20 Things to Know Before Visiting Lake Louise

Lake Louise has been drawing in visitors to the Canadian Rockies for over a century. The alpine lake in Banff National Park is a wild turquoise blue color fed by glacier melt and set by a backdrop of Mount Victoria and a hanging glacier. This pristine piece of wilderness draws in millions of visitors a year.

Lake Louise

It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world than Lake Louise. After taking in the spectacular scene go for a hike, climb, ski, or canoe in the area Lake Louise is an image that will last with you for a lifetime. Here’s all you need to know before visiting Canada’s famous lake.


Tips for Visiting Lake Louise


Lake Louise Hikes The Little Beehive

Lake Louise is the crown jewel of Banff National Park and has been drawing visitors to the Canadian Rockies for over a century. The large lake is flanked by large mountains and has a spectacular backdrop with Mount Victoria topped by a massive glacier. If I were to name 50 places you have to see before you die Lake Louise easily gets a spot.

Its natural beauty is soul-stirring and at times standing on the lakeshore borders on a religious experience. During the summer months, it draws large crowds as millions of people visit the alpine lake each year. Never the fear, it far from detracts from the serenity of the lake. On my first visit in the summer the landscape took my breath away, it’s a sight that lives up to the hype.

The lake can attribute its brilliant blue color to glacier waters full of rock flour (fine particle of rock) that refracts the light. The time to witness this brilliant color is relatively short-lived as the majority of the year the lake is frozen. For all of its fame, the lake is not very large at only 2 km in length and .5km wide many visitors can choose to walk the length of the lake with ease.

It’s a stunning natural area with a plethora of things to do outdoors. Visitors can partake in the amazing hiking trails, canoeing or kayaking the lake, alpine mountaineering, rock climbing, ski, ice climbing, ice skating, or scrambling. It’s almost tough to find something you can’t do around Lake Louise.

Most of the activities are out of visitor’s skill set and interest, but there are a number of fantastic hikes around Lake Louise. Also, with the canoe rentals at the boat dock, it’s easy for visitors to canoe on Lake Louise. Lake Louise is frozen over half the year, so naturally, ice skating is a popular activity in the winter months.


Where is Lake Louise?

Lake Louise is located 60 km Northwest of the town of Banff. It will take you about 40 minutes to get there from the town of Banff, 60 minutes from the town of Golden, 20 minutes from the town of Field, and 50 minutes from Canmore.


The History of Lake Louise

Historical Chalet Lake Louise

Interestingly enough Lake Louise was originally named Emerald Lake by Tom Wilson leading an early survey party in 1882. The name didn’t last long because in 1884 it was named after Alberta’s Governor General’s wife Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. The name Emerald Lake then shifted to the nearby lake of Emerald Lake 39 km away from Lake Louise where the name did stick.

In 1890, Cornelius Van Horne a Canadian Pacific Railway manager built a large one-story log cabin on the shore of the lake. The small cabin was called the Chalet Lake Louise and he would accommodate just 50 guests in its first year. Over the next two decades, the hotel saw several upgrades and by 1912 it had drawn in 50,000 visitors.

The beauty was drawing in major public figures and the hotel quickly expanded to a luxury property by 1920 earning the name of Hollywood of the North.

Historical Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria

Mountaineering in North America and Canada for that matter is closely tied with Lake Louise, and Banff National Park. In fact, in 1897 the first mountaineering death in North America occurred on Mount Lefroy. You can get great views of this mountain on the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. The mountaineering death spurred the Canadian Pacific Railroad to hire Swiss mountaineers to help with the safety of visitors hoping to mountaineer in the park.

Over the years more mountaineers would follow and the Swiss impact on the Canadian Rockies can be seen to this day. Many restaurants around Banff serve up fondue, mountaineering is a popular hobby for locals, there are two teahouses that serve hikers around Lake Louise, and a series of alpine huts are managed by the Alpine Club of Canada. The Swiss mountaineers would also have a major impact on bringing the sport of skiing to the forefront in the Canadian Rockies which eventually opened up Lake Louise to winter tourism and a year-round destination.


