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Exploring Lake Louise (Banff Canada’s Most Popular Area)

Man taking photo in front of a turquoise lake in the mountainsPin
You’ll have an opportunity to experience Lake Louise up close before starting your Big Beehive hike

The vibrant turquoise waters of Lake Louise, nestled in the heart of Banff National Park in Canada, is an iconic treasure that attracts visitors from around the globe. Popularized by its otherworldly color, Lake Louise is a highlight for most visitors of Banff Canada.

The pristine waters are surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, the Victoria Glacier and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. The shorefront is typically very busy as thousands of visitors flock here for photo ops each day.

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds that congregate here, once you’re done snapping photos of the lake then either hop in a canoe or make your way up into the miles of hiking trails that wind through the surrounding mountains.

While you don’t need to be a guest of the Fairmont Chateau to access the lake, you’ll need to your path here well in advance to ensure you secure a Parks Canada Shuttle reservation or one of the coveted parking spaces.

Parks Canada Shuttle seats sell out every day during the summer, and if you arrive here past 7am hoping to secure a parking space, you might be turned away as the lots fill up extremely early each morning.

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Although the logistics of visiting Lake Louise can feel challenging, I’m here to pass along everything I learned from our trip to Banff Canada to ensure your trip doesn’t have any unexpected issues!

Woman posing for a photograph at Lake Louise in Banff National ParkPin
A walking path hugs much of Lake Louise’s shoreline

In this blog post, I’ll be covering everything you need to know when visiting Lake Louise Banff Canada, providing you with valuable tips to make the most of your visit.

Along with that helpful information, I’ll also share some of my favorite photos from our visit and highlight my favorite hike that originates here.

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Lake Louise is situated in the heart of Banff National Park. The lake resides in the Canadian Rockies and is one of Alberta Canada's most popular tourist destinations.

Encompassing an area of approximately 0.8 square kilometers or 0.31 square miles, Lake Louise is larger than the also popular Moraine Lake, which resides to the south.

here are three places I'll recommend staying for your trip to Banff to setup your visit to Lake Louise. The nearby towns of Canmore and Banff are my top choices for most visitors due to their proximity to Lake Louise, the wide array of accommodations and amenities they offer and their relative affordability.

Large hotel with a wooden sign in the foregroundPin

If you can swing it, it would be worth spending a night at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

 

If money is no object, the other option I'd suggest would be to stay directly at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This option will provide you with luxury accommodations and the ability to walk out onto the Lake Louise Lakeshore each day with minimal effort.

The catch? The Fairmont Chateau could easily run you thousands of dollars which puts it out of budget for many visitors. While I wasn't able to stay here during our trip, this is definitely a bucket list stay I'm hoping to make one day in the future.

Alternatively, the most budget friendly town is Canmore, located about 51 miles (or 82 kilometers) from Lake Louise, is a roughly one-hour drive away. During my trip, we spent four nights in Canmore at a VRBO property.

Canmore has tons of restaurants and budget friendly hotel options and a relatively relaxed atmosphere. I'd suggest spending at least part of your trip here. It also provides easy access to the Three Sisters Viewpoint hike.

A slightly closer option is the town of Banff, which sits about 36 miles (or 58 kilometers) from Lake Louise, equating to approximately a 45-minute drive. The town of Banff is slightly more expensive than Canmore, but boasts a unique charm and walkability that make it worth spending at least a couple nights here.

We spent two nights in the budget friendly Brewster's Mountain Lodge but there plenty of other hotel options in Banff to choose from if you're looking to pay up for nicer accommodations.

Restaurant with outdoor seating and four umbrellas out frontPin

Be sure to check out my favorite restaurant in Banff, Three Bears Brewery

 

If you do decide to stay in Banff, be sure to check out my favorite restaurant there called the Three Bears Brewery. They have amazing beer, food and it's located across the street from Brewster's!

The more you plan to move around and see during your visit to Banff National Park, the more I'd recommend renting a car.

While you can book shuttles from Calgary to Banff or the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, once you get there you'll lack much creative freedom when it comes to exploring the park.

Areas like the Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake are situated along the Icefields Parkway and are best reached by car.

There are also popular stops like the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Hike which are isolated from other trails in the park but warrant your time and attention.

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Views leading up to Takakkaw Falls during our early September visit to the park

 

Having your own car will also make it easy to pop over to nearby Yoho National Park which is home to places like Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake. Both of which should be on your itinerary for this trip.

However, it is essential to note that rental cars can sell out during the peak summer season due to high demand from tourists. Even if they don't sell out, prices can be astronomical if you wait until the last minute to reserve one.

