Cycling Moraine Lake Road before it opens to vehicles brings a big reward: magnificent scenery with few other people around. We pedaled Moraine Lake Road the day before it opened to vehicle traffic in 2021. And we shared Valley of the Ten Peaks views with maybe 25 or 30 other people – amazing, right?!
Parks Canada’s website advises this road is closed to vehicles right after Thanksgiving Monday in October through May 31 each year. Of course that’s subject to change, depending on weather. NOTE: As of May 27, 2022, Parks Canada advised only the first 8 km of this road is open to cyclists until sometime in June, due to deep snowpack and avalanche risk. Follow Banff National Park on Twitter. Check the Important Bulletins page to stay informed about closures and other important information. I start searching for “Moraine Lake Road” on Facebook around mid-May each year, because there’s usually somebody keen to share that the road’s been plowed and is ready for riding.
If you’re already thinking TLDR, check out this Relive video recap of our 2021 ride.
We parked at the Fairview Day Use area, on the right just past the Moraine Lake Road turnoff on Lake Louise Drive. There’s also a smaller parking area (for maybe 15 vehicles), on the left hand side of Moraine Lake Road between the intersection with Lake Louise Drive and the winter gate. The big advantage to parking at Fairview Day Use area is access to pit toilets, if needed. But it does make for a slightly longer ride…maybe 400 meters?
Cycling Moraine Lake Road
We were the only vehicle in the Fairview Day Use area parking lot when we arrived. And we rode past just a handful of cars in the roadside parking area as we started our ride.
It’s an uphill ride basically all the way. One nice thing about riding Moraine Lake Road when it’s still closed to motorized vehicles is that you can do switchback riding on the steeper parts. Just remember to keep an eye out for oncoming cyclists!
There are a couple of logical spots to take a breather. Pausing to take in the view of Ski Louise across the valley is one of them.
Checking out the trailhead conditions for Paradise Valley and Giant Steps is another.
Without motorized vehicles to worry about, you can stop anywhere you want – enjoy a view, a roadside waterfall, or an interesting snowbank.
One most of the peaks in Valley of the Ten Peaks come into view, you know you’re almost there. And it’s a gentle downhill for the last bit!
Enjoy Moraine Lake…Crowd Free!
If there’s a bike rack at Moraine Lake, it was still covered in snow. We leaned our bikes against a fence and locked them together.
The lakeshore trail was still under half a meter of snow!
We postholed to the opening in the fence and made our way along the shore to take some photographs.
This was about as crowded as it got!
I brought along our waterproof point-and-shoot camera to try some under/over photos.
This is the kind of result I was getting (and also the image at the top of the post). There were bubbles floating on the surface, but this one is blurry because I was focused on the mountains in the distance.
Then it was up the Rock Pile to get a few elevated shots and enjoy a snack before hopping on our bikes and heading back.
Except for the gradual climb for the first few minutes after leaving Moraine Lake, it’s pretty much all downhill back to parking. We passed more than a hundred riders cycling Moraine Lake Road as we rocketed back down. There’s a very short window when this road is plowed and rideable before it opens up to motorized vehicles, so everyone who wants the experience gets crowded into the same few days.
The roadside parking area was completely full when we rode past in the early afternoon. There were even “overflow” vehicles in the Fairview lot.
Distance = 27 km return
Elevation gain = approx. 500 meters
Our riding/exploration/photography time = 3.5 hours
Moraine Lake Road is one of several seasonal, vehicle-free road rides in the Canadian Rockies. Others include:
- The Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Johnston Canyon. This 17 km stretch of Highway 1A is closed to vehicles from May 1 to June 25 and in September for a 3 year pilot project beginning in 2022.
- The winter-gated section of Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country. This one is usually passable beginning sometime in late May/early June and opens to vehicles on June 15. As of mid-May 2022, there is a parking prohibition near the North gate, due to a grizzly bear bluff charge of a cyclist.
- Lake Minnewanka Loop in Banff National Park. There was a brief, vehicle-free pilot project in 2021. But there have been no follow-up announcements. So it looks like the only vehicle-free option is to ride the north arm of the loop before it opens to vehicles on May 1st (weather and road-condition dependent).
- Yoho Valley Road (closed to vehicles after Thanksgiving Monday in October through mid-June).
- Sheep River Road / Highway 546 to Sheep River Falls (until May 14th)