There are few places in the world where the views outside your hotel are jaw-dropping and beyond imagination. However, on a calm day, Lake Louise is more beautiful than its postcard images. Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise attracts global visitors to immerse themselves in the Canadian Rockies landscape.
With so many options of things to do, I found staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise positioned me close to hiking trails and activities without the worry of parking.
Staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise comes with a hefty price tag, but no accommodation in the Canadian Rockies is cheap, especially in summer. After all, you’re in a National Park, where there are more visitors than there are hotel rooms.
Generally, the Fairmont hotels are fully booked years in advance. So, if you’re planning a vacation to Banff National Park in June through September, you’ll want to secure a hotel in advance.
For over a hundred years, the Chateau has welcomed guests such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Alfred Hitchcock, and Marilyn Munroe. So, you could be walking in the same footsteps as celebrities, or sleeping in the same bed!
I was greeted by attentive staff at check-in as I admired the magnificent lobby with a grand staircase. Although a century old, the grandeur of the structure still shines with its luxurious, timeless décor.
Staying At Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive | 4:00 pm | Check Out: Noon | Cost: CAD 700+
Staying at the Chateau costs CAD 700 to CAD 1500 at night with taxes, and prices vary by month, day of the week, and the number of nights booked. While the hotel has an adjoining parkade, guests pay another CAD 30 for in and out privileges.
Unlike the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which has a detached parkade, we could access our vehicle without going outside. During bad weather, this is a bonus. Here’s my full comparison between the Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs hotels.
We had a Fairmont Mountain View Room with a king bed in 230 sq. feet. We enjoyed being on the eighth or top floor of our wing. Although we didn’t have a lake view (which costs extra), we did like the picturesque view of the mountains.
While the room seemed small (maybe because of the king-sized bed), it had everything we needed. With provided slippers and plush cotton robes, we enjoyed the hot tub in the spa before retiring for the night.
Being next to Lake Louise, the locale provided some peace and quiet with no traffic sounds. The bed was incredibly comfortable, although the pillows were too soft for my liking.
The hotel has several restaurants, but its Lakeview Lounge offers incredible views of Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier. At the Fairview Restaurant, guests can enjoy the classic afternoon tea, complete with scones and clotted cream, while savoring the views of the lake.
With four-season accessibility, the Chateau Lake Louise welcomes visitors year-round. We made another visit three months later. In winter, we enjoyed ice skating, a horse-drawn sleigh ride, and making snow angels in the deep powder. One of the most significant benefits of staying at the Chateau is watching the sunrise.
If you planning to make the Banff to Jasper drive, staying at Lake Louise positions you further north and saves some time off the 3-1/2 hour route from Banff.
Watch The Sunrise At Lake Louise
- Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive
For some visitors to the Canadian Rockies, it’s a must to watch a sunrise at either Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. Both facing east, these Banff must-see lakes are gorgeous but best viewed in the morning.
If you’re staying at Banff, it’s a 40-minute drive to Lake Louise and another 20 minutes further to Moraine Lake. With June and July sunrise around 5:30 am, you need to rise in the wee hours to secure a parking and viewing spot.
During my September Banff visit, the sunrise was slightly later, at 7:09 am. While I’m not an early bird, my need to see the sunrise far outweighed my need for sleep.
So, we set the alarm for 5:30 am, which gave us time for breakfast before walking out the hotel’s back door to secure a photography spot before 7 am. As we woke, I was amazed at how many cars were arriving to watch the anticipated event.
That morning, the sunrise didn’t disappoint. As the sun rose slowly, a golden glow appeared on Mount Victoria. With hundreds of people watching in silence, all I could hear was the clicking sounds of camera shutters.
With no breeze and a mirror reflection, the images looked too good to be true. The top of the mountain looked like it had been dipped in 24K gold. Reviewing our pictures, my husband, Brian commented, that they looked photoshopped.
And he wouldn’t have believed the photos were real, except he witnessed the gleaming mountain in real life! But, within a few minutes, the sun disappeared behind a large cloud, and the spectacular event was over. Believe me, watching the sunrise at Lake Louise is one of those things you need to do.
Explore Lake Louise By Canoe
- Address: Lake Louise canoe rental boathouse | Cost: CAD 85+
Paddling across the turquoise waters of Lake Louise is a bucket list thing that I thankfully crossed off years ago. It’s a beautiful way to soak up the incredible scenery of the Canadian Rockies.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise operates the canoe rental at a boathouse near the parking lot. Rentals are available on a first-come-first-serve basis between the hours of 8:30 am to 6 pm daily.
