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Tips on how to truly experience lovely Lake Louise
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta – A drive in the Rockies with stops along the way will leave visitors with lots of memories to take back home. Many of the scenic drives in and around the village of Lake Louise along with some of the attractions and sights of the area are described in this brochure. Jackets, insect repellent and litter bags are useful for stops along the way. Maps, guidebooks, binoculars, a camera and a full picnic hamper will help you enjoy your visit even more.
With its blue-green water and dramatic mountain setting, this is the best known and most admired lake in the park. Lake Louise Drive, a paved 4.5 km road, and two trails, the Tramline and Louise Creek, provide access between Lake Louise Village on the valley floor and the lake itself.
Pathways lead from the public parking lot to the lake. The magnificent snow-covered peak at the end of the lake is Mount Victoria, named for England’s renowned queen. The lake is named for after one of her five daughters. A stroll through the flower-filled grounds in front of the Chateau Lake Louise is a nice way to spend a half hour. Canoes can be rented from the boathouse at the lake or you can see the lake on foot by walking the Lakeshore Trail. At the Lake Louise ski area, on the opposite side of the valley, visitors can take a chairlift up Whitehorn Mountain in the summertime for panoramic views of Lake Louise and its surrounding peaks.
Moraine Lake: Valley of the Ten Peaks
The sister lake to Lake Louise, in its setting encircled by mountains, is a scene familiar to many from the back of the Canadian $20 bill. From the turnoff on Lake Louise Drive, a 12.5 km drive, closed in winter, takes you to the lake with a number of viewpoints along the way. The Great Divide runs across the tops of the jagged peaks behind the lake. Stoney Indian names were originally given to the 10 peaks by 19th century mountaineers. You can get an excellent view of these peaks and the lake by hiking the Rockpile Trail to the top of the large jumble of rocks at the outlet of the lake. The huge mountain to the north with the glacier on its summit is Mount Temple, third highest mountain in the park. You can also stroll to the far end of the lake on the well-built lakeshore trail, take a short walk to nearby Consolation Lakes or go canoeing.
1A Highway: The Great Divide
The 7.4 km drive from the junction on Lake Louise Drive to the Great Divide follows the original highway over the Kicking Horse Pass. A rustic timber arch marks the divide. A monument on the 1625 metre summit of the pass is near the railway tracks, a short walk from the picnic area. As well as being the major continental watershed, the Great Divide also forms the boundary line here between Alberta and British Columbia and between Banff and Yoho National Parks. This road, like the one to Moraine Lake, is not plowed in winter and then becomes a cross-country ski trail.
From the divide, you can continue on to take in many of the scenic and historical attractions of Yoho National Park: the Spiral Tunnels exhibit and viewpoint, Takakkaw Falls in Yoho Valley and Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge. For information on Yoho National Park stop at the Information Centre located beside the highway at the town of Field.
The Bow Valley Parkway
The parkway is a low-speed scenic drive between Lake Louise and Banff on the side of the Bow River opposite the Trans-Canada. To reach the parkway, cross the highway overpass, drive uphill on Whitehorn Road and take the first right turn. Along the route there are interpretive signs, viewpoints and picnic sites.
The Icefields Parkway
This parkway ranks as one of the most scenic highways in the world and is also a good route for viewing wildlife. It starts at an overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway 2.5 km west of Lake Louise. From the overpass it runs for 230 km past Bow Lake, the Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Falls and other natural spectacles to end at the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park.
Self-Guiding Interpretive Trails
You can learn a lot by hiking an interpretive trail. They are short, well-built and easily accessible. Signs, displays, and brochures help you uncover some of the hidden layers of the park’s natural and human history.
Bow River Loop
This 7.1 km loop located on both banks of the Bow River is primarily a nature walk. Interpretive signs along the way will introduce you to the Bow River ecosystem and some of its animal friends. The river loop connects with the Tramline and Louise Creek trails. As this loop is easily accessible from the campgrounds, the railway station and hotels and shops in the village centre, it also serves pedestrians and bicyclists on errands.
