#8 – Canadian Rockies Day Hikes: Moraine Lake Trails – The Rockpile & Lakeshore Trails
- Location: Banff National Park
- Trailhead: Moraine Lake Parking Lot
- Type: Out-n-Back (x2)
- Rating: Easy
- Total Distance: 2.25 miles
- Trailhead Elevation: 6,180′
- Total Elevation Gain: 281′
- Recommended Time: 1 – 2 hours
- Recommended Season: Mid-June to Late-September
Worthy of the Hype
To say that the Moraine Lake area of Banff National Park can be crowded is an extreme understatement. But it also has one of the most iconic scenes in the Canadian Rockies. The rugged Rocky Mountains rise out of the richly saturated turquoise-colored waters of Moraine Lake, making for one of the most stunningly beautiful scenes anywhere in the world. This scene is so iconic that it has been depicted on the Canadian $20 bill twice. Tourists flock here for their insta-selfie with the truly gorgeous lake. Without a doubt, this spot should be on everyone’s Canadian Rockies to-do list. The Moraine Lake Trails are amazing, but just don’t expect to have the lake to yourself.
Start Early… Really Early!
Getting to Moraine Lake requires an early start. The small parking lot usually fills up well before sunrise, when the park service closes down the access road. There is a shuttle bus system for those who aren’t early birds but reservations are now required in advance (as of 2020). If you haven’t reserved your spot on the bus, make sure to arrive in the parking lot before the darkness of the night has started to fade to ensure yourself a spot. To be clear, I am not over exaggerating. Being early, of course, has the added advantage of getting to witness the sunrise on one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Winning!
Moraine Lake Lodge
An alternative to your pre-dawn arrival is to stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge. While this is a good option to avoid fighting for a parking spot, we still recommend an early start to the day and to watch the sunrise on the Moraine Lake terrain.
The Moraine Lake Trails
There are two main trails that explore the area immediately adjacent to the lake. Collectively, they can be considered the Moraine Lake Trails. While the Rockpile and Lakeshore Trails are two different paths they both originate from the parking area. Explore both to take in the full grandeur of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
To witness the iconic view of Moraine Lake first-hand, climb up to the top of the Rockpile Trail and stake out a spot. You won’t be the only one there. Please stay on the dedicated paths as this area gets a lot of traffic and the landscape is deteriorating as a result. The Rockpile’s part of the Moraine Lake Trails is about 100′ of elevation gain in half a mile and most of the gain is actually in less than a fourth of a mile. It is steep, but short-lived. No matter your skill level, this is one view that must be seen in person.
Once you pick your jaw up off the floor and take in the view from atop the Rockpile, head back to the parking lot and take the Lakeshore Trail down the west side of the lake. The Lakeshore Trail hugs the western shoreline of the nearly mile-long lake. While it does have some rolling elevation it seems nearly flat when hiking it. Although crowded, this short hike doesn’t see nearly the amount of traffic that the Rockpile gets.
Other Moraine Lake Trails & Canoeing
There are many other trails that lead to and from the Moraine Lake area of Banff National Park. For a more secluded hike, we recommend the Consolation Lakes Trail. The Larch Valley Trail is also a beautiful hike in the autumn and can be turned into a full day’s hike by crossing over Sentinel Pass and through Paradise Valley. For another memorable experience, you can rent a canoe (available onsite) and glide across the turquoise waters of Moraine Lake.