The canoes can accommodate up to three adults or two adults and two small children. Regardless of the time of day, you rent a canoe, bundle up as temperatures may be cooler on the lake.
During the peak of summer, expect a crowd and be prepared for sticker shock. A one-hour rental costs CAD 135 and CAD 125 for 30 mins, not inclusive of tax.
Guests at the Chateau get a reduced rate of CAD 95 per hour or CAD 85 plus tax for 30 mins. However, if you plan to travel to the head of the lake, a one-hour rental won’t cut it.
For the ultimate Lake Louise experience, Chateau guests can book a sunrise canoe rental. At CAD 145 + tax, you’ll enjoy watching the iconic event from the water away from the crowds. The sunrise rental includes a CAD 20 voucher (per person) for the Guide’s Pantry.
The Pantry provides ready-made food such as sandwiches, gourmet snacks, decadent pastries, and drinks inside the hotel. A sunrise picnic on the lake? Why not! You’ll enjoy a unique experience of the gleaming Mount Victoria from your private water vessel.
Enjoy Aerial Views Of The Lake
- Trail: Starts at the canoe rental boathouse | Rated: Easy
While the iconic aerial shots of the Chateau and Lake Louise come from the Highline trail or the Plain of the Six Glacier trail to the lake’s right, there’s another option.
The Fairview Lookout trail offers impressive views with little effort. The trail travels the left side of the lake and consists of a 150-meter elevation gain.
But, with a round trip hike of 2 km round trip, you’ll finish this hike and have plenty of time to do something else.
I completed the hike early in the morning, and there were few people on the trail. The route consists of a steady incline all the way to the lookout.
There were no views along the way, as the path meanders through the forest. Once a looping trail, the descending route to the lake is closed and considered unsafe.
However, once we reached the lookout, we were pleasantly surprised by the views. In my opinion, the vistas were just as good as those from the right lake’s right side, but with much less effort.
At the viewpoint, there’s a wooden bench to rest and enjoy a snack. After many photos, we descended quickly on the same route and completed the hike in about 45 minutes.
Have Tea At The Teahouse
- Trail: Starts to the right of Lake Louise | Rated: Moderate
With choices like Orange Blossom Oolong, Lemon Grass, English Breakfast, and Vanilla Rooibos, who can resist a hot cup of tea with a charming lake view? In fact, the Lake Agnes tea house offers 100 blends of carefully chosen loose leaf tea.
Tea drinkers must hike a one-way 3.5 km trail with a 435-meter elevation gain to reach the teahouse. But, the rewards of this hike are fantastic views and a mountaintop tea house selling great tea and freshly baked goods.
Backpackers will find the trail heavily trafficked by hikers of all ages with various hiking abilities. While the trail begins through a dense forest, soon, you’ll get glimpses of Lake Louise behind you.
Before Lake Agnes, you’ll reach Mirror Lake, a small tarn at the base of the Big Beehive. It’s a great stopping point to rest those weary legs, before trekking onwards.
Surrounded by picturesque mountains, Lake Agnes has become an iconic destination in Banff National Park. So, should you love tea, make the trek to the teahouse to experience the most memorable cup of tea. And remember to take cash as the teahouse can’t process debit or credit cards.
Hike To The Beehives
- Trail: Starts to the right of Lake Louise | Rated: Moderate
Combined with a stop at the Lake Agnes tea house, the Little and Big Beehives trail is considered one of Banff’s best hikes. During the summer, crowds of people take on the strenuous.
The rewards are incredible views of Lake Louise, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and the opportunity to enjoy tea and a sandwich at Lake Agnes. To avoid the rush hour, plan to start early in the day.
You’ll reach the Little Beehive before Lake Agnes. From the tea house, be prepared for the steep uphill trek to the Big Beehive. This 10.3 km looping trail continues along the west side of Lake Agnes and steadily climbs before hitting some significant switchbacks.
After some severe calf burn, you’ll reach the summit for fantastic sky-high views of the Chateau and Lake Louise. After a rest at the shelter absorbing the gorgeous panoramas, you’ll enjoy the return trail, a 780-meter downhill hike to the shores of Lake Louise.
