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Things to do in and around Lake Louise, Alberta. A combination of luxury stay with outdoor adventures.
The area of Lake Louise is spectacular. We stayed at the Post Hotel for seven nights. We loved staying in the village center. My husband is training for a long mountain bike race, so he and my son rented mountain bikes for the week at Wilson Mountain Sports and kept them in the ski room at the Post Hotel, where we stayed. They took several great rides, including the Tramline up to the Chateau and out the Ross Lake trail, the road to Moraine Lake (which also has a bike trail but they didn't find it), and the old highway 1A to the continental divide which is closed to vehicles. It is berry season, so the bears are out and you need to be cautious. On the 1A ride my husband saw both a black bear and a grizzly!
Another great trail for a leisurely walk or an easy family bike is the Bow River Loop. There are many access points, so you can go for as little a 1K or up to 7 or 8K. The mosquitoes were out in full force so bring repellent (I forgot!).
There are lots of great hikes in the area, too. The most popular are the hikes to the Lake Agnes Teahouse and the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Best to get an early start -- the trails get quite crowded by mid-day. But there are other hikes where you will see almost nobody. We did a hike across Saddleback into Paradise Valley and saw 3 other hikers all day. One day we did rock climbing on the cliffs at the far side of the lake. I'll do a separate write-up on that. It was spectacular!
Access to the Samson Mall from the Post Hotel was very convenient.It was just a short walk across the footbridges to the mall where we could get supplies and food at the Village Market, the Cafe Trailside and Laggan's Bakery & Deli, or an ice-cream cone at the candy shoppe. Cafe Trailside had good breakfast sandwiches on a bagel or a wrap. Laggan's had a less expensive bacon, egg & cheese on a bun, but it is pre-made and re-heated in the microwave. The pot pies at Laggan's were good. There are picnic tables along the river, too.
My husband and I stayed at the Post Hotel in August of 1992 and we always wanted to return. We finally did with our teenage children in August 2010 (ages 13 and 16) and we were not disappointed. On our first visit, we were initially disappointed with the location -- after all, it is right off the Trans-Canadian Highway in the village itself. But we came to appreciate the convenience and coziness of the Post. After visiting the Chateau Lake Louise and seeing the armies of tourists and tour buses, it was nice to come back to the relative quiet of the Post Hotel. There are a few downsides. The rooms are fairly small. We stayed in an N suite, which has a lovely sitting area with a fireplace, and a decent sized entry way with a small mini-bar and fridge. The master king room was tiny -- just large enough for the bed (which was very comfortable) and a dresser. The master bath was very nice, but there was only a whirlpool tub with a showering hose, not a full shower. The kids were in a loft room with twin beds and sitting area. Their bath had a shower. The loft rooms can get warm in August, but the hotel has a large supply of standing fans if needed. I have read many complaints about the proximity to the train tracks. Certainly you can watch and hear the trains go by, but they never bothered me, or woke me up, and we slept with the windows open on the train side. If you are a light sleeper, I'd suggest asking for a premium room on the river side. Our suite looked out over the parking lot, but also had a great view of the peaks.
The pool was lovely, and had a hot tub (not super hot, but adequate), a steam room and locker rooms. The lobby is lovely, with numerous sofas, and there is a complimentary tea and coffee service from 2:00-5:00 PM. Be aware that they DO charge for cakes -- which is not made abundantly clear. In nice weather there are Adirondack chairs on the lawn. They have free DVDs to check out at the front desk (we didn't use this so I can't comment on selection), and a library on the 2nd floor. The staff is unobtrusive, but friendly and we found the service to be excellent.
The Dining Room was truly excellent, although very expensive. The service was very professional. For a more reasonably priced meal the Outpost Pub on the property has burgers and light fare. The kids did not like their pizza, but the other dishes were good. The Hotel is within easy walking distance of several restaurants. We tried the Lake Louise Station (decent) and Bill Peyto's Cafe (least expensive and generally good for the burgers, fish & chips etc. I did not care for the Thai Coconut Curry Chicken dish).
This small company owned by Paul and Eva Sylvestre offers private guided hikes (and showshoe trips) in all seasons in the Banff area. Although we are very competent with a map and compass, and the trails are well marked, it was well worth the money to hire a guide for the day. Paul was our guide for our first day at Lake Louise. We left a vehicle in the Paradise Valley parking lot on the road to Lake Moraine, then drove together to the Lake Louise parking area. We did a full day hike up Saddleback pass, then down Sheol mountain and through Paradise Valley. Paul was so knowledgeable about the history and geology of the area, and the flora and fauna of the area. We learned the names of dozens of wildflowers, saw pika, hoary marmots, a snowshoe hare, and lots of bear scat. Be aware that at times, trails have mandatory group hiking if bears are around. This was true with the Paradise Valley trail. We learned about the trees and the native birds, we ate wild sorrel, strawberries and currants, and had a superb day. We had just come from sea level, so hiking to 7600' was a bit of a challenge for the lungs, so we appreciated the frequent stops to look at various things.
