Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
Moraine Lake is a definite must-see for anyone traveling in the Lake Louise vicinity. The lakeshore is only 12.5 km/7.5 mi away from Lake Louise, and offers a chance to see one of the largest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, a beautiful glacial lake, a huge glacier, and one of the best places to view grizzly bears in Banff National Park.
The Moraine Lake Lodge is a good place to start for directions, food, gifts, and information about hikes here. It’s also a good place to check up on grizzly activity in the area.
Moraine Lake is well known for the multitude of grizzlies that inhabit the surrounding valley. For this reason, the park may require you to hike in groups of six, and may occasionally close off trails completely.
Tim Johnson, who has lived in the Canadian Rockies for the last 12 years and works in the local tourism industry, highly recommends the area.
“To me, Moraine Lake is the lesser known sister of Lake Louise,” he says. “It’s a little more off the beaten path.”
Moraine Lake is still popular among hikers, but, Johnson says, “In terms of scenery, a lot of locals like it because it’s got this wild and rustic feeling.”
From the lodge, you can access several hiking trails. My personal favorite way to see Moraine Lake is via the Rock Pile interpretive trail. Here you’ll find some of the very best views in the Lake Louise area.
John E. Marriott, a professional photographer and former Parks Canada naturalist who lives in the area notes that, “Moraine Lake is one of the premier photography destinations in the Canadian Rockies.”
The Rockpile trail is a one of the reasons Moraine Lake is so photogenic. The trail is short, with little gain in elevation, and yet rewards you with one of the most beautiful views in the park.
From the top of Rockpile, you’ll see the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the ten glacier-cut peaks that surround Moraine Lake. This includes Mt. Temple, the third highest peak in Banff National Park, at 3549 m / 11,636 ft. Many have found the view of Moraine Lake from Rockpile inspiring.
In 1969 and 1979 it was used on the back of the Canadian $20 bill, hence the view here has been nicknamed “The $20 view.” It was also used in a series of popular advertisements, and is one of the main photos being used for Google’s new cellphone software.
Besides the grizzlies, look for the golden-mantled ground squirrel (fat with stripes), the chipmunk (stripes with pointy nose), the pika (notable for its loud, chew-toy-like squeaking) and the marmot (a ground squirrel on steroids).
If you’re not quite ready to leave Moraine Lake after the hike to Rockpile, Johnson recommends renting a canoe from the lodge as a peaceful way of exploring parts of the lake inaccessible via trail.
You can also catch a number of trails from the lodge, including a short hike along the right bank of the lake and another to Consolation Lakes.
A number of longer hikes also begin at Moraine Lake, including spectacular Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass, which is the highest elevation trail in the Banff National Park, and Eiffel Lake.
Both Johnson and Marriott recommend taking the Larch Valley trail in the fall. It’s a short hike, and during the fall, when the needles on the larches turn a bright gold, the views are stunning.