After two long days southbound on the Mackenzie Highway, Lake Louise was an oasis for us. On this April weekend we found snow, but sunshine and warmth too, and the mountains were a balm to our battered spirits after driving 2,000 km over the flat plains of Alberta.
We took the scenic route and drove through Jasper National Park to reach Lake Louise, and the mountains… whoa. The Canadian Rockies are truly incredible. Now I understand why there are so many national parks clustered in this region: Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Banff, and Glacier National Parks all call this area home, and there is just so much to explore.
We drove past pine forests so thick you can barely see two paces through the trees, and above the tree line ribbons of sediment lineate the jagged mountain faces, some snow capped and cloud covered, others with high valleys cradling milky slabs of blue glacier. Mainly what amazed me was the ceaseless glory of peak after peak as we drove hours through these parks and the mountains keep coming… the breadth of this range is awe-inspiring.Although we only spent two days in Lake Louise, we filled our days and fueled our appetites for outdoor adventure.
Night of arrival: We dropped our bags at our private room at the HI-Lake Louise Alpine Center hostel, and then set off for dinner at the Lake Louise Railway Station. With its historic dining room, vintage national parks posters lining the wood paneled walls, fire place, and classic bar backed by cathedral windows, this place still gives off the aura that Lake Louise Station must have had in its heyday: the lodges, lakes, the rustic comfort in a vast wilderness suddenly accessible, but most of all, it still embodies the spirit of curiosity to explore what lies beyond the log walls and railroad tracks… you can feel that there, the anticipation of venturing into the mountains. It’s that old familiar urge, to set forth and see what there is to be found.
Day 1: After grabbing a breakfast from Laggan’s bakery, we headed to the Lake Louise Gondola across the valley from the lake where ski season is still in full swing. Unfortunately we hit clouds halfway up… So hoping for clearer skies, we ventured up to the lake itself. We wandered around the snowy shore, out onto the frozen lake surface where the melting wall from their ice festival still stands, and later into the Fairmont Chateau.
Pictures can’t do it justice. The mountains are much more impressive in person when you can scan the ridges, see the clouds shifting to reveal new depths in the shadowed valleys, feel the cold wind and exhilaration of mountain air.. And the chateau inside is just ridiculously luxurious. Its tall windows over the lake, wow, what a location for this hotel.
Beyond the lake, the highlight of our day was dog sledding with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours. We spent an hour and a half with the team of Alaskan Huskies riding through Banff National Park. Read more about it in this post. After our dog sledding adventure, we went to Johnston Canyon. Here we walked up the side of the steepening canyon and eventually onto catwalks with spectacular views of the jade colored creek and a viewpoint where a waterfall plummets over an edge into a deep pool.
This is supposedly Banff’s most popular hike in summer months, with hundreds of visitors making the trek each day, but on this half melted spring weekend we mostly had the place to ourselves.
To finish off our long day, we hit the Outpost pub for dinner and drinks by the fireplace in this cozy basement bar of the Post Hotel.
Day 2: We began this day with a drive from Lake Louise to Banff, the city at the heart of the national park of its name. We took the gondola up to the top of the mountain, and spent the next three hours in the Panorama Restaurant at the peak for a photography course taught by a photographer from National Geographic Traveler. After the morning mist (mostly) cleared, the view from the room was stunning, allowing us to see the entire city below and the mountains rising all around.
On our way out of the parks, we visited the Lake Louise Visitor Center where wandered through rooms of exhibits explaining how these crazy mountains came to be. And with that, we hit the road and headed for Kelowna.
My first taste of the Rockies has made me hungry for so much more. Next time I venture into this astounding cluster of national parks, I’ll head back during the summer months to see the exquisitely colored lakes in full glory. This area seems prime for summer hiking, similar to but more expansive than my hikes close to home in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho (read about Sawtooth backpacking here). No matter where though, you get that same feeling among the peaks where you are dwarfed by the immense mountains, feeling small, but so alive.