Beating the crowds and cycling up the Moraine Lake Road (2023 Update)

May 23, 2018 | 15 comments

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.

Cars are banned in 2023

With Parks Canada banning personal vehicles up Moraine Lake Road from 2023 completely, my guess is that bike travel up the road is going to explode! This blog post will tell you everything you need to know about cycling the Moraine Lake Road this summer. If you’re looking for general info on Moraine Lake access this year, please read our full post on how to plan your Moraine Lake trip here!

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.

As I just mentioned, what has changed this year, is that now it’s bus, taxi or bike access only. The hope is that things will be a little less crazy from now on, but for anyone that wants to visit for sunrise, or hike late, cycling might be your best option!

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! (This is now relevant for the entire summer, rather than only the beginning of the season)

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.

cycling up Moraine

Quick Facts

  • Elevation gain: 160m
  • Distance: approx 11km each way
  • Time: approx 1 hour up, 30 minutes down
  • Difficulty: Moderate with some steep sections

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!

erik bike moraine

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..

Me on Iceberg

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.

Moraine Lake Reflection

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.

Gear

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), an Arcteryx 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). 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 Alpha AR Jacket and some Columbia Men’s 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.

Cycling Gear

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 hiking 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 bike moraine

If you have any questions about our gear or planning the trip, get in touch and we’re always happy to answer questions! Some of these links are affiliate links, which help me keep this blog up and running!

Other important things to pack for your bike ride up Moraine Lake Road

I would recommend bringing one or more of the following items for your bike ride:

  1. Plenty of water/electrolytes. I generally prefer to bring a camelbak that I can drink from on the move.
  2. A headlamp for the bike up/down if you’re planning to do it in the dark
  3. A helmet is an absolute must. High speeds and lots of buses make this extremely important.
  4. Some money to buy snacks/refreshments from the Moraine Lake Cafe (if you don’t want to bring food)
  5. Plenty of snacks
  6. A small backpack to carry extra layers
  7. Extra layers in case of bad weather/cold
  8. A microfibre towel incase you go swimming!
  9. Sunglasses and sunscreen.

Where to rent bikes to cycle the Moraine Lake Road

Bike rentals are likely to be very busy this year, as there are only a few places to rent in Lake Louise:

  1. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise rents bikes to its guests. This is a great option if you are staying at this iconic hotel! They also have e-bikes which will make this far more enjoyable.
  2. Wilson Sports in Lake Louise Village also rents bikes. I would highly recommend making an advanced reservation for this and booking for the night before if you plan to cycle up before the road opens. Or make a 2 day booking if you intend to cycle down the road after a long hike.
  3. If you have a car, renting from Snowtips-Bactrax in Banff is also a good way to rent something cheaply

E-bikes on Moraine Lake Road

Since I originally wrote this, e-bikes have absolutely blown up. I’ve cycled this with an e-bike now and it’s a million times easier than with a regular bike (as most of the trip one way is uphill).

If you’re not a strong cyclist, I would highly recommend looking into trying to rent an e-bike or bringing your own if possible. This will save your legs if you’re hoping to hike once you arrive at Moraine Lake.

Pin This!

Cycling to Moraine Lake
Cycling to Moraine Lake

Written byRobin

About us

About us

Hi, we’re Rob and Louise! We’re obsessed with travel and love to share our adventures! We’re a UK/Canadian couple that currently lives Banff, Canada.

Browse:

You May Also Like…

15 Comments

  1. Jenny

    Did you rent the bicycles? Could you please provide the renting information? Thanks

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hey Jenny, we live locally and have our own bikes, but there are several local companies you can use to rent from. I’ve updated the post with a couple of local shops that rent now. I hope that helps! If possible, I would also recommend looking into e-bikes, because some shops rent them now and they make the ride a lot easier!
      Thanks!

      Reply
  2. sharlee stone

    Hey Robin!! Awesome article, we are flying into Calgary on May 26 and we’re really hoping to bike in to Lake Moraine before the madness starts. Just so I’m reading this correctly, we could bike directly from the rental spot in Lake Louise to Lake Moraine? And if we rented bikes from Banff, where exactly would we park our car to start the cycle in?

    Thanks again for all the info, really hoping to see everything but we’re leaving for Jasper May 31st, probably right before we could get to Lake Moraine via the shuttle.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hi Sharlee, so glad you found it helpful! To be honest, it’s impossible to know for sure when they will clear the road, but typically they reopen the road at the end of the May long weekend and have it cleared for a day or two beforehand. So my guess is that it will be clear some time around May 19th or 20th. Occasionally, the opening is delayed by a week, which is why I am hesitant to say when with absolute certainty.
      But yes, to answer your question, you can in theory bike from the rental shop in Lake Louise Village up to Moraine Lake, but that would be a huge grind. The worst hill of all is the hill from Lake Louise village up to the Moraine Lake Road turn off. It’s a big, unrelenting hill that would be far more enjoyable on an ebike. There are also narrow shoulders, so watch out for cars!
      Given the option, I would ideally take the rental bike up to Lake Louise (lake parking), park there and go downhill to the start of Moraine Lake Road…but I’m lazy! If you’re lucky, there is also a small parking area opposite the Moraine Lake Road turnoff, but that tends to fill quickly and might not be an option on the day.
      Most of the long term parking for Lake Louise is now either at Lake Louise (the Lake), for $11 per day, or across the highway at the Lake Louise Ski Resort overflow parking. You would then take the bus to Lake Louise Village, rent your bike and head up. If it’s possible to make reservations, I would recommend trying to reserve your bike before you arrive. It’s a small rental shop and they might have a lot of demand (It might be worth also double checking that they will do rentals before the road is open). As an alternative, the Bow Valley Parkway is another amazing bike ride!
      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  3. Melina Gable

    Thank you for writing this! We are going in July staying at Deer Lodge, and i am considering biking to lake moraine. How narrow is the road? Is it winding with blind curves? And is there a wide shoulder? Do you know what time the bus shuttles start in the morning?

