Even if you've never heard of Lake Louise, you've probably seen pictures of it. The world-famous, turquoise blue lake, surrounded by the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, is stunningly beautiful and, as a result, oft-photographed. Lake Louise sits within Banff National Park in Canada's Alberta province. It's a glacial lake, and it gets its otherworldly blue appearance thanks to "rock flour," the pulverized rock dust created by glacial erosion.
Many visitors to Lake Louise just go to look at it, snap a few photos and then leave. But there are plenty of reasons to stick around. The lake and the surrounding resort area offer great outdoor activities in a spectacular setting, from hiking and canoeing in the summer to ice-skating, skiing, and snowshoeing in the winter months.
If you're considering a trip to Lake Louise, plan to do more than take pictures, with our guide to these more active ways to enjoy the lake and the surrounding area, plus suggestions on where to stay and eat nearby.
Where to Stay
Chateau Lake Louise, a five-star Fairmont hotel, is the only property right on Lake Louise, and worth the splurge for its unparalleled lake views, fine dining, and other ample amenities. Nearby Deer Lodge is a more low-key alternative, while Mountaineer Lodge is a mid-range option in Lake Louise village. Set on the scenic Bow River 9 miles from the village, Baker Creek Mountain Resort offers cozy log cabins and a highly-rated bistro.
Where to Eat
There are seven dining options at the Chateau Lake Louise. Many, especially the Fairview Bar & Restaurant, have captivating views of the lake. The hotel's Walliser Stube is an alpine-inspired fine dining restaurant, with fondue as one of its specialties. In the village, The Station Restaurant offers a comfort food menu in the rustic setting of a historic railway station. Halfway to the top of the Lake Louise Ski Resort, the Whitehorn Bistro offers hearty fare and high-altitude views of the Lake Louise and the surrounding mountain range.
Canoe on Lake Louise
At just 2 miles long and half a mile wide, and with very calm waters, Lake Louise is a great canoeing spot, even for novice paddlers. There's something about being out on a canoe in the middle of the still blue lake, surrounded by forested mountains and the Victoria Glacier looming in the background—it's a feeling you just can't capture on dry land. The historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the only accommodation directly on the lake, has a boathouse that rents canoes by the hour. They also run guided sunrise canoe trips on the lake.
Hiking Around the Lake
Visitors to Lake Louise usually cluster around the lakefront right behind the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the historic hotel that dominates one end of the shoreline. Venturing just a little farther, though, especially in the uncrowded early morning, provides great views of the lake, and some peace and quiet that, during the peak summer travel months, can be hard to come by. For an easy hike with little elevation change, head west (to your right if facing the lake) on the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail to the foot of the Victoria Glacier. For something shorter but a bit more challenging, head up to the Fairview Lookout, a quick climb with a rapid elevation change, but the views of the lake and mountains are reward enough.
Start a Longer Hike at Lake Louise
If you want a longer hike with more elevation gain, several challenging hikes depart from Lake Louise. Among the most popular is the 2.2-mile hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House, a rustic, historic hikers' refuge that serves specialty teas and baked goods. The Tea House hike from the Chateau has a 1,300-foot elevation rise, but it's suitable for most hikers. If you want to push on a little farther, continue another mile, with minimal elevation change, to the Big Beehive, a distinctive rock formation that can be climbed for sweeping views of the mountain range and lakes. Note that the Lake Agnes Tea House is open June to October only.
Go Horseback Riding
The mountain paths, shady forests, and high-altitude lakes surrounding Lake Louise make the perfect terrain for horseback riding. Beginning to experienced riders can choose between one-hour, half-day, full-day, and even multi-night pack rides with Brewster Adventures, located at Chateau lake Louise, or Timberline Tours, located just a few hundred yards away. Possible routes include the Lake Agnes Tea House, the Plain of Six Glaciers, as well as many others. In winter, Brewster Adventures offers horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Bike Near Lake Louise
Banff National Park has more than 100 miles of mountain bike trails, plus road riding along Icefields Parkway from Banff, past Lake Louise and all the way north to Jasper National Park. For those who want to stay close to the lake, the Bow River Loop and Tramline trails both depart from Lake Louise village, the small town a few miles from the lake. Closer to Chateau Lake Louise, the difficult Ross Lake trail connects to Yoho National Park, 4.5 miles away. In Lake Louise village, Wilson Mountain Sports can set you up with rental bikes and safety gear. Most trails are closed from November to June.
Many Lake Louise hiking trails become impassable in winter—depending on your footwear. Snowshoeing is a fun way to access snowed-in trails and it provides a great workout. Parks Canada's website lists trails that are open to snowshoers, many of which pass right over frozen lakes. Be sure to heed posted warnings about avalanche risks. In Lake Louise village, Wilson Mountain Sports rents snowshoes, as does Chateau Lake Louise. There are rentals and trails up at nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Discover Banff Tours runs snowshoeing tours throughout the national park.
Ice Skate on Lake Louise
Imagine gliding across—or wiping out spectacularly—on the frozen surface of Lake Louise, with snow-covered mountains all around you. From mid-December to mid-April, the lake transforms into one of the world's most picturesque ice skating rinks, complete with groomed ice and a carved ice castle in the middle. There's also an ice hockey area for organized or pick-up games. The Chateau at Lake Louise rents skates and hockey sticks.
Ski or Snowboard at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Just over 2 miles from Lake Louise village, Lake Louise Ski Resort has 4,200 acres of skiable terrain, including 145 marked trails of all grades of difficulty, and 10 different types of lifts to carry skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers up the mountain. They rent all the gear you'll need, and there are eight restaurants and cafes, including several at the top of the lifts. There's also a tube park for family fun. In the summertime, the ski gondola operates for hiking, sightseeing, and wildlife-watching.