They say Lake Louise is a “Diamond in the Wilderness”. During the winter that diamond shines a little brighter. Named after the Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Lake Louise is famous for its striking emerald turquoise colour, created by the rock flour carried into the lake by the melt water of the daunting glaciers – such as Victoria Glacier – that tower above. Today, the area is not only famous for its stunning scenery and world-class hiking routes, but also extensive ski trails, a thriving bear habitat, quaint tea houses and much more.
In the winter, around Christmas, the world-class ski hill gets very busy; however, the rest of the season – especially mid-week – the whole area is a serene winter playground. This guide is going to show you how to make the most of it.
Lake Louise Village is located within Banff National Park. It’s roughly 185km (115mi) west of Calgary and about 60km (36mi) west of the town of Banff. You can reach Lake Louise from Calgary in about two hours. The Icefields Parkway (Route 93 North) connects Lake Louise with Jasper to the north. From Banff and the west, there are two routes to get to Lake Louise. The quicker option is Trans-Canada Highway (Route 1), but if you have some time the Bow Valley Parkway (Route 1A) is a more scenic alternative. You’re more likely to spot wildlife here and the scenery is spectacular.
Here we’ll take you through the basic overview of hiking in and around the village of Lake Louise – including how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, what to see and what to watch out for.
There are a few options to get around Lake Louise. The first option is to drive a private vehicle or call a taxi. There is also a free Lake Louise Free Bus/Shuttle Service, which operates every 30 minutes between Lake Louise Ski Resort and the Lake Louise hotels during the ski season. We prefer having our own car to explore.
The winter and summer seasons are the most popular times to visit Lake Louise, though it is possible to visit the area throughout the year. During the winter season, the excellent slopes provide ample motivation to attract skiers and winter sports athletes of all levels. Temperatures remain on average steadily below freezing, so visitors are warned to make sure they pack proper clothing and are aware of the risks of hypothermia.
Mid-October is when the snow starts to fall (although sometimes it can come earlier than that). By mid-November the ski hills open in Lake Louise, but sometimes the snow gets patchy and the hills won’t open until December. The hills can stay open until May, but the valley bottom can warm up by mid-April.
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Lake Louise is a small tourist village offering a small selection of very nice accommodation options. For more variety, head to nearby Banff, which has a vast amount of options to choose from – from budget friendly hostels to multi-family condominiums and luxury resorts.
The crown jewel of Lake Louise is the Chateau Lake Louise. Built on the shores of the world famous shimmering Lake Louise in the late 1890s, this 4-star resort offers patrons a wide variety of amenities such as a fitness facility, full-service spa, a four-diamond restaurant, and much more. It’s built into a spectacular backdrop of towering mountain peaks and the grandiose Victoria Glacier, and has been a popular spot for luxury accommodation for more than 100 years. The views from the lakeside rooms are truly spectacular.
Now, you might think that kind of luxury is out of your depth, but – if you sign up for our newsletter – we can get you 45% a night’s stay at the Lake Louise Fairmont Hotel! All you need is our free guide on Saving Money on a Winter Trip to Lake Louise, which – again – is available to subscribers of our newsletter.
For a taste of European elegance in the Canadian Rockies, we recommend The Post Hotel. With an award-winning wine cellar, this was recently rated one of the World’s Most Beautiful Ski Lodges. Visitors can enjoy a full spa, including a salt-water pool, a variety of mountain lodge choices, various vacation packages, planned winter activities and more.
Another great option is the historic Emerald Lake Lodge. Located roughly 30-minutes from the village of Lake Louise, this stunning lodge is nestled into the shores of the mesmerizing Emerald Lake, you’ll find a series of cozy wooden cabins. You’ll have no cell service or TV signals here, however – making for the perfect combination of solitude and relaxation after a long day hiking and exploring.
Just behind the Chateau Lake Louise, you’ll find the historic Deer Lodge. Dating back to the 1920s this beautifully restored lodge features rustic interiors and quaint, cozy rooms to stay in. Relax by the blazing fire at the end of a long ski day or sit in the rooftop Jacuzzi with epic views of the Victoria Glacier.
The Lake Louise Inn is a great budget-friendly hotel in Lake Louise Village. We love the condos and suites here. Having a group of people share a condo can be really fun and a great way to mediate costs.
Baker Creek Mountain Resort is another great option if you want the log cabin aesthetic from your winter accommodation. Lots of the cabins and suites have kitchens, and the rooms are pet-friendly!