When Is The Best Time To Visit Lake Louise?

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is a year-round destination outside of the shoulder months of October/May, and even then certain points in those months can be great. It’s such a spectacular part of the world that it’s never a bad idea to visit. In the winter months, you can enjoy sleigh rides, ice skating, ice climbing, skiing, and snowshoeing.

While during the summer you’re spoilt for activities and the views are spectacular. Since the lake is fed by Glacial melt its water level and color change based on temperatures.

To ensure warmer weather, and a good chance to witness the most vivid turquoise water the best time to visit Lake Louise is in July and August. That being said the color never leaves and you can witness the lake unthawed until October when the lake freezes over. Every few years the lake freezes over enough to skate on before receiving significant snowfall.


Is Lake Louise Busy?

Big Beehive

Sadly, Lake Louise is almost always busy. Especially in the summer and winter months, which is when the lake is at its prettiest. To avoid crowds at Lake Louise you can visit in the off-season months, or at off-peak times in the summer months. That means before sunrise and in the evenings on weekdays.


When Does Lake Louise Melt?

Lake Louise
Canoeing two days after Lake Louse melted in June

The ice on Lake Louise usually melts the first week of June. This is season-dependent so it has occasionally unthawed earlier and a little later. That being said it’s safe to assume the lake will be unfrozen by June.


When Does Lake Louise Freeze?

Lake Louise Winter

Lake Louise usually begins to freeze in November. The month of October usually brings heavy snowfall in the area and the Lake Louise Ski Resort usually opens up the first week of November around the same time the lake freezes.


What Time Day Should I Visit Lake Louise?

We’re pretty sad to say that’s Lake Louise’s beauty and popularity are also its downfalls. The demand to see the lake by almost every visitor to the park on a narrow mountain road with a limited parking lot means the lot fills up by 8-9 am on most days in the summer.

If you don’t feel like waking up before dawn to see the lake don’t fret too much. Parks Canada has a bus service available from the Lake Louise Park and Ride lot off of the TransCanada highway. There are signs on the highway so it’s tough to miss the Park and Ride lot. Although on peak summer days even this can fill up and you might be looking for other plans.

You can also choose to stay at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the lake or many of the hotels in Lake Louise offer shuttles so you don’t have to deal with parking. As it gets late in the evening the crowds do thin out and you can usually get a parking spot in the evenings when everyone else is having dinner. We’ve never struggled to get parking at Lake Louise in the winter months.


Parking at Lake Louise

You have a few options for parking at Lake Louise, but for most visitors, there are really two viable options. Obviously, if you’re a guest of the hotel you have that as an option. However, be forewarned the Fairmont charges an additional $30 per day for parking although if you’re paying their summer rates it’s unlikely to faze you.

Many of the other hotels in the village do offer a shuttle or you can take advantage of the public shuttle bus for those staying at the Lake Louise Campground.

New in 2021, Paid parking will be in effect for Lake Louise from 7am-7pm between mid-May and mid-October. This is in addition to your Parks Canada Pass needed for all of Banff National Park. Look for pay stations when you arrive to Lake Louise, the fee is $11.70 per vehicle per day. You’ll need to input your license plate number into the pay kiosk. You cannot park overnight at Lake Louise lakeshore.

Also new in 2021 is the need for a reservation if you intend to ride the shuttle to Lake Louise from the Lake Louise Park and Ride. Reservations open on April 28, 2021 on the Parks Canada website. This option guarantees that you will get to Lake Louise, while the paid parking is on a first come/first serve basis.

Once at the Lake Louise Lakeshore, you can connect between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on a first come first serve basis, via the Lake Connector shuttle (free with shuttle reservation), they run every 15 minutes.

There will also be a portion of seats released on a rolling basis for the Lake Louise shuttle, 48 hours prior to departure day at 8 am MST starting on May 12th, 2021. No walk-up seat sales will be permitted, however, if there are still seats available you’ll be able to reserve one up to 30 minutes before the scheduled departure. You’ll be able to book your seat reservation on the Parks Canada website.