Moraine Lake Rockpile
You don’t have to hike far or high to obtain one of the best views of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. From the parking lot, a well-constructed trail runs to the top of the rockpile at the lake outlet. The round trip distance is less than 0.8 km and the elevation gain about 24 m. The panoramic view from the top may be familiar to you from the back of the Canadian $20 bill. It appears now that rockpile damming the lake is a result of a rockslide off Mount Babel rather than a glacial-formed moraine.
This trail starts in the parking lot on the Icefields Parkway 44 km north of Lake Louise. You climb uphill (total elevation gain is only 32 m) through a forest at treeline to a viewpoint over brilliantly coloured Peyto Lake, the Peyto glacier and Mistaya Valley to the north. The Timberline Trail loops away from this viewpoint through a meadow where sub-alpine flowers bloom in late July or early August. Signs along the way tell you much about this amazing world at the upper reaches of the sub-alpine zone and how plants and animals have adapted and survived here in harsh, marginal conditions. The total round-trip distance is 2.1 km. The trail is well-constructed and paved and visitors are encouraged not to stray off it. (This trail is not shown on the map.)
A canyon as spectacular as Maligne or Marble Canyon, it is easily reached on a 300 metre trail. From the pulloff on the Icefields Parkway 75 km north of Lake Louise or 5 km south of Saskatchewan Crossing, the trail follows an old road downhill. You can look right into this deep, narrow and dangerous canyon from a bridge. The canyon has been carved in limestone by the Mistaya River which originates in Peyto Lake only 28 km away. You should stay well back from the unfenced edge of the canyon, especially if the rock is wet. (This trail is not shown on the map.)
Parker Ridge is at the same elevation as Sunshine Meadows, 2280 m. The 2.4 km long trail to this spectacular ridge starts from the pull-off on the Icefields Parkway 41 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing. A sweater, windbreaker and a thermos or water bottle are recommended on this hike. High and close to the Columbia Icefield, snow lingers on this ridge until June or later, the growing season is measured in weeks and there is no guarantee of any frost-free nights, yet on a clear calm summer day it can be desert-hot. Colourful alpine flowers bloom briefly in mid-summer, ptarmigan may be seen camouflaged against the rocky ground and mountain goat spotted on the surrounding mountains. Living conditions for vegetation here are harsh even without the trampling of feet on their way to and from the ridge so please stay on the trail. At the summit, (250 m above the parking lot) sweeping mountain vistas and an outstanding view of the Saskatchewan Glacier unfold before you. (This trail is not shown on the map.)
The Park Interpretive Program
The park interpretive program runs all summer long with a wide range of stimulating programs and activities. Evening slide shows and talks are put on in the interpretive theatres in the Lake Louise and Waterfowl campgrounds. You can go on a guided walk with an interpreter, join them for a campfire chat, or find out the answers to your questions about the park. Information on the park interpretive program is published in The Banff National Park Official Visitor’s Guide, the park’s free newsguide which is available at visitor centres.
Strolls and Walks
A stroll or short walk is an excellent way of experiencing the park at your own pace while stopping to take photographs, fish, picnic or just enjoy the scenery. Listed below are a number of trails in or near the Village of Lake Louise.
Experience the impressive force of an unchecked mountain stream on this 2.7 km path, the shortest route for hikers between the village on the valley floor and Lake Louise in a hanging valley 200 m higher. Walk across the Bow River highway bridge on Lake Louise Drive. The trail starts on the downstream side of the bridge and closely follows Louise Creek uphill. About halfway up the Tramline crosses this trail. To stay on the Louise Creek Trail cross the bridge at this intersection. The trail you are hiking follows much the same route taken in 1882 by Tom Wilson when, led by his Stoney Indian guide Edwin Hunter, he discovered Lake Louise. At its upper end the trail crosses a public parking lot just before it reaches the lake.