Use a tool like Rentalcars.com to compare prices across agencies to help you get the best price. And whatever you do, reserve far in advance!

Although even with a car, you still might need to lean on the Parks Canada Shuttle system to hit certain places like Moraine Lake, which aren't open to public vehicles.

Lake Louise Banff Canada's vibrant turquoise water color sets it apart from other alpine lakes and garners attention from visitors worldwide. The stunning hue of the glacial lake is attributed to the fine sediment particles from glacial erosion that are suspended in the water.

Canoe boathouse at Lake Louise in Banff National ParkPin

Arrive early to beat the long lines at the canoe rental

 

As sunlight reflects off these particles, it creates the mesmerizingly vivid color that has come to define Lake Louise.

The lake is also a popular spot for canoeing, and you don't need to be a guest at the nearby hotel to take advantage of this. Simply approach the canoe rental boathouse and wait in line until there's an available canoe. You can check out current canoe rental pricing here.

Man taking a selfie on a canoe in the middle of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park CanadaPin

Canoeing on Moraine Lake was a highlight of our trip to Banff National Park

 

Just be mindful that there can be long waits for canoe rentals during peak summer afternoons. You might consider canoeing on Moraine Lake instead, while also popular, lines there are typically shorter and you'll have a similar experience.

We knew we'd only end up canoeing on one lake or the other and opted for Moraine Lake. We visited on a beautiful sunny morning and didn't have to wait more than a few minutes for our canoe.

A defining feature of the Lake Louise area is the Victoria Glacier, easily visible from the lake's shore. The glacier, named after Queen Victoria, spills over from the Continental Divide and feeds into Lake Louise.

Over the years, the glacier has been receding due to climate change, but its presence continues to be a major drawing card for tourists.

Views of a turquoise lake from high atop a mountainPin

Views of Lake Louise from atop the Big Beehive

 

Lake Louise itself is situated at an altitude of approximately 1,731 meters, or about 5,680 feet above sea level. Being a 'mile high' destination means the air here will be thin for visitors coming from sea level. This adds an additional layer of difficulty to any hiking you plan to do in the area.

Meanwhile, the lake itself reaches depths of up to 230 feet or 70 meters.

If you're looking to take in the best views of Lake Louise, those can be had from atop the Big Beehive geological formation.

To reach this other worldly viewpoint, you'll want to try the Lake Agnes Tea House to the Big Beehive hike.

Cloudy lake reflection with hiker standing in foregroundPin

Cloudy conditions helped create this incredible reflection shot of Lake Agnes

It's a bucket list quality hike of only moderate difficulty and you'll have the opportunity to stop for tea at Lake Agnes. Be sure to check out my post covering what to expect at the link above!

If you're in the mood for a longer hike, consider visiting the Plain of Six Glaciers while you're on the circuit as well.

Another historical fact about Lake Louise, it was named in honor of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

Sunny afternoon above a vibrant turquoise lake in the mountainsPin

There are tons of great places to photograph Lake Louise from the lakeshore

 

You'll find that many beautiful places in Banff National Park have been named to honor British Royals.

While I don't have any alpine lakes named after me, I would be quite flattered if anyone ever decided to!

I'd imagine that this was a quite effective way to gain the good graces of royalty at the time.

Summer, which typically spans from June to August, is the peak tourist season for Lake Louise. During these months, the weather is generally mild and warm, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, and wildlife spotting.

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Utilize the panorama photo setting on your smart phone to take a super wide photo like this of Lake Louise

 

During this time of year the trails are clear of snow and visitors can easily navigate the highways that connect various regions of Banff National Park.

September marks the end of the summer rush at Lake Louise and earns my pick as the top month to visit Banff National Park in general.

The intense crowds of the summer months begin to fade, which means fewer people on the trails and an overall more relaxed experience.

Yet, the weather during this month remains generally warm and pleasant, with temperatures just starting to cool off their August highs.

Late September, heading into October, is also Larch Season in Banff. While we were too early to see these trees turn hues of gold and orange, if you time your visit just right and know where to look, this can be a magical thing to experience.

Views from atop a mountain staring down a pair of hiking boots and small lakePin

Looking back into the Valley of the Ten Peaks is your reward for completing the ascent to Sentinel Pass

 

Larch Valley connects to Sentinel Pass and is an epic hike in its own right that originates from the shores of Moraine Lake.

To kick it up a notch, try visiting in late September or early October when the larch trees begin to show out in their fall colors.

Winter can also be a wonderful time to visit Banff if you're more interested in skiing and winter photography, but this guide is more geared towards summer visitors hoping to enjoy some of the world class hiking the region has to offer.

