Monday, May 15, 2023

Hike Moraine Lake to Lake Louise (via Sentinel and Saddleback Pass)

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are premier destinations when visiting the Canadian Rockies and access has never been easier thanks to the affordable and easy-to-book Parks Canada shuttle bus system. One ticket gets you access to both lakes for an entire day with free parking and transfers between the two lakes. And you won't have to arrive at 4am this year if you want to visit Moraine Lake to hike!

Hiking from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise via Sentinel and Saddle back Pass

Last fall, we did an epic hike from Moraine Lake back to Lake Louise over Sentinel Pass and Saddleback Pass. Without using the Parks Canada shuttle bus system, a traverse like this, with vehicles required at both ends, would have been impossible.

Sentinel Pass is a premier destination at Lake Louise

Article Summary:

1. Access to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Summarized

2. Everything you Need to Know about Taking a Parks Canada Shuttle Bus

3. The Grand Traverse: Moraine Lake to Lake Louise via Sentinel and Saddleback Passes

4. Other Recommended Hikes at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Disclaimer: The hikes featured in this guide are SUMMER hikes. They can be enjoyed through the autumn months as well until early October. These are NOT Spring hikes. 

Add these hikes to your list to enjoy from July onwards.

Autumn hiking in Paradise Valley at Lake Louise

Access to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Summarized 

Access for Moraine Lake:

New in 2023 - The Moraine Lake Road will be closed to personal vehicles year round.

Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses will be permitted from June to mid-October.

Access for Lake Louise:

Parking at the Lake Louise Lakeshore is extremely limited and finding a parking spot is challenging (if not near impossible) throughout the summer months. And even if you do find a parking spot at the lake, you'll have to pay to park here. (Paid parking is in effect at the Lake Louise Lakeshore during the shuttle season.)

Save yourself the hassle and take a shuttle bus or roam transit.

Lake Louise is a fabulous hiking destination if you're not fighting for a parking spot (photo: Mt. Fairview hike)

Shuttle Bus Access to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise:

Visit both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in the same day. Reserve your shuttle ticket online and park your vehicle at the Park and Ride, located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. (See shuttle fees here.)

Reservations can be made online starting in April with additional seats released in a rolling window, at 8am two days prior to departure day.

Taking Roam Public Transit:

Roam Public Transit can also be used to travel from the town of Banff to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Follow this link to the Parks Canada Website for complete information on taking a shuttle bus or public transit to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.

Other ways to reach Moraine Lake:

  • You can hike the Moraine Lake Road but know that it is approximately 25km round trip! Also, there is no parking at the Moraine Lake junction so you'll have to add more distance to your feet walking up the road from the Village.

  • You can bike the Moraine Lake Road (super easy with a pedal assist e-bike.) However, the road is narrow and has no shoulders. It's recommended to ride early or late in the day. There is also very limited parking in the community of Lake Louise and no parking at the Moraine Lake junction. 

    Biking is a great option for those staying in the campground, at the HI Lake Louise Hostel, or in one of the village hotels, and you can rent bikes from Wilson Mountain Sports.

  • Visitors in possession of a disabled parking tag will be granted vehicle access to Moraine Lake.
Unless you want to bike to Moraine Lake, take a shuttle bus!

Other ways to reach Lake Louise:

  • You can hike up to Lake Louise from the Village following the Louise Creek Trail (2.8 km one way.) 

  • You can bike up to Lake Louise from the Village following the Tramline Trail, an easy double track mountain bike trail that starts from the old train station. The trail is 4.9 km one way and climbs 191 metres. You can also cycle the main road up to the lake but it is narrow and has no shoulders. Taking the Tramline is much safer.

Still determined to take your own car to Lake Louise?

Those willing to pay the $21 daily parking fee can certainly take their own vehicle. (Accessible parking is $8 for those with the appropriate parking tag.)

Know that you'll have to arrive very early though (likely before 6am in the summer) and that it's entirely possible you'll be turned away. Personally, I like the idea of the shuttle bus. And, then you can visit Moraine Lake as well for the same price!

Take a shuttle and save your energy for the hiking at Lake Louise! (Photo: Devil's Thumb Hike)

Everything you Need to Know about Taking a Parks Canada Shuttle Bus

Making a reservation:

Follow the steps below to make a reservation with Parks Canada

  1. Visit the Parks Canada Reservation website

  2. Create an account on the reservation site

  3. Click on the Day Use tab

  4. Click "Shuttles to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake"

  5. In the "Park" box select Banff  - Lake Louise

  6. Choose an arrival date and number of people

  7. Click the "Shuttle" icon on the map

  8. The availability schedule will show up with times from 6:30am - 6:00pm. A red circle means that time or location is full. A green circle means there is availability.

