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Moraine Lake is, hands-down, one of the most beautiful locations to visit in Banff. With its stunning turquoise water and mountain backdrop, it’s no surprise that this glacially-fed lake attracts thousands upon thousands of visitors every year. For those lucky enough to be at the lake during sunrise, it’s truly an unforgettable experience.
Sadly, the lake has become a bit too popular in recent years, which has resulted in a parking ban announced in 2023. Ouch.
But despite that, visiting the lake during sunrise is still possible! In this blog post, we’ll discuss how you can get to Moraine Lake to snap those sunrise shots by joining this incredible Earlybird Explorer tour, as well as other fun activities you can enjoy in the area.
Let’s get started!
When can you visit Moraine Lake?
Before you organize your trip to Moraine Lake, it’s important to know that it’s not open year-round! It’s best to go between June and mid-October, as this is the only time the access road to the lake is open to the public. This restriction also applies to tour operators, so make sure to plan accordingly!
You’ll want to visit when the lake is melted so you get to see that bright blue water color. I recommend visiting between late June to early September to guarantee the lake won’t be frozen – especially first thing in the morning.
Outside the summer and early fall months in Banff National Park, the route to the lake is usually covered with snow, with a high avalanche risk. To help keep the public safe, local authorities decided it was best to restrict road access during this time.
As for time of day, I think Moraine Lake is most magical at sunrise. I love that quiet stillness of the Rocky Mountains and seeing the golden light hit the lake. But all the regular buses and shuttles don’t arrive until after sunrise and you can no longer drive yourself since the access road is closed to personal vehicles due to the impossible parking situation at the lake.
The ONLY way to get to the lake for sunrise is by joining this Moraine Lake Earlybird tour or this privately-operated shuttle. Tour operators are allowed on the road to the lake, so you’ll need to plan ahead for this so you’re not disappointed. I’ll go into more detail on the tour later on in this post!
Related Read: If you’re visiting Banff during wintertime, don’t worry! There are still plenty of epic things to do in Banff in winter!
Why is sunrise at Moraine Lake famous?
When you think of a typical sunrise, you’ll probably imagine the sun rising on the horizon – beautiful, but blinding! What makes the sunrise at Moraine Lake so beautiful is that the sun actually rises from behind you, bathing the mountains and the lake in an otherworldly glow. This is also the best time for taking photos, as the lighting is just right.
Besides the incredible views, sunrise means you’ll beat the crowds who come to see this stunning lake. Being here first thing in the morning is an amazing way to start your vacation in Banff and leaves the rest of your day free to explore.
Moraine Lake will always hold a special place in my heart since this is where I proposed to Bailey (and she said yes!). Sunrise here is so romantic whether you’re planning a honeymoon in Banff or just a little getaway with your partner. After visiting the lake at different points throughout the day I have to say sunrise is my absolute favorite.
If you’re also lucky enough to see the sunset at Moraine Lake, you’re in for a treat. As the sun makes its lazy descent, it sets right behind the Ten Peaks in the distance. With the last light of the day, it’s also a great time to grab a few photos before making your way home.
Is the road to Moraine Lake open for sunrise?
The short answer, unfortunately, is no. Parks Canada made the change in 2023 to not allow any personal vehicles onto the access road or into the parking lot. Basically, the demand for parking FAR exceeded what was available.
The only exception to this is if you have a disabled parking permit – then you can drive to the lake and park in the lot. Organized tours to Moraine Lake, shuttles, buses, and public transit are allowed but run on limited hours.
While you have plenty of options to get to Moraine Lake, there are only two ways to arrive for that magical sunrise time. The first option is with this new sunrise tour to Moraine Lake. The tour was created to specifically fill that gap created with everyone who wants to see the lake at sunrise, but can’t drive themselves or take one of the other options that don’t arrive until later in the morning. The tour departs from Banff and includes all sorts of extras like a guide and even hot chocolate!
