Update for 2023: Tickets for the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Shuttle buses will now only be available by making an online reservation in advance. All car access is banned from Moraine lake moving forwards, so taking a bus or cycling is likely to be your only way in!
Please check the Parks Canada Website and register for email alerts for important updates.
So at this point, you’ve probably seen the incredible photos, but what you probably haven’t considered is how to get up there. The truth is, getting to Moraine Lake has become a bit of a logistical nightmare, and on a busy day, actually seeing it could potentially take you hours more than it needs to!
When to visit:
Before you plan any further though, take a minute to consider what time of year you’re visiting. The Moraine Lake Road is usually closed between late October (Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) and May long weekend (usually around May 20th), when it gradually becomes a cross country ski course.
Visiting in Winter is not advised any way because a) the route crosses avalanche terrain, and b) as the glaciers freeze, the lake drains! Make sure you visit during the summer!
Ok so back to planning your visit:
Cars are no longer allowed to drive up to Moraine Lake?
Yes, you read that correctly! The gradual limitation of vehicles up to Moraine Lake has finally reached its logical conclusion, and personal cars are no longer allowed to drive up to Moraine Lake.
Bad news for hikers and sunrise photographers
Super super sad news, because driving up and getting an early start for some hikes (like Mount Temple), is typically the only way to get up there safely. Starting your day late, after the buses have started running, is likely to leave hikers with a shorter window to complete hikes, especially if they need to rush back down to catch the last bus. Hikes like Mount Temple, typically take 10+ hours, and hikers traditionally would start at 3am to avoid being caught in the common summer afternoon bad weather.
It’s likely that Parks Canada will create systems for hikers that need to be in the alpine, but there are still some grey areas for how it’s going to work. Right now, it seems like the priority is protecting the environment, with hikers coming second. This is disappointing, but understandable of course.
The other people that are disappointed are the photographers that used to pour into Moraine Lake for sunrise to try and catch the alpenglow. With buses only starting after 6am, there will now only be certain times of the year when photographers can get in early enough for sunrise. If you’re planning to see the sunrise in June, when the sun rises around 5.30am, forgeddaboudit.
Why are personal vehicles banned from Moraine Lake?
So the main reason cited for banning cars from Moraine Lake, is keeping tourists happy and traffic moving. In fairness, the entrance to Moraine Lake has become absolutely crazy in recent years.
Last summer, I had a photoshoot booked for a 3am start at Moraine Lake (to beat the crowds), and we were turned away because the parking lot was already full. This has led to huge disappointment for tourists, as well as some seriously reckless driving from people trying to get in.
Apparently for around 900 parking spaces that exist daily, Moraine Lake was receiving around 5,000 visitors in cars per day. With 4000 disappointed tourists per day, you can see why they decided to ban cars altogether and attempt to try and manage expectations for future tourists.
So now there are only two (or 3 if you love exercise) options for visiting:
- Book a parks Canada Shuttle Bus
- Bike up to Moraine Lake (I would probably recommend ebiking!)
- Walk up (only recommended if you’re ok with 22km walking just to see it!). This is essentially now the same barrier to entry as Lake O’Hara
Accessing Moraine Lake by Bus
From 2023 onwards, taking the Parks Canada bus is the only way to access Moraine Lake in a vehicle (unless you are staying at Moraine Lake Lodge, in which case, there’s still a chance that you will be allowed to drive up)
If 2022 was anything to go by, Moraine Lake Bus tickets are only bookable in advance. Do not show up during peak summer season and hope you can buy a ticket when you arrive. You are very likely to be disappointed!
In fact, my recommendation, if you can be flexible, is to book your Moraine Lake Tickets whenever you can, and then plan your trip around it.
It is inevitable that your trip is going to take a lot longer now than it ever would have in the past. Buses and parking naturally take a bit longer, but at least you can hop on a bus now and shut your eyes for 20 minutes while you wind up the Moraine Lake Road.
Booking tickets for the Moraine Lake Bus
Because cars are now banned, there is going to be a natural increase in private bus services up to the lake. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at the Fairmont Chateaux Lake Louise, you might be able to book onto the private hotel shuttle bus. But for the rest of us, we have to find a bus service.
Book the Parks Canada Shuttle Bus to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise
The most obvious bus service is the Parks Canada Moraine Lake Bus. This is a service that loops between the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
To book your tickets, which are typically released in spring of that year (spring 2023 in this case), you can check out the Parks Canada reservation website here. If you miss the booking window, there are also some tickets released each day at 8am, 2 days in advance of the actual journey.