  9. Click on a green circle for the bus or time you want. Then choose the exact time you want.

  10. Reserve your ticket.

Making a reservation to hike at Moraine Lake is easy pesay! (Photo: Larch Valley hike)

How it works on the day of your reservation:

Tickets are for a one-hour window. (Show up anytime during that hour.)

Once at the lakes you may stay as long as you choose.

You can connect between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on a first come first serve basis by taking the Lake Connector shuttle. The connector busses run between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake all day long. Hop on a connector for no extra fee and visit both lakes.

Your ticket includes return shuttle service from either lake back to the Park and Ride at the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Can't get a ticket for the day or location of your choice?

Don't panic if you can't get a ticket for the day or location that you want!

Additional seats are released in a rolling window, at 8 am. two days prior to departure day. So that means that Parks Canada is constantly releasing more bus seats. Only 40% of the bus seats will be open for early booking in April.

Last year I easily got tickets just a few days before I wanted to hike at Lake Louise.

And, if you can't get a ticket for Moraine Lake, just book a shuttle bus to Lake Louise. Hop off at the lake, and jump on a connector bus for Moraine Lake. (This is what we did last summer and it worked very well.)

This mighty kid climbed Mt. Temple last summer thanks to a shuttle bus reservation

Other Rules / Details to Pay Attention To:

  • Reservations are required for all shuttles departing the Park and Ride to either lake. Once you arrive at your first lake, connectors and return shuttles are first come first serve.

  • You can make a reservation by phone if you prefer at 1-877-737-3783.

  • Parking is free at the Lake Louise Ski Resort where you'll catch your shuttle bus.

  • Parks Canada shuttle buses have limited accessibility but the Roam Public Transit is wheelchair accessible and offers service between the Town of Banff and Lake Louise.

  • Make sure you're back to the Lake Louise Ski Resort before Whitehorn Drive closes for the evening! The last return shuttles depart Lake Louise and Moraine Lake at 7:30pm. After 8:00pm, there is no access to the Ski Resort due to an evening road closure, and vehicles left there will have to be claimed the next morning. 

  • Passenger pets are only allowed if they are crated, and riding in an official animal carrier on your lap. You can not book an extra seat for Fido.

  • Shuttles can accommodate many different types of watercraft including inflatable paddleboards, packrafts, inflatable kayaks, and even small hard-sided kayaks provided space permits.

  • Shuttles can accommodate strollers. 

  • Visit the official Parks Canada website below for information on hiking or camping in Paradise Valley.

  • Consult a private company such as the Moraine Lake Bus Company if you need to arrive earlier than the shuttle bus system allows for sunrise or for climbing.

More information can be found on the Parks Canada website here. 

Saddle Mountain is a fabulous hike in larch season 

The Grand Traverse: Moraine Lake to Lake Louise via Sentinel and Saddleback Passes

Last fall we got the great idea that because of the shuttle bus system, we could hike one-way from Moraine Lake back to Lake Louise without having to stage our own vehicles at both ends. 

Our hike took us 8 hours and we hiked a total of 23 km, gaining 1200 metres of height. Our average pace was only 3.5 km per hour so we certainly weren't running, and we enjoyed a lovely day hiking through golden larch trees.

And for other families wondering "could my family do this?" My son was 13 at the time, but he had been training for distances of 20+ km all summer, and had already climbed Mt. Temple earlier in the summer (which has 1700 metres of height gain.) By comparison, this hike from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise was an easy trip for him.

This grand traverse is fully doable for any strong hiker, regardless of age, but you need to work up to a distance and height gain like this. It was a great fall hike for my family after a summer of big training.

I recommend getting an early start! Remember that the last bus leaves Lake Louise at 7:30pm. (And I'd be a bit nervous about having to catch the final bus of the day in case everybody else has the same idea!) 

Also remember that your car will be locked in the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot after 8:00pm.

Average time for this hike, depending on how many times you stop, would be 7-10 hours. We didn't stop much but tried to keep moving at a steady pace.

Hiking through golden larch trees in Larch Valley

Using the Parks Canada Shuttle Bus System:

We reserved three shuttle bus seats with a 9am departure from the Lake Louise Ski Resort. I booked the seats a week in advance and easily made the booking to arrive at Lake Louise. I wasn't able to get tickets for Moraine Lake, but that wasn't a problem thanks to the connector bus system.

We arrived at 8:30am and were loaded on our bus well before 9:00. We arrived at Lake Louise within 15 minutes, hopped off our bus, and jumped straight on to a Moraine Lake connector bus. Within another 20 minutes, we were standing on the lakeshore of Moraine Lake, ready to hike well before 10am.

Our hike back to Lake Louise took us 8 hours, and we were easily able to catch a bus from the lake back to the ski hill. We waited 2 minutes at the very most before stepping off the trail and on to a bus that still had space for us. 