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hi Melina,
      If you take a look at the photos in the post, that’s a pretty fair representation of the road all the way from start to finish. There is no shoulder anywhere along the road, apart from the odd stopping point, so you really do have to keep your wits about you! Yes there are lots of blind curves as well, but on the plus side, with only buses being allowed up the road, it’s likely to be a lot quieter in general.
      Buses vary depending on the company. As far as I can tell, most buses are now running an early sunrise shuttle.
      Hope you have an awesome trip!

      Reply
  4. K

    Hi Robin! I saw your article and it was very helpful! I wanted to ask if Moraine Lake and Lake Louise allow e-bikes or if the rules have changed since then? We are thinking of renting an e bike instead of taking the shuttle since most of them pretty fill up fast and we wanted to catch the sunrise (if possible). Would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hey, my understanding is that E-bikes are allowed up the Moraine Lake Road (as it’s a road and not a trail), and several of the rentals shops in Lake Louise are actively promoting renting e-bikes and riding them up there. We’ve done it a few times on ebikes and there have never been any issues. So I think you’re good for that at least! I can’t say with absolute certainty as I can’t find anything official on Parks Canada website, but I can’t find any evidence to suggest you’re not allowed.

      Lake Louise, I’m not so sure. You’re allowed to ride them on the roads, but there are only a few trails you can ride e-bikes on. Here is a link to the official Parks Canada bulletin that lists all the permitted trails and rules around e-biking in Banff/Lake Louise:
      https://parks.canada.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/bulletins/8942F86E-3565-4B9A-A424-7C86D7C97701
      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  5. J. Ellingson

    We are coming up on October 11 of this year. What are the chances the four of us could bike up just a few days after the season closes. We have a 10 and 12 year old that are athletic but didn’t know if that is asking too much for a day trip?

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hi Jerri,
      Usually the road closes around Canadian Thanksgiving weekend but it can vary depending on weather. I’d say if the weather is good then there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t bike up under your own steam. If there’s snow, then it might be tough.
      We’ve now also cycled up the road during the day when buses are going up and down, and they’re are generally very cautious and slow when they pass. I was worried before but found it to be quite safe to cycle alongside them. So you may not need you wait for the closure if that’s a concern!

      To your question about it being manageable for kids, it’s a long slog but if you take your time with plenty of breaks I’m sure they’ll make it without too much issue.
      Kilometres 3-7 are tough but doable.
      My wife and friend both used e-bikes and it was an absolute breeze for them. It was a bit tougher for me but over quickly.
      They really only need to save energy for the uphill direction and 2km uphill on the way back. The rest is just fast downhill.

      I’d say hiking once you get there could be quite ambitious if you’re not using e-bikes, but (without knowing your abilities super well), I’d say it’s doable in 4-5 hours round trip, maybe 6 if you take lots of breaks. 100% worth it though if you haven’t seen it before and have no other way up.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  6. P

    Great detailed post! Any suggestion for e-bike rental places? Like the poster before me, I’ll be in town Oct 10-11 (just after road closure) and really looking forward to going to moraine lake. We’ll be driving and staying at mountaineer lodge if that helps with suggestions. Of course I also understand it would be very weather dependent, but given past years are the conditions really snowy during thanksgiving?

    Reply
  7. C. Mercado

    Hey! Thanks for all the helpful tips. I am going with my wife and we are planning to cycle up to Moraine Lake mid-october. If we wanted to do a hike there, are there any designated areas for us to park our bikes, how do we identify them? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hey, so sorry to just get back to you! Yes, at the lake shore there are quite a few bike parking stands that you can lock your bike to. They are very obvious on the lower section of the parking loop, next to the toilets. I would say the risk of having anyone steal your bike is very low indeed, as visitors have either cycled in themselves or have taken a bus.
      Have an awesome time!

      Reply
  8. Obaid

    Hello,
    Thanks for an awesome post. Our party of six (youngest is yr old strong for his age biker) are planning a trip to CA Rockies in Sep. Is it possible to shuttle to Moraine lake and bike back? Our group rides fine for 6-7 miles on flat gravel, so I am thinking 2km up and 9 km down should be manageable. A bit worried about 6 year sharing the road with buses on a narrow 2 lane.

    Reply
    • Robin

      Hi Obaid, thanks for the question. As far as I know, most of the bus companies don’t let you pack a bike on board, but there may be options with private hire buses and vans. It’s a good question that I’ll look into. They’d be fine one way, I’m sure. My experience is that the buses do take very good care around cyclists but you never know. Some drivers are more cautious than others. If you’re in doubt it might be a good idea to pull over whenever a bus appears or simply consider taking the bus instead.
      Have a wonderful trip!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

477 Shares
Tweet
Pin477
Share