There are many things to do in Lake Louise for all visitors to the beautiful Banff National Park. 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, making a visit to the famed lake one of the best things to do in Banff.
It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world than Lake Louise. After taking in the spectacular scenery, 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, including updated parking information for 2021.
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 Banff, 60 minutes from the town of Golden, 20 minutes from the town of Field, and 50 minutes from Canmore.
The only way to access Lake Louise is from the Trans-Canada highway. Once you get off on the exit, you’ll pass through the very small town of Lake Louise and see the Lake Louise village on your right-hand side. Continue up Lake Louise Drive until you can’t go further.
Lake Louise Ski Resort is on the opposite side of the Trans-Canada.
How to Get to Lake Louise?
There’s no airport in either Lake Louise or Banff. The closest airport is the Calgary International Airport, 200 km away. From Calgary, it will take about two hours to get to Lake Louise. The best way to get to Lake Louise from Calgary is to rent a car for your trip to Banff. See below for the details on how to get to Lake Louise from wherever you may be:
- Downtown Banff to Lake Louise: It is 60 km from Downtown Banff to Lake Louise and should take you just over 40 minutes to get there in your own car on Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1. Roam Transit also runs buses daily between Banff and Lake Louise. See their schedule here.
- Canmore to Lake Louise: Canmore is slightly further than Banff from Lake Louise. It takes just under an hour and 80 km on the Trans-Canada to reach Lake Louise from Canmore.
- Jasper to Lake Louise: It’s 235 km to get from the Town of Jasper to Lake Louise. Expect this drive to take you three hours along the Icefields Parkway without stops. In actuality, it will take at least five as there are so many amazing pull offs along the way.
- Edmonton to Lake Louise: It is 468.7 km via AB-2 S and Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W to get to Lake Louise from Edmonton. Expect this drive to take you five hours without stops.
- Golden to Lake Louise: It is 82.6 km to get from the Town of Golden in British Columbia to Lake Louise. Expect this drive to take you one hour without stops.
Parking and Getting Around Lake Louise
You have a few options for parking at Lake Louise, but for most visitors, there are really only a few viable options. If you’re a guest of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, you have that as an option. However, be forewarned they charge 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 Lake Louise hotels in the village offer a shuttle, or you can take advantage of the public shuttle bus for those staying at the Lake Louise Campground.
For everyone else staying elsewhere, like in Banff or Canmore, you can arrive early in the morning and snag one of the valuable public parking spots at the lake. This is now a paid parking lot and typically fills up before 7:00, if not earlier in the summer. Remember that holidays and the workweek play a large role; peak August on the weekend means you’ll need to fight for a spot, likely before 6am.
If you aren’t lucky enough to score a spot in the parking lot, you’ll need to park at the Lake Louise Park and Ride parking lot. While the parking lot is free, you are required to have a paid reservation on the shuttle bus to Lake Louise.
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 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 before 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
Lake Louise sees far fewer visitors in the winter, and parking at the Lake Louise Lakeshore is rarely a problem.
The History of 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.
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; as mountaineering is a popular hobby for locals. There are two teahouses serve hikers around Lake Louise. And also 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, becoming a year-round destination.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Lake Louise?
Lake Louise is a year-round destination that will take your breath away any time of year. It’s such a spectacular part of the world that it’s never a bad idea to visit.
You can enjoy sleigh rides, ice skating, ice climbing, skiing, and snowshoeing in the winter months. While during the summer you’re spoilt for activities and the views are spectacular. Since the lake is fed by Glacier melt, its water level and color change based on temperatures.
- To ensure warmer weather (it’s never very hot in the Rockies) and a good chance to witness the most vivid turquoise water you should strive to visit Lake Louise from late June to August. A Lake Louise summer is unlike anything you’ll ever witness.
- 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, this typically happens in November.
- From December to April, Lake Louise turns into a winter wonderland. It’s especially magical around Christmas time when there is ice skating, an ice castle, and a hot cocoa ice bar with maple syrup popsicles!
- My favorite time to visit Lake Louise is in August when the weather is the warmest and color of the lake is unreal. It’s the best time for hiking as most of the snow has melted off the surrounding peaks.
- My least favorite times to visit Lake Louise is in May when the lake is not yet thawed and in November when it’s cold, but the area has yet to go full on snowglobe.
Things to do in Lake Louise
Experience the Magic of 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.
It is a stunning sight, and the magic of the natural beauty is not lost. Despite visiting Lake Louise many times, it still takes our breath away, maybe this because it’s only unfrozen for four-five months out of the year.
Canoe at Lake Louise
For many, canoeing on Lake Louise is a highlight of their trip to Banff National Park. 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 is truly that radiant turquoise blue. While we don’t all bring a canoe with us to Banff, you can pick up canoe rentals at the Lake Louise boathouse.