See The Mountains On Horse Back
- Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive and 101 St Piran Rd | Cost: CAD 95+
Relive the Wild West days by experiencing the Rocky Mountains on horseback. Brewsters Lake Louise Stables and Timberline Tours both operate a stone’s throw from the Chateau.
Relax and let the horse do the walking for you as you enjoy the majestic mountains and rugged landscape on a small group tour. The well-trained horses are suited to riders and those who have never ridden a horse before.
New riders might enjoy the shortest ride, a 1-1/2-hour excursion to the headwaters of Lake Louise. Here, you can capture some selfies with your horses and savor the views of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise across the turquoise waters.
For those that want to visit the tea house but don’t want to hike, the Lake Agnes tea house 3-hour ride allows for 30-minutes at the mountain café for some teatime.
However, the 4-hour tour to the teahouse in the Plain of the Six Glaciers is more scenic. With views of Upper Victoria, Lower Victoria, Lefroy, Upper Lefroy, Popes, and Aberdeen Glaciers, you’re sure to have your fill of jaw-dropping vistas during your ride.
For experienced riders, take to the Rockies on an all-day adventure that’s sure to create unforgettable memories. While Lake Louise is a magical place at any time of year, seeing the ancient forests and pristine glaciers by horseback gives a different perspective.
Ride The Lake Louise Gondola
- Address: 1 Whitehorn Road | Cost: CAD 50 for adults, CAD 25 for youth, and free for children under 13
Located across the valley, Lake Louise Gondola is known for its winter skiing. However, in summer, it sweeps tourists up the mountain for expansive vistas of the valley, including distance views of Lake Louise.
One of the benefits of the gondola ride is the chance to spot wildlife species on the slopes beneath the chairlift. During the summer, visitors spot animals so frequently that the Lake Louise gondola webpage updates animal sightings each day.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to see grizzly bears in the wild, what better way to view them than from the safety of a chairlift or gondola car? Other than grizzlies, travelers also see deer, elk, moose, lynx, cougars, and bighorn sheep on the slopes of the mountains.
June and July are the best months to see bears, but it really comes down to luck. In 2021, riders saw bears on 14 days of the 30 days in June and 25 out of 31 days the following month.
A short walk from the 2101 meter summit, visitors can tour the Wildlife Interpretation Centre and learn about the animals that call Banff National Park their home. From the life-sized displays and animal pelts to the skulls, claws, and informational plaques, it’s an all-you-need-to-know about wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.
Visit Takakkaw Falls
- Address: In Yoho National Park
Just 11 km away, the neighboring Yoho National Park offers a myriad of hiking trails and equally gorgeous landscapes. None are quite spectacular as Takakkaw Falls, which at 373 meters is said to be the second-highest waterfall in Canada and the tallest in the Canadian Rockies.
After seeing this gushing cascade, you’ll agree that Takkakaw, meaning “magnificent” in Cree, lives up to its reputation.
To reach the trail to the falls, take the narrow hairpin road off the main highway to the end of the parking lot. Do note, that large RVs and vehicles with trailers can’t manage this road.
After driving this route several times, I have to conclude that the Beatles’ “long and winding road” fits this roadway, lol.
During peak season, the parking lot fills up fast but be patient, as the turnover of vehicles is quick. The short trail to the falls gets better as you approach, with plenty of opportunity for photos.
At one viewpoint, a pair of red Adirondack chairs invite visitors to sit and capture their selfies. Of course, we couldn’t resist. Expect a line-up of visitors waiting to get their selfies.
The waterfall, fed by Daly Glacier, may give off lots of mist depending on the season. To prevent getting soaked, take a light jacket if you plan to walk to the bottom of the cascade.
Although, in summer, the cool spray is rather refreshing. Near the parking lot, the ample picnic area makes a great place to enjoy a packed lunch.
Do A Polar Bear Swim
Polar bear swims are common in Canada, and in fact, it’s an annual event. Usually scheduled for New Year’s Day, those daring enough to participate plunge into the frigid waters of the ocean. Those that reside inland select an icy lake to take their leap of faith.
Lake Louise’s water temperature stays cold year-round thanks to the nearby glaciers that feed its headwaters. With temperatures between 4C and 9C (39F to 48F), avid Polar Bear enthusiasts can test the waters, so to speak, by taking a quick dip into Lake Louise.
Be mindful that the water is cold and will cause hypothermia if you linger too long. So, prepare for your dip by having some warm clothes when you exit.
