After a couple days in Banff followed by driving highway 1 (and part of the scenic 1A) we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed by the rugged beauty of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Our first impression as we rolled into town was “this is one tiny place” and we love that!
We decided to start our Lake Louise adventures by driving through town (make sure you don’t blink), that’s when we realized this is a very, very small town. Most ski towns, or National Park towns we’ve visited over the years seem to have a decent sized community center with a quaint feel, however Lake Louise felt a little broken with the ski area on one end of town, the fancy Fairmont Chateau hotel resort on the opposite end of town and this sorta lost strip-mall-esque “village” in the middle. I’m sure there’s method to the madness but it just seemed a little odd.
Here are a few interesting facts that would have been helpful to know before we visited Lake Louise (but that would’ve required planning, and we’re unplanners):
- Its actually not a town, it’s a “hamlet”. I looked up the definition and it basically means a settlement smaller than a village…that makes sense.
- Population is estimated around 1000 residents in 2001, but more recent estimates are even lower, so yes it is very small.
- Even though Lake Louise is famous for beautiful Moraine Lake there actually is a Lake Louise that was named after a daughter of Queen Victoria in the mid 1800’s.
- Lake Louise was originally called Laggan and was not much more than a station along the Canadian Pacific Railroad, so a cocktail at the oldest building in Lake Louise (The Station Restaurant) could have been fun.
- Lake Louise is located within the borders of Banff National Park so an entry fee or a Discovery Pass is required during your entire visit.
We were told by many Canadians that Lake Louise was smaller than Banff and Jasper so there would be less crowds however we found it to be quite the opposite. Our campground was nearly full both nights, and most of the “top” attractions seemed just as busy as Banff, granted we weren’t here during the height of the season so your experience may be totally different.
Route 1A and Waterfalls
On the drive from Banff to Lake Louise we were told by locals to get off the main highway 1 and take the scenic route 1A, so we did. I can’t say it’s a more scenic route because both routes are simply gorgeous, but the 1A is the route that will take you to Johnston Canyon and the falls. Johnston Canyon is a worthy stop en route but the magic on a busy day isn’t quite the same (hence why we had to park on the side of the higway nearly 1km from the trailhead). The trail is fairly narrow so having to pass full sized strollers, giant dogs, and families 3 wide can make for a frustratingly slow trip. If there’s any way possible to visit on a weekday early AM or late PM that would likely be your best bet for a more relaxing falls experience. That said the hike on the “suspension trail” up to the falls was unique and the lower and upper falls were both fantastic, especially the “soaked cave” at the lower falls.
Lake Louise Campground
Once arriving in Lake Louise finding a good site at the Campground proved to be a semi-frustrating experience. Locating a spot with even a glimmer of sun to charge our batteries with solar, finding a site that wasn’t closed or crammed in next to another RV proved to be difficult, so we ended up wasting nearly an hour for such a mundane task that should only take a few minutes. Because we’ve arrived before the “season” in Lake Louise its first-come first-served and the more secluded non-electric sites are closed off and for whatever reason half of the sites in the main loop were closed too. Don’t expect peace and quiet here, we must have heard a dozen or so trains pass throughout the night and the canyon walls provide an acoustic surround sound of the loud horn. There is an overflow campground just a few miles south of town that’s 1/3 the price but we didn’t feel comfortable leaving the RV there all alone day and night since we had plans to spend every possible minute in town and on the trails. In busier times we’d recommend staying in the overflow or the non-hook up side of the campground.
Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
A beautiful view from the top and an interesting “wildlife center” with stuffed animals and educational displays. Hiking or biking is not allowed because it is considered a wildlife corridor, so all you can do is go up top and enjoy the view. This is fine, but we prefer the non-ski resort gondolas (like the one in Banff) and sky trams because they are typically surrounded by nature and not dormant ski runs. It was a bonus you can actually choose to take the open ski chair or a proper gondola car depending on the weather…as you can see we chose alfresco for our trip up.
We arrived around 5pm and it was pretty darn crowded so we figured we’d hop on the Consolation Lakes trail, unfortunately it’s required by law to have 4 people minimum due to bear activity (if caught the sign said it’s a $5,000 fee), but we couldn’t find anyone to join us this late in the afternoon…bummer! Instead we made our way up the rock trail for a top-of-the-world view of Moraine Lake. From there we walked down the hill and along the frozen shoreline of the lake. We were blown away by the ice crystals near the water’s edge. Seriously this has to be one of the neatest things we’ve seen in a while and we ended up spending over an hour walking along the water’s edge.
It wasn’t the perfect day for photography considering the grey clouds moved in and covered the tips of the 10 peaks, but all in all the majority of the people were gone by 6:30 pm and we were left alone with two little Harlequin Ducks to wait for the water to turn to glass for an attempt at that quintessential Moraine Lake photo.
Epic Hiking Trails
Lake Louise is famous for its never-ending list of hiking trails. It’s a real bummer we didn’t have more time, and that we were early in the season. So many epic hikes we didn’t even get to touch: Helen Lake/Dolomite Pass, Larch Valley, Bow Glacier Falls, and Saddleback Pass. There are even a few hikes that stop by a tea house! Imagine hiking for 2 hours and finding a beautiful lake along with a proper tea house where you can sit and enjoy hot tea and a slice of pie! Oh man, you don’t know how upset Nikki was that none of the teahouses were open during our short visit. My number one regret of arriving early: Missing the Valley of Ten Peaks (aka. Eiffel Lake trail) hike that provides unreal views of the 10 famous peaks.
Food, Drink & WiFi
Visitor Center – They have WiFi but they only allow you to browse their website (or at least that is all that would work for us) which seems ridiculous for an internationally visited town.
Explorers Bar @ Lake Louise Lodge – Very fast WiFi, but their beer and cocktail offerings weren’t anything to write home about so we ended up going safe with a Guinness. We were hungry for dinner but the menu was a little uninspiring for pesca-vegetarians like us, so we decided to skip and instead cook a late dinner in the RV. We did ask our waitress if there was anywhere in town that she recommended for tasty locavore (veggie friendly) fare and she recommended driving to nearby Field, BC to a place called Truffle Pigs Bistro. I looked it up and it seems spot on for our style, but we didn’t have time to make the drive.
Trailhead Café – We hit up the local coffee shop for some Calgary roasted black gold and a fresh baked pastry, but we just seem to be on a “miss” streak here when it comes to food experiences. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. They might have WiFi but it’s too tiny to sit and work on a laptop so we didn’t bother asking.
Overall our thoughts on Lake Louise boil down to this:
- Spend your time hiking and exploring the wilderness that surrounds the town. Peak every mountain you can because the views are spectacular!
- Early morning and late evening are best to miss the crowds, it stays light very late so long afternoon hikes are no big deal assuming you have enough people in your group to legally access the trail.
- Load up on good food and supplies before you head this way and plan on cooking in and packing lunches for the long hikes.
Of course we were only in town for 2 days so what do we know…well there is one thing – We will come back for all those hikes we had to skip, and next time we’ll stay for at least a week!
Help us, and other travelers, with your personal recommendations for Lake Louise in the comments below. We really want to come back and give it another go when we have more time to play.
Check out our entire trip on our Alaska Page to see what we’re up to.