Heading to Banff and looking for some Moraine Lake hikes? One of the jewels in the Banff crown is Moraine Lake and one of the best ways to explore one of the most beautiful lakes in Banff is with a Moraine Lake hike.
There are plenty of different hiking trails to choose from around the lake, ranging in length and difficulty level, so there are options for all types of hikers to enjoy, whether you’re a beginner or an expert scrambler looking for an endurance challenge. Make sure to check out the guide on visiting Moraine Lake.
I loved visiting Moraine Lake, it is so beautiful and some would argue that it is even more beautiful than Lake Louise. Although, I loved both. All of these hikes and scrambles are for the summer months as access to Moraine Lake is closed during the winter. Although if you visit in the winter, you may enjoy a winter snowshoeing adventure in Banff.
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Must-Do Moraine Lake Hikes
This guide to Moraine Lake hikes offers up a selection of some of the best trails, providing information about each hike, how long it is versus how long it takes to complete, elevation gain, when to hike, and other important information. There’s also some background on Moraine Lake, the best time to visit, and practical things to know to ensure you have a smooth trip. Moraine Lake is a top Canada bucket list destination.
What is Moraine Lake?
Moraine Lake is a glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park’s Valley of the Ten Peaks, close to the famous Lake Louise. The waters are fed by the Fay Glacier and Larch Creek, then flow out via Moraine Creek. Although sometimes visitors mistake the lake’s name for Maureen or a similar female name and assume it was named for a historical figure, the word “moraine” is actually a technical term that refers to an accumulation of glacial debris.
The lake sits at an elevation of 1,884 meters above sea level, has a surface area of 50 hectares (the equivalent of 120 acres or 0.19 square miles) and a maximum depth of 14 meters. Like many of the beautiful lakes of Banff National Park, Moraine is known for its stunning azure blue hue, which is due to the rock flour deposited by the surrounding glaciers. When the lake reaches its crest (usually in mid- to late- June) the color is at its most vibrant.
Some interesting facts about Moraine Lake include its brief stint on the reverse side of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill (in 1969 and then again in 1979), and its popularity as a background image for Android operating systems and Windows, among others.
When is the Best Time For Moraine Lake Hikes?
The best months to visit Moraine Lake are between May and early November, before and after the snow and ice makes getting to the lake more difficult (unless you plan to ski there and there’s also a risk of avalanche!). Moraine Lake is still mostly frozen in May.
Easy Moraine Lake Hikes
Exploring Moraine Lake on foot is one of the most satisfying ways to explore the beauty of Banff and breathe in the great outdoors. Here are 10 of the most well-known Moraine Lake hikes:
1. Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail (Easy Moraine Lake Hike)
Distance: .8 kilometers (.5 miles) return
Time: 25 minutes round trip
Elevation Gain: 30 meters (98 feet)
The Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail is a short and very popular looped trail, which is only 0.8 kilometers long with an elevation gain of just nine meters. The short walk is roughly the equivalent of 14 flights of steps and there are incredible views of the lake’s blue waters from the top of the rockpile. In fact, the view from the top is thought to be the most photographed location in the whole of Canada.
2. Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail (Easy Moraine Lake Hike)
Distance: 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles) return
Time: 40-60 minutes round trip
Elevation Gain: 0 meters (0 feet)
This beginner-level hike is suitable for walkers of all abilities, with a length of 2.6 kilometers and an elevation gain of 106 meters, taking as little as 30 minutes to complete. Dogs are also welcome on the trail, but they must be kept on a leash.
Many visitors to Moraine Lake arrive early in the morning to do this walk at sunrise (some also do the same around sunset), though be aware that due to the popularity of the hike at this time that parking can be difficult. The best time of year to enjoy the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail is between June and October, when there’s less snow and ice on the ground.
3. Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail & Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail Combined (Easy Moraine Lake Hikes)
As two of the easiest, shortest and most accessible trails, many visitors to Moraine Lake combine the Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail with the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail, which is great if you’re looking for a family-friendly option. Together, the total distance covered is 3.4 kilometers, which only takes around an hour to complete.
