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Moraine Lake, one of the jewels in Banff National Park's crown, is sometimes dismissively called 'the other lake'. Nothing could be more misleading. Neighbor Lake Louise may get more visitors and more travel industry attention, but Moraine Lake is a star in its own right. Located about ten miles from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake nestles in Banff's spectacular Valley of the Ten Peaks and offers scenery that's unrivaled anywhere. The setting is so striking that the Valley of the Ten Peaks was twice featured on the back of the Canadian $20 bill, giving the setting the nickname of 'the $20 view'. Because the road to Moraine Lake is usually only open from late May until October, winter visitors to Lake Louise may not see Moraine Lake at all unless they get a birds-eye view via helicopter. And, because many visitors to Banff and Lake Louise arrive via tour group, they may not have a car to make the trip to Moraine Lake or have the physical stamina to either hike or bicycle the remaining ten miles to its shores.
Moraine Lake is a bit smaller than Lake Louise at just 110 acres, yet the vivid shade of blue reflecting from its waters creates a scene that can only be hinted at in the best of photographs. The water that fills the lake comes primarily from Fay Glacier via Larch Creek. Although the road to Moraine Lake may be open in May, the water displays its best colors later in June; additional inflow brings in the rock flour from the glacier that lends its many hues of blue to the water. To get the best view of the lake, many visitors climb the Rockpile Trail along the moraine beside the lake. The trail climbs about 80 feet to a vantage point where visitors have the opportunity to take pictures of the lake and the peaks beyond. This is the view that is seen on the $20 bills issued in 1969 and 1979. Another popular and easy trail at Moraine Lake is a paved pathway near the Moraine Lake Lodge to a spectacular waterfall. The waterfall cannot be seen from the water, but the other views are well worth renting a canoe to explore the lake. Several other trails around the lake are more strenuous and lead to the the Consolation Lakes, Eiffel Lake, Wenkchemna Pass, Larch Valley, and Sentinel Pass.
Fishing and swimming are not permitted at Moraine Lake. There is no boating allowed except canoeing. The Lodge is the site of all commercial services including food. Guests at the lodge have their canoe provided along with their room, and lodge staff can arrange a number of outdoor activities for guests such as horseback tours, gondola rides, helicopter rides, white water rafting and guided fishing trips to streams in the area. Most activities can be arranged privately through the companies that offer them for non-guests. Those planning to hike should check latest trail conditions and warnings. This is grizzly bear country, and occasionally rangers will insist on hiking groups of more than four persons for safety when there is recent bear activity in the area.
Camping areas are provided along the nearby Bow River which serve both lakes. The tiny Village of Lake Louise contains such necessities as a medical center, police department, and some shopping. Areas other than Moraine Lake Road are open for most of the winter, and the village serves as unofficial headquarters for local ski areas and winter activities. The Town of Banff is about 35 miles to the south along the Trans-Canada Highway and holds a number of lodgings and tourism amenities. From here, visitors can take gondola rides to the top of Sulphur Mountain, enjoy a relaxing soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs, learn the history of Banff and the surrounding area at the Wylie Museum of The Western Rockies, and tour the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, often called the Castle in The Mountains and Banff's first hotel. One must-see attraction is the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site in the original 1903 log cabin where the park system was first organized. The museum holds thousands of examples of plants, birds and animals originally collected to study the park's natural environment.
There are a variety of lodging opportunities around the Town of Banff and are likely the best options for the non-camper and non-Lodge guest. Some self-catering guest houses exist, as do a few small motels with kitchenettes. Banff also hosts a number of chain hotels. Few private rentals outside of town can be found within the park other than the few concessions permitted by the park service. Little in the way of real estate can be found unless one travels outside of the Park boundaries. For nature enthusiasts, the area within Banff National Park and around Moraine Lake will offer myriad opportunities to hike, climb, fish and enjoy some of the world's most spectacular scenery. Plan to spend at least a week exploring the park and making the auto trip along the Icefields Parkway. And remember, you can't really say you've seen the Canadian Rockies until you've seen 'the other lake'.
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