We will mention Truffle Pigs Lodge here as well. Fields, where the lodge is located, is a bit of a drive, but the Truffle Pigs Lodge offers something very unique: a sensational restaurant. You’ll read more about it in the next section, but we think it’s certainly worth looking into!
For those on a budget, make sure to check out the HI-Lake Louise Alpine Center. This hostel is affordable, clean and sure to be full of an eclectic and interesting group of travellers. They have some great amenities, including ski storage. The alpine interiors fit seamlessly into the surrounding Rockies, and dorm rooms are simple and standard. It’s most likely the least expensive option in Lake Louise, but it’s certainly the best value.
Lake Louise and the larger area of Banff National Park have emerged into one of the Canadian Rockies top culinary locales. Local chefs specialize in regionally sourced “Canadian Rocky Mountain Cuisine.” You can expect seasonal produce, beef and bison from Alberta. However, you can also find a number of other cuisines from all over the world: from quick and budget friendly to luxurious haute cuisine.
We love Truffle Pigs Bistro. You’ll have to drive 20-minutes west to the tiny town of Field, BC, but it’s worth it. With a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, they serve of variety of delicious and hearty dishes. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving up lamb and saffron stew, boar wellington, a veggie beet burger and black truffle pierogies.
One of the top-rated restaurants in Lake Louise is the restaurant at the Post Hotel. The food is varied – from wild salmon to Angus beef, caribou and lamb – and has an international vibe. Expect to pay premium prices but enjoy premium food in return. And, don’t miss out on their award winning wine cellar, with more than 25,000 bottles to choose from!
For no-fuss, budget-friendly dishes check out Bill Peyto’s Café. The food is simple but satisfying: burgers, chicken sandwiches, pasta, fish and chips, chicken fingers, stir fry, and even Greek souvlaki.
For a freshly made sandwich to go, don’t miss out on the Trailhead Café. Sandwiches, wraps, bagels and more can be made to order for both breakfast and lunch; they also serve a great cup of coffee! Another great go-to to-go spot is Laggan’s Bakery. Part bakery, part deli, they offer a wide variety of quick and sit-down options for under $10 such as mac & cheese, beef pie, pizza slices, tofu rolls in addition to their freshly made sandwiches.
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Lake Louise offers hikers some of Canada’s most picturesque scenery. But what can you do there in the winter? Lots!
First of all, we can’t not mention skiing. Lake Louise Ski Hill is one of the best ski hills in the Canadian Rockies. There are actually four ski resorts to chose from near Lake Louise: Mt. Norquay, Sunshine, Kicking Horse (in Golden) and Lake Louise. All four resorts are impressive, however Lake Louise is most suitable for both expert skiers and learners as they have wonderful long magic carpets. Mt. Norquay and Sunshine are also further away from Lake Louise, but Sunshine has the best snow of the three, and it offers the added bonus of staying on the hill. If you’ve never experienced staying on a hotel on the hill it really is something special. Kicking Horse is an experts dream mountain, with incredible, expert-graded high-alpine bowls.
Brewster Adventures and Banff Trail Riders both offer great sleigh ride packages. This is a beautiful way to enjoy the season near Lake Louise. All you need is some warm cider and some warm flannel blankets!
The area around Lake Louise is also incredible for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Check in at the Parks Canada Visitor Centre in Lake Louise to get more information.
For something a bit more relaxed, check out one of the many spas located in Lake Louise – such as at the Chateau Lake Louise or the Post Hotel. Being able to soak in a warm tub after a chilly day adventuring should never be underestimated.
Finally, we love ice skating on Lake Louise. It’s so beautiful. We also like the walk along the right-hand edge of Lake Louise, a must-do for any visitors.
- Never feed or approach wildlife. Always carry bear spray. Of course Bears will be hibernating in the winter, but you should always be careful around any wildlife.
- Even though it may look pristine, make sure you boil, treat or filter all water before drinking it.
- Pay attention to avalanche conditions and, don’t venture onto trails unless you have confirmed they are safe.
- Weather can change quickly. Make sure to bring multiple layers.
- The roads in winter are dangerous. Be prepared to drive slowly in snowy or icy conditions.
- Always bring sunglasses, a hat and wear sunscreen – even in winter. The sun at the alpine altitude is very strong.
- Law protects all rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, mushrooms, nests and any other natural or historic object within the park. Leave them in their nature setting.
Don’t Forget! If you sign up for our newsletter – or if you already are signed up for our newsletter – you can get a copy of our free guide on Saving Money on your Winter Trip to Lake Louise! We can show you how to save up to 45% off accommodations, get a ski pass for $2, and save 10% off of dozens of restaurants all throughout The Rockies!