We spent our first day in Banff exploring the Moraine Lake area. This lake is one of Banff’s top attractions – for good reason. The ice blue water is part of the natural melting/freezing cycle of the glaciers, and the ten peaks surrounding the lake offer grand views that can make anyone feel tiny in comparison. Although smaller in comparison to its sister – Lake Louise, it offers beautiful (and difficult) hikes in the surrounding area that offer a bit of solitude, and the most astounding mountain views you’ll ever see.
To see the lake sans massive crowds and tour buses, and to also guarantee a parking spot, I suggest arriving very early in the morning. I arrived at around 6:30am to a half empty parking lot. There were only about ten others around the lake, and plenty of room to explore. When we walked by the lake as we were leaving, it was swarmed with tourists trying to take pictures of themselves in front of the water.
After beating the tour buses and shuttles and getting your crowd-less fill of the lake, you have the opportunity to hike on various trails in the surrounding area. One of my favorite hikes of the entire trip was the Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass trail. The trail head is right along Moraine lake. As you walk up the fairly steep incline, you start to get some electric blue peaking in through the trees. Going higher, you begin to see the treeline thin out, and suddenly the ten peaks make an appearance within the Larch Valley. There’s no sign to indicate that you made it, but don’t worry. You’ll know.
This is a great place to stop and take a break, or in my case, eat an entire box of Wheat Thins. The climb to this point is strenuous, and your legs could definitely use the break (and you’re tummy could use the snack!). If you decide to continue onward, you’ll be faced with some incredibly steep and thin switchbacks to take you up the Sentinel Pass. It’s pretty daunting to look at, but the views are so so so worth it. It’s not uncommon for snowfields to cover parts of the trail, making climbing the pass technically challenging. Move slowly, and when you arrive, take in the amazing mountain and valley views to both sides of you.
Getting down was a little tricky. The switchbacks are only wide enough for one person to go at a time, and the snowfields proved pretty daunting to go on downhill. We opted to slide down the gravel all the way to the bottom instead of taking the snow route again.
As you hike your way back down, there is a trail that splits off about halfway through that leads to Eiffel Lake. This trail is very long (5.4km one way), but if you walk about 20 minutes along the trail, you’ll be rewarded with some clear, birds-eye views of Moraine Lake. This trail is on the ridge, and offers dramatic views of the ten peaks as well. We made it about 45 minutes along what we thought was a short trail (it’s not, it’s 5.4km one way!), before admitting defeat and turning back (we didn’t do much research, haha). Tired, we trudged back, only to be surprised with this view!
After you make your way back, make sure to take a seat and grab a cup of tea from the cafe near the lake. Your quads will feel like jello, and your knees will be exhausted from all the downhill walking. Revel in the fact that you just hiked about 10km and gained 750m in elevation. Those views were definitely worth it!