Category Archives: Lake Louise

Getting to know the Canadian Rockies through Golden

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Golden, British Columbia

Among the many incredible towns in the Canadian Rockies, like Banff, Jasper, and Canmore there are some that receive less attention and benefit as a result. Golden is one of these. Saying that Golden is in one of the most perfect and beautiful locations in the world might sound like a grandiose statement, but it’s not so outrageous once you look at the facts…and look out the window.

Golden's famous walking bridge.

Golden's famous walking bridge.

Golden is situated just below the Canadian Rockies on the north end of the Columbia River Wetlands – an area 180 kilometres in length that supports over 300 species of birds and mammals. Coming from the east, Golden is the provincial gateway to British Columbia and the majestic Purcell and Selkirk Mountains.

Coming from the west, Golden is the gateway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Golden is close to six of the most stunning National Parks Canada has to offer: Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho. These parks offer some of the best scenery and outdoor recreation adventure opportunities available anywhere in the world.

Ask any local their favourite thing about Golden, and chances are they’ll say ‘climate.’ Golden has four very distinct seasons, each with their own virtues: Spring is a bright and renewing season – the perfect time to shed those long johns and get out for a hike; summer is a time for long, hot summer days ideal for mountain biking or playing in stunning aquamarine rivers; fall is a crispy cornucopia of brisk, fresh temperatures that give way to a magical winter season that boasts some of the driest and most abundant champagne powder.

Winter also brings world-class skiing, riding and snowmobiling. The community remains true to its industrial heritage – its two main employers, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Louisiana Pacific anchor the north and south ends of the town.

Golden is a vibrant, rapidly diversifying town with a profound sense of community spirit. With tourism playing an increased role in its personality, Golden is attracting people who want to experience a real, authentic B.C. community in a natural, unspoiled mountain setting. Proud home to gorgeous hotels, endless activities and some of the earth’s friendliest people, it’s a lot to be proud of, we know. It would be easy to swagger around like we owned the place. Yet, this down to earth town is a community in the truest sense of the word. The people here are warm and friendly and those who have chosen Golden as their home speak humbly about how much this special place means to them.

Moraine Lake – A Lake Louise must-see

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake is a definite must-see for anyone traveling in the Lake Louise vicinity. The lakeshore is only 12.5 km/7.5 mi away from Lake Louise, and offers a chance to see one of the largest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, a beautiful glacial lake, a huge glacier, and one of the best places to view grizzly bears in Banff National Park.

This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge, which is open from June to early October.

This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge, which is open from June to early October.

The Moraine Lake Lodge is a good place to start for directions, food, gifts, and information about hikes here. It’s also a good place to check up on grizzly activity in the area.

Moraine Lake is well known for the multitude of grizzlies that inhabit the surrounding valley. For this reason, the park may require you to hike in groups of six, and may occasionally close off trails completely.

Tim Johnson, who has lived in the Canadian Rockies for the last 12 years and works in the local tourism industry, highly recommends the area.

“To me, Moraine Lake is the lesser known sister of Lake Louise,” he says. “It’s a little more off the beaten path.”

Moraine Lake is still popular among hikers, but, Johnson says, “In terms of scenery, a lot of locals like it because it’s got this wild and rustic feeling.”

From the lodge, you can access several hiking trails. My personal favorite way to see Moraine Lake is via the Rock Pile interpretive trail. Here you’ll find some of the very best views in the Lake Louise area.
John E. Marriott, a professional photographer and former Parks Canada naturalist who lives in the area notes that, “Moraine Lake is one of the premier photography destinations in the Canadian Rockies.”

The Rockpile trail is a one of the reasons Moraine Lake is so photogenic. The trail is short, with little gain in elevation, and yet rewards you with one of the most beautiful views in the park.

Start exploring Moraine Lake from the Moraine Lake Lodge.

Start exploring Moraine Lake from the Moraine Lake Lodge.

From the top of Rockpile, you’ll see the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the ten glacier-cut peaks that surround Moraine Lake. This includes Mt. Temple, the third highest peak in Banff National Park, at 3549 m / 11,636 ft. Many have found the view of Moraine Lake from Rockpile inspiring.

In 1969 and 1979 it was used on the back of the Canadian $20 bill, hence the view here has been nicknamed “The $20 view.” It was also used in a series of popular advertisements, and is one of the main photos being used for Google’s new cellphone software.

