With snowy jagged peaks that tower over teal waters, Moraine Lake is one of the most famous viewpoints in Banff National Park, and visiting Moraine Lake at sunrise makes for an even more magical experience. However, don’t expect to show up 10 minutes before the sun pops up over the mountains to catch this epic view. Visiting Moraine Lake at sunrise requires some patience and advance planning. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan your visit to Moraine Lake at sunrise, including parking, what time to go, and where to find the best views.
- Moraine Lake Sunrise
- Details | Moraine Lake at Sunrise
- Best spots to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake
- Is sunrise at Moraine Lake worth it?
Overview | Sunrise at Moraine Lake
- Location | Banff National Park
- Parking | Extremely limited
- Best time of year | June through October (access road is closed the rest of the year)
- Cost | $10.50 per adult entrance fee, or covered by Discovery Pass
- Dogs allowed? | Yes
Located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Moraine Lake is one of the most iconic gems of the Canadian Rockies. The vibrant shade of its waters is caused by small particles in the glacial runoff that feeds the lake.
At Moraine Lake, you can hike one of the several trails, rent a canoe and explore from the water, or simply find yourself a nice viewpoint to relax and soak in the views.
Although beautiful any time of day, the alpenglow and calm waters make visiting Moraine Lake at sunrise a special treat. But don’t expect to have this “insta-famous” spot to yourself, even in the wee hours of the morning. Moraine Lake is very popular and draws huge crowds, even (especially) at sunrise.
- Stunning blue glacier-fed alpine lake
- Surrounding mountains light up in shades of pink and orange at sunrise
- One of the most iconic views in Banff
- Opportunity to go hiking or canoeing
- Very crowded, even early in the morning
- Parking is extremely limited and taking the shuttle is logistically complicated
- You must arrive ridiculously early to secure a spot.
About Banff National Park
Established in 1885, Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park and remains the most visited to this day. Banff National Park is located in Alberta, Canada, about 2 hours from Calgary and just minutes from Canmore.
The small town of Banff is located in the park, and is another popular home base for exploring the area.
Spanning over 6,600 square kilometers, Banff National Park is home to some of the most stunning sections of the Canadian Rockies. Beautiful alpine lakes, teal rivers, snow-capped mountains, and expansive glaciers punctuate the scenery in Banff and make for jaw-dropping views and an impressive list of incredible hikes.
Entrance to Banff National Park costs $10.50 per person per day. Unlike in the United States, entrance fees are paid per person, rather than per vehicle. Alternatively, you can purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for $72.25 per person, which grants you access to all Canadian National Parks for one year.
Always remember to leave no trace!
Please do your part to help preserve the beautiful landscapes and fragile ecosystems found in Banff and Yoho for generations to come. A few key things to remember include:
- Always stay on the trail. This area features beautiful wildflowers during the spring. Going off-trail damages the plants and accelerates erosion.
- Store your food properly – this is bear country! Never leave food unattended and avoid leaving behind crumbs or food waste.
- Additionally, never feed the animals, no matter how cute… this includes squirrels, marmots, pikas, chipmunks etc. You may think you’re doing them a favor, but human food is dangerous for wild animals and can shorten their lifespan.
- Pack out all trash and waste. Be respectful of the area and others. Don’t leave behind your food or trash.
- Be considerate of others. That means keeping your dog on leash and your noise levels low.
- Be prepared and do your research. Some of the hikes on this list are quite challenging. Know what you’re getting into and don’t attempt a hike you aren’t prepared. Remember that most areas don’t have cell service, so you are responsible for your own safety.
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
Details | Moraine Lake at Sunrise
In the following section, we’ll give you all the details you need to plan a smooth visit to Moraine Lake at sunrise.
How to get there
Moraine Lake is located about 20 minutes from both the town of Lake Louise and Lake Louise itself. From the town of Banff, you can reach Moraine Lake in 1 hour. From Calgary, it’s about a 2-hour and 20-minute drive, and from Canmore, it’s about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, getting to Moraine Lake can be more logistically complicated than you may expect. During the day, the road to Moraine Lake closes down to control traffic due to limited parking availability.
