Moraine Lake is without doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. The famous turquoise water and the snow capped peaks combine perfectly to create the ultimate mountain back drop.
When I first visited, I had no idea what I was about to see. I hadn’t googled it and it was in the pre-instagram days, so to say I was stunned by that first glimpse is an understatement.
My eyes almost melted out of my head. I truly had no idea that water could be so blue.
I instantly fell in love with Moraine Lake, and it’s remained a special place for me ever since. Any time a friend visits from abroad, it’s the first place I drag them to see. To see their eyes light up reminds me of my first time, and it’s something I love to share with those special to me.
It’s also an incredible place to go hiking, and some of our favourite hikes start out at Moraine Lake. Check out our post on 5 hikes from Moraine Lake!
Unfortunately though, the entire world seems to be on the same page as us, and Moraine only seems to be growing in popularity.
The growing popularity of Moraine Lake
Ever since Banff blew up on Instagram a few years ago, the number of visitors to Moraine has gone through the roof. What used to be a peaceful and almost spiritual experience is now punctuated by hordes of screaming kids and car horns. Sadly, Moraine has been overrun by tourists.
From May Long weekend, to the end of the summer, Moraine Lake is a zoo; hundreds of people scurrying all over the rock pile, looking for that one shot of Canada’s most iconic scenery. Seriously, unless you arrive before the sun rises, you won’t have a hope in hell of finding a parking space and you’ll find yourself lining up for hours for the shuttle bus.
In 2019, if you weren’t at Moraine by 5.20am, you didn’t get a parking space.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit, because everybody needs to see Moraine Lake, but crowds are now an unavoidable part of the Moraine Lake experience…
Or so I thought..
Cycling the Moraine Lake Road
I was just about to give up on ever seeing Moraine Lake without the crowds again, when a couple of my friends came up with the perfect solution.
Cycle up the road before it opens!
The problem with that idea is that for most of the year the road is covered in snow. The road becomes a cross country skiing course that stops a couple of km short of the lake. If you make it past that, you have to cross some dodgy avalanche terrain, only to reach a drained and snowy Moraine Lake…
But just before the May Long weekend, Parks Canada ploughs the road in anticipation of the summer opening. And, as we discovered, it gives you the perfect window to cycle up before the cars gain access.
The downside? …To get there, it’s 11km uphill.
- Elevation gain: 160m
- Distance: approx 11km each way
- Time: approx 1 hour up, 30 minutes down
- Difficulty: Moderate
The bike ride
Here’s the good news; the road might be uphill, but it’s never super, super steep. The road gently winds uphill, and so long as you’ve got a good range of gears on your bike and time on your hands, it’s totally manageable. None of our group was particularly fit, and we all made it eventually. In total, the ride uphill took roughly one hour (66 minutes to be precise).
As for the actual ride itself, it was pure bliss. Not a car in sight and the freedom to weave across both lanes in the gorgeous evening light. The perfect silence apart from the gentle hum of our pedals allowed us to chat and laugh the whole way, and drink in the incredible scenery at a leisurely pace.
As you get closer to Moraine Lake, the trees start to open out, and you’ll get incredible views of Temple Mountain and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Something you watch for only seconds by car suddenly looms slowly, giving you plenty of time to appreciate it fully.
The best part about the entire ride being uphill (aside from the last 1 or 2 km)? Virtually the entire ride back is downhill. It only took us 30 minutes to get down again.
Don’t feel like you have to save anything for the way back!
Solitude at Moraine Lake
Finally, our group of 5 made it to Moraine Lake, and we finally had a chance to enjoy the peace and quiet we’d all been craving for so many years. All of our pain was suddenly a distant memory as we hurried around the rockpile for a view of the lake.
It seriously didn’t disappoint. The ice was just starting to melt, and the last of the evening sun was beating down on us. It was so warm in fact that a couple of us decided to swim (against our better judgement). There were even a couple of icebergs floating around for us to board…. yeah it was definitely not warm..
