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Parking at Moraine Lake is a nightmare! It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Banff and almost every visitor to the region wants to visit. This has created what’s now known as the hardest place to get a parking spot in Canada.
But it’s not all bad news…
I’ve personally visited Moraine Lake many times to enjoy hikes like the Larch Valley Trail and Consolation Lakes, and every time I’ve managed to get a parking spot. It wasn’t luck. In fact, getting a parking spot at Moraine Lake is easy if you’re willing to endure a very early morning.
The question is, what time should I arrive?
Well, after so many visits all throughout the spring, summer, and fall, I’ve pretty much got it figured out. But the time changes throughout the year, on weekends vs weekdays, and for special occasions such as Larch season in the fall.
So, in this blog, I’ll show you exactly how to get a parking spot at Moraine Lake at any time of the year as well as give you the time you need to arrive!
Parking at Moraine Lake FAQs
This all depends on the time of year and whether it’s a weekend or not. On average, the parking lot is full by 5:00 am on weekends and 5:30 am on weekdays.
No, you cannot. Although vehicles can remain in the parking lot overnight (for guests at the hotel or people shooting astrophotography) you cannot stay in your vehicle overnight.
The road to Moraine Lake closes as soon as the traffic control workers begin their shift for the day at around 7 or 8 am. By this time the car parking lot is well and truly full. After this, you need to wait until they open it again, however, this is usually only to allow a few cars in then it will close again, and so on…
Yes, there are parking bays for campervan and motorhomes. These are more limited, especially for larger motorhomes.
Parking at Moraine Lake is completely free! You need to have a Parks Canada Pass though to be in the area of Banff National Park.
What is the best time to arrive at Moraine Lake in the morning?
If you want to ensure you get a parking space then the best time to arrive is as early as possible. However, here’s what I’ve found.
During the week, any time before 5:30 am will guarantee you a spot, and on the weekends, any time before 5:00 am.
However, here are some exceptions to the rule. In fact, during Larch season on weekends, I’d recommend getting to the Moraine Lake parking lot before 4:30 am.
During Larch season (the time when the Larch trees are orange) the area is visited by thousands of people wanting to hike the Larch Valley Trail. Because of this, it’s super busy! During the week though, 5:30 am is usually still fine in Larch season as you don’t get all of the local Canadians from places nearby coming for the day or weekend trips.
Not into early mornings? Book the hop-on-hop-off bus from Banff. One of the stops is Moraine Lake so that you don’t need to worry about parking at all!
Read next: Find out about tons of other awesome activities on our blog about 33 fun things to do in Banff!
What happens if you don’t get a spot?
Okay, so let’s say you woke up late and didn’t get a spot (hypothetically because after reading this you won’t!) Then your best bet is to head straight to Lake Louise Park and Ride and get a parking spot (more on that below.) From here you’ll have to wait for the first shuttle to leave at 8 am.
Bookings in advance are required to ride this shuttle as of 2021. You can try to book the shuttle here, just be aware that it is often fully booked. Otherwise, just book this hop-on-hop-off bus from Banff or this guided sightseeing tour. Both experiences visit Moraine Lake and require zero hassle with parking.
If you decided to arrive at Moraine Lake after 9 am and just hope to get a parking spot at Moraine Lake, I’ve got bad news… it’s highly unlikely and time-consuming. But why?
Well, as you head towards Lake Louise, the turn off to Moraine Lake is on your left. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to turn onto the Moraine Lake road from here (it’s blocked and maned by traffic controllers.)
Instead, you are required to drive all the way to Lake Louise, do a loop, and drive back down to the turn-off. Now, you need the road to open at the exact time you drive past so you can turn in. If you miss it, well it’s either do the loop again or give up.
The full loop in peak season can take 30 minutes. Trying this a few times will quickly waste your day away! Trust me, I tried it!
So your options are: get to Moraine Lake super early, book the park and ride in advance, drive around for hours trying to get lucky and get a parking spot, or book a tour! I always choose the first option!
