Walter Wilcox wrote that “no scene had ever given me an equal impression of inspiring solitude and rugged grandeur.” He discovered and named Moraine Lake in 1899, and was so impressed with the scene before him he claimed it was the most beautiful lake he had ever seen, and that the time spent contemplating the view was the happiest half hour of his life. It’s easy to see why, for this amazing crystalline lake is a wonder to behold. Above it tower the ice-capped peaks of Mount Wenkchemna, whose 3,000-foot (914-meter) sheer walls enclose the eastern side of the lake. For a time this spectacular view was even featured on the back of the Canadian $20 bill.
The lake was created not by the moraine, or debris, of a glacier as its name implies, but by a large rock slide from neighboring Mount Babel. Its wondrous, iridescent blue color comes from fine particles of glacial till, also known as “rock flour,” that flow into the lake during the summer melt from glaciers high in the mountain. The particles absorb all colors of the visible spectrum except blue, which is reflected back. Not surprisingly, this lake is called the “Jewel of the Rockies.”
The area is part of Banff National Park, which was established in 1885 and was the first of Canada’s national parks. This is an excellent place to see a wide variety of wildlife including black and grizzly bear, bighorned sheep, mountain goat, elk, and moose. Moraine Lake is also the starting point for a number of excellent hiking trails into the surrounding mountains. One of them ascends over 2,300 feet (700 meters) above the surface of the lake—one of the highest points reached by a major trail in the Canadian Rockies. Moraine Lake is only 9 miles (15 kilometers) from its more famous neighbor, Lake Louise, but much less visited, making this destination a decidedly better alternative during the busy tourist season. It has a much-admired lodge on its shores, constructed in a post-and-beam design and graced with grand windows that provide generous views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Guests are beguiled by a natural setting that offers canoeing, hiking, nature watching, and climbing.