Again, it is impossible to just show up and hop on a bus on the day!
Seats on buses are not reserved, so it’s first come first served.
Your ticket entitles you to hop on and off at both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, so you might as well make sure you check both out while you’re there!
Take the ROAM public transit from Banff
Banff is really pushing for car free visits. I generally think if you want to see the mountains at their best, it’s impossible without your own transit. But I do understand the desire to be environmentally friendly and reduce traffic.
Regardless of this, if you are in Banff and really want to make your day stress free, or if you are stranded in Banff without a car, you can take the ROAM public transport from Banff straight to Moraine Lake (with a transfer in Lake Louise).
If you buy the Roam super pass, it will cover you from the town all the way to Moraine Lake. Total journey time will be 1hour plus, but it’s about as painless as possible.
Here is a Roam Transit map to make planning your trip a little easier.
Book a private shuttle bus to Moraine Lake
There are several private shuttle companies that will drive you to Moraine Lake. These are likely to be a lot more expensive, but they may run earlier and later than the public buses. This may be the only option for you if you are planning to hike into the Alpine and expect to be out outside the regular bus hours.
Cycling to Moraine Lake
This is not the easiest bike route, as it’s essentially 11-14km uphill on the way there, and the same again on the way back. But, lucky for you! We’ve already done it and have written up a full blog post about cycling to Moraine Lake.
Now that ebikes are abundant, you might also consider e-biking up to Moraine Lake. Just make sure you have enough juice to get from the Lake Louise Ski resort parking lot to Moraine Lake (if you don’t manage to get parking at Lake Louise).
Taking an ebike up Moraine Lake is very doable and we’ve done it a couple of times. It definitely makes the trip a lot less exhausting!
Hiking up to Moraine Lake
If you have buckets of energy and time, you may also consider hiking up to Moraine Lake. This is not a route to be underestimated, even if you walk along the road.
If you do walk along the road, bear in mind that this is a 11-14km hike (each way), on a road with absolutely no shoulder in places. This puts you at a fair bit of risk from huge buses that barrel down the road, and it’s not really to be recommended.
If you change your mind once you’re en route, there are no options for hopping on a bus and taking the easy way home. Once you begin, you’re committed!
If you have the legs for a much more interesting day, you could take the scenic route through Paradise Valley into Sentinel Pass. This is the back way to Larch Valley. You’d then descend down into Moraine Lake, and could then potentially walk out along the road or walk back the way you came. This is an even longer day with much more elevation, but once you’re in larch Valley, there are plenty of hikes to explore!
You’re probably looking at a 30km+ day if you go this way. Make sure you bring the right equipment!
To reduce your trip as much as possible, you might want to look into getting dropped off near the Moraine Lake Road entrance, or at the very least, at Lake Louise. Starting at Lake Louise overflow parking by the ski hill is an enormous day!
Fitting Moraine into the rest of your trip:
So now it becomes a question of fitting Moraine Lake into the rest of the trip:
Moraine Lake First:
If you’re into hiking, the obvious thing to do is visit Moraine for as close to sunrise as possible, and then check out one of the incredible hikes from Moraine Lake, like Sentinel Pass, Mt. Temple or Consolation Lakes.
Note, if you plan to hike Mt. Temple then it’s very important to get there as early as possible. If you’re arriving in the afternoon, hiking Temple is not possible. Overnight camping is forbidden, so you’d have to hike in and out in one go. If you miss the bus, you’re walking the extra 11-14km out!
If hiking isn’t your thing, then it’s a great first stop before then heading on to Lake Louise and up the Icefield’s Parkway, or towards Yoho and Emerald Lake.
Moraine Lake Last:
Alternatively, if you want to do Moraine Lake last, fitting it in on the way back from the Icefield’s Parkway or Yoho National Park would make the most sense. We usually recommend doing the Minnewanka loop and Banff related sights in one day, and then getting up bright and early and doing Moraine Lake and the Icefield’s Parkway on the next day. Logistically it makes much more sense to do it that way rather than go back and forth several times.
If you have a bit more time and want to see our perfect 4 day summer itinerary, you can read it here!
Take a tour
Finally, the easiest way to beat the crowds and not have to worry about the road being closed is by taking a tour. Tour buses and minibuses are allowed through the barrier and are far quicker than waiting for the regular free shuttle. Downside is that obviously you’re paying for a tour!