reservations go FAST! I was online at 7:55 AM and at 8:02 the shuttles were sold out and I had no reservation. If you are set on seeing Moraine Lake make alternative transportation plans as you are not guaranteed a reservation on the Parks Canada shuttle. 

The Parks Canada reservation system is wonky and not very intuitive. Read How to Get From Banff to Lake Louise: Driving, Parking, Shuttles, and Tours for instructions on how to navigate the reservation system. 

Getting to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is Complicated!
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Guide includes shuttle, bus, and tour options as well as reservation windows

People waiting in line to ride the shuttle to Lake Louise
Parks Canada shuttle stop at Lake Louise ski resort
WowBanff shuttle bus
WowBanff open-top shuttle

Other Moraine Lake Shuttle Providers

TIP: Some local hotels provide shuttle service to Moraine Lake so check with your accommodation provider.

Moraine Lake Tour Guides

Several companies offer Moraine Lake tours. The benefit of a tour is guaranteed access to Moraine Lake. The downside is the high price. Here are a few tour operators but there are a lot more. 

  • Discover Banff Tours (book here) does a Lake Louise and Moraine Lake tour from ~$105 for adults and ~$65 for kids. 
  • Banff Adventures offers Lake Louise and Moraine Lake tours, including a sunrise adventure from ~$115.50 to ~$250. 
  • Into the Wild Tours offers private Moraine Lake shuttles (4 hours) as well as longer 8-hour sunrise, morning, or sunset tours. 
  • Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle specializes in sunrise tours for ~$115 for Moraine Lake and ~$185 for Moraine Lake and a stop at Lake Louise. 
  • Radventures (book here) offers full and half-day adventures to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise ranging from ~$190 to ~$250. 

Biking

Biking is my favourite way to get to Moraine Lake. I enjoy the ride to Moraine Lake more than the lake experience (but I love cycling) as Moraine Lake Road is full of waterfalls and streams.

While there is vehicle traffic it’s low enough that there are stretches where it’s possible to ride as a group. The speed limit is 50 k/hr and the vehicle operators are respectful of cyclists.

The last time I biked to Moraine Lake I was surprised at how many people were biking. I don’t know if this was a choice or if they were unable to secure a spot on the shuttles. The majority were on e-bikes. These can be rented from Lake Louise Samson Mall and the Lake Louise Ski Resort (their stock is low).

TIP: Remember a bike lock (even though it’s a low-risk area for bike theft).

A round trip from the Lake Louise parking lot to Moraine Lake is 38 km (23.6 mi) – if you leave from Lake Louise village it’ll be closer to 28 km (17.4 mi). There’s a lot of climbing – even if you have an e-bike it’ll be a bit of a grunt – however, the ride back will take a quarter of the time (15 mins). The stretch of Lake Shore Drive from the village to the Moraine Lake Road turnoff is not fun. There’s a lot of traffic (30 km/hr speed limit) and a punchy climb (8% grade).

Cyclist on Moraine Lake Road
Cycling Moraine Lake Road
stream running through trees on Moraine Lake Road
One of the many water features along Moraine Lake Road

What to Do if You Can’t Secure Transportation to Moraine Lake

Not being able to secure transportation to Moraine Lake, is frustrating and disappointing.

If you are staying a few days, and don’t have a set timetable, call service providers daily to check for cancellations. 

You can show up at the Lake Louise ski hill and try to secure a spot on site. If you can’t, take a trip up the gondola and go for a hike. 

TIP: Walking to Moraine Lake is not a good option. It’s a 14 km hike one way uphill. There are better ways to spend your time. 

If you are not able to secure transportation to Moraine Lake there are other great locations of comparable beauty you can visit:

  • Peyto Lake
  • Johnston Canyon Inkpots
  • Grassi Lakes

Find out: How Long Does it Take to Drive the Icefields Parkway?

Best Time to Visit Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is only accessible mid-May to October. From November to April, it’s closed due to avalanche danger, and the first 8 km (5 mi) of Moraine Lake Road is converted to a cross-country ski trail.

Access to Moraine Lake depends on the snowpack, which makes May and end of October visits a bit risky as the snowpack can delay the opening and hasten the closing of the area. There is also a higher likelihood of snow in the area.

Early June is the safest for an early-season visit. The weather will be mild; prepare for wet weather in the form of rain, snow, or both. Trees are budding so new tree and sap smell will fill the air. By the end of June, daylight is at its longest and crowds start to pick up – as do the mosquitos so have repellant on hand. 

July and August are peak visitor seasons with the highest number of visitors. Expect shuttle lineups, parking congestion, and all the other delights of crowds. The weather will be at its warmest and the days are still long.

September is a great month to visit. The crowds are dwindling (but still busy) the weather is mild and fall colours are resplendent, especially with the larches turning yellow. 

View of people along the banks of Moraine Lake

When is the Best Time of Day to Visit Moraine Lake?

There’s no best time to visit in terms of crowds. The sage advice used to be to go in the morning before the crowds. However, with the restricted access, hikers and sunrise seekers are making the morning periods the busiest. Shuttle and tour operators are offering more early morning times to meet the demand.

