The Beauty of Canada's Moraine Lake
oraine Lake is located inside Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The lake is a very popular tourist destination and it is easy to see why. The vibrant turquoise waters are surrounded by soaring pine trees and snow-capped mountains. It also very easy to access the lake from the parking lot.
I was able to visit Moraine Lake and Banff National Park in October. I was amazed by the amount of beauty per square foot. The countless lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife makes the park a photographer's dream.
Cost to Visit Moraine Lake
Because Moraine Lake is located within Banff National Park, you only need to pay a fee to enter the park but not to visit the lake. The table below shows the latest pricing to enter Banff National Park as of May 20th, 2020.
Getting to Moraine Lake
Driving to Moraine Lake is easy since there is only one road that takes you there. The name of the road is Moraine Lake Road to make it even easier to figure out. The drive takes a little over an hour if you are departing from Lake Louise. During peak summer, the parking lot may be full and you may be required to take a shuttle to the lake. I recommend visiting the lake during sunrise or sunset to help avoid the crowds.
From the parking lot, there a short trail called the Rockpile Trail. The trail is 0.8 km or 0.5 miles. There are steps etched into the stone that provide a gradual slope to the majestic views of the turquoise waters and surrounding mountain range.
If there has been recent snowfall, I recommend bringing crampons for your boots or shoes to prevent slipping and falling on the icy surface. During my trip to Moraine Lake, I was walking down the stone staircase and my feet slipped out from under me causing me to land hard on my knees and tripod. Fortunately I was able to get back on my feet uninjured. I saw several others fall as well.
Time of Year to Visit
You are limited to visiting Moraine Lake while the road is open. Moraine Lake Road is closed during winter due to avalanche risks. The road typically closes the second Monday in October after their Thanksgiving, but you can find up to date information on the Canadian Parks website. The road reopens between the third week in May and the first week of June.
The lake remains frozen until late May or early June. By late June through early July, the water level is at its peak.
From June until the road closure, you can witness the stunning turquoise blue waters that Moraine Lake is famous for. The green-blue color is the result of light reflecting off the rock flour from the glacial runoff.
I went to visit Moraine Lake in October, just before the road closure, and had an amazing experience. The park was less crowded since it was a shoulder-season, and there was fresh snowfall that blanketed the mountains, pines, and valley floor.
Weather in Banff
The temperature in Banff fluctuates substantially throughout the year. The winters in Banff are long and cold. The graph from WeatherSpark below shows the temperature getting as cold as 5 degrees F in the winter. The summers are very mild and comfortable in comparison.
Best Time of Day to Photograph
Moraine Lake is in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, surrounded by mountain ranges. As a result, the softest and warmest light will not reach the lake since it will be blocked by the mountain peaks. During all months, you can still get amazing colors in the sky during sunrise and sunset. In summer months, golden light will still reach the peaks of the mountains, but not during fall and winter.
The images below are from the Photographer's Ephemeris. I use this application heavily for scouting the best light for taking photographs.
Fall and Winter Photography
During October, the sun will rise and set as shown below. Though the sun sets at 7:09 PM according to the information shown, the last light will fall on the mountain range 20 minutes earlier, at 6:50 PM. The sun rises at 7:55 AM, but sun will not reach the peaks until 40 minutes later, at 8:35 AM.
I prefer sunset photography during the fall and winter time because the clouds behind the mountain range will light up with color.
During the summer months the sun rises and sets further to the north. The image below shows the sunrise and sunset locations in July. Due to location of the sunrise and sunset, the sun is able to peak through and light the peaks of the mountain ranges just before and after it crosses the horizon. Sunrise will provide softer light on the mountains for a longer period of time than sunset.
I prefer sunrise photography during the summer time because the mountain range will receive soft light for the longest period of time.