Shuttle Prices (Return Fare)

  • Adult (18 to 64): $8
  • Senior (65+): $4
  • Youth (6 to 17): $2
  • Child (under 6 years) – free
  • Reservation Fee: $3

Can You Swim at Lake Louise?

Lake Louise

Technically yes, you can swim at Lake Louise, but it probably won’t be for long. The water temperature rarely gets above 4°C, meaning you only have about 15 minutes or so until you start to become hypothermic. So the question should be, “Can you take a dip in Lake Louise?” Which absolutely you can if you feel like an icy dip!


Canoeing at Lake Louise

Canoeing on Lake Louise

There is likely no place more quintessential to rent a canoe in Banff than Lake Louise. It’s one of the most spectacular scenes in the world. It’s tough to find a more spectacular scene to paddle through as you look out to Mount Victoria and the hanging Victoria glacier. No need for fancy edits on your photographs the water in Lake Louise like Moraine Lake is truly that radiant turquoise blue.

You can pick up canoe rentals at the Lake Louise boathouse because even if you have your own you’d have to arrive very early in the morning to secure a close parking spot to carry the canoe.

  • Location: Fairmont Lake Louise Boathouse
  • Canoe Cost: $125 first hour / $100 additional hours
  • Season: Mid June to October

Can you bring a private canoe, kayak, or SUP to Lake Louise?

Lake Louise
With out own canoe on Lake Louise

Visitors are allowed to bring their own personal watercraft to any of the lakes or rivers within Banff National Park. The tricky part with Moraine Lake is acquiring a parking spot and then launching from the lakeshore. Of course, you can get inflatable SUPs like us and pack them into Moraine Lake via the shuttle bus.


The Best Hikes Around Lake Louise


These are some recommended hikes around Lake Louise. I’ve ranked them in difficulty.

Fairview Lookout

The Fairview Lookout trail is a short sweet hike that provides great views over the Lake Louise from some elevation. It’s quieter and less strenuous than the classic Lake Agnes Teahouse hike below so it’s a good option if you’re not up the elevation gain required for Lake Anges or just want a quick jaunt in the area.

There is a nice platform that also provides views back out to the impressive and historic Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. Don’t expect the view on the way up as its forested, but the lookout platform from the top is a lovely view worth the effort.

  • Length: 2.4 km
  • Duration: > 1 hour to 1 hour
  • Elevation Gain: 165 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: June – October
  • Gear Needed: Hiking Shoes, Water, Bear Spray

Lake Agnes Teahouse

The Lake Agnes Teahouse hike is a popular thing to do in Banff for visitors to Lake Louise. It’s also one of the most iconic and popular hikes in all of Banff National Park and has been enjoyed by visitors for well over a century. It ends at the Lake Agnes Teahouse which has been serving visitors since 1905 when it first opened. A rustic old cabin that sits along the banks of Lake Agnes and over a rushing waterfall.

Its popularity is perhaps its only downfall as the teahouse can attract a crowd in the summer months with a line out the door. Never the less it is a classic and ends at the lovely Lake Agnes the perfect spot for lunch. This is an easy to moderate hike above Lake Louise that is suitable for all visitors to Banff.

This is an easy hike that can be done in under two hours and is an iconic thing to do in Banff. However, be warned it is a busy one! To escape the crowds (and get better views) keep climbing to the Big or Little Beehive.

  • Length: 7.6 km
  • Duration: 2 – 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 433 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

The Plain of Six Glaciers

Plain of Six Glaciers Lake Louise Hike
Epic Trails

This is an incredible hike that starts out strong with a walk along Lake Louise and finishes in an open plain of glaciers. To sweeten the deal the historic Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse is there to reward hikers with a cup of tea or a fresh-baked goodie. It’s a stunner of a hike with a whole bunch of reward vs effort.

