When we were planning our trip to Banff National Park, my mom forwarded me several articles that encouraged visitors to consider traveling to attractions somewhat off the beaten path given the increasing popularity of the sights that always make the top 10 lists.
I was more than happy to include those recommendations in our itinerary, but I wasn’t fully prepared to do so at the expense of missing out on the much-acclaimed spots—after all, there is a reason they are so popular!
My fears were assuaged after I asked a few work colleagues who had recently visited the park for their recommendations. Much like the articles, they reiterated that the hot spots get overwhelmed with people—to actually enjoy them, you need to go early or consider experiencing the spot in a way that the majority might not opt to experience it. And, if you can’t get to them early enough, it’s not the end of the world—they promised me that some of the nearby, lesser-known alternatives were absolutely as magnificent as the hot spots.
If you’re running into a similar conundrum as you plan your trip, I’d like to offer you reassurance as well. As you think about your options, I suggest mapping where you’re willing to compromise and where you are not. For instance, we wanted to take one of the chairlifts up into the mountains but didn’t feel strongly about which one. The gondolas over Banff and Lake Louise are much acclaimed, but pricey and crowded. On the other hand, the lesser known Mt. Norquay Chairlift also offers incredible views for lower costs and with fewer people.
On the other hand, I couldn’t give up seeing Lake Louise and just replacing it with a visit to Lake Moraine. However, I could compromise on when we went and what we did once we got there. That flexibility allowed us to have the best of both worlds—seeing everything we wanted to see while avoiding the crowds as much as possible.
We arrived at Lake Louise to find the place completely packed. There was not one parking spot available in any of the lots within walking distance–the only option was to park miles away and be shuttled in by bus.
As we were driving back toward that remote lot, we saw the road to visit Moraine Lake and decided to give it a try instead. This ended up being the perfect move! The less popular but no less beautiful Moraine Lake was incredible, and we had no trouble parking and walking to the lake shore.
There were two short hikes we wanted to tackle–I’d recommend both! The Moraine Lake Lakeshore hike is just as it sounds, winding through the woods along the lake with plenty of spots for beach access. At only 1.8 miles roundtrip on a simple and flat trail, this is an easily accessible hike for people of all abilities, including young kids.
There was still a surprising amount of snow low on the mountains and the views were breathtaking. It was clear that Moraine Lake boasted the same incredible teal/green color of Lake Louise thanks to the rock flour carried down to the lake via glacier melt.
Our second hike was the Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail, which is another short (.5 miles roundtrip!) walk from the lakeside by the tourist center.
The rockpile trail winds through a literal rockpile–pictured below. We climbed up some steps to the top for gorgeous views overlooking the lake and managed to ask someone to take what ended up being one of my favorite photos of all of us on this trip.
Regardless of whether you plan to visit Lake Louise, I would put a side trip to Moraine Lake on your list. Our experience was relaxing and memorable, and we had the time and space to really enjoy the place.
We prioritized visiting Lake Louise later in our trip and made sure we were there bright and early to beat the crowds. Despite our early start we were still barely able to squeeze into one of the back lots within walking distance, but we made it! You cannot arrive too early!
The weather was beautiful and we decided to divide and conquer our time there. Mom and Dad opted for a canoe ride out on the lake, and Brian and I headed off for a nearby hike to Big Beehive.
After our independent adventures we met up near the Fairmont Chateau for a few final pictures before heading on our way.
Lake Louise was beautiful, but it was a headache finding parking and avoiding the crowds–nothing about that stop was relaxing. If you’re looking for a more low-key experience, I highly recommend visiting Moraine Lake instead.
If, like me, you don’t feel your trip is complete without catching a glimpse of Lake Louise, make sure to arrive as early as possible to find parking and have a chance at enjoying the lake before its inundated with people. Enjoy!