The Valley of the Ten Peaks is, as you probably guessed, a valley lined by ten peaks. They form part of the continental divide as well as the border between Alberta and British Columbia. But most pertinent to this post, they form the backdrop for the iconic Moraine Lake.
You’ve probably seen Moraine Lake before. It’s arguably one of the most photographed/painted lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It appears on calendars, computer desktop backgrounds, and I even grew up with a photo of it hanging in the living room, though I didn’t know what it was at the time.
Moraine Lake sits in the basin of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and is fed by glaciers, giving it a distinct turquoise color as a result of all the silt that is transported down the mountain by glaciers and ends up in the lake. On one side of the lake is the 80-foot tall glacial moraine for which the lake is named. A moraine is a pile of rocks and other debris that is formed by a glacier as it moves down the mountainside. Some things are picked up by the glacier and eventually deposited downstream while others are pushed to the side, forming a giant pile (AKA moraine).
After taking in the beauty and bold color of the lake itself, we set off on our hike of the day to Eiffel Lake. The trail to Eiffel Lake departs from the north shore of Moraine Lake and begins to climb immediately up the hillside opposite the moraine. Eventually the trail starts to switchback as it climbs up to the top of the ridge. The trail is lined with wildflowers and as we reached the high point, we could glimpse Moraine Lake far below, surrounded by the towering mountains.
From here, the trail forks; the right fork leads to Sentinel Pass and the left curves back around away from Moraine Lake and further through the Valley of the Ten Peaks toward Eiffel Lake. We went left. This last portion of the trail is much more open and we saw quite a few marmots running around. One particularly playful marmot was enjoying posing for our cameras. He sure did love the attention!
Compared to Moraine Lake, Eiffel Lake is much smaller and very much not turquoise. However, it’s very pretty and the lack of wind made for beautiful reflections on its smooth surface.
The trail continues beyond the lake up to the continental divide and Wenkchemna Pass, but we turned around at Eiffel Lake and headed back down. After seeing the excessive number of beautiful photos from this hike, you can probably understand why it’s on my All-Time Favorites list. The mountains are enormous, the colors are bold and bright, and the scenery is utterly breathtaking. This was hands-down my favorite hike of our entire trip and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
What is probably the strangest coincidence of my life also happened on this hike. We were just about back to the trailhead when my friend pointed out a couple who appeared to be disassembling a collapsible canoe. I’d seen pictures of such a canoe before from my former ecology professor, who used one for his summer fieldwork. I started to tell my friends about this when I noticed that the man who was currently folding up the canoe looked oddly like my professor. But with a hat on his head and no shirt, I couldn’t really tell. Besides, what were the odds, right? So I (creepily) moved closer to get a better view.
And sure enough, it was my professor! He and his wife were camping and canoeing their way from Yellowknife back to Washington and just so happened to be at Moraine Lake on the same day as us. If that’s not the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to me, then I’m not sure what is!
Well, there you have it. Another of my favorite hikes plus a dash of crazy coincidences. Day #2 in Banff: check!
One more post to come…
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Banff National Park is located along the Trans-Canada Highway about 80 miles (130 km) west of Calgary. Moraine Lake is an additional 50 miles (80 km) north from the southern park boundary.
- Fees & passes: $9.80 CAD/person/day or $19.60 CAD/car – this is good for Banff and all the surrounding Canadian Rockies parks; Parks Canada Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: There are 13 campgrounds with almost 2,500 sites in the park. We stayed at Johnston Canyon, which is $28 per night (prices of other campgrounds range from $21-38 per night) + optional $9 fire permit. Reservations necessary in the summer.
- Hiking: the Eiffel Lake trail departs from the Moraine Lake parking area (7.5 miles/12 km round-trip, moderate)
- Other: the Canadian Rockies is prime bear habitat – always make noise, hike in groups, and carry bear spray (and know how to use it!)