What to do if you don’t ski or hike
We’ve organized things by month, but some activities could be done in multiple months or multiple seasons. Scan this whole page for ideas.
1. When freezing arctic air invades the mountains, it’s too cold to be outside for long, but what a perfect time to head up the Icefield’s Parkway (#93N) from Lake Louise to the Columbia Icefield. On these crystal clear days, the scenery is truly eye-popping.
Start by buying a book on Glaciers at Woodruff & Blum (in the shopping mall) and reading it over breakfast. Bring food, water and make sure you’re gassed up — there are no services open on this road, except Num-ti-jah Lodge at about 25 minutes along your route. Then pick up the “Icefields Parkway” pamphlet from the Lake Louise Visitor Centre and plan to stop and view numerous glaciers from the roadside. At some point, get out of the car for a few moments and really understand a glacier (brrrrr!)
2. Have a video and reading afternoon at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre. There is a fireplace lounge where you can read and a theatre showing videos on park history, avalanches, bears and other animals. Copies of Mountain Heritage magazine, featuring articles on the latest in Canadian Rockies history, are also available. Try to be outside, however, for sunset (sometime around 4:30 – 5:00 pm) and admire the incredible hot pinks on the mountains. It only lasts about 10 minutes, so timing is crucial.
3. The Post Hotel, one of our most luxurious, serves a lovely European tea in their lobby each afternoon. And they have one of our nicest skating rinks tucked against the side of the building. What a combination! Good views of the surrounding mountains, fresh air and casual elegance. Skates can be rented from Wilson Mountain Sports (in the shopping mall).
1. Enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride along the shore of Lake Louise (reservations at the Brewster desk in the Chateau Lake Louise lobby) for around $15 per adult. At the end of the lake, you might see ice climbers practicing their skills on a frozen water fall — Louise Falls. It is one of the few places in the Rockies where you can easily see what these daredevils do on ice. And speaking of ice, in the first half of the month, take a look at the ice sculptures on the lakeshore. They are the result of Ice Magic, an international ice carving competition held in the middle of January.
2. On Wednesday nights in February, the Lake Louise Visitor Centre hosts a speaker series. Hot chocolate and herbal tea are served while local wildlife researchers, historians and other interesting folks give presentations about the history and nature of Lake Louise and banff National Park. 8 pm, free admission.
3. Head down to Emerald Lake for snowshoeing. Only a forty-minute drive from Lake Louise, the open area at the back of Emerald Lake is a perfect place to safely explore on snowshoes (just stay on the flats and away from slopes). Don’t be afraid to poke around off trail and explore. Look for animal sign and practice using a map to identify peaks.
Get a topographical map (bookstores/visitor centres), rent snowshoes & ski poles (Emerald Sports, next to the parking lot) and ask for a short orientation from the rental folks. Historic Emerald Lake Lodge offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food and hot chocolate are available in the lounge all day.
1. Get a quick fossil fix and learn about the Burgess Shale. This famous fossil bed is located nearby in Yoho National Park and is full of fossils dating back to the Cambrian explosion, when life multiplied dramatically for the first time on planet Earth. It is one of only two places in the world where the fossils of soft-bodied creatures have been found. Books on the Burgess Shale are available from Woodruff and Blum (Lake Louise shopping mall), Mountain Lights bookstore (Chateau Lake Louise) and the Friends of Yoho (Field Visitor Centre).
You can’t visit the actual quarry in winter, but you can stop outside the Field Information Centre (25 minute drive from Lake Louise) and have a look at the site through a telescope while reading about the wacky creatures that have been found there. A few sample fossils can be viewed inside the centre. Round out your visit by stopping at the Friends of Yoho shop and buying a Burgess Shale t-shirt, or, heading over to the Velvet Antler Pottery (downtown Field) for a trilobite pin – the only legal ways to take home a fossil!
2. Winter lasts a long time in Lake Louise, and Canadian families have always known about the joys of tobogganing to make winter fun for everyone. The best hill is right next to Chateau Lake Louise (on your left as you stand at the lakeshore and look at the hotel). Rent toboggans from Monod Sports (inside the Chateau) and watch the kids fly!
3. Write a letter or postcard and sip cappuccino while taking in the famous view of Lake Louise. You’ll be part of a tradition. There are beautiful, old-fashioned writing desks in front of the big windows of the Chateau Lake Louise. Many people, both famous and not so famous, have spent their time in the same peaceful and inspiring way.