Besides the grizzlies, look for the golden-mantled ground squirrel (fat with stripes), the chipmunk (stripes with pointy nose), the pika (notable for its loud, chew-toy-like squeaking) and the marmot (a ground squirrel on steroids).

If you’re not quite ready to leave Moraine Lake after the hike to Rockpile, Johnson recommends renting a canoe from the lodge as a peaceful way of exploring parts of the lake inaccessible via trail.

The $20 view.

The $20 view.

You can also catch a number of trails from the lodge, including a short hike along the right bank of the lake and another to Consolation Lakes.

A number of longer hikes also begin at Moraine Lake, including spectacular Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass, which is the highest elevation trail in the Banff National Park, and Eiffel Lake.

Both Johnson and Marriott recommend taking the Larch Valley trail in the fall. It’s a short hike, and during the fall, when the needles on the larches turn a bright gold, the views are stunning.

Round out Your Train Itinerary

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sepiatrainEnjoy a meal at the Lake Louise Station Restaurant. The restaurant is housed in the second Lake Louise train station, an original 1908 log building that is atmospheric and charming. The walls are decorated in historic photos that are worth a close look. You can also dine in two historic train cars located behind the station: the Delamere and the Killarney (one time the private car of Lord Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific).

From the Station Restaurant, take a short walk up the Tramline Trail to a large clearing and expansive view of the Bow Valley. The current CPR line will be visible below. The Lake Louise Tramline, a narrow-gauge railway, connected the station to the Chateau on the shore of Lake Louise from 1912 to 1930. Today the abandoned grade is a walking, cycling and cross-country skiing path.

Take the #1A Bow Valley Parkway for 5 minutes towards banff and stop at the Outlet Creek parking area. From the road here, you are looking down on Morant’s Curve, a lovely bend in the railway line that CPR photographer Nicholas Morant used to his advantage. This vantage point makes it possible to get more of the train into the picture, and the bend adds a dramatic element to the composition.

Take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) west in the direction of Yoho National Park and the town of Field. 10 minutes from Lake Louise the highway crosses the Great Divide and the British Columbia/Alberta border. From here the road follows the original railway grade as it begins to descend “the Big Hill.” In the space of six kilometres (3 3/4 miles), the road will drop 300 metres (almost 1000 feet). Past Wapta Lake, on the left, is a pullout to view an old bridge left over from the original line.

For the first 25 years of the railway’s existence, runaway trains were a real concern. Eventually the CPR dealt with the Big Hill by building two spiral tunnels. A few more minutes down the road is a pullout for the Lower Spiral Tunnel on your right. Exhibits tell the story of the early years and of the construction of these engineering marvels.

The Upper Spiral Tunnel can be seen from a well-marked viewpoint 5 minutes up the Yoho Valley Road. At the bottom of the Big Hill, turn right onto this road.

As you return to the Trans-Canada, turn into the Kicking Horse Campground and follow the road to the back end of it. On your right is the trailhead for the Walk in the Past Trail. Pamphlets that outline six stops of interest should be available at the kiosk. The trail is 1.2 km (3/4 mi) long with about 100 m (300 ft) of elevation gain. At the end are the remains of a narrow-gauge locomotive that was used to haul away rubble during the construction of the spiral tunnels.

As the Yoho Valley Road rejoins the highway, stop for a moment to admire the small railway tunnels cut into the steep sides of Mt. Stephen and the bulldozer work that allows the line to pass through the runout zone of an avalanche path. The other thing that CPR workers must worry about are the several jokulhlaups that threatens from above. Jokulhlaup is Norwegian for “glacier flood.” A lake that forms underneath a hanging glacier above sometimes discharges, creating debris flows that inundate the tracks below.

Drive about ½ kilometre along the highway and pull off again. On the side of Mt. Stephen, the rails pass through a large opening in the trees. In the winter of 1998, a large train lost control on the Big Hill and wrecked itself here, piling up dozens of cars and spilling tons of grain. It was impossible to fully clean up. Spilled grain can attract wildlife and put them at risk of being killed, so CP Rail erected electric fencing around this site.

By now you must be hungry again, so it’s time to pull into the town of Field. The town is mostly populated by people who work for the railway and for Parks Canada. Field got its start as Mount Stephen House, one of the many hotels that CP built along the line. It first functioned as a dining stop so that dining cars would not have to be hauled up the Big Hill, but quickly evolved into a hotel that catered to tourists that the CPR attracted to the mountains. It stood from 1886 to 1953 on the current site of the CPR bunkhouse — your destination for lunch or dinner!