In this case, the only way to get to Moraine Lake is by taking the Lake Louise & Moraine Lake shuttle from the park & ride at the Lake Louise Ski Area.
Parking at Moraine Lake
Parking at Moraine Lake is extremely limited, with only about 150 to 200 parking spaces available. There are a handful of small to medium RV spots available, but if you are driving an RV, I’d say your chances of snagging a spot are pretty slim. Large RV spots are not available.
Parking along the road leading up to Moraine Lake is not permitted.
IMPORTANT UPDATE | Starting in 2023, parking at Moraine Lake is closed to personal vehicles at all times. Yes, this means you can no longer drive to Moraine Lake for sunrise! The Parks Canada Shuttle begins operation at 6:30am, which is too late to catch the sunrise during the summer. Instead, you’ll need to book a ride with either Moraine Lake Bus Company or Fairview Limosine to access Moraine Lake for sunrise.
What time do I need to arrive to see Moraine Lake at sunrise?
Do we have you thrilled about visiting Moraine Lake at sunrise yet?! Here’s where the not-so-fun part begins…
To visit Moraine Lake at sunrise during peak summer season (July and August), you’ll need to arrive well before 5am in order to get a parking spot. Since the shuttle doesn’t start running until 6:30, this is really your only option.
We visited on a weekday in late July and arrived at the parking lot around 4:15am. By this point, the lot was probably about three-quarters of the way full. I’d estimate it was completely full by 4:30 to 4:45, and this was a weekday!
You may have an easier time later in September, as visitation to the park tends to slow down and the sun sets later, although we have not personally visited Moraine Lake during this time so we can’t say for sure.
What time does the sunrise at Moraine Lake?
Below we’ve listed approximate sunrise time at Moraine Lake for each month. You may also want to check for exact times based on the dates you’re visiting.
- June | 5:30 am
- July | 5:30 am – 6:10 am
- August | 6:10 – 6:55 am
- September | 6:55 – 7:55 am
- October | 7:45 – 8:35 am
Lake Louise & Moraine Lake shuttle
Below, we’ve highlighted a few important details about the Lake Louise/Moraine Lake shuttle. You can also find more information online here.
- Reservations must be made online in advance. Walk up tickets are not available.
- Book your tickets online at Parks Canada.
- Tickets for the Lake Louise/Moraine Lake shuttles are released during the spring (check Park’s Canada website for the exact dates each year). A small portion of tickets are reserved for last minute bookings, and are released at 8:00am MDT two days in advance.
- Tickets sell out well in advance, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid scrambling for tickets at the last minute.
- The first shuttle departs at 6:30am from the park & ride at the Lake Louise Ski Area.
- A connector shuttle is available for no extra charge between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
It’s important to note that the first shuttle departs at 6:30am. During the middle of summer, the sunrises close to 5:30am, meaning it’s not possible to catch the sunrise at Moraine Lake by taking the shuttle.
During the fall, when the sunrises closer to 7:30am, you could take the first shuttle and make it in time. However, you’d still need to arrive early to ensure you can get on the first bus.
Where to stay nearby
Moraine Lake Lodge is certainly the most convenient option for catching the sunrise, located right on the banks of Moraine Lake. However, the convenience and beautiful location come with a hefty price tag, with rooms running around $1000 per night during peak season.
The Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise is a luxury hotel located right on the banks of Lake Louise. Again, the location and convenience comes at a cost, with rooms running about around $1000 per night during peak season.
Aside from these luxury hotels, there are a few more reasonably priced lodging options located in the little village of Lake Louise, about 20 minutes from Moraine Lake:
- Lake Louise Inn | Convenience at a more reasonable price with double rooms between $330 and $400.
- Mountaineer Lodge | Also conveniently located in Lake Louise, with queen rooms for $350 to $400 during peak season.
- HI Lake Louise Alpine Center Hostel | A budget-friendly option with private double rooms for $130 to $150 per night, and single beds in a shared dormitory for $50 per night.