Related read: If you’re heading to Lake Louise then check out our guide to the Lake Agnes Tea House Hike. It’s one of the best in the area!
Getting a Parking Space in the Late Afternoon
There is a sure way to get a park at Moraine Lake without the early wake-up call, and that’s to arrive late in the afternoon. During the Canadian summer, it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm. So arriving after 5 or 6 pm will ensure you get a parking spot and have time to enjoy the lake.
I’ve been to Moraine Lake a few times in the afternoon and never had a problem getting parking. It’s also very quiet and you can enjoy the hiking trails and viewpoints without the crowds. Sometimes I even take a couple of drinks with me to the viewpoint to enjoy.
Although sunset isn’t that famous time to visit, it’s still pretty amazing if you have good weather! It’s also a great time of day to enjoy hiking trails without the crowds such as Consolation Lakes or the Larch Valley. However, tackling longer trails is not advised as you’ll run out of time before it gets dark.
Related Read: For more information on the area, check out our blog about the best things to do in Lake Louise!
The Shuttle to Moraine Lake from Banff and Lake Louise
If getting a parking spot at Moraine Lake sounds too stressful, don’t worry you’re not alone. Instead, there are some other great options with the best one being the shuttle provided by Parks Canada and Roam.
There are shuttles that run from Lake Louise from an overflow parking lot and from Banff town. These shuttles are cheap and start running as early as 8 am. You can find all the info on the Banff Lake Louise website or the Parks Canada website with the first being the easiest and most informative.
These shuttles are great if you’re not an early riser and don’t mind missing sunrise at Moraine Lake. The only downside is that in 2021, the shuttle MUST BE BOOKED IN ADVANCE. And unfortunately, this means that it is often fully booked.
If you missed out on the shuttle bookings, try this hop-on-hop-off bus from Banff. It is more expensive but you’ll also visit a few other iconic attractions such as Lake Louise (another notoriously difficult place to park.)
Facilities at Moraine Lake Parking Lot
The facilities at Moraine Lake are pretty limited. In fact, even the toilets are “drop toilets” (or “pit toilets”.) Basically, there isn’t a flush and they don’t smell the nicest. Aside from that, there is a small café that serves coffee and snacks as well as bins for rubbish a recycling waste.
Other than that, it’s all nature hiking trails and one of the best-located hotels in Canada – the Moraine Lake Lodge. There are a few different fun things to do at Moraine Lake that you can easily check out once you’re there.
Where to Stay near Moraine Lake
As I mentioned above, there is only one hotel at Moraine Lake and it’s extremely expensive! However, there are lots of great places to stay in Lake Louise Village! Personally, I love staying in Lake Louise when exploring the area, although Banff is close, it’s still a 45 minutes drive each way!
Lake Louise is such a cute town to explore. There are some great restaurants in Lake Louise as well as plenty of things to do. So, if you want to stay in Lake Louise, you can choose from one of my favorite hotels listed below:
I’ve stayed here on more than a few occasions. It’s a great budget hotel/hostel with dorm beds and budget private rooms. It’s clean, comfortable and the staff are really friendly!
The Lake Louise Inn is another budget option that’s slightly more luxurious than the Hi Alpine Center. I stayed here once and really liked it. I loved their pool and hot tub, especially on cold nights! The rooms are also really modern.
Unfortunately, I’ve never stayed at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise but it is the most luxurious hotel in Lake Louise. The hotel isn’t in the village, instead, it sits on the shore of Lake Louise. The rooms and everything about this hotel is spectacular!
Related read: If you plan on staying in Banff, check out our guide to the 10 best hotels in Banff!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect ice conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $29 and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in hand so many times especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $27 and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
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 the best attractions within them requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.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 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!
Before you go…
Parking at Moraine Lake can be stressful. However, by following the times in this guide you are certain to get a parking spot. I can’t stress enough that waking up 15 minutes earlier can make your day much more enjoyable!
Thanks so much for reading. I really hope you get a parking space at Moraine Lake! If you found this blog helpful then you’ll love our other Canada blogs or the blogs listed below!