If you do own a canoe, you’ll have to arrive very early in the morning to secure parking close enough to carry the canoe to the lakeshore. This is one of the things you can do at Lake Louise that you’ll likely never forget.
Hike From Lake Louise
Lake Louise is an extraordinary piece of wilderness and presents an abundance of options for hikes. It’s tough to find a bad hike here, whether that’s to a mountain summit, picturesque alpine lake, glacier field, or historic teahouse. At the center of all these hikes is Lake Louise, as it shines a dazzling blue and serves as a centerpiece to the Banff National Park.
Many hikes start from Lake Louise and are certain to have stunning views of the turquoise lake, surrounding mountains, and awe-inspiring glaciers. Any hiker who gets the opportunity to hike around Banff National Park and Lake Louise should consider themself very fortunate.
What’s also great about these trails is their ability to be combined; for example, we hiked to Lake Agnes, to Big Beehive, then scrambled up Mount Niblock in one day. On another Lake Louise summer day, we hiked to Mirror Lake, then to the Little Beehive, and ended on Mount St Piran.
Or another great option would be to hike the Big Beehive to the Plain of Six Glaciers for an awesome day in the mountains. The best hikes at Lake Louise to complete in the summer are:
- Lake Agnes Tea House
- Plain of Six Glaciers
- Beehive Circuit
- Devil’s Thumb
- Mount St Piran
- Mount Niblock (Scramble)
- Mount Whyte (Hard Scramble)
Horseback Ride on Scenic Trails
Take a scenic horseback ride from Lake Louise and explore some of the fantastic trails from horseback. You have a nice range of rides to choose from that range from a two-hour ride all the way to a 7-hour full day ride.
Horseback riding has been a new hobby we’ve picked up in the last year after spending some time on a horseback safari and Dude Ranch. It’s a great experience, and we encourage anyone curious about riding to give it a try.
For more experienced riders, try heading to Kananaskis Country or Golden, where you can travel with operators who have advanced level rides where you can reach a lope or canter.
Scramble to a Mountain Summit
If you’re looking for what’s our favorite thing to do at Lake Louise, climbing up to a mountain summit is our jam. There are several great mountains you can summit around Lake Louise without technical climbing. This moves into the realm of what is called alpine scrambling, which is somewhere in between rock climbing and hiking.
The use of hands is typically required and possibly exposure to serious injury or death. Not all of these are challenging and fall more along with the likes of hiking. Of course, there is the physical feat, but if you want to say you’ve summited a mountain in the Canadian Rockies, try for Mt. Saint Piran or Fairview Mountain, these are both easy scrambles.
A good introduction to scrambling for experienced hikers would also be Devil’s Thumb. I recommend a helmet if you try, as it is common for other hikers to knock loose rock down the steep trail.
Of course, not everyone is a beginner! For more experienced scramblers, try to summit Mount Niblock (a tough scramble with some exposure) or Mt Whyte (one of the hardest scrambles in the Rockies) that borders on rock climbing without a rope. Neither of these are places to test your skills and present the real risk of death.
Lake Louise also presents some challenging mountaineering goals, such as Mt. Lefroy or Mt. Victoria, classics in the Canadian Rockies. To learn more about mountaineering or hire a guide, there are great companies based in Canmore and Banff. We took a mountaineering course with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.
Enjoy Alpine Views From the Lake Louise Gondola
One of the best things to do in Lake Louise is head up the gondola in the summer or winter. The Lake Louise Gondola operates almost all year round. When summer rolls around and all the snow melts the Lake Louise Ski Resort transitions to summer operations. During this time, Lake Louise takes visitors up their chairs and cable cars for some wonderful mountain views without all the leg work.
From there, you can explore the mountain on your own, grab a bite to eat at the Whitehorn Restaurant with sublime views, or hop on one of their guided hikes to learn more about the flora and fauna of Banff National Park. This is a great way for families to safely get the hiking experience and views around Lake Louise.
There is also a good chance you spot a bear; they frequently spot bears along the grassy ski slopes. Last year visitors got a real treat as a mama grizzly bear bedded down underneath the gondola and nursed her young cubs.
Indulge in Afternoon Tea
While afternoon tea is not something most of us regularly indulge it’s hard not to at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. If you’re looking for something romantic in Lake Louise, this is a great option. Take your choice between 35 teas, prosecco, or champagne to go alongside your tower of sweets, scones, and finger sandwiches.
