Lake Louise Sights
Lake Louise is 56 kilometers (35 miles) northwest of Banff along the TransCanada Highway, or a little bit longer if you take the quieter Bow Valley Parkway. The hamlet of Lake Louise, composed of a small mall, hotels, and restaurants, is in the Bow Valley, just west of the TransCanada Highway. The lake itself is 200 vertical meters (660 vertical feet) above the valley floor, along a winding four-kilometer (2.5-mile) road. Across the valley is Canada’s second-largest winter resort, also called Lake Louise. It’s a world-class facility renowned for diverse terrain, abundant snow, and breathtaking views.
When you see the first flush of morning sun hit Victoria Glacier, and the impossibly steep northern face of Mount Victoria reflected in the sparkling, emerald green waters of Lake Louise, you’ll understand why this lake is regarded as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Overlooking the magnificent scene, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is without a doubt one of the world’s most photographed hotels. Apart from staring, photographing, and videotaping, the area has plenty to keep you busy. Nearby you’ll find some of the park’s best hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding. Only a short distance away is Moraine Lake, not as famous as Lake Louise but rivaling it in beauty.
From Lake Louise the TransCanada Highway continues west, exiting the park over Kicking Horse Pass (1,647 meters/5,400 feet) and passing through Yoho National Park to Golden. Highway 93, the famous Icefields Parkway, begins one kilometer (0.6 mile) north of the village and heads northwest through the park’s northern reaches to Jasper National Park.
In summer, about 10,000 visitors per day make the journey from the Bow Valley floor up to Lake Louise. By noon the tiered parking lot is often full. An alternative to the road is one of two hiking trails that begin in the village and end at the public parking lot. From here several paved trails lead to the lake’s eastern shore. From these vantage points the dramatic setting can be fully appreciated. The lake is 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) long, 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide, and up to 90 meters (295 feet) deep. Its cold waters reach a maximum temperature of 4°C (39°F) in August.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a tourist attraction in itself. Built by the CPR to take the pressure off the popular Banff Springs Resort, the chateau has seen many changes in the last 100 years, yet it remains one of the world’s great mountain resorts. No one minds the hordes of camera-toting tourists who traipse through each day–and there’s really no way to avoid them. The immaculately manicured gardens between the chateau and the lake make an interesting foreground for the millions of Lake Louise photographs taken each year. At the lakeshore boathouse, canoes are rented for $40 per hour.
The snow-covered peak at the back of the lake is Mount Victoria (3,459 meters/11,350 feet), which sits on the Continental Divide. Amazingly, its base is more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the eastern end of the lake. Mount Victoria, first climbed in 1897, remains one of the park’s most popular peaks for mountaineers. Although the difficult northeast face (facing the chateau) was first successfully ascended in 1922, the most popular and easiest route to the summit is along the southeast ridge, approached from Abbot Pass.
Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
During summer the main ski lift at Lake Louise winter resort (403/522-3555) whisks visitors up the face of Mount Whitehorn to Whitehorn Lodge in either open chairs or enclosed gondola cars. The view from the top–at an altitude of more than two kilometers (1.2 miles) above sea level across the Bow Valley, Lake Louise, and the Continental Divide–is among the most spectacular in the Canadian Rockies. Short trails lead through the forests, across open meadows, and, for the energetic, to the summit of Mount Whitehorn, more than 600 vertical meters (1,970 vertical feet) above. Visitors are free to walk these trails, but it pays to join a guided walk if you’d like to learn about the surrounding environment. After working up an appetite (and working off breakfast), head to the teahouse in the Whitehorn Lodge, try the outdoor barbecue, or, back at the base area, enjoy lunch at the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, the resort’s impressive post-and-beam day lodge. The lift operates 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily May to September, with extended summer hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; adult $28, child $14. Ride-and-dine packages are an excellent deal. Pay an extra $2 per person and have a buffet breakfast (8 to 11 a.m.) included with the gondola ride or $7 extra for the buffet lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). Free shuttles run from Lake Louise accommodations to the day lodge.
Although less than half the size of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is just as spectacular and worthy of just as much film. It is up a winding road 13 kilometers (eight miles) off Lake Louise Drive. Its rugged setting, nestled in the Valley of the Ten Peaks among the towering mountains of the main ranges, has provided inspiration for millions of people from around the world since Walter Wilcox became the first white man to reach its shore in 1899. Wilcox’s subsequent writings–such as “no scene has given me an equal impression of inspiring solitude and rugged grandeur”–guaranteed the lake’s future popularity. Although Wilcox was a knowledgeable man, he named the lake on the assumption that it was dammed by a glacial moraine deposited by the retreating Wenkchemna Glacier. In fact, the large rock pile that blocks its waters was deposited by major rockfalls from the Tower of Babel to the south. The lake often remains frozen until June, and the access road is closed all winter. A trail leads along the lake’s northern shore, and canoes are rented for $30 per hour from the concession below the lodge.