Wednesday September 13, 2017 (Canada)
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise could easily be considered the crown jewels of Banff National Park. I'd seen a ton of photos of both lakes online, but I had no idea how close they were to each other – only about a ten minute drive apart! You can't go more than a few days on Reddit without seeing yet another photo of Moraine Lake posted, so we made sure it was on the itinerary. We'd talked to some employees in the Patagonia store in Banff about our plans to check it out and they gave us the scoop on Moraine Lake – go early or don't go at all! We'd never really had to deal with crowds at scenic viewpoints, but these guys were telling us that if we didn't show up before 8:30am we were not going to see the lake. I was very skeptical (8:30am at the latest?!), but we took their advice and planned to show up on time.
Now we've already talked about the popularity of Banff as a whole. But Moraine Lake is the epicentre of frenzied photo-taking tourists. Of which we were two. We had budgeted only about 30 minutes to get from Banff to Lake Louise, but it actually took us closer to 40 minutes to drive. Thus our planned arrival time of 8:00am became something closer to 8:15am. The road to the lake was open, so that was a start! As we started to approach the lake, the sides of the road started filling with pulled-off cars. We passed one open spot, but the terrain looked like we'd bottom out the car if we tried to park in it so we continued forward. In retrospect, abandoning this potential spot may have been an error.
There's only one small parking lot at Moraine Lake. I'd say you could fit about eighty cars there. Total guess. The lot itself is shaped like a loop. As we approached it, we realized there wasn't much chance of finding a spot. In a hasty decision at the apex of the loop, we decided that Sandra should drop me off so I could go take some pictures. Her plan was to continue driving the loop until she could lock down a spot and then she'd meet me at the lake. I wandered across some logs and up the large boulders at Moraine Lake to grab a picture. It's beautiful, I'll admit it. Morning light on a perfectly calm glacier lake. Can't do much better.
After scrambling back down the rocks I found Sandra back in the lot. She was still in the car. I hopped in. She was not pleased. She had circled three times already and no spots were opening up. All the while, new cars had been coming down the road and entering this no-parking cycle of death. The first time Sandra had gone around the circle she'd managed to get right back in at the top of the loop. The second time around she had to effectively merge with the next round of incoming traffic from the road to the lake. And once you're in the gauntlet, finding a spot is all about luck. If you're not at the right spot in the circular queue when somebody actually decides to leave the lake, you'll be smashing your steering wheel while watching the schmuck in front of you take the spot you rightfully deserve. He just got here! And you're on loop six. It sucks.
We decided to swap out – Sandra got to take pictures of the lake and I'd continue to take a tour of the slowest Indy car circuit the world has ever known. Another loop or two later I picked her up and we got the heck outta there. We never got to stand and admire the lake together! By the time we reached the highway, the road to Moraine Lake had been closed. 9:15am. It's all over, folks! Stumped drivers didn't understand why they were being sent away from the lake. Traffic was backing up. Horns were blaring. Everybody was redirected to Lake Louise instead. We went for the double header and went straight for it in an attempt to beat the throngs of folks who'd inevitably follow us from Moraine Lake!
Lake Louise is beautiful also. I'd rank Moraine Lake higher, personally, but they're both great places to snap some picts! I didn't take a very good picture Lake Louise, so it's not shown here. You can look that one up if you're interested.
I want to mention that I can't help but be frustrated with people who headed out onto the lake on stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. This happened at both lakes. We were lucky at Moraine that people weren't quite out when we took our shots, but by the time Sandra got to the lake the first of the SUPs were nearing front and centre. I have no right to be angry about this, I don't think – it's a free lake! It's just irritating when there are massive groups of people like me who are just trying to take a nice picture of a beautiful lake, but then there's a bunch of random people just drifting around aimlessly ruining it all. Again, I'm not sure I have a right to be mad about this. I'm sure that Johnny Paddleboarder is having a great time. But I harbour deep resentment for those people. Go take your watercraft to an ugly lake, you selfish cretin!
So… were the lakes beautiful? Yes. Were they worth the traffic? Blech. I'm tempted to say no. If you're gonna try to see them, I'd just go wayyy early. Six in the morning type of early. Actual sunrise early. That way you'll be long gone by the time the hordes of slo-mo NASCAR hopefuls show up at the track.
From Lake Louise we continued along the Icefields Parkway to our destination at the Columbia Icefields. We stopped at Peyto Lake where a very short hike takes you to an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. There are countless pull-offs along the road to capture the vistas in the area. It's a fantastic drive and well worth allocating a whole bunch of time to!
Our initial plan had been to camp at the Icefields Campground. I had assumed by the name that we'd be camping either on or at least very close to ice, but in reality the campground is still a short drive from any glaciers. Once we realized that, we decided to stay at the nearby Wilcox Creek campground. The road to the campsite looked a little less ragged and dangerous to the vehicle, and that was the extent of our logic! We secured a lovely, remote (first come, first serve!) site and set up the tent. It was still relatively early in the day at this point, but Sandra and I decided to take it easy. We played some frisbee. We read our books. We sat at a picnic table, drank wine, and played Jaipur. Just a simple, relaxing evening. Maybe we were trying to recover from the parking nightmare in the morning!
Next up: Jasper!