A trip to Banff National Park is a truly sublime experience, especially for hikers. Whether you’re glancing at glimmering glaciers, standing atop windswept passes, or marveling at marmots along the trail, you’ll be astounded by the hiking in Banff. In this article, I will guide you through the best day hike to Moraine Lake.
At first glance, the sheer number of natural wonders in Banff could leave you wondering which path to take. Well, problem solved!
This two-for-one hiking route at Moraine Lake guarantees you’ll get epic views, varied terrain, and a chance to commune with the breathtaking beauty of the park.
Wenkchemna Pass and Sentinel Pass Combo Hike
Here’s a quick summary of what to expect when hiking Wenkchemna Pass and Sentinel Pass through Banff National Park:
- Distance: 16.7 miles (27km) out and back
- Elevation Gain: 4520 feet (1378m)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Location: GPS Location Link
Overview of Day Hike to Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is one of the most iconic locations in Banff National Park, and the lake’s vibrant blue waters are even more arresting when seen from above.
You can access these views—and many others—by hiking Wenkchemna and Sentinel Passes. Either pass makes for a wonderful day hike and you can conquer both of them for a truly remarkable excursion.
Getting to the Trailhead
As of summer 2023, from June through early October, the only way to get to Moraine Lake is by shuttle bus or on foot.
PARKS CANADA SHUTTLE BUS
Book your shuttle in advance via Parks Canada. They release the majority of the tickets in the spring prior and then a few more two days before, starting at 8am MT.
You select a time slot to go up to the lake (between 6:30am and 6:00pm) but can come down on whichever bus you want until the last one departs at 7:30pm.
The shuttle starts and ends at the Park and Ride located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, just north of town, and can be used to get to Lake Louise as well.
There are also private companies that offer shuttle rides, such as the Moraine Lake Bus Company, but these options tend to be much pricier.
WALK TO TRAILHEAD
The walk there is significant, starting from the Paradise Creek parking lot and following the Paradise Valley trail for 8.8 miles to Sentinel Pass from the other side. For this description, I’ll assume that you’ve taken the Parks Canada shuttle.
Along the Trail
The shuttle drops you in the parking lot, where it’s only a few steps to views of the luminous lake. While most of the other shuttle-takers will spend their time at the lake’s edge, if you continue to the Sentinel Pass trailhead to the right of the lake shore, past the cottages, you’ll soon have a lot more room to yourself.
The first 40 minutes of the trail are continuous, but relatively gentle, switchbacks through the woods. Don’t forget to sneak peeks down at the lake below as you ascend.
After 1.5 miles, you’ll reach an intersection marked by a trail sign and a bench.
First Route: Wenkchemna Pass to Eiffel Lake
Now choose your own adventure! The Sentinel Pass trail is more popular, so I suggest beginning with the route to Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass to the left. (And the good news is that when you return for the second pass, you won’t have to repeat the switchbacks you just ascended.)
WIDE OPEN VIEWS OF VALLEY OF TEN PEAKS
The trail to Eiffel Lake continues along the side of the hill with fully open views out to the Valley of Ten Peaks on one side and a forest dotted with wildflowers on the other.
After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach a short scree section that bends around to open up to Eiffel Lake below. After the sight of Moraine Lake, this lake is a little underwhelming, but it’s picturesque nonetheless.
PATH LEADING TO WENKCHEMNA PASS
To the right, a broad meadow appears and in the distance, you can see the red rock pile leading to Wenkchemna Pass.
The route to the pass is even less traveled than the one to Eiffel Lake and you may see no other creatures except marmots, ground squirrels, and pikas.
There is always the possibility of spotting a grizzly, so be sure to take all precautions, such as traveling in a group, carrying bear spray, and making plenty of noise.
Reaching the top of the pass affords you views not just of the Valley of Ten Peaks, but also British Columbia and the Continental Divide. Enjoy the awe-inspiring sense of complete wilderness.
Turning around, take extra care descending over the boulders from the pass, as it can be a bit of a scramble in sections. Once you’ve returned to the bench, it’s time for pass number 2!
Hike to Sentinel Pass
As you begin the hike to Sentinel Pass, you’ll pass through a dazzling valley of larch trees, framed by the peaks behind them and made even more spectacular in the fall when they change color.
You’ll soon come to an opening that reveals Sentinel Pass rising ahead of you with a full view of its numerous switchbacks. At a steady clip, they’ll go by quickly and before you know it, you’re looking down across Larch Valley and back into Paradise Valley on the other side.
RETURN TO MORAINE LAKE
It’s a majestic sight. The hike back down Moraine Lake is straightforward. Be sure to leave enough time to get back to the parking lot for the last shuttle at 7:30pm.
Key Information for Hiking in Banff
Best Time to Travel to Banff National Park
Located in a subarctic zone, Banff offers fantastic summer hiking and epic skiing in the winter. July, August, and September offer the best conditions for hiking, as snow is most likely to have melted. Because of that, the park can be especially crowded, so it’s advantageous to book your trip in advance if you’re traveling during that window.
Entrance to the park requires either an annual Discovery Pass, which can be purchased online in advance, or a day pass for each day that you’re in the park, which can be purchased as you’re entering the park gates.
National Park Passes can be purchased online through Parks Canada.
Essential Gear for Hiking Moraine Lake Trails
Pack your robust daypack to account for various possible weather conditions in the mountains. Bring warm layers, including a packable down jacket and lightweight rain gear.
Also be sure to carry hiking poles to support you on the steep sections of trail and bear spray that you can use as a hindrance to grizzly encounters.
I recommend wearing a pair of solid boots for this hike to help your feet and ankles withstand a variety of terrain.
RECOMMENDED HIKING GEAR
Your pack will of course contain water, snacks and other items you would typically carry on your day hikes.
Please be sure you have the following in your day pack:
Be sure to purchase the correct length based on your height. Available in 100cm - 130cm lengths.
- Aluminum shafts
- Z-pole design
- Speed-cone deployment
- Foam grip
- Breathable, moisture-wicking strap
I hope this route description inspires you to try the double-pass combo and discover Banff National Park’s infinite charms for yourself!
When you’re ready for more top day hikes in Banff, try the Plain of Six Glaciers Highline Circuit from Moraine Lake. Or, ascent to Mount Bourgeau and discover one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the world.
You are going to love this day hike to Moraine Lake. Get ready to be awestruck!
Jane Cullina is based in Santa Barbara, California, where she draws inspiration from the juxtaposition of sea and mountains that frame her surroundings. Her experiences as an outdoor educator on both coasts cemented Jane’s belief that time spent in nature leads to extraordinary moments of growth and connection. Today, whether at work as a project manager, educator, and writer, or at play in the wilderness of the U.S., Canada, and beyond, Jane seeks to weave together the practical with the profound.