Lake Moraine Trails: Rockpile Viewpoint, Larch Valley, Sentinel Pass Trails – Lake Moraine, Banff National Park
The lovely gem of Banff National Park – Lake Moraine. Of the two icons of Banff National Park, Lake Moraine certainly has established its place in the park. It is one of the most photographed spots in all of Canada. The lake is surrounded by the Valley of Ten Peaks – it looks like the lake has a crown. These ten mountain peaks – Mount Fay, Mount Little, Mount Bowlen, Tonsa, Mount Perren, Mount Allen, Mount Tuzo, Deltaform Mountain, Neptuak Mountain, Wenkchemna Peak – all create a diverse area of places to explore.
Lake Moraine Hiking Trails
The major trail here is an out and back so the decision is how far “out” do you want to go. There are many branches off the main trail where other parts can be explored but there is really no way to make it a loop to see multiple areas of the lake. The full AllTrails description can be found here.
|Trail||One Way Distance||Elevation Gain||Difficulty|
|Lake Moraine to Rockpile / Lake Moraine Viewpoint||0.25 miles / 0.4km||32 ft||Easy|
|Lake Moraine to Larch Valley||2.7 miles / 4.3km||1,991 ft||Moderate|
|Lake Moraine to Sentinel Pass||3.7 mile / 6km||2,621 ft||Hard|
|Larch Valley Minnestimma Lake to Sentinel Pass||1 mile / 1.6 km||360 ft||Hard|
Since we were not successful in parking earlier in the trip – parking lot was “full” before 5AM and we read it fills up at 3:30AM – I kept an eye on last minute tickets for the shuttle and were able to get them at the 48 hour reservation drop. It is so tricky to visit Lake Moraine and would suggest not bothering with the hassle and book your spot of the shuttle for your trip. We arrived at Lake Moraine via shuttle bus at 830AM and not surprising but definitely infuriating there were plenty of spots available in the lot that they claim to be full. I do not know what the logic is here but just assume you won’t be able to park at Lake Moraine on your trip.
UPDATE: Parking is no longer permitted at the Lake Moraine parking lot. As of 2023, everyone will have to book a reservation on the shuttle to access the Lake Moraine area.
Lake Moraine to Rockpile / Lake Moraine Viewpoint
The first stop on our Lake Moraine trip was going to the top of the Rock Pile for the Lake Moraine Viewpoint – one of the best spots in the entire park to get a perfect picture. The climb was definitely a mini stairmaster but a very short trail to get to the top. Make sure to wander around to the actual top of the pile of rocks as there are so great pockets where trees to do hinder the view of the lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks above. We relaxed here for a bit before venturing onto the next trail.
Lake Moraine to Larch Valley
The Larch Valley Trail started at the lake past the Moraine Lake Lodge and after a brief period walking through the woods, the switch backs started taking us higher and higher above the lake. The switchbacks were very long so each leg was not too steep but if did last a long time.
After the switch backs, the trail flatten out and we emerged from the trees to an expansive valley that gave us epic vies of the Ten Peaks along with the larch trees. It is popular to do this hike in September as the larch trees actually changes color to a beautiful yellow color. This is unique since none of the other trees in Banff really experience a fall foliage. For us, the larch trees were still green.
Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass
The leg of the Larch Valley to Minnestimma Lake was a bit challenging especially after we had a lovely flat walk through the valley. Without the cover of trees, the sun was quite hot as we made the push to Minnestimma Lake. The views from here continued to impress us – just being this high with the peaks was so amazing. We made it here just before 11AM and enjoyed a snack relaxing in this scenery.
Minnestimma Lake to Sentinel Pass
The final push to the Sentinel Pass was daunting. We could see the tiny path going up the side of the mountain to reach the clearing. The journey up was as tough as it looked – not only was it steep but it was narrow and very rocky. We started this portion just after 11AM and made it to the clearing before 12PM so it took under and hour for this short distance. But wow, what another planet on the other side of the clearing. The pass continues on but this was the point we turned around and headed back to Lake Moraine.
Since the way up was mostly uphill, the journey back to Lake Moraine was very easy and much fasters. When we made it back to Lake Moraine, we visited the Moraine Lake Lodge (I can’t believe you can actually book here – what an epic place to stay!), sat by the lake to relax, and did one final peek at the top of the Rockpile since the sun was nice and high in the sky.
I was so happy we were able to get a reservation on the shuttle – I can’t imagine visiting Banff National Park and not visiting Lake Moraine. It is too bad they cannot figure out a better situation with the parking – especially since the 330AM parking lot being full is due to people that just want to see the sunrise. When you are visiting Banff National Park, these trails are definitely a must do for one of the days of your trip. Make sure you start early and pack lots of food and water for yourself. Also make sure to pack out what you bring and leave nothing behind. We did not spot any wildlife on the trail but there are occasional sightings so always be bear aware and know your surroundings. Travel in groups when possible, making noise as you hike to let wildlife know you are there to not startle them.
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