After a visit to Jasper early last year, Mack and I were reminded of how invigorating a trip to the mountains can be. It’s an amenity of living in Alberta that we don’t take advantage of often enough, so we vowed to return next year.
In February, we planned a long weekend for a mini-break, but instead of returning to Jasper, we thought we’d tread newer ground to Lake Louise. Though we’d both been to Lake Louise on family vacations as children, it had been years since we ventured past Banff. And it’s probably our aged state, but it’s safe to say we appreciated the surroundings much more as adults.
If you’re thinking of heading down to Lake Louise, here are five reasons why I think you should.
Reason 1: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
When Mack and I got married a few years ago, his coworkers gave us a Fairmont gift card. We had been fortunate enough to stay at the Jasper Park Lodge in the past, so looked into the other two mountainside Fairmont properties we had yet to experience. We ultimately chose the more economical option, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Don’t get me wrong though – "economical" doesn’t mean cheap. I’m certain this was the most either of us have ever spent on a hotel room, but the Fairmont brand, as we have come to know it, is equated with an unparalleled level of service and quality.
We’ve never been to an all-inclusive, but I have been on a cruise ship, and this property reminded me of that. It was billed as a resort, with daily posted activities for the guests of all ages, shops and restaurants all under one roof, and excursions that could be booked for additional cost.
On the weekends, the property organizes a free evening campfire, complete with marshmallows for roasting.
We also marvelled at the ice sculptures that were created at the Ice Magic Festival that takes place towards the end of January.
Wooly (snowy) mammoth
With a distance from Edmonton of about 4.5 hours, we had decided to park the car after our arrival and take advantage of all the amenities the Chateau had to offer. This included dining at several of their restaurants. Our favourite was their signature Walliser Stube, named and inspired by cozy haunts in the Swiss Alps. We shared an indulgent cheese fondue with all the fixings, my favourite part of the meal.
Reason 2: Snow!
We learned on this trip that Lake Louise, on average, receives about 45cm of snow per month between November and March – more than double the amount Jasper typically receives over the same period. This is one of the reasons why it’s such a prime destination for skiers.
Mack and I aren’t skiers, but we were interested in snowshoeing, prompted somewhat by our introduction to snowshoeing in Jasper last year. One of the guided excursions offered by Chateau Lake Louise is a snowshoeing trek into fresh mountainside powder.
We were lucky enough to end up with a private tour, as we were the only two who joined up that afternoon. It had also just snowed the day previous, so all signs pointed to a perfect afternoon. When we showed up though, our guide Mike jokingly referred to our non-water resistant jeans as "death cloth", and had to properly outfit us city folk with snow pants and convince Mack to leave his camera behind.
I enjoyed snowshoeing up the mountain on a semi-worn path (what Mike referred to as the "trans Canada trail") as we chatted about his experiences living in the area for more than twenty years. I’m not sure I was adequately prepared, however, to snowshoe back down by making our own pathway in waist-deep snow.
So much snow!
In some ways, with the incline, it almost felt like skiing. It was also more difficult than I expected, what with fallen branches and timber to watch out for (or, in my case, to get my snowshoes caught under – Mack had to dig me out twice). Mike also taught us some useful techniques on how to flip ourselves over with the help of a walking pole, a skill I never knew I needed until surrounded by three feet of snow on all sides.
It was a really memorable experience – one I’d definitely seek out again.
Reason 3: Johnson Canyon
A trail along one side of Lake Louise is maintained for those looking to walk or cross-country ski on the snow-covered lake. The path takes you to a frozen waterfall on the other side, with breathtaking views of intrepid ice climbers attempting to scale the cascades.
Just outside of Lake Louise, however, there’s an opportunity to get even closer to a similar natural wonder in Johnson Canyon. Located about 30 minutes outside of Lake Louise, it’s a year-round hiking opportunity. In the winter though, ice cleats are strongly recommended – we were very thankful to have brought them with us, especially when we encountered a young woman who had slipped and twisted her ankle halfway down the trail.
Even with the crowds, it was a lovely hike, with sections of the guardrail built right into the side of the rock face, and a tunnel through the rock that leads to a closer view of the Lower Falls.
The hike to the Upper Falls rewarded us with beautiful views of the frozen waterfalls, in addition to seeing the death-defying climbers up close.
Reason 4: Canmore
This is a bit of a cheat, as Canmore is obviously a town separate from Lake Louise. However, given how tiny the hamlet of Lake Louise is, and how comparatively touristy Banff can be, we really enjoyed the hospitality and retail we discovered in Canmore on the way in and out.
There was some great shopping to be had: I picked up some great deals at the Canmore location of consignment company Trend Fashions (they also have stores in Edmonton, Calgary, and Chestermere). Canmore is also the home of the Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and they offer tours of their factory on Fridays and Saturdays (something we didn’t get the chance to see).
We had a lovely sit-down lunch at Crazyweed, an upscale casual restaurant with an interesting menu. We enjoyed both our entrees – Icelandic cod fish and chips and a Vietnamese pork ball sandwich (which, incidentally, had flavours reminiscent of Pucker’s banh mi burger). It was a nice place to get our bearings after the long drive in.
Icelandic cod fish and chips from Crazyweed
On our way out of the Rockies, we stopped for a quick lunch at The Range. I was expecting larger portion sizes (the half sandwich could have easily been served on a kid’s menu), but the quality of the food was apparent. The porchetta was tasty, and the thick, textured mushroom veloute hit the spot for me.
Porchetta and mushroom veloute from The Range
Beamer’s is also worth checking out. It’s a comfortable coffee shop that seems to have quite the local following. We were impressed with their coffee as well as their selection of beans (always our souvenir of choice).
Coffee from Beamer’s
I wouldn’t hesitate to stay in Canmore in the future – it would give us even more time to explore what they have to offer!
Reason 5: It’s Free!
You’ve probably heard by now that in commemoration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Parks Canada admission is free (by obtaining a Discovery Pass). It’s a really great opportunity (and excuse) to visit some of the green spaces in our own backyard.
And if you’re worried about the spike in traffic from other like-minded Canadians this year, our snowshoe guide reminded us that 95% of visitors are only interested in the "shore and smile" – snapping a photo from the lakeside then moving on. If you go off the beaten path – into the bush, onto the water – you’ll be able to escape the hoards. It was sage advice and will come in handy as we approach the spring and summer months.
Shoring and smiling
I hope you’ll have the chance to create your own adventure – whether in the Rockies or beyond!