When the scenery is so spectacular constantly, you start to get complacent about seeing ‘yet another stunning view’ of a turquoise coloured lake set amidst fabulous mountain views. Yet, that’s what you’re up against when travelling south on the Icefields Parkway and down to Lake Louise.
Despite all the hype, Lake Louise was smaller than I anticipated. It’s a small village and venturing further west, you finally reach the superb glacial lake named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta – the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria (bet you never knew that!). On arrival at the Lake from the road, and at the eastern end of the shore is the imposing structure of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – one of Canada’s grand railway hotels and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway early in the 20th Century.
Clearly open to tourists, hikers, general public access, as well as hotel guests, it’s a small area attempting to accommodate huge numbers. In fact, the sheer number of coaches delivering coach load after coach load of visitors just to survey the surroundings was immense to the point of population overload. You can’t help but feel that Lake Louise has been too successful in gaining such a worldwide reputation that even in the heights of summer (goodness knows what the lure of winter skiing does to overall visitor numbers), but it does detract from the majesty of the place somewhat.
We took a walk along the shoreline from the hotel to just under the glacier, then started to climb up hill for a couple of kilometres. The tourist numbers rapidly fell away (once the ability to hold a cappuccino in hand whilst taking a shot on a camera proved too challenging with an uphill climb), and only then did you start to get a feel for the real beauty of the place, the quietness, and the fantastic views that can only be achieved with a degree of effort and steadfastness. Luckily all 3 ‘kids’ were adequately incentivised by the prospect of an ice cream and drink should they manage the ‘circular route’ – a route let me say, that for some bizarre reason was left with my husband reading the map. Not a normal feature as his navigational abilities are renown – but for completely the opposite reason! I’m still not sure what happened, but the 4.2km ‘circular tour’ turned into an 8.7km ‘hike’ – he denies all knowledge and blames the map – however, we made it back to the lakeside where we started, somewhat shattered and with aching limbs and muscles, but all glad we’d made the climb and knowing we’d witnessed something of Lake Louise that the vast majority of transitory visitors fail to experience.
In the winter, not only is there skiing, but the Canadian national cross-country skiing team train there. The Lake freezes and there’s the opportunity to skate on the Lake which I bet is superb with the glacier above.
At dinner that evening, we sat next to an older couple from Texas who told us they were travelling from Houston up to Alaska and then a bit of a round trip back down to Texas which would take them a month to complete. They’d never been to Alaska and that was reason enough to visit – but were stopping off at Lake Louise en route. They’d stayed nearby 20 years before but had always hankered after staying at the Fairmont – so 20 years later, their wishes came true. They spent their dinner sat next to us and luckily it didn’t put them off and they offered us a stay in Texas if we ever find ourselves in the vicinity! That’s one thing to be said for everyone we’ve met whilst in Canada – they are the friendliest and most hospitable set of people I’ve ever come across anywhere else in the world. They take time to converse, offer advice and will go out of their way to assist – it’s a lesson we could all learn a lot from.
Moving south of Lake Louise, you get the views of Banff National Park (still no moose, bears or wolves), and finally stumble into Banff itself. The instalment continues …