On Day 2 we took it easy in the morning, then headed out for Wapta Falls on the Kicking Horse River later in the day. This is a 45 minute drive from Lake Louise out Highway 1 through Yoho National Park. The parking area is on the left shortly before the edge of the park. It is an easy, relatively flat 2.3 km hike to a gorgeous waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. There is a steep section of trail at the bottom to take you to the river below the falls. There are many other great things to see in Yoho that I recall from our 1992 visit, including Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge. A more aggressive day hike is to Twin Falls (15.8 KM round trip).
On Day 3 we had one our favorite adventures of the trip. We arranged a day of private rock climbing instruction with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures based out of Canmore. We met our guide at 8:30 AM at the Chateau Lake Louise, got outfitted with climbing shoes, harnesses and helmets, then proceeded to walk to the opposite side of the lake where there is an incredible granite wall for climbing. This is a very popular spot, especially on a Sunday, and there were climbers setting up everywhere, but we did not feel overcrowded or cramped, and it was fun to watch some of the other climbers, especially the more experienced ones. Our guide set two ropes, reviewed climbing and belaying techniques, and we took turns climbing and belaying each other. We managed to do 4 different climbs. From the top of some of the sections, you are rewarded with an incredible view of the lake and hotel. Our guide was excellent -- very experienced, encouraging and helpful. It was truly the perfect day.
Timberline Tours is a family owned and operated company next to the Chateau Lake Louise. (There is another horseback riding company on the Hotel property). In 1992, my husband and I did several rides with them, including a fabulous full day ride to Skoki Lodge. They specialize in overnight pack trips from a single night to 10 nights. The operation is a little laid back, and it's hard not to feel "processed" when doing a short ride -- but that is probably true with any operator. We did a 3 hour ride to the Lake Agnes Teahouse above Lake Louise. The setting is spectacular. The downside to taking the horse ride is you have limited turnaround time -- just enough to order a cup of tea and scones (bring plenty of cash!) and hit the washroom -- not much time to wander about and enjoy the lake. Also, the Lake Agnes Teahouse is one of the more popular day hikes so it is very crowded.
Two hours north of Lake Louise up the Icefields Parkway is the Athabasca Glacier, a glacial finger off the Columbia Icefield and accessible from the highway. Ice Walks offers walks on the glacier. We did the 3 hour walk that meets in the parking lot at 10:40 AM ($60 CDN adults and $30 CDN for q6 and under). They have extra hiking boots, hats and mittens if needed. Make sure you dress warmly, and I recommend many layers with a raincoat or windbreaker even in the summer. Brewster operates large buses that ride out onto the ice, but they are noisy and environmentally unfriendly and I highly recommend opting for an ice walk instead. It is not a good idea to try walking on the glacier alone -- there are lots of cracks and crevices, and many nuances regarding where it is safe to walk and where it is not.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and we learned a lot about glaciers, how they are formed, etc. The only negative is that our guide seemed to have a hard time hiding his disdain for tourists, people in general (calling them two-legged parasites at one point), and Americans in particular. It was still worth the trip, as we learned a lot, and we saved some money when we kept the tip we had planned to give in our pocket.
Be aware that the only service station between Lake Louise and Jasper is at the Crossing (about an hour north of Lake Louise), so it is a good idea to fill the tank before heading out if you are low on fuel.
The Plain of Six Glaciers is a relatively easy hike (approximately 3 miles one way) through the pass at the end of Lake Louise and up to a lovely log teahouse. The bulk of their supplies are brought in once a year by helicopter. Some things are replenished via horseback, but supplies can dwindle toward the end of the season. The tea and scones were delicious. They also offer soup and some sandwiches. Bring lots of cash -- there is no electricity, so no credit cards.
Be aware that this is one of the more popular hikes in the area, so it can be very crowded, especially on a nice day. We got a fairly early start (around 8 AM) and so it was not too crowded on the way up. By the time we left there was a constant stream of hikers. The views here, and along much of the trail, are so spectacular that it is still well worth it -- but if you are desiring a more secluded experience, you may be disappointed.