Where this trail now goes, a narrow gauge railway once ran. Starting at a footbridge over the Bow River behind the train station the Tramline runs uphill at a four per cent gradient for 4.5 km ending in the parking lot at the same place as the Louise Creek Trail. It is broad and easy to follow for the most part. Be sure to cross the creek at the bridge where the Tramline and Louise Creek trails intersect. Few signs are there to remind you of the train and its passengers that regularly used this route between 1913 and 1930. The Tramline and Louise Creek trails can be easily combined to form an interesting 7.2 km loop.
Starting in front of the Chateau, this broad, level and popular trail follows the northwest shore of Lake Louise for 3 km. It can be a pleasant, relaxing lakeside stroll by day or a lovely moonlight walk. The trail skirts below the high cliffs visible at the far end of the lake (popular with rock climbers). This walk ends at the delta, the flat muddy plain just beyond the cliffs. The trail continues on to the Plain of Six Glaciers. Mountain goats are sometimes seen on the sides of Fairview Mountain across the lake.
A brisk stroll enjoyable any time of day, it starts at the viewpoint at the outlet of Lake Louise. A well-made trail climbs through a primeval spruce forest to a lookout 100 m above the lake. It branches right off the Saddleback Trail 0.3 km from the start and continues uphill for another 0.7 km to a wooden observation platform offering views across the lake and back to the hotel. Fairview Mountain towers over the lookout. You can return the same way or take the rough 1.3 km long trail that winds steeply down to the lakeshore and follows it through some wet spots back to the boathouse.
For some close-up views of the Ten Peaks, walk down this popular trail to the far end of the lake. Just past Moraine Lake Lodge, the Larch Valley and Eiffel Lake trails lead off uphill. Like the Louise Lakeshore trail, only shorter and more secluded, this one follows the northwest lakeshore for 1.5 km to a rocky creek flowing into the lake.
A short walk of 3 km will make you feel you are in the heart of the Rockies, with a sparkling lake at your feet, towering peaks with sheer cliffs surrounding you and glaciers high above. From the Moraine Lake parking lot, you pass the Rockpile Trail and travel most of the way through forest, gaining only 65 m elevation, to the rocky shore of Lower Consolation Lake. A generally wet trail runs around the northeast shore to Upper Consolation Lake about 1 km away but you must ford the creek to get on it. As you hike out you get good views first of Mount Temple and then of the Ten Peaks.
* Trails within walking distance of the Chateau Lake Louise.
Any hike long enough to require taking a pack with lunch and extra clothing is a day hike. Day hikes offer fresh air, exercise and sometimes bad weather, along with plenty to see. For more information on the hikes described here or on other day hikes in the Lake Louise area, consult a hiking guidebook and topographical maps.
Plain of Six Glaciers*
Plain of Six Glaciers and Louise Lakeshore are one and the same trail to the far end of Lake Louise. As you continue up this valley you see below you a turbulent rocky creek, moraines abandoned by receding glaciers, enormous gravel fields (sometimes concealing underlying glaciers) and finally, icy crevassed Victoria Glacier. Glaciated peaks encircle this area on whose slopes mountain goats may be seen. The Highline Trail joins the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail at 4.1 km. A teahouse, serving light lunches and refreshments during the summer, is located 5.5 km from the trailhead. The trail continues up the valley for another 1.3 km to a viewpoint of Abbot Pass and the Death Trap, the enormous glacier-filled gorge between Mounts Victoria and Lefroy. The elevation gain is 360 m at the teahouse and 405 m at the viewpoint.
Mirror Lake: Highline Trail*
The Highline Trail provides an interesting alternative start or finish to the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. The trail starts at Mirror Lake on the Lake Agnes Trail, 295 m above Lake Louise. The trail map here will help you get your bearings. From this lake, the Highline Trail follows a more or less level course. It emerges on top of the cliffs at the far end of Lake Louise with breathtaking views down to the lake and back to the Chateau Lake Louise. Further on, the glaciated mountains of the upper valley come into view. It joins the Plain of Six Glacier Trail 2.8 km from Mirror Lake. Hiking out on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail and back on the Highline is less strenuous than travelling in the opposite direction.