At one point this massive valley was the convergence of six glaciers that have all since retreated due to warming temperatures. All that is left now is the monstrous debris field that will leave hikers in all of their earth shaping capability. It’s also possible to combine this hike with the Lake Agnes / Big Beehive hike for an incredible day in the mountains.

  • Length: 13.8 km
  • Duration: 3 – 5 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 587 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: June – October

The Little Beehive

The-Little-Beehive-Lake-Louise-Banff-Hike

From Lake Agnes, you have two popular additions to continue your hike and gain some of the best views of Lake Louise from above. The Little Beehive despite its name is not much smaller than the Big Beehive so I wouldn’t base the two hikes on difficulty. That being said, the Little Beehive is slightly easier.

The real difference lies in how busy and the view from these two hikes. The Little Beehive sees fewer hikers and offers views over Lake Agnes and Lake Louise along with Mount Whyte and Mount Niblock. It’s a really nice hike, and I’d recommend it for anyone with the energy to escape the crowds at the Lake Agnes Teahouse.

  • Length: 9.0 km
  • Duration: 2 – 4 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 535 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: June – October

The Big Beehive

Natasha Top of Big Beehive Lake Louise Hike

The Big Beehive is a classic addition to the Lake Agnes Teahouse trek and well worth the effort, much like The Little Beehive. The trail to the Big Beehive extends past Lake Agnes and then climbs a ridge through a series of switchbacks to reach the top of the Big Beehive.

From there you have amazing views over Lake Louise as it’s closer to the Lake than the Little Beehive. It’s also the most popular photo spot of Lake Louise for social media, similar to the rocks as Peyto Lake.

  • Length: 10.3 km
  • Duration: 2 – 4 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 647 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: June – October

Mount Saint Piran

Mt St Piran

If you want to continue on even further past Lake Agnes and the Little Beehive head for the summit of Mount Saint Piran. The trail follows along the Little Beehive trail until it veers off 400m from the summit of the Little Beehive. You follow a signed path through the thinning forest until you reach the alpine out of the tree line.

From there it’s a beaten path or cairns through rock fields and scree. It’s not a technical challenge, but it does require some solid physical stamina. Once you reach it’s summit though you’re rewarded with some stellar views over the area as you can see the Waputik Icefield to the North. It’s a sharp departure from the busy throngs of crowds down at Lake Louise as only a few complete the hike. You also get to claim you summited another peak in the Canadian Rockies.

  • Length: 12.2 km
  • Duration: 3 – 6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 918 meters
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Best Time To Go: June – October

Mount Fairview & Saddleback Pass

This is a really great day out in the mountains for active hikers and a real gem in the Lake Louise area. You’re guaranteed stunning views on a quiet trail. The trail leaves from Lake Louise and heads up to Paradise Valley, onto Saddleback Pass, before the summit of Fairview Mountain. You’ll be surrounded by staggering peaks, larch trees, gain a high mountain pass, and summit a mountain that rewards you with stunning views of Lake Louise down below. Altogether, it’s probably one of the best Lake Louise hikes.

I wouldn’t let Fairview or St Piran detract anyone from attempting the hikes. They’re really not that difficult for anyone with decent fitness and adequately prepared with some snacks/lunch, water, and proper clothing. It gets cold on the mount summits all year round. When we summited in August it was freezing at elevation.

This hike is also a tremendous one in the larch season as the valley is full of larch trees. A great alternative, although still busy, to the famous Sentinel Pass hike. Plus the mountain is photographed by almost every visitor to Lake Louise which makes it a nice one to cross off the list, and say “I climbed that.”

  • Length: 9.2 km
  • Duration: 3 – 6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 1012 meters.
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Best Time To Go: June – October (Late September for Larch Season)

Scrambles Around Lake Louise

Mount-Niblock-Whyte-Banff-Hikes
Ridge line connecting Niblock and Whyte

This is for experienced hikers and people who have spent their fair share of time in the outdoors. These scrambles occur in very serious mountains with real hazards that can result in death. Every year tourists are evacuated by Search and Rescue on one if not all of these hikes/routes.

