Lake Louise, Banff

Visiting Lake Louise will be the highlight of most people’s trip to Banff National Park, or even to Canada. For others, it may be a disastrous waste of time and over before it has begun.

Lake Louise is famous for its beautiful turquoise water, imposing mountain peaks and the iconic hotel Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise nestled on its shoreline. It’s located in Banff National Park about 60km north of Banff town on the Trans Canada Highway.

It is also famous for the hoards of visitors it attracts every year. Don’t let this put you off though. If you go early or late in the day, you will be able to enjoy great views of the lake without the hoards.

This post will help you navigate visiting one of the most popular and busiest attractions in Banff National Park with kids and help you create unforgettable memories.

View of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from the Fairview Lookout

View of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from the Fairview Lookout

Car parking at Lake Louise

The reason that a visit to Lake Louise could be a complete disaster is the car parking situation. If you arrive too late and can’t find a space in the onsite car-park, you will need to navigate the shuttle system from the overflow car-park over 1km away. This can add hours to your visit and if you haven’t factored in those extra hours, you may need to abandon your plans to visit Lake Louise altogether.

Our best advice here is to arrive early and when we say early, we mean early! We arrived at 7.30am and the car park signs were indicating that the car-park was already full. If this happens, all is not lost. Before turning round and heading off to the overflow car-park, carry on a little and take a look around the onsite car-park.  It will only take a few minutes and could end up saving you hours. We were lucky and found a spot as someone had just left.

The thing is, people come and go all the time. Many will come for a few hours to view the lake and set off on a hike. Others will just come for a quick photoshoot and head off. If you circle around the car park for a few minutes, you are bound to find someone leaving.

If you don’t find one, then you can just head off to the overflow car park down the road. We think it is worth being persistent though. If you have to take the shuttle, you will have to join hundreds of others waiting for it. It runs on a schedule so a chunk of your day will be lost doing this.

Alternatively, if you want to take a ride on an iconic yellow school bus, here is your chance!

The Lake Louise overflow car park shuttle bus

The Lake Louise overflow car park shuttle bus

Once you have the parking sorted it is a 5 minute stroll to the lake. If you are there early enough, not only will you have beaten the crowds but you will also be rewarded with the most stunning views of the lake. Timing is everything though. You want to get there early to beat the crowds but not too early so that there is not enough daylight for great photos. Alternatively, just get there early and wait, although this is easier said than done with kids!

In the early morning, just as the sun is rising over the mountains, the water is at its most still and most reflective.  The canoes aren’t yet out on the water and you should be treated to some beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains to reward the effort of such an early morning.

Stunning early morning view of Lake Louise

Stunning early morning view of Lake Louise

Soak up the views and get your photos because if you head off on a hike, by the time you come back, this view will be gone!

Easy to moderate hiking trails around Lake Louise

There are a couple of easy to moderate hiking trails around Lake Louise. You could just walk along the lakeshore but if you feel like something a little more energetic with views, there is the Agnes tea trail or the Fairview Lookout trail.

Agnes Tea Trail

  • Distance: 6.8 km return
  • Elevation Gain: 385 m
  • Time Required: 2.5 – 3 hours (not including tea stop)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

The hike to Lake Agnes and the historic teahouse on its shores is a relatively easy hike through forest. A beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes just below the teahouse, where you can enjoy a cup of tea and fresh piece of pie. Continue 1.6 km around the far end of Lake Agnes and up switchbacks to the shelter at the top of the Big Beehive for views of the Bow Valley and Lake Louise. This is a very popular trail and you may have to wait to be seated for tea.

Fairview Lookout trail

  • Distance: 3 km return
  • Elevation Gain: 100 m
  • Time Required: 45m – 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Trailhead: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise boatshed

The hike to the Fairview Lookout is relatively easy. There is one small moderately steep section but our children aged 6 and 4 manged it with no issues. There is no view on the way up, but at the end of the trail you are rewarded with a stunning view back over the lake and to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Soaking up the views from the lookout

If you are getting up early to come here, one of these easy/moderate hikes would probably be enough with smaller children but there are a number of other more challenging hikes you can do if you feel they are up to it like the Plain of Six Glaciers. More information on hikes around Lake Louise can be found on the Banff & Lake Louise tourism site.

Kayaking on Lake Louise

If you are wanting to go kayaking at Lake Louise, there are a few things you should be aware of.

The kayak rentals are run by the hotel which means that guests get priority (with a separate queue for them). You can’t reserve kayaks so it is on a first come, first serve basis and you may have quite a long wait in peak season.

When we were there at the beginning of August, the kayak rental place opened at 8.30. We didn’t see the queue of people because we had already set off on our hike up to the Fairview Lookout, but when we came down at 9am, all of the kayaks were already out on the lake and there was a queue.