So, if you’re looking for a non-strenuous trail that covers some of the best views of the lake and surrounding Rockies, and you don’t mind sharing the path with others (being the most popular, these trails get the most traffic), then this is the perfect choice. The trails are best enjoyed very early in the morning (arriving before 6am) or in the evening if you are looking to avoid crowds.
4. Consolation Lakes Hike (Easy Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) return
Time: 2 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 60 meters (197 feet)
The Consolation Lakes hike is six kilometers long, has an elevation gain of 255 meters and takes approximately two hours to complete. It starts from the bottom of Moraine Lake and follows the Rockpile Trail before turning left into the valley rather than up all the steps. The hike is uphill on the way there, but downhill on the way back. There are views of alpine meadows, talus slopes and the Quadra Glacier.
There’s a lot of snow on this hike, even into June, so the best time to do the Consolation Lakes Hike is in August or September. Note that the Consolation Lakes trail is not as clearly marked as the Rockpile or Shoreline trails and may require some scrambling over rocky areas. There is a waterfall about halfway along the hike, which makes for a great lunch stop for a scenic picnic. You might even spot a marmot!
Moderate Moraine Lake Hikes
5. Larch Valley Trail (Moderate Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 8.6 kilometers (5.4 miles) return
Difficulty: Moderate / Difficult
Time: 3-4 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 520 meters (1706 feet)
The Larch Valley hike is 4.3 kilometers long with 535 meters of elevation gain, taking around four hours to complete, or longer if you find yourself stopping for a lot of photos (hint: you will). The best time to do this hike is in the fall, around mid-late September, when the larch pine trees turn gold, though be aware that this is also when the hike is at its most popular. You can book a Larch hiking experience with a guide. If you are new to Airbnb you can get $95 off your trip to be used for accommodations and experiences. Book your experience here.
6. Sentinel Pass Hike (Moderate Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 11.6 kilometers (7.2 miles) return
Time: 5-6 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 725 meters (2378 feet)
The Sentinel Pass is a 10.6-kilometer hike that continues on after the Larch Valley Trail, at the last of the Minnestima Lakes, and in itself makes up the first half of the Mount Temple Scramble. It’s a more strenuous climb with 792 meters of elevation, but trekkers are rewarded for the ascent with beautiful panoramas over larch forest and out towards the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The trail is named for the towers of rocks along the pass.
Difficult Moraine Lake Hikes and Scrambles
7. Mount Temple Scramble (Difficult Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 16.5 kilometers return
Time: 7 – 12 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 1690 meters (5544 feet)
Mount Temple is the tallest mountain around Moraine Lake, therefore it’s one of the most difficult to summit in the area. There’s only a small time window in which this trail can be hiked (mid-July is best), as there’s a lot of snow here and the route requires some scrambling at the top. This definitely is not a hike but more of a scramble. If you are an experienced hiker then this scramble may be for you.
The scramble is only for experienced climbers and there are dangers such as human-triggered rockfall. Therefore, you should travel in a group with other experienced scramblers, communicate as you climb and wear a helmet (these are available to rent at Moraine Lake).
As per the Parks Canada website “Most of the climb is a steep, strenuous hike on loose scree or worn, intermittent footpaths. Careful routefinding minimizes exposure to mountain hazards (rockfall, cornices, etc.) and leads through weaknesses in three cliff bands that require scrambling up short steps of rock, using hands as needed for balance or climbing. Cairns along the route help as a guide, but not all cairns mark the safest ascent/descent line. Route-finding decisions are required. Crampons and an ice axe are likely required if the summit is snow-covered. Human-triggered rockfall is one of the leading causes of accidents on this route.”
8. Tower of Babel Hike (difficult Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles) return
Time: 2-4 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 518 meters (1699.4 feet)
If you’re looking for a physical challenge and superlative views, then take on the Tower of Babel hike. The trail is only 2.9 kilometers long with an elevation gain of 518 meters, however this scramble includes very steep climbs and takes approximately two hours to complete one way.
The hike is only advised for experienced scramblers (you will be required to use your hands and feet to climb straight up, there are loose rocks, unmarked areas, and no switchbacks), and you should wear a helmet to be safe. Due to icy conditions, this hike is only recommended between June and September. This trail should not be attempted by beginners.