If you plan to tackle any of these please plan accordingly and be prepared for the elements — also wear a helmet. The most approachable is The Devil’s Thumb and it’s popular with tourists looking for a thrill. However, the other mountains see maybe one or two summits a day by experienced climbers in the

  • The Devil’s Thumb
  • Mount Niblock
  • Mount Whyte
What to Wear Hiking in the Rockies

Lake Louise Lodge Accommodation

There is only one place to stay on Lake Louise, and that is the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Staying at the lake allows you to take advantage of the lake at all times of the day and they have a private parking lot so you’re guaranteed a spot to park. If you don’t care about actually staying on the lake, but want to be nearby, see the best Lake Louise hotels here.

Book a Stay at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

How Far is Banff from Lake Louise?

It will take you about 45 minutes to drive from Banff to Lake Louise Village on the Trans- Canada. Expect it to take over an hour if you drive the scenic Bow Valley Parkway instead. It takes about 5-10 more minutes to get from the Lake Louise Village to Lake Louise herself.


What Are the Holidays Like at Lake Louise?

The Lake is always busy in the summer, but you should take note of the following holidays as it’s even busier.

  • Victoria Day Long Weekend – 1st Monday of May.
  • Canada Day – July 1st
  • Heritage Day Weekend – 1st Monday of August.
  • Labour Day Weekend – 1st Monday of September.

Other Banff National Park Hikes

Of course, there are so many more hikes in Banff and tons of exploring. Looking for the best Banff hikes? We rank our favorite hikes around the park and share all of the details in this guide to experience the best in the park. You’ll find on these hikes in Banff high alpine passes lined with wildflowers, jagged peaks topped by glaciers, and a healthy dose of turquoise blue lakes.

Where to Stay in Banff

For a small mountain town, Banff has a plethora of accommodation options. Some of our favorites are:

  • Banff Springs Hotel: Most luxurious place to stay in Banff. Definitely a splurge, but worthwhile if you are celebrating a special occasion.
  • Baker Creek Resort: Cabins in the wilderness of Banff. If you are looking for somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of downtown this is for you.
  • The Rimrock: Is a super great pet friendly option in Banff. It’s close to Sulphur Mountain and the Banff Hot Springs.
  • Canmore: You can always stay in the nearby town of Canmore! One of our favorite hotels is the Lady Macdonald Country Inn.

↓ Join the community ↓

The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. This is also a place where you can meet one another when you need adventure buddies. 

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Hotels in the Rockies: From luxury hotels to wilderness cabins, there are plenty of places to stay in the Rockies. See all our favorites here.
About Cameron

Cameron Seagle is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world.

You can learn more on the about us page.

4 thoughts on “20 Things to Know Before Visiting Lake Louise”

  1. Hi!
    This is a beautiful site with great information. My family is doing a reunion (Covid willing we can get into Canada from the US) We will be in Banff for 3 days the end of June. We range from 80yrs-4yrs.
    We have Lake Louise on our must see list. As some of our group will not be able to do any hiking are there areas to sit and enjoy while others hike?
    Any suggestions you have we’d appreciate. If you have a fee for helping plan, can you let me know, may need to do that 🙂
    Thank you
    The GEES famly
    (letters from our last names lol)
    Becky Epperson

    Reply
    • Hey Becky,

      You’re going to have a tremendous time. Lake Louise is a spectacular setting. Yes, there are plenty of benches and rocks to relax along. You can always head into the Chateau Lake Louise for an afternoon tea or rent a canoe. If your family is up for it a hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is a classic and takes around 2-3 hours round trip.

      Cheers,
      Cameron

      Reply
  2. Thanks! Great information!!

    We are planning to go between december/january. What activities can we do besides from skiing? That for sure we will 🙂

    Is it a good time to go?

    We are planning to stay at the Fairmont. Do you think is worth it even though the lake might be frozen?

    We are planning to go 3 nights. Would you put 1 night in Banff?

    Thank you very much!

    Kind regards from Cancun, Mexico!

    Reply

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