Alternatively, a brand new company just launched that offers sunrise shuttles from Lake Louise Village to Moraine Lake. They also have early morning departures at 4 am and 5 am, which means you will see the sunrise. This option is transport only, but it is the more affordable choice at only $49 CAD per person. You can book the shuttle online here.
While the route to the lake is technically open to foot traffic and cyclists, it’s a trek through the dark and we wouldn’t recommend it.
Why is parking closed at Moraine Lake?
Anyone who’s tried to park at Moraine Lake will tell you that it’s a massive ordeal! As one of the best lakes in Banff, the lake has always been incredibly popular, and the parking infrastructure just hasn’t been able to keep up.
As a result, it wasn’t unusual to see the parking lot completely full 24/7 during peak summer. Yes, you read that right!
We can attest to this as we once wasted hours circling around hoping to get a spot. You used to be able to arrive around 5 am and still get a parking spot, but even that wasn’t working anymore.
To combat this, in 2023 Parks Canada announced a year-round ban on parking, except for those with a disabled parking pass. It also goes hand-in-hand with protecting the wildlife of Banff National Park, which was being disturbed by the high levels of traffic and noise.
Related Read: From grizzly bears to majestic elk, taking a wildlife tour in Banff is one of the best ways to see the incredible animals here.
How can you visit Moraine Lake at sunrise?
We absolutely adore seeing Moraine Lake at sunrise, and we know you will too! Thankfully, there are two reliable ways that you can visit, without having to fight an uphill battle in the darkness on foot:
Early morning guided tour from Banff
Taking this Earlybird Explorer tour to Moraine Lake is currently the only way to reach the lake in time for sunrise. At last, you’ll get to witness the sunrise hitting the beautiful glaciers above the Valley of the Ten Peaks and the stunning turquoise waters of Moraine Lake!
With a maximum of 12 people per trip, the small group size makes this perfect for a quiet and undisturbed viewing of the lake. You’ll be picked up at 4 am (remember this is an earlybird tour!) and take a private minibus from just outside the Banff Train Station. To help keep you warm, you’ll also get a complimentary hot chocolate, coffee, or tea included in your ticket.
Since you’ll be arriving in the dark, your tour guides will hand out head torches to wear so you can safely navigate your way to the best spot to watch the sunrise. The friendly tour guides are also happy to give tips on the best spots to take photos and advice on how to take them.
After spending 1.5 hours basking in the first light at Moraine Lake, you’ll stop into the Trailhead Cafe where you can add on a hot breakfast and barista-made drink for about $15 – $20 CAD.
Then it’s off to another amazing spot – Lake Louise! As a bonus, you’ll be at this lake well before the crowds arrive so you get a peaceful visit this lake too and don’t have to worry about parking here either. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even take a canoe out onto the neon blue waters!
A ticket for this magical sunset tour costs $220 CAD per person. While this may seem a little pricey, believe us when we say that seeing Moraine Lake during sunrise (without a boatload of tourists around) really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
We anticipate this being a very popular tour, so make sure you plan ahead and book your tour online here.
Early morning shuttle from Lake Louise
A brand new company has just started offering shuttles to Moraine Lake from Lake Louise. Unlike the tours mentioned above, this option is transport only. So, no tour guide; however, that does make it a lot more affordable than the tours at only $60-70 CAD per adult.
The other thing that we love about this new shuttle is that it offers early morning departures at both 4 am and 5 am, which means you’ll get to enjoy sunrise at Moraine Lake! But even if you aren’t an early riser, this shuttle is super convenient because your spot on the shuttle is booked, meaning no waiting around in long lines like you would with the Parks Canada shuttles.
When you book the shuttle, you can also choose to add on a quick hour-long stop at Lake Louise Lakefront. This is the perfect choice for anybody who also wants to check out Lake Louise for a few photo ops without the stress of trying to get parking.
One thing to note about this shuttle is that it departs from Lake Louise (either Lake Louise Village or the Lake Louise Gondola, depending on the departure time that you book.) So, you will have to get yourself to the meeting point.