9. Eiffel Peak Hike (Difficult Moraine Lake Hikes)
Distance: 11.3 kilometers (7.02miles) return
Time: 4 -5 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,270 meters (4166 feet)
The Eiffel Peak hike is 11.3 kilometers in length (round trip), but is known to be a bit of a beast with an elevation gain of 1,270 meters, so you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to complete it. Experienced hikers and scramblers recommend at least six hours to complete this route, so be sure to set off early.
The last 40 meters of elevation are some of the most difficult and steep to scramble, however once you’re past the final hurdle, the views of layered mountains – the Ten Peaks, Babel Temple and beyond – are breathtaking. You can also sign at the summit register under a large cairn.
The route heads straight where the Larch Valley Trail bends off the right, so look out for the signpost. The path extends out to Eiffel Lake, from which you can extend the hike even further with an additional 4.1 kilometers towards Wenkchemna Pass, which dips into neighboring Yoho National Park.
10. The Perren Route (Difficult Moraine Lake Hike)
Distance: 7 kilometers (4.34 miles) return
Time: 5 – 12 hours round trip
Elevation Gain: 1219.2 meters (4000 feet)
The Perren Route takes hikers from Moraine Lake up to the Neil Colgan Hut. Some hikers estimate that this hike takes between five to six hours, but others estimate as many as 12 hours! This is definitely a rock climb, not a hike and I would not recommend it unless you are an experienced scrambler or rock climber.
The trail starts at Moraine Lake, passing the Larch Valley Trail, Mount Temple Scramble and Eiffel Peak hike. Once you reach the end of the lake, you must cross a stream using cables and then follow a trail that turns into a scramble through talus, following the cairns leading the way. You will need to be fully equipped with hiking and scrambling gear to take on the Perren Route.
Things to Know Before You Go – Moraine Lake Hikes
Be Mindful of Wildlife
Moraine Lake is known as a hotspot for grizzly bears, so be aware and alert while you’re hiking. Hike in groups of four or more for safety and carry bear spray. There can also be large and pesky mosquitos about in the summer months (the worst times are between early July and mid-August), so make sure you spray plenty of repellent to avoid nasty bites.
Moraine Lake Hikes Closures
Always check ahead to make sure Moraine Lake’s hiking trails are open before you set off, as sometimes there can be last-minute closures due to bears. Some trails are also seasonal and with new Covid-related restrictions, there may be quick-changing guidelines or limits on the number of visitors in place.
During later summer and early fall, Banff National Park suffers from wildfires, which causes smoke in the air. This is not very noticeable, but can obscure the stunning views.
Moraine Lake Hikes Parking
Moraine Lake is very popular and therefore parking can be a problem. It’s best to arrive as early as possible to secure a parking space or to visit much later in the day.
Note: There are usually shuttle buses between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which must be booked online in advance (when the 150 spaces at Moraine Lake Parking Lot are full, traffic can be redirected to the Lake Louise Overflow Parking Lot anyway). These operate from 6 am to 4 pm and cost CAD10 each way. There are also seasonal shuttle buses that run from the town of Banff. However, due to COVID restrictions, these shuttle buses aren’t always running, so you may need to arrange your own transport or book a tour bus. Check beforehand if you’re unsure.
Other Things to Do at Moraine Lake
If you’re tired out from walking, hiking is not the only option for exploring Moraine. There is a canoe rental place on the far side of the lake, near Moraine Lake Lodge, though renting can be expensive. Swimming in the lake is not permitted. You can also book a Candian Rocky Mountains Helicopter ride that includes an exploration hike. Book your helicopter and hike tour here.
Other Moraine Lake Hikes and Banff National Park
Of course, there are plenty of other hiking trails in the area, not only around Moraine Lake but in Banff National Park in general. Do you have any other trails you believe should be included on this list or do you have any top tips and hiking hacks for trekking the many trails around Moraine Lake? Or did you find the range of different hikes and information here helpful for planning your Banff trip? Let us know in the comments below.
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