Turn off the highway and come into town, cross the river and then cross the tracks. Take the first right turn and make your way down to a beige building. Park and go in the front door — tourists are welcome, despite the lack of sign. The diner-style cafe inside is where the railway guys eat their meals and chat. Consider asking them about the big train wreck mentioned above.

If you prefer, there is also the Siding General Store and Cafe in downtown Field.

Depending on your schedule, you could continue to drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway, following the line as it heads to Vancouver. The scenery is lovely and the rail line comes into view every once in awhile.

trainReturn to the Era of Travel by Rail:

Simply the most spectacular train trip in the world.

The Rocky Mountaineer travels during the daylight hours through the rugged Rocky Mountains.

For more information.
Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Round out your Kootenay Itinerary

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Olive Lake, just past the Sinclair Pass Viewpoint, is a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic and fishwatch. The cool forest that surrounds the lake is a treat on a hot summer day.

Enjoy the scenery and relax in the Radium Hot Springs. Two pools, one hot for soaking and one warm for swimming, will keep all members of the family happy. Forgot your trunks? No problem, towels and suits are available for rent.

Just beyond the park boundary lies one of the biggest and most important wetlands in Canada – the Columbia Wetlands. Ask locals for walking suggestions or take a tour with a float trip company. Eagles, osprey, waterfowl and other birds are sure to be seen.

For those looking to challenge themselves in the mountains, Kootenay has a handful of classic full day hikes. We recommend the Kindersley/Sinclair Loop for midsummer wildflowers, Floe Lake for dramatic beauty, and, Stanley Glacier for a taste of fire and ice.

Gateway to the Desert

At the south end of Kootenay, the road travels through Sinclair Canyon, a feat of highway engineering.

Between narrow red canyon walls, the road actually travels on top of the Sinclair River. Once you have passed through the narrowest part, the wide open Columbia Valley awaits. Only an hour’s drive away from glaciers, you will find cactus on the warm and dry valley floor.

There are a number of short trails that allow you to explore more of the Sinclair Canyon on foot. The smell of sun-warmed juniper bushes wafts on the air, and when you descend to the stream, tall western red cedar trees whisk you away from desert-like conditions to the rainforest of the British Columbia coast.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Train Buff’s Itinerary

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sepiatrainWhen the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across our young country, the Rocky Mountains were the first large barrier to be crossed on the way to the west coast. The difficulties posed by the Great Divide (10 minutes from Lake Louise), the tall peaks and narrow passes of the Columbia Mountains, as well as the Fraser Canyon, taxed the creative genius of railway engineers — who produced some amazing solutions.

There is a rich railway legacy in the immediate vicinity of Lake Louise. To appreciate it fully, you’ll need to bone up on the history end of things. Two suggestions: first, get one of the many books on the subject (like Graeme Pole’s The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill) and second, stop at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre for a copy of “The Kicking Horse Chronicle,” a newspaper style pamphlet that outlines railway construction on the Big Hill.

trainReturn to the Era of Travel by Rail:

Simply the most spectacular train trip in the world.

The Rocky Mountaineer travels during the daylight hours through the rugged Rocky Mountains.

For more information.

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Cool Kootenay

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From Lake Louise, another good option is a day trip into Kootenay National Park. You can take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) east or the #1A Bow Valley Parkway in the direction of banff and, half way there, take the exit for Highway #93 South to Radium Hot Springs. Kootenay is an intense variety of landscapes in a small amount of space. You can experience a lot in the course of one day — the life and beauty of a burned forest, the cool, fragrant breezes of a canyon, the intense colour of vermilion rocks, and, the burning heat of the desert (well, almost!).

The Vermillion Pass Burn

As you begin to climb up Highway #93S, the road takes you past the 1968 Vermillion Pass Burn. It may seem like a desolate landscape, but look again. It has it’s own beauty and it is some of the best wildlife habitat around. Moose love the tender ends of bushes that grow well when they get lots of sunlight. And bears love the berries the bushes produce too. Hummingbirds are attracted to a host of blooming flowers. Finally, the burn is good habitat for the rarely-seen lynx, who like to hunt snowshoe hares along the edge of it. To best experience the life in a young forest, stop at the Arnica Lake/Twin Lakes trailhead and take a walk as far as you feel comfortable, or, stop at the short Fireweed Trail to learn more about fire’s role in renewing the landscape.

Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots

There are two more short trails that make enjoyable walks. Marble Canyon is a narrow, deep canyon and the trail takes you along its edge, while bridges allow you to get good views of the interior. Also check out the trail to the Ochre Beds and Paint Pots. Colourful sediments the flow from the runoff of cold springs were mined here for use in paint.

Mt. Wardle Mineral Lick

Kootenay National Park’s official symbol is the mountain goat. Close to 300 of these sure-footed creatures inhabit the park, and one of the best places to see them is at a natural mineral lick by the side of the highway (watch for the sign). During May and June, dozens of goats will descend from their steep haunts to lick the dirt. Mixed in with the soil are essential minerals like calcium, especially important for nannies who have recently given birth.

Wide Valleys mean Wildlife

A good portion of your trip is in the bottom of a low elevation valley, the Kootenay Valley. Unlike the high mountain peaks, winter is easier and summer is more bountiful in the grassy meadows and open forests of the montane life zone. You might see black bears, coyotes, moose, elk and deer. Drive carefully, particularly at dusk.

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Rockwalls and Waterfalls

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The boundary of Yoho National Park is only 10 minutes away and all of this impressive park is within striking distance for day trips from Lake Louise. Yoho’s theme is “Rockwalls and Waterfalls.”

After leaving Lake Louise, the road descends quickly, but the mountains don’t get any shorter! Mt. Stephen looms overhead as the road finally levels out near the town of Field.

Falling water can often be seen on the sheer cliffs that surround you, but the grandmother of Yoho’s waterfalls is Takakkaw Falls. Found at the end of the Yoho Valley Road (40 minutes from Lake Louise), this impressive cascade is one of the highest named waterfalls in Canada. Again, we suggest going early or late to get the best light and a peaceful experience. You can walk right up to the base of the falls and feel the cool spray on your face. The falls originate as the meltwater of a glacier above and out of sight.

Note: Takakkaw Falls is not accessible from mid-October to early June. The road is not plowed.

Emerald Lake

The other major destination in Yoho is Emerald Lake (40 minutes from Lake Louise). The high peaks of the great divide capture the weather we receive from the Pacific Ocean. The clouds get hung up on the summits and moisture plummets down the steep mountain sides. Where the topography concentrates this water, you can find small patches of coastal rainforest — with western red cedar trees and devil’s club (look for the large plant with thorns and maple-like leaves). The west side of Emerald lake is one of these spots.

Interpretive signs along the lakeshore trail help you understand the wet and dry sides of the lake. You can’t help but notice the difference in the plants, the streams and the atmosphere. In early spring (late may and June), Emerald Lake is the first place to look for wildflowers. As the snow melts away, the shore becomes a riot of bright yellow glacier lilies. Hot pink calypso orchids are not far behind.

From the lakeshore you can find out more about the world-famous Burgess Shale. An interpretive exhibit tells the story of these unique and rare fossils, and, a telescope zooms in on the quarry where scientists study and excavate them each summer. You can visit this quarry and the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Bed with guided hikes from the Burgess Shale Research Foundation. Access is otherwise restricted.

In winter, Emerald is still beautiful and a fun place to take a walk, cross-country ski or snowshoe.

Food is available at Emerald Lake Lodge. Canoes, skis and snowshoes are available from Emerald Sports. Horseback rides available from Emerald Stables (250-343-6000).

Yoho is also full of train-related history. Check out our other itinerary for train buffs.

Get to the Burgess Shale

Visiting either of the Burgess Shale sites requires a full-day, strenuous hike. But it’s worth it! The thin band of shale is one of only two places in the world where the soft parts of creatures have been fully preserved in rock, in exquisite detail. Better yet, these fantastic animals date from very early in the evolution of life on the planet, making them a valuable scientific find.

Of course, access to the sites is restricted, so you must go with a guided group. Contact the Burgess Shale Research Foundation at 800-343-3006 or contact us.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Icefields Parkway

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Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

In winter on a crystal clear day, or in summer when the sun is high in the sky, there is no sight more breathtaking than the mountains and glaciers of the Icefields Parkway (#93 North). From Lake Louise, it is only a five minute drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) to the turnoff for jasper via this scenic route.