1. Spend some time learning about the history of Lake Louise. Your first stop is the Lake Louise Visitor Centre’s human history lounge with a few exhibits and the video “Lake Louise, A Mountain Legend.” Wander over to Woodruff and Blum booksellers (shopping mall) and buy “Lake Louise: Diamond in the Wilderness” by Jon Whyte. Next is lunch, an afternoon cocktail, or, tea and chocolate cake (my favourite) in the lounge section of the Lake Louise Train Station Restaurant — a restored heritage railway station. You have reading material, while they have historic photos on the walls, a couple of old-fashioned train cars to view and ambience to burn!
2. Become a train buff. Pick up a copy of “Kicking Horse Chronicles” (Lake Louise Visitor Centre) to read over breakfast. It tells some of the impressive and harrowing tales about the building of the railway over Kicking Horse Pass, 10 minutes from Lake Louise. Then head out and drive the TransCanada Highway (#1) following the same route. Stop at the Spiral Tunnels viewpoint and, in the town of Field, ask for directions to the Bunkhouse, which includes the staff restaurant for men still working on the Canadian Pacific rail line. There’s no sign, but the public is welcome in this diner-style eatery. Daily specials.
3. Bring a kite with you on your Canadian Rockies trip in April. While winter is still king in Lake Louise, the temperatures will be milder and the snow almost gone in the town of Field, 20 minutes and 2000 feet of elevation away. The gravel river flats (right next to the town and the Trans-Canada highway) are the perfect place to get away from power lines and catch the breeze blowing down from Kicking Horse Pass. Park at the Field Visitor Centre or the “back road” (ask for directions).
Most of the well-known commercial visitor attractions open on the May 24th long weekend.
1. Try out bird watching on something easy — ducks swimming in a lake. You will need binoculars (bring your own or buy at Pipestone Photo, shopping mall) and a bird field guide (available from bookstores and visitor centres). In late May, unusual ducks can often be seen on Herbert Lake (10 minutes north of Lake Louise on #93N) as they migrate northward. There is a picnic area and a small, informal trail around the lake. Move quietly. Early morning or evening is the best time to go. You could also check out Kingfisher Lake and McNair Pond (get directions at the Visitor Centre).
2. Look for wildlife on the Icefields Parkway. There is still so much snow up high on the mountains that animals are forced to be in valley bottoms, right next to the road(!), looking for the first fresh spring food. On a good day in May or June, you might see every major mammal we have on the trip from Lake Louise to jasper. Please drive carefully to protect these animals when they are at their most vulnerable. And help save our bears from human habituation by staying in your vehicle if you encounter one.
3. Check out early season wildflowers along the shore of Emerald Lake. Because of its low elevation, things start blooming here before anywhere else. If you are lucky, you’ll hit the first blush of bright yellow avalanche lilies that bloom as the snow melts away. There are rare and unusual plants here too, so be sure to take paper and pencil to sketch things you can’t find in your guide book (draw the whole plant!). And stop in at the Field Visitor Centre for help in identifying things. Wildflower guides available from bookstores and visitor centres.
1. Bike to the Great Divide Picnic Area. Starting in the summer of 1999, the #1A Great Divide Highway from Lake Louise to the Great Divide will be closed to vehicles and become a paved cycling road. This gentle road cuts through mainly old-growth forest and the views are good. Your destination is about 6 km (4 mi) away at the picnic area where exhibits and a divided stream illustrate the concept of the parting of the waters east and west.
Insider info for non-cyclists: You will be able to reach this same spot by car. The road will be open to vehicles from its other end to the picnic area. Take the Trans-Canada (#1) west of Lake Louise for 10 minutes and turn left to join the #1A (also the turnoff for Lake O’Hara).
Pack a generous lunch from famous Laggan’s Deli (Lake Louise shopping mall) and rent mountain bikes from Wilson Mountain Sports (mall). You can park at the beginning of the road or begin your cycle from the village by taking the Tramline trail (add about 4 km or 2 ½ mi and 152 m or 500 feet of elevation). Good June-September.
2. Rent a canoe on Moraine Lake. Start by walking the Rockpile Trail to see the incredible colour of this lake from above. Rentals are located right on the shore and while you’re out, look for the rare and beautiful harlequin duck. They like to sit on logs floating in the water or on the quiet side away from people. Moraine Lake is the site of the first aquatic restoration project in banff National Park. Look for evidence of biologists researching the best way to rid the lake of non-native species and reintroduce the endangered bull trout.