We expect this shuttle to be very popular this year, so we recommend booking online here to secure your spot.
Can you use the Parks Canada shuttles to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise?
While you can get to Moraine Lake in the morning on the Parks Canada shuttle or Roam public bus, no you won’t make it in time for sunrise.
Parks Canada shuttles operate from 6 am through to 8 pm, which means that the earliest shuttle will only arrive after sunrise. This is to help minimize disruptions to the environment, with the local wildlife being most active during the early and late daylight hours.
The only Moraine Lake shuttle bus that will get you to the lake in time for sunrise is this brand-new privately operated shuttle. It costs $49 CAD per person but has both 4 am and 5 am departures, so you’re sure to catch the sunrise!
Related Read: If you have more time, why not hike one of the spectacular trails that start from Moraine Lake.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
There’s no better start to your day than watching the sunrise at Moraine Lake. Once you’re finished up here, there are so many other incredible things to do in Banff! Here are some of my must-do activities:
- Hike Johnston Canyon – As one of the easier hikes to do in Banff, Johnston Canyon is a popular and scenic location with some pretty incredible waterfalls! It’s easy to customize the hike to your needs – you can either do the shorter hike to the Lower Falls or push on to see the amazing Upper Falls. There’s also the handy hop-on hop-off bus that stops here, as well as magical nighttime tours like this evening Icewalk tour.
- Visit Lake Louise – Seeing Lake Louise is a must as this is another one of our favorite lakes to visit in Canada! It can be difficult to find parking at Lake Louise, so we recommend hoping on a tour from Banff to Lake Louise or taking the ROAM transit bus, or the Park and Ride shuttles.
- Ride the Banff Gondola – Enjoy a mesmerizing ascent to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where you’ll find shops, a fantastic café, and even a theater! Riding the Banff Gondola is also a great way to spot some of Banff National Park’s famous wildlife. Make sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time, as this is a popular attraction that sells out quickly! You can easily book online here.
- Explore Banff town – There are also lots of things to see and do in the town center! Sip a coffee at some of the best cafés in Banff with amazing views, before going shopping down the super cute Bear Street. For those who want something a bit stronger, there are also loads of fantastic breweries and distilleries in Banff too!
Where to Stay in Banff
It can be a little overwhelming when searching for the best places to stay in Banff – it is a popular resort town after all! From our own experience, we’ve created a list of the best hotels in Banff town to fit a wide range of budgets. Here are a few of our favorites:
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
With modern and clean dorm rooms, Samesun Banff Hostel is the ideal hotel for backpackers and those traveling on a budget. As an added bonus, breakfast is included in the rate, and although there are no private rooms available, there are laundry facilities, as well as a fully licensed bar!
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
Relax in a hot tub or work up a sweat in the fully equipped gym, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has it all! All of the rooms in this hotel have a kitchenette or full kitchen, which is perfect for making up meals before your adventures.
You’ll find this hotel on Tunnel Mountain, which is about a 5-minute drive from Banff town. Rooms here start at $119 CAD and you can check availability online here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
Live your very own fairytale with a stay at Fairmont Banff Springs designed after a Scottish Baronial castle! Easily the most elegant hotel in Banff, a stay here doesn’t come cheap, but the memories you’ll make here will be priceless.
Enjoy two incredible swimming pools, 27 spa treatment areas, golf, horseback riding and so much more at this all-in-one hotel! With shuttles to many nearby ski resorts, this is also the perfect place to stay if you’re planning a Banff ski holiday or winter vacation. Rooms here start at $605 CAD and you can book your stay online here.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Thanks for reading!
Although parking may now be banned at Moraine Lake, thanks to this Earlybird Explorer tour to Moraine Lake it’s still possible to see the sunrise in a calm and intimate setting, away from the buzzing of the crowds. We highly recommend coming first thing in the morning if you can. It’s an unforgettable experience!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog and it’s helped you plan your sunrise trip to Moraine Lake. If you’re planning a Rocky Mountain getaway check out our other Banff blogs and these helpful articles below: