Why you should go
Considered by many to be the crown jewel of Banff National Park, Lake Louise is nearly impossible to describe without resorting to clichés. This implausibly turquoise lake is ringed by chiseled mountains capped by Victoria Glacier.
Roughly 2km (1.2 miles) end to end and 70m (230ft) deep, the lake is famous for its stunning blue water, caused by light reflecting off tiny particles of ‘rock flour’ (glacial silt) carried down from the mountain glaciers.
The lake has become one of Banff National Park’s most famous (and busiest) attractions, and the lakeshore inevitably gets crowded on summer days. Visit as early as possible to avoid the squash, and spend the rest of the day exploring the nearby attractions of Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise Gondola. You can usually escape the coachloads of sightseers milling around in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise by following the lakeshore trail, which tracks through forest along the northern side of the lake, offering fabulous vistas of Fairview Mountain and the Victoria Glacier. A spur trail leads steeply up the mountainside to the famous Lake Agnes Teahouse and the Big Beehive lookout, but it’s a long slog, so you’ll need good shoes and plenty of water.
Further along the lakeshore trail, you can continue up the valley on the Plain of Six Glaciers walk. There are several more classic hikes leading off around Lake Louise, including the steep climbs up Saddleback (2330m/7644ft) and Fairview Mountain (2744m/9003ft), which both brood along the lake’s southern shore.
For something more sedentary, you can hire canoes from the Lake Louise Boathouse. Once you've got over the shock of the price, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of the silence and natural majesty.
Tickets and other practicalities
Banff National Park admission is C$10 for adults, C$8.70 for seniors, C$20 for families and free for kids under 17. There are additional fees for campground use, backcountry camping, fire permits and fishing permits. See the latest fees on the Banff National Park website. There is a C$11.70 fee per vehicle for parking at the Lake Louise lakeshore.
Lake Louise is best seen early or late in the day, when the vibrant colors of the lake are strongest. In winter the scene is transformed into a wonderland of powder-white ice. As it freezes over its signature blue waters won’t be visible–but it does become an epic skating rink.
Lake Louise 'village,' just off Trans-Canada Hwy/Hwy 1, is little more than an outdoor shopping mall, a gas station and a handful of hotels.
Hotels near Lake Louise
Other than a very popular hostel and a fantastic riverside campground, Lake Louise doesn't have much in the way of budget accommodations. At the pricier end of the spectrum you'll find some truly splurge-worthy properties, including cabins, historic lodges and one of the Canadian Rockies' most iconic lakeside hotels, the opulent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.