PRICE FOR HOTEL GUESTS: $85 per hour | $75 per half hour
PRICE FOR NON-HOTEL GUESTS: $125 per hour | $115 per half hour

Each canoe can hold either three adults or two adults and two small children under 55 pounds (25 kilograms) each.

Kayaks for hire at Lake Louise

Kayaks for hire at Lake Louise

Be bear aware at Lake Louise

Given how popular and busy Lake Louise can be, it is probably unlikely that you will see bears but you never know. One of the things I questioned (a lot) before we went to Canada was what to do if we saw a bear. Most people’s response was, you will be lucky to see a bear! This didn’t help me much with my worries, so I read leaflets from the parks.

Bear sighting in Banff

Bear sighting in Banff

As with snakes (which I am also afraid of!), bears will most likely want to avoid you! The best thing you can do to prevent a surprise encounter with a bear is to make a lot of noise and let the bear know you are in the area.

This was no problem for our kids. We found that single hikers would stay close to us as a means of protection, saying that it was a great job our kids were so noisy! It is a great place to let them be as loud as they want. Also, stay together. Don’t let the kids run on ahead of you. If you do encounter a bear, staying together in a group will  make you appear larger. Carry bear spray (a little like pepper spray) just in case. This can be widely bought at shops in Canada.

Make lots of noise on your hikes in and around Banff

Make lots of noise on your hikes in and around Banff

There are different things you should do depending on whether you encounter a black bear or a grizzly bear. For more information on bear encounters and what to do, check this page.

What to wear on your Lake Louise hike

As you will probably be visiting in the early morning or early evening, it can get quite chilly, even in the summer, so we all wore long sleeve tops and trousers. These also came in handy because of the huge number of large and very persistent mosquitoes.

Make sure to wear comfy, sturdy shoes. Even though the trails are quite easy, it’s much easier to do them in trainers than flip-flops.

What to take on your Lake Louise hike

Of all the things to take with you, make sure to take mosquito repellent otherwise you will be eaten alive. The same goes for visiting any lake in the Jasper and Banff National Park areas. It’ss a breeding ground for the fiercest mosquitoes we have ever encountered!

Also, make sure you take some water and snacks with you. Remember to take any rubbish back with you (there are no bins at the Fairview Lookout). Even discarded watermelon skins or apple cores will attract bears!

Overall, Lake Louise is a beautiful place to visit with kids with a couple of easy and very rewarding walks. Get there early and enjoy it before the crowds. We hope you love it as much as us.

Don’t forget to bookmark this post if you found it useful and pin it to Pinterest!

 

 

8 replies
  1. Shari @ Mom’s Plan-it Vacation Blog
    Shari @ Mom’s Plan-it Vacation Blog says:

    My husband is from Alberta, and we plan on taking our young kids to Banff National Park and Lake Louise on our next visit to Canada. Thank you so much for including such thorough info. on parking! Parking in new places always stresses me out! I also appreciate the tips on insects and animals (especially the bear spray)!! Great information for families with kids!

    Reply
    • Jacs
      Jacs says:

      Hi Shari – thanks for your comment. I’m so glad it helped regarding the parking. Parking also stresses me out! We really had a lovely time (no bears in sight) and I’m sure you will too!

      Reply
  2. Julie
    Julie says:

    Banff is high on my list of places to visit…so this is great info! I’ve been seeing so many amazing photos and I’m dying to go! Saving this for sure!

    Reply
    • Jacs
      Jacs says:

      That’s so great! Banff is incredible. If you have a little time, make sure to venture up to Jasper or into Yoho. I much preferred Jasper for being a little less busy and more natural. I think Yoho is even nicer but unfortunately we ran out of time!

      Reply
    • Jacs
      Jacs says:

      Great! I hope you guys get to go.. There are so many great hiking trails around Banff and Jasper. We didn’t even scrape the surface so would love to go back for longer.

      Reply
  3. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    This is a great post for people wanting to visit. I just wanted to add that a couple of weeks ago when we visited Lake Louise, we weren’t able to arrive early (which is simply the best advice). At the overflow parking there was a 2-hr wait. As a “local” I couldn’t justify waiting in the line. I drove to the Lake Louise ski resort, where I had free parking and a free shuttle (subject to availability) that took us right to the lake. After our hike, it took us back to the ski resort. Preference on the shuttle is given to those who have purchased a summer gondola ride pass. 😃

    Reply
    • Jacs
      Jacs says:

      That sounds like a great alternative. I had no idea that was an option as it wasn’t widely advertised. Thanks for the advice! The 2 hour wait is just crazy!

      Reply

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