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed Moraine so much, and having the place to ourselves was something I was certain I would never experience.
If you love Moraine Lake but hate the crowds, this is something you have to do – seriously.
After our dip, we hung around for a few more photos and ate our terrible packed lunches (I basically brought a bag of smokies under the pretence that I was trying out a keto diet, but honestly making a sandwich just felt like too much hard work!).
We caught the last of the golden light on the mountain peaks and headed back down to the car park at the start of the road.
The ride back to Lake Louise
The ride back was seriously up there as one of the best parts of the day. Once you’ve crested the initial hill out of the parking lot (about 2km), it’s virtually entirely downhill for the rest of the ride.
With the certainty that there were no cars coming from the other direction, we were able to fully let loose and found ourselves hitting an eye watering 60kph at one point. There’s something great about blasting round a bend at full speed when you know it’s guaranteed to be clear of oncoming traffic.
I don’t cycle all that often, but it seriously reignited my passion for it. I would quite happily take a bike up the Moraine Lake Road every year, and might even consider doing it again this summer.
Biking instead of queueing
Back to the subject of crowds; if it’s more the queueing than the crowds that bother you, then perhaps cycling the road is the perfect solution for you. Even after the road has opened, it’s still a great option, although a lot more hazardous with traffic.
As long as your group has a good sense of humour, then tackling the road by bike is the best way to avoid taking the shuttle bus. No lines and no waiting. To be honest, with the size of the lines I saw last year, you’d probably reach the lake faster on the bike than you would with the bus.
With Parks Canada closing the road to cars now, there’s also far less risk of being knocked by a car. It’s far safer than it used to be and I seriously couldn’t recommend doing it more, whenever you do it.
Where does the Moraine Lake Road Start?
Moraine Lake Road begins between Lake Louise Village and Lake Louise, on the left hand side. It should easily appear when you type it into google maps. Once you enter Moraine Lake Road, the parking area is immediately on your left hand side.
As we always get a lot of questions about our gear, I thought it might be a good idea to mention some of the gear we bring along on our adventures. Here are some of the items we brought along this time!
In the photo above, I’m wearing about 3 layers. It’s kind of warm this time of year, but I’d just been for a dip in a frozen lake, so I was doing everything possible to layer up.
Underneath, I was wearing a Saucony quick dry shirt (see below), a Houdini Men’s Fleece Power hoodie (which, as a tall slim person is probably one of the best fitting hoodies I own), and a limited edition North Face x 3 Fish Studio Men’s “Fanorak” on top (this design is sold out now but here’s an alternative!). It’s not a waterproof layer, but it was perfect for the light breeze.
I’m also wearing Nike Free Run shoes which were a good general runner for cycling. I wouldn’t recommend them for hardcore scrambling or hiking because the sole isn’t too thick, but for our mountain shenanigans it was perfect.
Erik also loves his outdoor gear, and was probably dressed a bit better than I was for the conditions. He’s got the Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody Jacket and some Arcteryx Men’s Lefroy hiking pants. He’s also got the new Columbia waterproof runners (made from recycled plastic), which is going to be awesome for summer hiking season.
For the bike ride, I wanted to wear something a little lighter, so I just wore the Saucony Men’s Freedom t-shirt which is incredibly comfortable and feels lighter than air, and some Arcteryx Lefroy shorts (they also made for great swimming shorts! – quick drying). They’re probably not as forgiving as your typical cycling short, but they’re a good compromise, seeing as we were going to be walking around and clambering on rocks afterwards. I didn’t want to wear lightweight lycra shorts that might rip.
Again, wearing the Nike Free Run joggers as a lightweight shoe for exercise.
Erik wore an Arcteryx Lightweight Centre Tshirt to cycle in, and I actually own the exact same one. We both love it. It’s super lightweight and sweat wicking and we’d both really recommend it.
If you have any questions about our gear or planning the trip, get in touch and we’re always happy to answer questions!