Lake Agnes: Beehives*
Lake Agnes is located in a hanging valley 365 m above Lake Louise with beehive-shaped mini-mountains on either side of it. Many people have found the sight of this lovely alpine lake and the incredible panoramic views from the Big or Little Beehive worth the strenuous hike. The well-made 3.6 km trail to the lake starts on the west side of the Chateau. About halfway up, a break in the trees offers a viewpoint over Lake Louise. At Mirror Lake (km 2.7) a map helps direct you through the maze of trails there. A teahouse at the lake serves light lunches and tea during the summer. Take a leisurely stroll to the far end of the lake if you don’t feel up to the 140-metre climb to the Little Beehive or the 170-metre climb to the Big Beehive. The lake is often ice-covered to mid-June; in the fall the area is golden with larches.
Paradise Valley: Giant Steps
The trail through this aptly named valley is a loop with a tail on it. From its start in the gravel parking lot 2.4 km down the Moraine Lake road, it climbs over a ridge to enter the valley and in 5 km comes to the start of the loop at the Lake Annette junction. This 8.1 km loop takes you across vast avalanche slopes to the start of the 0.7 km side trail to the Giant Steps cascade, below steep and rocky Sentinel Pass and under the towering northerly face of Mount Temple with placid Lake Annette beneath it. Standing guard around the Horseshoe Glacier, at the head of the valley, are Wenkchemna, Hungabee, Ringrose and Lefroy – all peaks over 3200 m (10,500 feet). The overall elevation gain from the trailhead is less than 400 m. The total distance is 18.1 km.
A short but demanding trail, it climbs steadily uphill gaining 600 m in elevation in 3.7 km. From the viewpoint at the outlet of Lake Louise it heads up the forested slope of Fairview Mountain. The final leg of the trail zig-zags through a forest of larches to a beautiful alpine meadow. The premier view here is of Mount Temple from the far side of the meadows. For those with mountaineering inclinations, they can follow indistinct trails to the summits of Saddle Peak (90 m higher) or Fairview (411 m). Take the same route back down however tempting other routes may look. The trail continues over Saddleback and drops down into Paradise Valley. It is over 11 km from the Saddleback Pass back to Lake Louise by the Paradise Valley route.
Larch Valley: Sentinel Pass
Just past Moraine Lodge, an uphill trail starts its 3 km climb through forest to Larch Valley and the Minnestimma Lakes (an Indian word for “sleeping water”). It helps to stay on the switchbacks on this trail as shortcuts cause erosion and trail damage. From this valley, 520 m above Moraine Lake and only 205 m below Sentinel Pass, you get wide encompassing views. In autumn, the needles of the larch trees turn golden, making the valley glorious.
Many people prefer to end their hike at the valley, but quite a few continue on another 2.8 km to the top of the pass with its powerful views. At an elevation of 2611 m (8566 feet), Sentinel Pass is one of the highest in Banff National Park. Those planning on crossing the pass should be wearing sturdy hiking boots, be aware of the dangers of falling and rolling rock, and be prepared for a long hike. You’ll have to pick your way down a steep, rocky slope to a trail that shortly connects up with the Paradise Valley loop. From the top of the pass, it is 11 km to Moraine Lake Road, and another 10 km by road or trail back to Moraine Lake or another 4 km on to Lake Louise by trail.
The first part of this trail is the same as the Larch Valley Trail. The left hand fork at the Larch Valley trail junction (km 2.4) leads to Eiffel Lake, 3.2 km away, by following the top of a lateral moraine well above the trees. A spur trail runs down to the lake. The main trail continues on to Wenkchemna Pass, about 3.2 km further on and some 350 m higher. Wenkchemna, an Indian word for ten, is the last of the ten peaks. While hiking this trail, all of the ten peaks as well as the debris-covered Wenkchemna Glacier are visible. From the top of the pass you are looking down at the Eagle’s Eyrie and Opabin Pass in Yoho National Park.