You’ll need to make a reservation beforehand at the Louise Lounge, and as would be expected, it’s a pretty luxurious experience. If you’re lucky enough, try to score a table by the window for an extraordinary view. Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise costs $60 per person, $70 for prosecco, and $80 for champagne. It’s the priciest afternoon tea in the area, so the value is pretty poor, as should be expected at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Hike To Skoki Lodge
The historic Skoki Lodge is a Lake Louise cabin lodge located in the backcountry of Banff National Park and one of the best Banff cabins. The lodge can only be reached by hiking or skiing 11km from the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
It’s one of the first backcountry ski lodges in North America, dating back to 1930. In the winter, activities include ski touring, cross country skiing, and telemark skiing.
During the the Lake Louise summer months, you can hike, climb, fish, or go horseback riding. It’s well known as one of the best backcountry lodges in the world, and nights are in high demand. Even if you can’t score a night in the lodge, you can still make the gorgeous hike out to the lodge and back.
Visit the Lake Agnes Tea House
The Lake Agnes Teahouse hike is a popular thing to do in Lake Louise in the summer. 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.
The Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike 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 and onward to Devil’s Thumb. In the summer, the earlier you get up and at it, the better. By mid-afternoon, Lake Louise and the Lake Agnes Teahouse Trek are a bit chaotic.
Drive The Bow Valley Parkway
One of the best things to do in Lake Louise in the summer and winter is take one of the most scenic drives in the world. From Lake Louise to the town of Banff, visitors can drive or ride a bike down the Bow Valley Parkway. While it’s far faster to take the four-lane highway to town, the Bow Valley Parkway takes a much more relaxed pace and is even more stunning.
The road winds through the valley with many scenic viewpoints, picnic areas, and attractions such as Johnston Canyon and Castle Mountain. It’s a gorgeous drive that is popular with cyclists and provides a good chance to spot wildlife.
Take in the Views at Moraine Lake
There is no image more iconic of the Canadian Rockies or Canada for that matter than Moraine Lake. The alpine lake is a wild turquoise blue fed by glacier melt and set with a backdrop of the Ten Peaks. This pristine piece of wilderness draws in millions of visitors a year and once graced Canada’s twenty-dollar bill.
It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world. If you are already at Lake Louise, you may as well continue up Moraine Lake Road and see Moraine Lake. From Moraine Lake, you can enjoy more hiking, canoeing, or doing nothing at all. It’s one of the top things to do in Lake Louise as coming in from the village is the only way you can access the 11 km Moraine Lake Road.
Beware, in the peak summer, Moraine Lake is a congested area, and parking is hard to come by; however, it is the best time to visit Moraine Lake. Read our full guide to visiting Moraine Lake from Lake Louise below.
Kayak or SUP on Lake Louise
You can only rent kayaks or SUP in the towns of Banff or Canmore, so if you’d like to Kayak or SUP at Lake Louise, you’ll need to bring your own or pick one up from one of those rental locations. A stand-up paddleboard is the easier choice as you can get inflatable rentals that will fit in a rental car.
However, you’ll still need to secure parking at Lake Louise to do so, which is not easy in the summer months. If you are lucky enough to kayak or SUP on Lake Louise, you’re in for a wonderful experience.
Check out Nearby Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is a stunning lake in Yoho and makes for a great family-friendly hike. It’s the largest lake in Yoho National Park, and when you see the color of the water, it’s easy to see where the lake received its name.
The sparkling emerald color lake is a stunning sight and one of the premier attractions in Yoho National Park.
A walk around the lake is fantastic as you view the lake from different angles with a background of various mountains. The trail follows along the lakeshore and moves in and out of the forest. It’s less than an hour away from Lake Louise, so I would definitely continue to check it out if you have the time.
Things to do in Lake Louise in the Winter
Ice Skate or Play Hockey on Lake Louise
One of the best things to do in Lake Louise in the winter is enjoy the frozen lake. There is no place to ice skate in Banff more iconic or scenic than the famous Lake Louise. Not much of a surprise, but it’s regularly been considered one of the world’s best ice skating rinks.
It’s also tremendous as the frozen lake is maintained by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The lake is regularly cleared of snow and resurfaced, so visitors can enjoy ice skating during the winter despite conditions on other natural lakes.
Lake Louise, every few winters, can freeze very early before a significant snowfall, and the result is a blue glass lake. It’s an absolutely stunning natural occurrence and can happen in November, but don’t count on seeing the lake this way as November is generally the worst month to visit Banff.
The lake freezing like this has also only happened five times in the last 30 years. In 2020 Lake Louise literally froze over enough for five hours of enjoyment, before a big snowstorm hit and covered it. It’s a short window, so if you happen to be in Banff at this time and hear of it happening, you better get your butt there.
I say this only to manage expectations as the surface will likely be a frosted white, but the views are stunning the none the less!
Snowshoe Around Lake Louise
Lake Louise is a great place for a snowshoe tour. Every year as the lake freezes over, it is blanketed in a heavy layer of snow. Take advantage of the winter trails along the lakeside, or hire a local guide.