3. The longest days of the year are in June and there can still be light in the sky as late as midnight. Stay up. Take a walk along the Bow River Loop and admire late evening light on the water. Our favourite spot in Lake Louise is the bridge at the far end of this trail (away from the village) when it is still and quiet. If time is limited, park at the main campground bridge and walk only the far half of the loop.
1. Get away from it all at the Corral Creek picnic area (10 minutes from Lake Louise on the #1A Bow Valley Parkway). It’s off the beaten track and generally quiet. You can have a fire there and open grassy areas are perfect for family games. A short walk away is McNair Pond, where you could look for ducks, woodpeckers and swallows in the early morning or evening. Owls have been heard in the area too.
2. Take in an evening show by Parks Canada interpreters. Both the Lake Louise Campground and the Kicking Horse Campground in Yoho National Park (20 minutes away) offer fun and entertaining evening shows about the nature and history of the national parks. Check any visitor centre for schedules. Free admission.
3. See, smell and enjoy wildflowers along the Moraine Lake Road. There are so many microhabitats here (forest, wet areas, dry & rocky slopes, open meadow) that a wide variety of our wildflowers grow right alongside of the road. Normally you’d have to hike a number of trails to see them, but instead drive along a stop at all the pullouts. Bring a wildflower book (bought at the Friends of banff National Park store in the Lake Louise Visitor Centre), paper and pencil.
Walk into the woods or poke around the ditch and try identifying what you see, but please do not pick any flowers or plants. If you are having trouble, sketch the entire plant including the leaves and bring your drawing to the visitor centre or an interpretive programme. Don’t have a book? Pretend you are an old-time naturalist and sketch everything you want to identify. Then use the books at the visitor centre. To avoid traffic, go early or late.
1. Swimming in Lake Louise. Well, not in Lake Louise itself! Most of our lakes are fed by glaciers and too cold for an enjoyable dip (although true locals do cool off in these frigid waters on the hottest days of the summer after a sweaty hike — a breathtaking experience). The beach for Lake Louise is at Herbert Lake (10 minutes up the #93N), which has great views, a diving board and, needless to say, is not fed by a glacier. The water is still nippy, but on fair weather days, it is heavily frequented by the young, local staff which can make for a true beach atmosphere. For quieter times, go earlier in the day… a hot day.
2. Take in a baseball game at the Lake Louise Recreation Centre’s baseball diamonds. The local league plays on week-nights for most of the summer. The late-day light on Mt. Temple and its glacier is sublime (in our opinion!). We challenge every member of the family to wear a hat with an animal on it (available at most gift shops). There is also a playground here.
3. People watch on the shore of Lake Louise. You’ll find strategically-placed benches where you can just let your eyes wander and wonder. Stroll along and count how many languages you are hearing. World famous Lake Louise attracts people from everywhere. Can you pick out the rock climbers heading out the back of the lake to try their skills on the pink and orange cliffs?
4. Pretend your are on the Maid of the Mist at Wapta Falls — Yoho National Park’s version of Niagara Falls. An easy walk takes you to an overlook, but the excitement starts when you follow the trail down to the base of the falls. In August, glaciers are melting like crazy, the river is full of water and the falls produce a rain of mist. Get wet and skip the very flat rocks on the beach in the river. Park at the trailhead. 2.4 km (1.5 mi) and about 15 m (50 ft) elevation loss to the base of the falls.
1. Pack the lunch of your dreams from Laggan’s Deli (Lake Louise shopping mall), bring a blanket and head out to Ross Lake. It is a pretty little lake that is seldom visited by any but locals. The short trail is 1.3 km (less than 1 mi) long and makes its way through first a young forest and then an old-growth forest. It’s quiet and pleasant here. Birds call in the treetops. At the lake, set yourself up on the boardwalk. Look for spawning fish in the stream leaving the lake. Park at the trailhead on the #1A Great Divide Highway.
