Leaving the town of Banff and driving towards Lake Louise, we encountered our first bit of bad weather. What started as light drops soon changed to heavy rain that made us glad to stay within the confines of our car for the 1 hour or so that it took us to reach the Lake Louise area.
If we thought Banff was small, the built up area of Lake Louise was tiny and we soon found that the central point of town, Samson Mall, was packed with visitors taking shelter from the rain. With not many choices for lunch, we grabbed a burger from a hostel near our hotel, whilst waiting for the rain to stop.
Upon seeing a patch of clear sky towards the east a couple of hours later, we rushed to our car and headed straight for Lake Louise, hoping to beat the crowds and grab a parking spot near the lake, which we did.
Despite the large number of walkers who unsurprisingly had the same idea as us, we had a very pleasant two hour slow walk around the lake. The recent rain fall meant soft and squishy walking trails but also brought out a fresh resin-y smell from the fir trees that surrounded the lake.
Our biggest disappointment was not having enough time to fully explore the trails around Lake Louise. Because of our late start due to the rains, it was nearing 6pm by the time we reached the far end of the lake. We would ideally have liked to continue trekking further towards the Plain of Six Glaciers, but were deterred by part of the route being flooded in addition to not wanting to be caught out in the woods after sunset (a return distance of c. 10KM).
As it was still too early for dinner, we opted to pass some time at the famous Fairmont Chateau, located near the entrance of Lake Louise with an absolutely fantastic view of the water, Victoria glacier and the mountaineous backdrop. The latte and apple crumble we had, sitting next to outdoor heaters on the terrace, was the perfect end to our chilled out day (in more ways than one!).
We woke up early the following morning to cool temperatures of around 8°C but clear skies. Our plan was to make it to Lake Moraine before 9am as this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Banff National Park and it can be difficult to get a parking spot later in the morning.
We managed to complete the quick lakeside walk in mostly just our own company, enabling us to really take our time in appreciating the beauty of our surroundings. It is rather interesting to note how different the colour of Lake Moraine is, compared to Lake Louise, with the latter being a much whiter colour, due to the greater amounts of “rock powder” present in the melting glaciers that is the source of Lake Louise.
There are many hiking trails of varying difficulties to choose from around Lake Moraine, but they all have one thing in common – the presence of bears in the surrounding areas means that it is a legal requirement to hike in groups of 4 or more people.
Thinking that we would have a higher chance of tagging on to another couple of hikers at one of the easier trails, we made our way towards the west side of the lake with the intention of hiking the fairly easy Consolation Lakes path. After climbing to the top of the Rock Pile to get the best shots of Lake Moraine (guys, this is not to be missed!), we waited patiently for about 15 minutes before pairing up with another Canadian couple.
I wasn’t expecting much but the walk to the Consolation Lakes turned out to be stunning. It only takes around 40 minutes one way (c. 4.3KM), with the views of the lakes at the end of the trail being really worth the walk.
Entrance to the Yoho National Park, Spiral Railway and Natural Bridge
Clearly not having had our fill of lakes for the day, we decided to head to the Emerald Lake, located towards the north west of Lake Louise. The road to get there takes you through the Kicking Horse pass, into British Columbia and the Yoho National Park.
We decided to stop by two points of interest along the way: (1) the Spiral Railway and (2) the Natural Bridge.
The Spiral Railway lookout point gives you a brief look into the history of the area, allowing you to see the remains of the Lower Spiral Tunnel on Mount Ogden, an ingenious railway line that reduced the angle of incline needed to be travelled up the mountain by spiralling through the mountain.
The Natural Bridge is a natural rock bridge that has formed over the Yoho River as a result of millions of years of erosive activity from the river. There’s not a whole lot to see, but it makes for a good stretching point on your way to Emerald Lake.
Not as beautiful as its more famous neighbours perhaps, but much more accessible. Taken on its own, Emerald Lake is still beautiful to explore, with much less people and an easy 5KM loop trail around the lake.
I would definitely recommend visiting this lake if you have the time (after Lake Louise and Lake Moraine), and perhaps braving the cold waters for a refreshing swim. If you have more time than we did, there are some uphill trails leading off from the lake, which looked like good fun and which I would’ve liked to have done (minimum 10KM return distance hikes).
Our final stop for our last afternoon in this area was the Takakkaw Falls, the third highest waterfall in Canada at 254 metres. The short walking path leads right next to the falls, so you can really feel the raw power of the water and the spray as it hits your face. These falls lead on to the Yoho River, the river you will have been driving past as you head up from the Kicking Horse Pass towards the Natural Bridge, so it is rather nice to see how the water system fits together.
I didn’t expect much from Lake Louise but was amazed at all the gorgeous lakes this area of the national park has to offer! Now onto the final leg of our trip, where we’ll be heading further north through the famed Icefields Parkway and Jasper!