Banff and the Banff Springs Hotel may get more traffic and notoriety, but I think the extra hour it takes to drive up to Chateau Lake Louise is worth the extra effort. Both hotels were once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and built-in the late 19th century to attract wealthy Canadians to visit the natural beauty of what is now a World Heritage Site, Banff National Park. Now the hotels and trails are packed with people culturally diverse as the multitude of amazing views you see en route to the hotels, at the hotels and on the paths leading from the hotels.
On the 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise you delve deeper and deeper into the Canadian wilderness. The slate blue Bow River sits on one side of road with the Canadian Rockies flanking the other side. For years the only way for wildlife to get from one to the other was to hoof or pad their way across the one and only road – the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Named “Highway 1” because it is the one and only National highway in all of Canada – and it flows only east and west.
Over the years, as road traffic to Lake Louise became steadily heavier, so did the amount of vehicle-animal accidents. And when these animals are elk, moose, caribou, deer, bear, big horn sheep – nobody wins, car or animal. To ease the rash of these incidents, high fences were erected along the sides of the highway. These fences lead into specially designed bridges that cross the highway. The bridges are animal crossings and are covered with natural fauna so the animals feel it is part of their natural surroundings and comfortably make the trek back and forth, up and over the highway, saving the lives of wildlife and people.
Eventually you arrive at the little hamlet of Lake Louise which sits at the base of the world-renowned Lake Louise ski hill. Since the advent of World Cup Ski Races in 1980, and the Winter Olympics in 1988, Lake Louise has become a destination skiing hot spot. Prior to this, however, the area was mainly a summer destination. The Chateau, which sits higher up in the mountains on the opposite side of the Lake Louise river valley from the ski hill, was not even winterized until 1982.
The drive from the heart of Calgary to Lake Louise is only two hours, but allowing plenty of time to take in the surrounding beauty is a must. With the long summer hours you can cover a lot of territory in a day. Make the short drive from Lake Louise up to Chateau Lake Louise to experience views unlike any other: the bright white hotel sits at one end of the vivid blue-green colored Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, that feeds into Lake Louise, sits at the other end. Spend the hour to hike the well maintained path along the lake, to allow you to take in both views – about a 3 mile round trip hike. Come back and enjoy lunch in the hotel with views of the lake and Victoria Glacier in the background and then walk off lunch by taking a tour of this magnificent hotel.
Or, after taking in the views from the Chateau, head back towards Lake Louise, but take the turn into Moraine Lake. A picnic basket and a blanket is all you need to take in views equally as breathtaking, but more rustic, than at Chateau Lake Louise.
If you can find time in your busy schedule to spend a couple of days in the area, a stay at Chateau Lake Louise would allow you the time to hike back to Victoria Glacier. The glacier can be reached on foot or horseback along a well-worn and well maintained dirt path leading from the hotel. Round trip is about 8.6 miles (14 km). Be sure to look up as you pass the first major bend at the far end of the lake – you are likely to see rock climbers working their way up the sheer face of Mount Victoria.
Or make your way back to the Lake Louise village and stay a night at the world-renowned Post Hotel that sits along the wild rushing waters of the Bow River. Eat at the world-renowned restaurant which focuses on using local ingredients, specialty meats from the area, and fresh fish caught nearby. And enjoy a bottle of wine from their world-renowned 25,000 bottle wine cellar.
My husband and I lived in Calgary for 2 1/2 years and made the trip to Banff National Park several times. There are few greater stress relievers like the majestic views of the Canadian Rockies. I am in awe of the engineering marvel of winding a well maintained four-lane highway throughout the valleys allowing us to get up close and personal to all this area has to offer.