Hikers have more options to reach popular trails at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake this summer.
Banff National Park has announced an expanded schedule of shuttle bus service for the park this season, one that could help visitors travelling to and from the popular destinations of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
While a free shuttle bus has operated from the overflow parking area on the Trans Canada Highway for the past two years, Moraine Lake wasn’t included except during the September larch season. So, when the parking lot at the lake was full, you were turned back. This left a lot of frustrated visitors, particularly on busy summer weekends.
This year’s expanded shuttle service will no longer be free (adult fees ranging from $4 to $8, senior-youth fees $2 to $4, depending upon destination). But the addition of Moraine Lake to the itinerary will provide an option for folks when that parking lot is full.
The route to Moraine Lake
Shuttles to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake will run from May 24 to October 14, 2019. However, with the exception of an Early Bird Shuttle direct from Lake Louise Park & Ride to Moraine Lake (6:00 to 7:30), Moraine Lake visitors will need to travel via Lake Louise, disembarking to purchase tickets at a lakeshore kiosk before boarding a bus to Moraine Lake.
Moraine shuttles are scheduled to depart Lake Louise at 20-minute intervals. Return shuttles from Moraine Lake travel direct to the Lake Louise Park & Ride, and the last bus down departs at 5:40 pm.
ROAM services in the Bow Valley
While Parks Canada shuttles provide services from Lake Louise Park & Ride, ROAM is the primary service in the rest of the Bow Valley.
ROAM is a public transit system that runs buses within and between the towns of Banff and Canmore year around. It also provides a daily year-round service between Banff and Lake Louise (adults $8 one way, seniors-youth $4).
In summer, ROAM services between Banff and Lake Louise are expanded to include the Bow Valley Parkway (Johnston Canyon, campgrounds and popular trailheads) and the Village of Lake Louise. ROAM buses from the Town of Banff also serve the Lake Minnewanka circuit during the summer, including campgrounds and trailheads.
If you plan on using ROAM or Parks Canada shuttle buses, you’ll need to check out the Banff National Park—Getting Around pages on the park website. There is a lot of information on these pages, so get a cup of coffee and plan on spending some time at your computer wading through it all.
Shuttle buses and hikers
So what does this mean for hikers? Chances of reaching the popular trails at Lake Louise and Moraine should be much improved, particularly during mid-summer and long weekends.
The expanded shuttle service should guarantee that you’ll get there rather than being turned back after a long drive. Best of all, you won’t have to get up at 3 am to reach parking lots before they fill up. But there are some drawbacks.
If you’re bound for Moraine Lake, access is convoluted unless you use the direct Early Bird Shuttle. You’ll need to buy a ticket to Lake Louise then another ticket at the Lake Louise shoreline kiosk to continue to Moraine.
If your vehicle is parked at Lake Louise Park & Ride, you’ll need to return to Moraine from your hike by 5:40 to catch the last bus down. If you miss the bus, I suppose you can always hitchhike. (Free shuttles in several U.S. national parks run until 7:00 or 8:00 pm.)
The Moraine Lake shuttle doesn’t stop at the Paradise Valley trailhead. So, if you plan on hiking to Lake Annette or the Giant Steps, you’ll still have to drive. And when the Moraine parking lot is full, regardless of the parking situation at Paradise, you’ll still be turned back. (Better set your alarm for 3 am.)
While ROAM buses serve Johnston Canyon in the summer, the frequency of service is insufficient to keep the parking area from overflowing onto the Bow Valley Parkway.
Shuttle bus experiences elsewhere
Free shuttle buses have been in use for a number of years in several U.S. national parks, with mixed success. Reports from places like Zion National Park in Utah and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park are generally positive.
But in Montana’s Glacier National Park, visitors often experience frustration during busy periods. Some shuttle buses only accommodate 12 to 16 passengers, so they can fill up quickly.
As the Glacier National Park web page advises: “If a shuttle is full, simply wait and enjoy the area until the next one arrives.” But if you’ve just emerged from a long day hike at a lonely trailhead along the Going to the Sun Highway, and the sun is sinking in the west, you can’t be blamed for getting nervous when a full bus passes by.
Controlling access in the mountain parks
Canada’s National Parks evolved thanks to access by personal motor vehicles. Most visitors equate visiting parks with travel in their vehicles and having the option of coming and going as they please.
But in recent years, highways and trailhead parking areas have been choking on a glut of autos, campers and motorhomes. While Parks Canada tries to accommodate the freedom of the personal vehicle, it is an increasingly impossible task. Particularly on several narrow, dead-end access roads.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are prime examples of overused cul de sac destinations where personal vehicle access must be controlled. And shuttle bus services offer one way to deal with visitor frustration during high season.
Other dead-end destinations
There are several other narrow roads to prime destinations in the mountain parks experiencing pressures similar to Lake Louise and Moraine.
Jasper’s narrow, twisty, 14.5-km road to Mount Edith Cavell is an example. Parks Canada has been labouring away at great expense the past several seasons to improve the road surface and the destination parking lot at the foot of the mountain. Yet, a narrow, hazardous road and limited parking remain.
The Yoho Valley is another side-road destination where personal vehicles will need to be controlled or eliminated.
Facing the future
It is a painful reality for hikers, like myself, who used our vehicles for years to access trails. But we need to adjust to a new reality.
Parks can accommodate a fair number of people, but not vehicles. Author Edward Abbey envisioned a better future when he published Desert Solitaire 50 years ago:
No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs—anything—but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out.