Whether you’ve visited before or not, chances are that you have seen a photo of the iconic Lake Louise. Nestled right in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and a 40-minute drive northwest of Banff, Alberta, it’s one of Banff National Park’s most popular attractions. In fact, its summertime iridescent turquoise waters, perfectly reflecting soaring mountain peaks and the Victoria Glacier, are what many people picture when they think about visiting the Canadian Rockies. This is a destination that shines in all seasons: whether the lake is frozen over, melting and dusted with snow, or shining like a jewel in the sunshine. The lake, as well as its namesake township, is a place for tranquil exploring: slice through the calm water with your canoe paddle, stroll around the lakeside path, enjoy the alpine views from the gondola, hike to a tea house, or sleep in a chateau!
A Historic Rail Stop in the Canadian Rockies
Lake Louise, Alberta, is a quintessentially Canadian destination—and one that you’ll need to add to your travel list to experience the best of Canada’s scenic wonders. It has a long history of welcoming travellers, and particularly those arriving by train. The townsite, originally called Laggan, was first settled as a construction camp when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, before becoming a stop on the resulting cross-country route. An accommodation chalet was built on the lakeshore in 1890 to house those passing through on the train – the modest beginnings of what is now the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The lake itself is named after Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, but among the local Stoney-Nakoda First Nations peoples, it’s known as “lake of little fishes.” Some Indigenous groups also believe that the lake is in an area of high-energy where some of the earth’s “natural energy pathways” converge.
Things to do on Lake Louise
It’s not surprising that the big draw in Lake Louise is the picture-postcard lake itself. It’s a focal point for many of the activities (and cameras!) in the area and needs to be seen to be believed. Early spring, the lake is frozen – but offers a no-less commanding view - and if conditions are right, you can literally walk on water and admire the view from the lake itself. In late-May to early-June, the lake thaws and renting a canoe from the boathouse makes for a serene summer or fall paddle. If you’re more of a land-lover, enjoying the sunrise from the lakeshore, a stroll around the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail or even a gentle horseback ride through the spruce and fir forest is a great way to admire the emerald water and a view of the towering Victoria glacier.
Mountain Views for Everyone
Heading up into the surrounding mountains also offers unparalleled views across the lake, and the area is a dream destination for hikers as well as “walkers.” The 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) roundtrip Fairview Lookout trail begins near the boathouse and rewards with a view looking down and back at the lake and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In winter, the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola whisks skiers up the mountain, but through the rest of the year while our trains run, it carries those seeking soaring views, guided hikes, and a wildlife interpretive centre—grizzly bears are often spotted under the gondola lines, so make sure you look down!
Work up an Appetite
All that fresh mountain air and time spent exploring the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies will have you working up quite an appetite! Luckily, Lake Louise is no slouch when it comes to the culinary arts, and many meals come with a side of history. One of the most iconic experiences is sitting down for afternoon tea at the Fairview Lounge in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, situated right on the edge of the lake. Another option is the Lake Agnes Tea House, a 3.5 kilometre (2.2 miles) hike or horse ride into the mountains, where they’ve served tea since 1905! In town, The Station Restaurant serves up well-crafted comfort classics within the log-cabin architecture of the decommissioned 1910 Canadian Pacific Railway station. And if you can’t get enough of that view, the Whitehorn Bistro, accessed via the sightseeing gondola, offers a contemporary alpine menu and panoramic vistas.
Stay the Night
The fairy-tale setting of Lake Louise is home to some of the grandest and most character-filled accommodations in the Canadian Rockies. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is likely the best known: a former Canadian Pacific property, it started as a one-story log cabin for the “outdoor adventurer and alpinist,” and now represents the last word in luxury, with many of the rooms offering a view of the lake. Another property with pedigree is the Post Hotel & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux property dating back to 1942, which retains much of its original, high-end rustic charm. Sitting on the picturesque Pipestone River, the Post Hotel is known for its elevated cuisine and a wine cellar boasting more than 25,000 bottles! Both hotels also offer amazing spa facilities allowing “Rockies relaxation mode” to really kick in.
How to Travel to Lake Louise by Train
Lake Louise is a Canadian Rockies “must-do,” and there are three ways to include the destination as part of a rail vacation with us.
1. Choose Lake Louise as the destination city on our First Passage to the West rail route, the same Canadian Pacific Railway route that united Canada’s east and west in 1885. The only way to visit Lake Louise via rail is on a journey with us, as we’re the only passenger rail service travelling this historic route. Taking this two-day train journey brings to life the history of the railway as you pass iconic points like Craigellachie - where the last spike was driven - and Hell’s Gate, a site that formerly housed railway workers but is now known for the churning waters of the Fraser River as it forces its way through the narrow, rocky gorge.
2. Choose one of our packages that includes an Icefields Parkway Tour between Jasper and Lake Louise. This curated local travel partner tour follows one of the most scenic highways in the world and stops at a number of area attractions including Bow Lake, the Columbia Icefield - where you’ll ride an Ice Explorer to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier - the Glacier Skywalk and Athabasca Falls. It’s a day in the Rockies packed with amazing sights and adventure! Our Journey through the Clouds at Leisure and Rainforest to Gold Rush Explorer are two packages that include this day tour travelling between Jasper and Lake Louise. Depending on your direction of travel, you may overnight in Jasper or overnight in Lake Louise. Some of our packages include a round-trip tour that begins with pick-up in Lake Louise and ends with an overnight stay.
3. Choose a vacation package that includes a rental car and explore Lake Louise and the rest of the Canadian Rockies at your leisure, like our First Passage to the West Discovery Self-Drive, which includes 3-days full-size car rental, one-way drop charges, and unlimited kilometres.