This trail of contrasts starts in the Lake Louise ski area and ends 8.8 km away on an alpine pass with stupendous views. Turn off the Whitehorn Road onto graveled Fish Creek Road. From the Fish Creek parking area hike or bike the first 4 km up a dirt road offering occasional views of distant peaks and Corral Creek. At the end of he road (and the bike trail) head uphill across a ski slope to the hiking and horse trail.
From here on you are in real backcountry, travelling through forest to Halfway Hut in an alpine meadow 470 m higher than the parking lot. The hut, now used only as a day shelter, was once the halfway point and resting place when only a trail ran between the Lake Louise train station and Skoki Lodge. From the hut a separate 1.1 km trail leads to Hidden Lake. Rock-studded Boulder Pass is 1.5 km ahead and only 150 m higher. At the top of the pass, the mountain world unfolds. Behind you is glaciated Mount Temple and ahead is Ptarmigan Lake. Pikas, marmots and Columbian ground squirrels scurry among the rocks. The well camouflaged ptarmigan may be seen. Redoubt Lake is located a rocky 1.3 km and Baker Lake 3 km away from this pass. (The start of this trail is shown on the map.)
Other Outdoor Activities
Picnicking, sightseeing, and taking a tour are popular activities for people visiting the park. For parents with young children there are playgrounds and picnic areas in Banff and Lake Louise. Canoeing, going on a cruise and wind-surfing are enjoyable water sports. Fishing is permitted with a national parks licence. The adventurous can go backpacking, kayaking, mountaineering and ski touring. In winter, downhill and cross-country skiing are the major pastimes along with snow shoeing, skating and ice fishing. Photography and wildlife observations are year-round activities.
If you want to experience the park from horseback, several commercial outfitters in Banff and Lake Louise offer guided trips from one hour to several days duration. If you own a horse, you can take it on most trails in Banff National Park. Horses are not permitted on Sunshine Meadows, Sentinel Pass or Healy Pass. The brochure Horse Users Guide provides more information.
Bicycling is permitted on public roads and highways and on certain trails in the park. In good weather, many of the drives described in this pamphlet are more enjoyable to cycle than to drive. The Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway are marvelously scenic cycle routes suitable for full day trips as well as overnight trips with stops in the campgrounds, youth hostels or lodges along the way.
Visit a park visitor centre for details on trails on which bicycles are permitted. Short trips, full day excursions and bicycle camping trips are all possible. Cycling off the trails is not allowed.
Banff National Park has something to offer people with hearing, vision, mobility or mental impairments and plans to make more facilities accessible. An overview is given here; for more details or information on group services contact our Calgary office or one of the visitor centres in the park. (See “More Information” in this brochure for addresses). Information is also available from the Banff/Lake Louise Chamber of Commerce and Alberta Tourism Offices. The Banff Health Unit may be able to provide assistance and rent equipment (phone 762-2290, Monday-Friday).
The Cave and Basin Centre in Banff and the Lake Louise Visitor Centre are fully accessible. The Banff Visitor Centre has been upgraded to permit access by the disabled and a hearing impaired phone installed; the phone number is 762-4256. Assistance is required and available for disabled people wishing to use the Upper Hot Springs. The main floor of the Banff Park Museum is wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair accessible public washrooms are located within half a block of the Banff Visitor Centre and the Park Museum and in drive-in campgrounds and picnic sites in Banff, Lake Louise and along the Bow Valley and Icefields Parkways. The physically challenged can use and enjoy some trails throughout the park. Surface treatments range from asphalt, cinders, crushed gravel and dirt. Many shorter trails are level or have only gentle grades.
Special thanks to Park Canada for their assistance with this article