Lake Louise Campground
If you aren’t up for spending hundreds of dollars per night, don’t fret! Lake Louise Campground is located about 20 minutes from Moraine Lake and features a total of nearly 400 sites, designated as either “hard-sided” (campers, RVs, and vans) or “soft-sided” (tents and pop-up campers).
Campsites run for $27 to $41 per night.
- Reservations may be made online at Parks Canada. Campsites tend to book up, so we’d recommend making reservations in advance.
When is the best time to visit?
The road to Moraine Lake is only open from June through October. Exact opening and closing dates vary by year depending on weather conditions.
In early June, the lake is typically still partially covered in snow and ice. The vibrance of the lake’s color typically peaks in late June.
Best spots to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake
Once you arrive at Moraine Lake, where should you actually go to watch the sunrise? Finding the best spot in the dark can be a bit challenging, so we’ll help you find your way below.
The “Rock Pile”
- Mileage | 0.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 50 feet
- Difficulty | Easy
Find this hike on AllTrails: Moraine Lake Viewpoint
The Rock Pile is perhaps the most popular spot to watch the sunrise, and the location of the “insta-famous” shot you’ve likely seen, like the one below. Getting to the Rock Pile requires a short quarter-mile hike. The trailhead is located towards the left side of the parking lot heading towards Moraine Lake.
The fragile area around the rockpile has been damaged by too many feet wandering off the trail. Please obey signs and stay on the trail to help protect the sensitive vegetation and soil surrounding the viewpoint.
Lakeshore & the Lakeshore Trail
Another great spot to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake is from the lakeshore. Just below the lodge is a pile of rocks that make a great spot to hang out. From there you have a nice view of the iconic dock and array of colorful canoes.
If you wish to escape the crowds a bit, you can continue further along the Moraine Lakeshore Trail, which continues for about a mile to the other end of the lake.
From the water
For a really unique experience away from the crowds, rent a canoe from the lakeshore and experience Moraine Lake at sunrise by water!
Canoes are available for rent from Moraine Lake Lodge at the dock right on the lakeshore. Rentals are $130 CAD (~$100 USD) per canoe for one hour, and each canoe can hold 2 to 3 people. Canoes are available on a first come first serve basis. From our experience, getting a canoe shouldn’t be any trouble, even at sunrise.
- Read more about renting canoes at Moraine Lake here.
Tips for a great Moraine Lake sunrise experience
- Arrive early! We can’t stress this enough. During peak season summer mornings, especially on the weekends, you can almost guarantee you won’t get a parking spot if you arrive after 5am.
- Scope out your spot and then stay there for sunrise. As sunrise approaches, more and more crowds will start to file in. You don’t want to lose your spot going in search of somewhere better.
- Make sure to wear layers and a warm jacket! It can be quite chilly in the morning at Moraine Lake.
- Pack breakfast and coffee – you’ll be waiting the sun to rise for a while! We packed our Jetboil and made coffee in the parking lot before heading up to the rock pile.
- Make sure you bring a headlamp to find your way around before sunrise. The trail to the Rock Pile is not very well lit.
- Don’t forget your camera! I never travel without my Nikon Z6.
Is sunrise at Moraine Lake worth it?
Frankly, the answer depends on whether you are morning person. Sarah loved the experience and would totally do it again. Matt, on the other hand, would probably opt to sleep in.
The sunrise is truly spectacular, but if you aren’t a morning person, you may not enjoy the experience.
Other useful resources
Are you planning a trip to Banff?! We’ve compiled the following resources with more information about great hikes and things to do in the area:
- Banff | How to Spend 4 Days in Banff: Ultimate Itinerary
- Banff | 16 Best Hikes in Banff & Yoho
- Banff | Big Beehive Hike: Best Views of Lake Louise
- Banff | Cirque Peak & Helen Lake in Banff: Complete Trail Guide
- Yoho | Iceline Trail, Little Yoho Valley & Yoho Valley Loop Trail Guide
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For all things Canada: Canada Travel Guide
Still have questions about visiting Moraine Lake at Sunrise? Drop us a comment below and we’ll be happy to help!