By 6:30pm we were back at the ski hill, ready to drive somewhere to grab dinner. 

Thanks to the shuttle bus system we were able to start our hike at Moraine Lake, finish our hike at Lake Louise, and we didn't have to struggle with parking. 

The whole process was very civilized and we never waited for a single bus all day. We walked straight on to all three of our busses. I'm sure we got lucky (and that probably isn't the norm) but we found the system extremely easy that day!

And, I only paid $18 for my family to take advantage of the shuttle bus system for the day.

Autumn hiking in Larch Valley

Our Hike from Moraine Lake to Sentinel Pass:

From Moraine Lake we climbed up gentle switchbacks into Larch Valley and then up steep switchbacks to the summit of Sentinel Pass. 

This is where most people turn around and head back to Moraine Lake.

The hike from Moraine Lake to Sentinel Pass is 5.8 km one way and you'll gain 700 metres on a well maintained trail. In late September the golden larch trees are spectacular as you hike through Larch Valley.

Looking down on Larch Valley from the climb to Sentinel Pass

Read about the hike on All Trails here.

Read about the hike on the Parks Canada website here.

Check trail reports on the Parks website above and make sure you carry bear spray! At times of high bear activity there may be trail restrictions in place requiring hikers to travel in groups.

Looking up at the steep switchbacks to Sentinel Pass

Larch Valley from the top of Sentinel Pass

Our Hike from Sentinel Pass to Sadleback Pass:

There is an official trail down the other side of Sentinel Pass but it is less traveled and far rougher in nature. Expect loose rock, steep switchbacks, and a big boulder field you'll have to cross.

I wasn't a fan of this section but it was a necessity if we wanted to reach Upper Paradise Valley and Lake Annette. Once we entered the trees again, and left the rubble field behind, the hiking got much easier as we descended into the valley.

Descending rock and rubble from Sentinel Pass down to Paradise Valley

Upper Paradise Valley and back in the golden larch trees

Lake Annette is a beautiful spot for a break, but we had to keep moving to ensure we'd catch a bus back to our car.

You'll lose 600 metres of height descending from Sentinel Pass to Lake Annette. From there, you descend another 100 metres until you reach the junction with Saddleback Pass. There are a couple of junctions, but we took the Sheol / Paradise Connector Trail to reach the pass.

Late afternoon at Lake Annette in Paradise Valley

We climbed another 500 metres of height from Lower Paradise Valley to the top of Saddleback Pass.

This section of our hike down from Sentinel Pass and back up to Saddleback Pass was 12 km.

Read about the trails on the Parks Canada website here.

You can also see my route here on All Trails

And, don't fancy the climb to Saddleback Pass? You can take a lower traverse that skips the extra climbing. My son was seriously choked we chose to climb the second pass rather than taking the easy option to reach Lake Louise.

See the lower traverse option here on All Trails.

Looking down on Saddleback Pass from the slopes of Saddle Mountain

Saddle Mountain add on:

How can you walk right by an easy summit, and not climb it?!

My boys would respond "easily!!" 

I tackled the Saddle Mountain extension by myself. Had to. It was right there! And it's only an extra 100 metres of climbing! 

There is no official trail for this one. From the pass head up the mountain on the east side of the pass climbing up a faint trail through the rock and rubble. The views are incredible in golden larch season.

From the other side of the pass you can climb Mt. Fairview, which I don't recommend if you're hiking all the way from Moraine Lake. From Lake Louise though it's an amazing hike!! Height gain for this one is 1000 metres from Lake Louise.

Read about the trails on the Parks Canada website here.

And before you add this mountain on to your hike, check your watch and make sure you'll have enough time to catch a bus back to the ski resort. It takes at least an hour to hike back to Lake Louise from the top of Saddleback Pass at a steady pace.

Saddle Mountain Summit with Mt. Fairview across the pass

Our Hike from Saddleback Pass to Lake Louise:

From the summit of Saddleback Pass, you have 3.7 km ahead of you with a height loss of 600 metres to reach the lakeshore of Lake Louise.

Nobody in my group especially loved this part, being exhausted by this point, but it was an incredible feeling to do such an epic traverse from Moraine Lake to Lake Louise over two large passes. (Not to mention tagging on a mountain!)

Read about the trails on the Parks Canada website here.

Hiking down from Saddleback Pass through golden larch trees 

Looking back up at Saddle Mountain

Other Recommended Hikes at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Read some of my previous guides to see other amazing hikes we've done in this area:

Looking down on Lake Agnes and Lake Louise from the summit of the Devil's Thumb

1 comment:

  1. Looks amazing. Lake Louise is incredible. I need to take a trip there too