2. Hike or take a horseback ride to Lake Agnes to see the larch trees in all their glory. From about the third week of September, the alpine larch turn a stunning gold, and when the sky is blue there is nothing better to see in Lake Louise. But surprise… larch trees have needles, not leaves. They grow only at treeline and are most accessible in the Lake Louise area. Lake Agnes, your destination, also features a teahouse for a civilized end to the trip. Horse trips are available from both Timberline tours (522-3743) and Brewster Stables (in person or by phone at Chateau Lake Louise, 522-3511), tucked behind the Chateau, next to the parking lots.
3. Take the Walk in the Past Trail from the Kicking Horse Campground, Yoho National Park (20 minutes from Lake Louise). There is a brochure available at the trailhead (or the Field Visitor Centre) outlining six interpretive stops to make along the trail. They tell the story of the building of the railway over the notorious “Big Hill.” The final stop brings you to the remains of a narrow-gauge locomotive used in constructing the spiral tunnels. 1.2 km (less than one mile), 30 m (100 ft) elevation gain.
1. Where is your favourite place in the world? Chances are it is related to water. Take a mountain bike ride around the Bow River Loop. Early day and evening light on the water make this trip particularly special. Views of the surrounding mountains are good, especially Mt. Temple. You can stop along the way to read exhibit panels about wildlife found around the river. Buy a topographical map (bookstores and visitor centres) and try to identify the mountains around you. Bike rentals available at Wilson Mountain Sports (Lake Louise shopping mall).
2. Join the locals for a cappuccino and sweet treat at Laggan’s Deli (Lake Louise shopping mall) or Bill Peyto’s Cafe (at the Canadian Alpine Centre and Youth Hostel). Insider tip: You can take your cappuccino upstairs at the Youth Hostel to a cosy common room and spend the whole afternoon reading or playing games. They have a number of books there, or, we recommend a look at Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe & Mail for a taste of Canadian politics and thought (available at the Lake Louise Market in the mall).
3. Having no luck seeing animals? There is a solution. Peruse the gift shops at the Chateau Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Village for animal-flavoured merchandise. Christmas is not that far away…. One great gift idea for young folks is to give them a number of presents that all relate to one animal. We did wolves one year and our niece and nephew loved it. They created their own wolf club. The heart of our gift was a wolf sponsorship from the Central Rockies Wolf Research Project, available at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.
1. If the gods are with us and we get a cold, clear start to the winter (no snow) it can be a lake skating extravaganza! Skating season is eagerly awaited every year, but the window of opportunity can be very short. If you are lucky enough to arrive at the right time, don’t miss it. Rent skates (Monods in Chateau Lake Louise or Wilson Mountain Sports in the mall) and head out for some smooth gliding over crystal clear ice. Herbert Lake (10 minutes up the #93N) is most often the first to be ready. The really intrepid folks can hike up to Lake Agnes. Skating on a snow-free Lake Louise happens only about once every 10 years because it is a deep lake that takes a long time to freeze.
2. Get a geology and rockhounding fix. Start by finding out how the Canadian Rockies were formed at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre. The story is told in exhibits and an entertaining, interactive video starring Dr. G.O. Morph. You could also check out the Rocks and Gems shop in the Chateau Lake Louise. Many of the stones and fossils are not from this area, but are still fascinating to see and collect. While up at the Chateau, pick up a book on geology or glaciers from Mountain Lights bookstore.
3. On Wednesday nights in November, the Lake Louise Visitor Centre hosts a speaker series. Hot chocolate and herbal tea are served while local wildlife researchers, historians and other interesting folks give presentations about the history and nature of Lake Louise and banff National Park. 8 pm, free admission.
1. Join a skating party on Lake Louise. Just in front of the Chateau, a rink is cleared and an ice-castle built. Free hot chocolate and a fire are set up starting 6-7ish every evening. During the day, find your hot chocolate in the Lobby Bar and feel cosy as you look out the big windows at Lake Louise. Skate rentals at Monods (Chateau).
2. Try dogsledding with local guide Doug Hannah. The huskies are howling and you are swooshing through a winter wonderland like a real northerner. The trips are 35 minutes long and take place around the #1A Great Divide highway, which is closed to cars in winter. Reservations made at the Chateau Lake Louise (522-3511 or in person).
3. Be part of the nightlife. You don’t have to go to banff to find party atmosphere. Dancing and socializing can be found at the Glacier Saloon (Chateau Lake Louise), the Outpost (Post Hotel), the Western BBQ and Dance (Brewster Dance Barn), the Torchlight Ski (Skiing Louise) and the Explorer’s Lounge (Lake Louise Inn).