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Review: Moraine Lake Lodge, Banff National Park (Canada)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel and/or flight review.

Last August, I enjoyed a great (but rainy and even snowy) stay in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas on a scale difficult to imagine. You can read my trip reports here:

Today (November 2, 2016): Review of Moraine Lake Lodge, my favorite hotel in the Canadian Rockies.

Only accessible during the summer months and nestled in a breathtaking valley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Moraine Lake Lodge provides the ultimate romantic getaway for those seeking a luxurious escape for a honeymoon, anniversary, hiking experience, or a relaxing vacation. Beautifully appointed rooms and cabins boast views of Moraine Lake or the Valley of the Tea Peaks and its glaciers.  An oasis of calm and tranquility, the lodge is a perfect base for taking in all the excitement of the Rocky Mountains.

Moraine Lake Lodge features in my top 10 list of the best hotels & lodges in the Canadian Rockies.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Tucked away in the forest on the shores Moraine Lake, the lodge enjoys the most spectacular location of all hotels and lodges in the Canadian Rockies. Moraine Lake is a glacially fed lake in Banff National Park, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) outside the Village of Lake Louise. The lake is famous for its distinctive shades of turquoise blue, which is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis. The view of the stunningly blue lake, crowned by ten notable and majestic mountain peaks is one of Canada’s most breathtaking (and photographed) views. This view is also known as the ‘Twenty Dollar View’, as Moraine Lake was featured on the reverse side of the 1969 and 1979 issues of the Candian twenty-dollar bill.
  • Not only does the lodge places you at the heart of one of the world’s most stunning sceneries, the lodge is also the starting point of some of the best hikes in the Rockies. The hike into Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass is a must for any hiker wanting to have an experience that closely resembles the backcountry of Banff National Park. This moderate hike offers remarkable views of the Ten Peaks and, if you head up Sentinel Pass, the dreamlike vista of Paradise Valley. The valley is especially spectacular in autumn when the larch needles turn gold.
  • Moraine Lake is a prime grizzly bear breeding area and a wildlife lovers paradise. Female bears and cubs often wander around in the area surrounding the lodge (an electric fence keeps them out of the property). In fact, this is one of the best spots in all of the Rockies to spot these magnificent creatures. I have seen grizzlies here on several occasions, more precisely on the road that runs from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake.
  • Although the lodge has an almost century long history, redevelopment of Moraine Lake Lodge began in 1988. Arthur Erickson, one of Canada’s most famous architects, was commissioned to design a new lodge and cabins. His challenge was to build a facility that would blend with the environment while accommodating overnight guests and approximately 4000 (!) visitors per day. The result is quite nice and the rustic, authentic design – more than 25 years old by now – blends well into its spectacular environment.
  • Day users and overnight guests have distinct areas to enjoy at the lodge. Day users only have access to a large gift shop and a cafe on the ground floor, which offers deli food, pastries, sandwiches and beverages. Overnight guests also have access to the small but cozy reception area and a beautiful and spacious library which serves as a congenial common room to relax after a hike, meet other travelers and read quietly by the fire.
  • Nature-inspired interiors in rich earth colors grace the rooms and cabins at the lodge. All accommodations offer custom designed, hand-crafted log furniture and true Canadian Rocky Mountain comfort with luxurious down duvets, fine Woolrich blankets and pillows, plus small but beautifully appointed bathrooms with deep soaker tubs. Rooms are located in either the main lodge building or the Wenkchemna Wing, but the real stars of the lodge – and IMHO the best accommodations in the Rockies – are the deluxe cabins which are scattered throughout the property, and come with either one king or two twin size beds, a sunken seating area surrounding a river rock wood burning fireplace, and a private balcony facing the lake and mountains.
  • The complimentary bottle of wine in the cabins is definitely a nice touch as are the Riedel wine glasses.
  • One of the better restaurants in Banff National Park, the lodge’s Walter Wilcox Dining Room offers a unique, elegant menu showcasing the best cuisine from the region. Signature dishes include buffalo carpacchio with roasted pine nuts and deer tenderloin with red currants and juniper berries. Wine-lovers will delight in the impressive wine cellar, including Canadian and American vintages. Graced by a large stone fireplace and an elegant Rocky Mountain interior, views of Moraine Lake through the massive windows in the atrium provide a spectacular vista.
  • Complimentary WiFi is available throughout the property.
  • Working in harmony with nature, Moraine Lake Lodge focuses on sustainability and is almost self-sufficient. When you turn on your tap, you are experiencing some of the freshest water in the world as it comes directly from an alpine mountain well. The lodge generate its own power and transports all waste safely out of the area. The staff attempts to reduce, re-use, and recycle wherever possible to protect the precious landscape.
  • Rates at the lodge include several freebies, such as complimentary breakfast, canoeing on Moraine Lake, afternoon tea in the library, and guided hikes.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Moraine Lake Lodge is my preferred accommodation in the Canadian Rockies, mainly because of its intimate scale, stunning location, and lovely cabins. Nevertheless, it does have a few shortcoming that you need to know when you consider a stay here:

  • Moraine Lake is one of Canada’s most famous sites, and this means it gets extremely busy here in summer between 10 am and 5 pm, with busloads of day visitors walking around the shore, congregating around the lodge and visiting the cafe and gift shop. So if you are looking for secluded luxury, this is not the place. However, staying at the lodge gives you the advantage of having the lake for yourself during the early morning and late evening hours, when the tourists have left the area.
  • The lodge promotes its rooms as offering views of the lake and surrounding mountain peaks. However, except for a few cabins, most accommodations have no view to speak of since the views are partly blocked by trees.
  • Although included in the room rate, the continental breakfast buffet is average at best and only offers limited options.
  • Options for daytime eating at the lodge extremely limited, as the restaurant is only open for breakfast and dinner.
  • In keeping with a mountain get-away experience, there are no telephones or televisions in any of the rooms (a telephone is available in the main lodge building).
  • This is the Rockies’ best and most intimate property. Consequently, room rates are very high, and with rates above $650 CAN a night excluding taxes for a deluxe cabin in high season, I would even say too high. You are definitely paying for the amazing and privileged location.
  • Contrary to other high-end properties in the Rockies, the lodge does not have recreational facilities such as a pool, jacuzzi or gym.
  • Service is adequate and friendly but not overly attentive and sometimes inconsistent.
  • Be aware that the hikes from Moraine Lake often have group restriction, with a minimum party of six being required because of grizzly bear activity. It’s not that big of a deal though – you can hook up with another group of hikers at the trailhead.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: not applicable
  • Resort grounds: 7/10
  • Rooms (cabins): 8/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 6/10
  • Spa: not applicable
  • Service: 8/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Moraine Lake Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
  • There are two rows of cabins. Request cabin on the lower row since these have a better view of the lake.
  • Advanced reservations are highly recommended for the guided hikes and the dining room, though walk-ins are welcomed when space permits.
  • The lake, being glacially fed, does not reach its crest and brilliant turquoise colour until mid to late June. Don’t worry if your visit is when the lake is still thawing, it’s still a very scenic spot and there are lots of interesting photos to be taken.
  • The best photography of the lake is done in the early morning hours, around 2 hours after sunrise.
  • Just a short walk from the parking lot you’ll find a nice lookout on top of a natural rock slide that dams the Lake. This viewpoint is a favorite for artist trying to capture the views on canvas.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

As far as hiking, scenery and warmer weather goes many, the best time to visit is from late June to mid-September. Respectively this time frame offers the best chance for good weather; however, it also has the largest crowds and highest accommodation prices. Consider a trip during a shoulder season such as June and mid-September to mid-October when there’s less crowds. The accommodation prices will be somewhat lower compared to the summer months, and your chances on spotting wildlife are much better.

Starting in early December and through March is the time for skiing, but don’t worry if you are not a skier, there’s plenty of winter activities for non-skiers like snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides. Depending on the snow conditions and temperatures some of these activities continue into the month of April. Ski hills start to open some of their runs in mid-November and remain open until mid-May.


HOW TO GET THERE

Moraine Lake is located about 20 minutes from Lake Louise, approximately 184 kms (115 miles) west of Calgary and 56 kms (36 miles) west of the town of Banff. Calgary International Airport is the most convenient airport to start your holiday in the Rockies. Check the Wikipedia page of Calgary International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Calgary.


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LODGE GROUNDS

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DELUXE CABIN

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MAIN RESTAURANT

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KAYAKING ON MORAINE LAKE

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GUIDED HIKING

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1 Comment on Review: Moraine Lake Lodge, Banff National Park (Canada)

  1. thepickytraveller // November 2, 2016 at 7:30 pm // Reply

    Can’t agree more, I spent a night in this wonderful place in July and really enjoyed it! Especially during the evening and early morning when the place is quieter, as you pointed out.

    Like

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