For most visitors, you can see the highlights of this area in one full day. I'd suggest arriving early and taking some early morning photos near the lake.

After taking photos, consider grabbing a coffee and a snack inside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. There's a small bookstore and souvenir shop inside that can make for a nice stop as well.

Hiker taking photo atop the Big Beehive in BanffPin

There will be a lot of other hikers looking to take photos at the best viewpoints, be sure to share!

 

Once you're done checking out the hotel, I'd suggest attempting the Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive Hike which was my favorite in Banff due to the number of great stops along the way.

Be sure to stop for some signature tea at the tea house on your way up!

If you've got time consider looping around and visiting the Plain of Six Glaciers or Little Beehive as well. Adding these hikes to your circuit will make it one of the most epic hiking days you can have in Banff National Park.

Upon returning to the Lake Louise Lakeshore, head over to the canoe rental to secure a canoe and spend some time unwinding on the water.

If you're traveling by personal vehicle you'll want to arrive to the Lake Louise Banff Canada parking lot before 7am to have a shot at securing a parking space.

Once the parking lot fills up it can take hours for the first wave of visitors and hikers to leave.

Lake Louise Lakeshore, Banff National ParkPin

Once you complete your descent you can rest and recover by soaking up views of Lake Louise

 

For anyone using the Parks Canada Shuttle you'll be at the mercy of your timed reservation slot.

I'd still suggest arriving as early as possible however, since the crowds will be at their lowest and if you're doing some hiking you'll enjoy a cooler start to your day and avoid the harshest sun exposure.

In general cellular service throughout Banff National Park is extremely limited outside of the towns. With that said, you'll probably have a small amount of signal near the Fairmont Chateau hotel.

Woman sitting along the shores of a turquoise lake and mountain backdropPin

Low hanging clouds made for a moody early morning visit to Lake Louise

 

Keep in mind that this is the exception to the rule of traveling through Banff. In general you should plan to be without cell service, and even GPS navigation at times, during your travels throughout the area.

Plan accordingly and download offline trail maps using tools like AllTrails to ensure you're prepared.

Also know that Banff National Park is extremely pet friendly and Lake Louise is no exception.

Dogs are welcome around the lake as long as they area leashed, kept under their owner's control and cleaned up after.

Near the main vehicle parking lot, there are restrooms designated for all visitors.

While the Fairmont Chateau maintains that the hotel restrooms are for guests only, you can access the restrooms near their cafe in a pinch.

If you're out hiking you'll also find restrooms near the Lake Agnes Tea House. However, these are a bit more primitive and much less well maintained than what you'll find closer to Lake Louise itself.

I'd suggest avoiding those near the tea house unless you're in a real pickle!

While swimming in Banff's Lake Louise is permitted, keep in mind that the water temperatures remain frigid year round. This is true even during the warmer summer months.

One of the key reasons for this cold temperature is the lake's source. Lake Louise is a glacial lake, meaning its water largely comes from melting glaciers.

As this water is moving directly from icy slopes into the lake, even during the summer, the water can be shockingly cold. The average water temperature during the warmest months barely exceeds 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

Group swimming in a turquoise lakePin

Emerald Lake is considered one of the best swimming spots in the Canadian Rockies!

 

If you're brave enough, I'd definitely suggest hopping into Lake Louise for a quick dip. Alternatively, another great place to try swimming in an alpine lake is nearby Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.

The water temperature here is still quite chilly, even on a hot summer afternoon. However, we found it a lot more manageable than Lake Louise which meant a longer and more enjoyable swim for our group!

Chances are if you're visiting Banff National Park, you'll be doing quite a bit of hiking.

To ensure you show up properly prepared for these adventures I'd suggest reading the post I wrote which provides a useful day hike checklist.

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Additional Travel Planning Resources

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Is visiting Lake Louise Banff Canada worth it?

I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful alpine lakes but Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada is one that I’d suggest everyone visit at least once in their lifetimes.

Part of why I love this area so much is that there are numerous ways to soak up the incredible turquoise colors of Lake Louise. Don’t sell yourself short and think that seeing it from the Lakeshore is enough!

Cloudy conditions atop the Big Beehive near Lake Louise, CanadaPin

Visitors can enjoy near aerial views from atop the Big Beehive. After seeing it from above, enjoy it from the water during a canoe rental. Cap things off by wading out into the icy waters and soaking up some of the rich earthy minerals that give it the unique color.

If you’re an avid hiker who enjoys traveling to destinations that offer beautiful outdoor scenery and photography opportunities then visiting Lake Louise Banff Canada is definitely worth it!

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