The most popular snowshoe is along the Northern side of Lake Louise, but you can also head up to Mirror Lake or over to Paradise Creek. You can grab rentals at Wilson Sports in the village, or you can book a tour with Great Divide Nature Interpretation.
Careful venturing too far. The areas around Lake Louise are extreme avalanche terrain, and slides happen often, and deaths have occured. Proper avalanche training (even for snowshoeing) is recommended in the Canadian Rockies.
Ski at Lake Louise Ski Resort
There is arguably no ski resort in the world with a better view than the Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Canadians flock from all over to come and experience the views and the incredible terrain. It’s a great ski resort for beginners and expert skiers, and boarders. Some of the chutes off the Whitehorn may even make your butt clench up they are so steep.
Mush On a Dog Sled Team
Discover Banff Tours runs dog sledding adventures at Lake Louise and in Canmore. We’ve done this four separate times, and it’s always an amazing experience. I particularly love how quiet the ride is, with only the sound of the dog teams steps against the snow.
Enjoy the Ice Bar
During December and January, the Fairmont sets up an outdoor bar made completely of ice. It’s a great place to enjoy a hot toddy and enjoy the fire with endless views.
Take an Authentic Horse Sleigh Ride
In the wintertime, you might not be able to take to the trails on horseback, but you can ride on a horse-drawn sleigh. There aren’t many places you can still ride on a real sleigh through a winter wonderland. The ride is about an hour long and moves along the lakeside trail to the end of the Lake.
The sleigh rides start around mid-December, just in time for Christmas in Banff, and run until mid-April, but it’s all weather-dependent. Lake Louise largely sits in the shade during the winter months, and it’s typically well below freezing, so come prepared and dress warm. Though, you will be provided a blanket on your tour.
Tackle the Trail on Cross Country Skis
There are several managed cross-country trails for you to take in the views of the Lake Louise area from a pair of skis. Trails are rated by difficulty, so even if you’re a beginner, you can find a trail appropriate for your skillset. Two of the most popular trails are the Moraine Lake road trail and the Great Divide Trail. See Parks Canada trails here.
Cheer on The World’s Fastest Skiers at the Ski World Cup
There’s no better way to kick off winter in the Canadian Rockies than attending the Audi FIS Ski World Cup at Lake Louise. Every year a small army of visitors, volunteers, media, and world-famous athletes descend on the tiny resort town with big mountain terrain.
It’s the start of the World Cup speed circuit where the fastest skiers in the world compete to be crowned champ as they travel around the world. You’ll also enjoy some of the best skiing in North America in November.
Experience the Ice Magic Festival
For 12 days around January 15 – 26 (check dates first, though), there is an extraordinary event at Lake Louise. The Ice Magic event is what winter in Canada is all about. This is where ice comes alive and serves as a form of art and architectural design. During this time, you can watch artists from around the world carve different frozen figures.
It’s free to visit the ice carving events between Monday – Friday and on the weekends before 10 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m. During peak times on the weekend, an admission fee is charged.
If you can’t make the dates of the actual Ice Magic events, don’t worry, the carvings will be on display throughout February.
Other Things to Know About Lake Louise
Can You Swim at 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!
Is Lake Louise Busy?
Lake Louise is incredibly busy between June and September. Visitors flock from all parts of Canada and the world to see the lake in all her blue glory during the summer. Things start to mellow out by October, and visiting Lake Louise is a much quieter (albeit colder) experience.
Lake Louise gets busy again during Christmas and on nice winter days, but it’s nowhere near as busy in the summer.
Parking at Lake Louise during the summer months becomes problematic as there is limited parking and oodles of people trying to see Lake Louise. Your best chance at getting parking during the summer is to arrive before 8am or after 6pm. Between those times, consider yourself lucky if you get a spot.
However busy Lake Louise gets in the summer months, the more hiking you do, the fewer people you will see. Crowds really come to a halt past Lake Agnes Teahouse and are pretty much non-existent if you do a big scramble to Mount Niblock. During the winter at Lake Louise, there are rarely any issues with parking.
When Does Lake Louise Melt?
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 completely unfrozen by the second week of June.
When Does Lake Louise Freeze?
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.
Lake Louise Points of Interest
Where to Stay at Lake Louise?
There aren’t a ton of places to stay in Lake Louise, and there is only one place to stay actually on the lake. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the only lakeside property, and it just so happens to be one of the most sought-after places to stay in Banff and conventionally the most expensive. You pay for location here! Read our full review of the Chateau here.
There are a few other Lake Louise hotels in the area, but most visitors might choose to stay in Banff as there are more options.
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Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- 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.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our full Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.