Lake Louise is one of the most Instagram worthy places in Alberta, actually according to Vancity Buzz it is the most instagrammed place in Alberta. This isn’t surprising however; it is stunning no matter what season you are there. People from around the world visit the Rockies just to see this lake. It was my boyfriends number one destination when he came to Canada with me.
A visit to Banff National Park isn’t complete with a drive up to Lake Louise where you can admire both the famous lake and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Getting to Lake Louise is fairly easy, if you are coming from Banff you follow Highway 1, the Trans-Canada highway and exit with the signs. It is buzzing with people all year long and very hard to miss. Lake Louise Hamlet was first built in 1890 as Laggan when a rail station was built along the Canadian Pacific Railway.
This portion of the Trans-Canada is built along the Bow River valley. The highway lies adjacent to Bow River and the whole floor is covered in glacier sediment according to GSC. This includes till (unsorted material including boulders), gravel, sand and silt.
A glacier carved through this area and deposited the sediment as it migrated and melted during the Pleistocene (up to 11 700 years ago). There is a significant amount of glacier sediment covering the bedrock. This sediment continues all the way up to Lake Louise. And covers over a 3km wide area.
Think about how much ice was needed to leave this kind of sediment!
As you drive into the visitors parking lot at Lake Louise, you may struggle to find a spot. The lot is surrounded by sprawling pines and it’s only a short distance up a stone path to the edge of the lake. You walk past Louise Creek which is the outflow of Lake Louise. This creek will continue all the way to the Bow River.
At the Eastern end of the lake, you are standing on the Miette Formation. This is one of the oldest known geologic formations in the central Rocky Mountains. It dates all the way back to the Neoproterozoic, meaning it’s between 620 and 590 Million years old. The Miette Formation is a thick formation that is made up of slate and quartz sandstone and is usually grey and green.
It’s crazy to have something this old right beneath your feet!
These really old rock formations end up at the surface due to the destruction of upper layers from things such as erosion or glacier activity. They are also uplifted during mountain building.
On the western side of Lake Louise, a younger layer of rock sits over the Miette Group and you will walk over the change if you journey further down the lake. The Gog group formation is mainly reds and whites and thick beds of quartzite, and quartzose sandstone. Quartzite is a metamorphic rock (meaning another rock was transformed into it), formed from sandstone when it is compressed through tectonic plates. You can even find quartzite cliffs if you get to the far end of the lake.
A Little More Exploration:
If you head to your right along the northern side of Lake Louise and past the Chateau you will get to the start of two hikes. Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers. Lake Agnes is the busier of the two hikes and is always teaming with people.
The last time I was there I did the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. As you follow the path on the edge of the lake you will get to a wooden pathway that goes over the water inflow which is a milky white. This is from glacier flour; sediment that has been finely ground as the glacier flows over the rock.
The path walks up towards Mount Victoria’s north peak. Through an area of glacier till. To the left, you can see Mount Lefroy. As a glacier-fed Lake, Lefroy Glacier is the primary inflow for Lake Louise.
This is when the hikes start to ascend. You follow the marked path until you get to a fork. To the right, you will go towards the Lake Agnes Hike. To the left, you will continue to the Plain of Six Glaciers.
There are a few switchbacks as you continue through the trees, before emerging along the edge of Mount Victoria. The path is gravel covered and as you climb you get a terrific view of Lake Louise. From there you get to start up towards the tea house, through a number of switchbacks. It was pouring rain while I hiked this and I was slipping in my hiking boots the entire time. As you get higher, the rain started to turn to snow.
There is a total of 365 meters of elevation gain throughout this hike and will take about 4 hours if you are walking consistently as it is 5.3km each way. There are a lot of places for photos though so I’d budget more time.
Then you get to the tea house. Swiss built in 1924, it overlooks the mountains and surrounding glaciers. Grab a cup of tea and a slice of decadent chocolate cake. According to the employees here the Lake Agnes Tea House (who also have a famous chocolate cake) stole their recipe and made it famous a few decades ago, but this might be an urban myth.
At the tea house, there are great views of glaciers and the valley. If you continue higher to do an extension of the hike you will get to even more glaciers, this is 1.5 km each way to Abbot Pass, more info here. You can also connect this hike to others. Though the hike back is just as spectacular, obviously.
The snow gets higher and higher during the winter and hiking becomes dangerous as many areas become avalanche zones. Remember to follow marked signs and check out the areas you can visit in the winter. There are so many places to cross-country ski and snowshoe as well.
A little bit extra history:
As you drive from Banff to Lake Louise you will see Castel Mountain on your right about 30 min into your journey. This massif is part of the main ranges in the bow valley and has a few peaks. This mountain can be likened to a castle, therefore why it received its name. It is interesting to note that this was the site of one of Canada’s internment camps during WW1 and held hundreds of prisoners. A memorial was erected in 1995 with a statue reading “why?”. In 2014, the Canadian First World War Internment Camp Fund unveiled numerous plaques and pictures to continuously recognize the horror that occurred in this brutal camp. The inmates were mainly Ukrainian, German and Hungarian descent, and mistreatment was widespread. Canada interned prisoners during both world wars as a security measure.