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Crystal has been wanting to visit Banff National Park for years and we finally made the trip happen this year during the Labor Day weekend in September. Crystal was initially drawn to Moraine Lake for it’s bright, blue waters that looked unreal. Every picture she saw were spectacular and she knew she had to go here. I became aware of Moraine Lake within the past year when I began seeing posts on Instagram and was immediately drawn to the beautiful turquoise blue lake.
ARRIVING AT MORAINE LAKE
We were staying at the Canalta Lodge in downtown Banff and getting to Moraine Lake was an easy one hour drive. However, the hard part was snagging a parking spot at the lake's entrance. We read several reviews and blog posts that the parking situation at Moraine Lake is very limited. The best chance of securing a parking spot was to arrive by 6:30 AM or earlier. We didn't want to risk not having a spot since we wanted to catch the sunrise.
Once the parking lot is full, the traffic rangers block the entrance and they redirect the traffic to park in another lot further away. If this happens, the parking lot isn't within walking distance to the lake, so you would have to take Banff's shuttle bus. We have heard that the lines can get long to wait for these buses, so again, it’s best to arrive at Moraine Lake as early as you can.
We arrived around 6:20 AM and there were still a handful of spots remaining, but the lot was completely full by 7 AM. Moraine Lake is incredibly gorgeous and we were so happy that we woke up at 4 AM to enjoy the beautiful lake before the large crowds started arriving around 9 AM. We were still surprised to see lots of people at the lake at such an early hour but I think everyone’s starting to get the idea that if you don’t arrive early, there’s no way you’re getting a parking spot. Although there were people already at the lake, we were still able to capture the photos we wanted.
Half the tourists that visit Moraine Lake, take a short walk around the lake, take some pictures and then leave, but we actually found several activities to do around the area.
WALK AROUND THE LAKE AT THE BASIN
The walk from our car to the basin of the lake was a very short walk. We wanted to catch the sunrise, but since it was a cloudy day, the sun was hidden for awhile (typical of mountain weather). Even though we didn’t get to see the sunrise, the views were still incredible. It was just like we had seen in photos, but 100 times better. Photos really don't do this place justice. It's like we stepped into a painting and for a moment forgot how cold it was (low 30's Fahrenheit). After we soaked in the views and took a million pictures, we decided to take a little hike to view the lake from above.
The hike up Rockpile trail is less than a quarter mile, so it was fairly easy. We aren't avid hikers, so we were glad that it was an easy hike to get to the top. We opted for this hike over the Moraine Lakeshore Trail (starts near the canoe dock) since it offered the best views of the lake. The trail starts at the lower end of the parking lot and you begin your hike after crossing a small bridge. We spotted tiny wildlife like pikas and chipmunks along the way.
We saw a sign warning hikers about bears, but we did not spot any. The hike went by so fast since the scenery along the way was spectacular. We saw the sun lighting up the mountains along the way and had to stop and soak in the moment every time we looked up. Once we reached the top, the bird's eye view of the lake was stunning. We couldn't get over how incredibly blue the water was. We spent some time up here taking photos and enjoying the views, but as soon as the tour buses started to arrive, we headed back down the trail.
BREAKFAST AT MORAINE LAKE LODGE
We were pretty hungry by the time we made our way back down and headed into the lodge for breakfast. We were excited to see a restaurant, but were immediately saddened to see that the restaurant was only open to guests staying at the lodge. Completely understandable since the dining area was pretty small, but we still envied the guests that got to dine in that nice, cozy dining room.
The only other dining option was to buy some (expensive) snacks and drinks at their little cafe. They had a variety of items to choose from, but the only downside was that seating was only available outside. This would be great if the weather was nice outside but since it was in the 30s, it isn’t the most comfortable setting to eat in. We quickly ate our breakfast snacks and headed to the next activity.
Crystal really wanted to rent a canoe, whereas, I was a bit scared of getting into one. I have horrible sea sickness and although the lake was calm, I didn't want to risk it. Luckily, our friend, Mariko, wanted to go and hopped in the canoe with Crystal. The canoe can hold up to three people, but in our opinion, two people seemed more comfortable. For a one hour rental the cost was about $100 CAD.
I took photos of Crystal and Mariko while they were paddling away. It looked like so much fun and I wished I had been in that canoe with them. The one hour went by fairly fast and by the time they got back to the dock, there was a line of people waiting for their turn.
We've seen so many photos of people in the canoe with the mountains in the distance and the perspective of this shot is gorgeous. Crystal got a shot for herself but had to keep her life vest on. We’ve seen plenty of photos without people wearing a life vest, but you’re really supposed to leave it on the entire time. I guess we’re not risk takers and abide by the rules.
EXITING THE PARK
After the canoe ride, we took a few more pictures and made our way back to the car. By this time, around 10 AM, the park was completely full and there were several tour buses. We were so glad we were able to avoid the crowds and enjoy the lake in a more peaceful setting. There were people around us, but only a handful during the early hours. We can imagine trying to take photos when it’s packed wouldn’t be so fun, so better to get there early.
* Check the weather. Mountain weather changes constantly so dressing properly will make a world of difference.
* Arrive by 6:30 AM (or earlier) if you want to secure a parking spot and to avoid the large crowds.
* Bring water and light snacks. Although there is a little cafe, options are limited and the prices are quite steep.