The early evenings are the best bet for avoiding crowds but are not great if you’re planning to do one of the longer hikes. However, there is now a hotline phone at the Moraine Lake Lodge that can be used to call for a late pickup if you miss the last shuttle.

How to Spend Your Time at Moraine Lake

Most people visiting Moraine Lake spend their time viewing the lake and walking along its shore. Other activities include hiking and canoeing. Other things you can do are enjoy a coffee and snack at the cafe and wander through the gift shop. 

people sitting at the outdoor cafe patio at Moraine Lake lodge
Moraine Lake Lodge outdoor cafe patio
Rockpile at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake Rockpile

Hiking

HikeDifficultyDistance
Moraine Lake ShorelineEasy3 km (1.8 mi) roundtrip
Rockpile TrailEasy0.8 km (0.5 mi)
Consolation LakesModerate6 km (3.7 mi)
Larch ValleyModerate8.6 km (5.4 mi)

Moraine Lake Shoreline

  • Easy
  • 3 km (1.8 miles) roundtrip
  • 40 to 60 mins

Flat easy forest trail that follows the lakeshore and leads to a boardwalk at the far end of the lake.  

Rockpile Trail

  • Easy
  • 0.8 km (0.5 mi)
  • 20+ mins

Fun trail with interpretive placards that meanders around the Rockpile. The view of Moraine Lake from the top is featured on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill and most photos of the lake. 

Consolation Lakes

  • Moderate
  • 6 km (3.7 mi)
  • 2+ hours

For those looking for something a bit more moderate, this hike through a boulder field (behind the Rockpile) to a forest trail to a lower lake. This hike offers great glacier views. 

Larch Valley 

  • Moderate
  • 8.6 km (5.4 mi)
  • 3+ hours

This is a very popular hike, especially in the Fall when the larches turn yellow and the valley into a vision of gold. It starts with a switchback climb that offers stunning views of the lake then winds through a valley to a meadow with impressive views of the Ten Peaks. 

Lake showing sites around Moraine Lake
people walking across bridge on Consolation Lake hike
Trailhead to Rockpile and Consolation hikes.
canoes laying on the ground in front of the Moraine Lake Lodge
Moraine Lake canoe in front of the Moraine Lake Lodge cabins

Canoeing (and Other Paddling Activities)

Canoeing is a popular activity at Moraine Lake. One-hour rentals start at ~$140 + tax and are done on a first-come basis (no reservations). Paddles, lifejackets, and basic instructions are included in the rental. The canoes fit about 2 to 3 people. 

Canoe rentals can be closed anytime without notice due to inclement weather. If this happens, there are no refunds.

You can use your own watercraft on Moraine Lake depending on the transportation provider.

Do Nothing

Moraine Lake is a great place to sit and do nothing but enjoy the view.

Don’t miss: How to Visit Banff National Park: A Beginner’s Guide

How Much Time Do You Need to Visit Moraine Lake?

Visiting Moraine Lake plan for a minimum of half a day (4 hours) to comfortably travel to and from the site and spend time exploring. Once you are at Moraine Lake here’s how long it will take you to do some of the activities.

One Hour at Moraine Lake

  • Hike the Rockpile, wander the lakeshore, and grab some photos; or,
  • Hike Lakeshore hike depending on your ability; or,
  • Wander the lakeshore, enjoy the cafe, and visit the gift shop.

2+ Hours at Moraine Lake

  • Do the Rockpile and Lakeshore hikes; or,
  • Hike the Moraine Lakeshore trail then grab a coffee and snack; or,
  • Go canoeing, and climb the Rockpile

3+ Hours at Moraine Lake

  • Consolation or Larch Valley hike
  • All of the above-listed options

How Long to Plan if You Are Biking

Allow for 3.5 to 4+ hours if you are biking to Moraine Lake.

I biked from the Lake Louise ski hill to Moraine Lake in 3.5 hours. This included 30 minutes of taking photos and wandering the lakeshore and a lunch stop in Lake Louise at the Trail Cafe at Samson Mall.

Can You See Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in One Day?

Yes! Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are not far apart. Unless you’re planning a longer hike at one of the lakes, it makes sense to see both in one day. Some shuttles go to both lakes in one day. If you do both lakes on the same day, allow for more time at Lake Louise. Learn more about visiting Lake Louise in our article How Much Time Do You Need at Lake Louise? (What to See and Do).

Can You Stay at Moraine Lake?

Yes. The Moraine Lake Lodge offers rooms in the main lodge and cabins. The Lodge operates from June 1 to October 1. Parking at the lodge is included with the reservation. For other lodging options in the area, read Should You Stay in Banff or Canmore? A Local’s Advice.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Banff is crowded!

Need a game plan to avoid the crowds? Check out our itinerary

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times.

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO
BANFF

BANFF TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Banff National Park, check out our Banff Homepage

THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Banff has to offer including Lake Louise, Banff Hot Springs, the Cave and Basin Historical Site, and shopping downtown

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out how to get to Banff and what reservations
you may need

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Banff National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Banff YouTube Playlist

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