Perched 1,800 metres above sea level, in Banff National Park’s Valley of the Ten Peaks, is the turquoise water of Moraine Lake, one of the park’s crown jewels. Tranquil, meditative, and quiet—or at least that’s how it appears in pictures. However, behind the lens is a different story. Parks Canada says this tourist hotspot has become inundated with visitors.
To combat the overcrowding and protect the natural resource, the agency announced that it will be closing Moraine Lake Road to personal vehicles. “Demand to reach Moraine Lake far exceeds available parking. In 2022, traffic flaggers were required 24 hours a day to manage the demand for access. During the peak of summer 2022, the parking lot remained full nearly 24 hours a day,” Parks Canada said in a statement.
Visitors are welcome to walk or bike to Moraine Lake, which is 14 kilometres south of Lake Louise, or there will be Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Transit, and other commercial transportation, such as tour buses, operating from June through mid-October.
By closing the road, Parks Canada said it will reduce stress for wildlife in Banff National Park, which use a section of Moraine Lake Road as a corridor; it will eliminate approximately four tonnes of carbon emissions per day; and it will remove the uncertainty of visitors finding a parking spot.
Parks Canada said the closure will be in place for summer 2023 but hasn’t specified whether it will extend beyond that.
Lindsay Copeland, a Banff native who operates Rocky Mountain Photo Co., a wedding and elopement photography company, wasn’t surprised by the closure. “They have to do what they have to do to keep these areas sustainable so that people can continue going to visit them,” she said.
Copeland added that the experience was getting out of control. Sunrise at Moraine Lake had become a popular event, but to guarantee a parking spot, Copeland said you’d have to show up at 2:30 a.m. and then sleep in your car for two hours.
While the closure will limit visitors, Copeland said it shouldn’t affect her business. “It’s definitely one of the places we specialize in shooting. But we’ve already been operating with private transportation because of the way that the area was, because of the demand to get in there,” she said. “We have already been recommending private shuttles, and private transportation, so if anything, this is just confirming what we were already doing.”
The one major downside, from Copeland’s perspective, is that it will affect locals who like to hike in the area. “We have to now find a different way to get up there,” she said. “But I, myself, would have probably avoided the area because of how busy it was.”
Not all Albertans are as accepting of the closure. Todd Loewen, the province’s Minister of Forestry, Parks, and Tourism, published an open letter, calling on federal Ministers Steven Guilbeault, who heads the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and Randy Boissonnault, in charge of the Ministry of Tourism, to reconsider the change.
“Parks Canada’s decision to block personal vehicles at Moraine Lake means fewer visitors to this important part of the province, less time to climb in the area, and less access to the backcountry,” he said. “Sunrise and sunset hikes or night photography are near impossible to achieve under this plan, unless people can afford to pay for commercial transportation or travel unsafely by foot or bike in the dark.”
In a tweet, Parks Canada stressed that the closure was enacted due to safety concerns around excessive vehicles and anecdotes from visitors about negative experiences trying to find parking.
Due to safety concerns and negative experiences caused by 24-hour demand for parking, personal vehicles will not be allowed on Moraine Lake Road in summer 2023.
Access will be by Parks Canada Shuttle, Roam Transit, commercial buses and taxis
— Banff National Park, Parks Canada (@BanffNP) January 6, 2023