If you have any option at all, try to make this trip on a clear day, but sometimes cloudy days will still provide views of the tops of the mountains. Hanging glaciers adorn many of the peaks and, every once in a while, glaciers that spill from the icefields beyond come into view. Anytime you see thick white or blue, you are looking at a glacial ice.

In the course of a day trip from Lake Louise, you should be able to make it to the Columbia Icefield area and back again, which is the most scenic part of the parkway. Allow for 1½ hours of driving time each way, and add on for stops and winter driving conditions. For a trip all the way to jasper, budget three hours of driving time under good conditions.

The Lake Louise Visitor Centre (next to the Samson Mall) has an invaluable free pamphlet called “The Icefields Parkway” that outlines in detail the viewpoints and trailheads along the way. For even more information, with notes about history and nature included, pick up a copy of Brian Patton’s “Parkways of the Canadian Rockies: and Interpretive Guide to the Roads in the Mountain Parks.”

A River of Ice

snocoachThe highlight of the parkway is, of course, the Athabasca Glacier which comes tumbling off the Columbia Icefield directly towards the road. Nowhere else in the Rockies is it possible to get a view that encompasses more ice.

The Icefield Visitor Centre has excellent exhibits that help you explore the exotic world of perpetual cold.

For a first-hand experience, you have the option of driving out to the parking lot at the glacier’s toe (we do not recommend walking on the ice for safety reasons), of taking a snowcoach ride (many departures daily), or, of participating in an Icewalk with a licensed mountain guide (one departure daily). Bring extra clothes as it is often cooler near the icefield (hmmm… no surprise, eh!!)

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Location and Maps

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MAJESTIC • EXHILARATING • UNFORGETTABLE

Location and Map

Ideally situated in the heart of the Mountain Parks, just 1 hour from fabulous Lake louise, 2 hours from banff and 2.5 hours from the Columbia Icefield.

Two great rivers confluence directly within the Town of Golden in the Rocky Mountain Trench: the Columbia with its vast wetlands supporting hundreds of bird and amphibian species–many of which are indigenous to this area only; and the Kicking Horse, famous for world class white-water rafting and awesome views.

Golden, British Columbia and Area - Location and Maps

Lake Louise – A Diamond in the Wilderness


Highlights: Crystal clear blue lake, spectacular mountain scenery, six glaciers, Chateau Lake Louise.
Activities: Sightseeing, photography, walking, hiking, canoeing.
Location: Two hours west of Calgary, fifty minutes west of Banff.
Time: Minimum of one half-hour at the lake.

In the summer of 1882, a Stoney native called Gold Seeker led the first white man to the shores of the “Lake of Little Fishes”. Awestruck by the colour of the lake’s waters and the beauty of the mountains surrounding it, Tom Wilson named the jewel Emerald Lake.

Over one hundred years later, the name has changed, but the allure of this mountain gem remains. Encased beneath towering peaks and glaciers on all sides but one, the magical emerald colours and grandiose setting of Lake Louise draw millions of visitors to its shores each year, making it Canada’s most famous lake.

The village of Lake Louise is just off of the Trans-Canada Highway fifty-seven kilometres (thirty-five miles) west of Banff, and the lake itself is another five kilometres (three miles) from the village at the end of Lake Louise Drive.

From the public parking lots, paved pathways lead you to the shores of the lake and the magnificent Chateau Lake Louise hotel. Looking out across the lake, Mount Fairview is on your left and the towering snow-capped peak straight ahead is Mount Victoria. Nestled in the cradle of Mount Victoria is the Victoria Glacier, one of six glaciers located at the end of the lake.

Bring along your camera, and use your binoculars to scan the cliffs of Mount Fairview for mountain goats. The Chateau behind you provides a full range of services, including meals, and there is a boat dock to rent canoes from on the left shore of the lake.

A wide flat trail leads around the right edge of the lake past the flower gardens and the trailhead for the Beehives and Lake Agnes, and makes for a beautiful stroll towards the end of the lake even in winter. Hikers can continue on beyond the lake on a trail that climbs glacial moraine to the Plain of Six Glaciers, a five-hour return trip that is considered by many to be one the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies.

“The Hiking Capital of Canada” also offers a variety of hiking options on the left side of the lake, including the Saddleback trail that leads you into Paradise Valley and beyond to Moraine Lake.

Sightseeing | Banff National Park | Lake Louise