During my last visit in September, I watched someone plunge into the chilly water at the head of the lake. It reminded me of my icy experience at the Whistler Scandinave Spa, where I stood under a Nordic Waterfall. At 15C (59F), it was significantly warmer than Lake Louise.
Walk The Lakeshore Trail
- Trail: Starts to the right of Lake Louise | Rated: Easy
While I tend to avoid easy trails that circumnavigate a lake, the one that runs along Lake Louise should not be missed. Wheelchair and stroller friendly, the level footpath allows walkers to trek as far as they want before returning on the same route.
At the end of the lake, the silty flats allow for lots of photos, and the rocky outcrop has the friendliest chipmunks who tourists have obviously fed.
To the right, the sheer rock wall provides a place for rock climbers to practice their skills. Officially, the roundtrip hike is 4 km and takes about two hours, but if you walk further beyond the silted area, the trail meanders into the forest along the rippling river.
Here, we met some riders on a horseback excursion to the end of the lake. With the calming sounds of the water and the crowds left behind at the lake, it was easy to keep trekking.
With plenty of benches along the lake, the trail allows walkers to go at their own pace and rest when needed. While this is a heavily trafficked route between 10 am and 4 pm, avoid the crowd by arriving early or walking later.
Go Rock Climbing
Canadian mountaineering and Alpinism originated in the mountains around Lake Louise. Today, the rugged peaks still attract climbers to hone their skills in an attempt to dominate a mountain. If you were a mountain goat in another life, there are several places to test your climbing skills at Lake Louise.
At the end of Lake Louise, a rock cliff to the right offers numerous challenges for climbers. During my September Banff vacation, I witnessed several climbing teams tackling the sheer rock face. Climbers can choose from several bolted routes on these limestone and quartzite cliffs.
The ‘Tower of Babel,’ a prominent peak, attracts daily visitors to tackle its spire on the northeast of Moraine Lake. Made of quartzite, the hardest part of the climb is scrambling up the scree at the spire’s base. For some, descending the scree proves to be the most challenging.
Drive To Moraine Lake
Since the glacier-fed Moraine Lake is just 14 km from Lake Louise, adding a side adventure to another body of water makes sense. Famed for its brilliant blue-green hues and nestled against a backdrop of ten mountain peaks, it’s more picturesque than its web images.
Due to its growing popularity, parking at Moraine Lake has become quite problematic. With only 60 sought-after spots, snagging one is a game of chance.
To increase your odds of seeing Moraine Lake, you either have to arrive before 6 am, book a shuttle bus, or try to drive the road later in the day. During my last visit, I drove the road in the early afternoon after some people had left.
Once there, I had access to numerous hiking trails, including the shoreline trail. Like Lake Louise, visitors can rent a canoe or enjoy the views from on top of the rock pile. During my visit, the canoe rental shop was closed due to the weather.
Even though getting to Moraine Lake may seem like a hassle, it’s an eleven for destinations in the world on a scale of one to ten. After seeing Moraine Lake, you’ll probably agree it’s more stunning than its neighbor, Lake Louise.
Trek To The Plain Of The Six Glaciers
- Trail: Starts to the right of Lake Louise | Rated: Moderate
Famed for having another mountain tea house, the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail is incredibly scenic. While a lengthy hike at just over 14 km, the first half of the path follows the Lake Louise shoreline with little elevation gain.
Best traveled in the mornings, be sure to take a jacket as the temperature can change further in the mountains closer to the glaciers. From the tea house, hikers have the option to travel to Abbot Pass, which will add another hour to your hiking time.
I first completed the hike when my children were young. We felt ambitious, so we did the Plain of the Six Glaciers, both Beehives and Lake Agnes, in one trek. By combining all trails into one, we had a very long hiking day of almost 20 km.
Although many explore the Canadian Rockies during the warmer months, the mountains offer contrasting activities in winter. With skiing and snowboarding on nearby slopes, don’t forget the things you can do in the valleys.
Lake Louise freezes in winter, so bundle up and experience the icy landscape on ice skates. Alternatively, the trails enjoyed in summer become a snow-shoeing paradise with vistas of fluffy powder.
For the adventurous, nearby Johnston Canyon allows climbers to explore its frozen river and ascend its icy waterfall. Having visited in summer and winter, I think Johnston Canyon’s winter hike is better than its summer experience.
Yes, Lake Louise is an alluring destination that never disappoints. Have you explored the scenic landscape of this Canadian Rockies jewel?
Happy travels ~ Karen