Within the Canadian Rockies, the Lake Louise area is well known for its spectacular alpine scenery and hikes; those trails were emphatically calling us. The Lake Louise area is also well known for its crowds, so with eyes wide open, expectations adjusted, and our secret magic tricks for avoiding crowds in hand, we set a course.
We arrived just before 8am on our first day in Lake Louise. Despite the forecast of highs around 5 C (40 F) and a 60% chance of rain all day, we were the 40th camper in the RV parking lot. One of our tricks in busy areas is to avoid short and/or popular hiking trails. On the other hand, one of our tricks for hiking in less than ideal weather conditions is to hike trails with options to shorten the hike if needed. So we combined 4 shorter trails to 4 different points of scenic interest and hit the trail, accepting that we’d be running with the crowd for the day.
There could’ve been 2 million people there and Lake Louise would still be breathtaking! Even Doug oohed and aahed (I squealed) as we made our way along the shoreline path to the hiking trail. Our first objective was the Little Beehive and after about 1 km (0.5 mi) from the lake, the crowds had mostly disappeared. From this pretty outcrop, we could see a westerly wind blowing clouds down over the Continental Divide just as fog was lifting up from the valley. We were treated to an orgy of peaks peeking out from the clouds and fog, views changing by the fractions of a minute. From the Little Beehive, we made our way to Lake Agnes, site of the famed Lake Agnes Tea House where a crowd was gathered lakeside for biscuits and tea.
We then followed the trail less taken – the one with the steep switchbacks up to the summit of the Big Beehive. The fog and clouds continued to shift, revealing dramatic views of Lake Louise, the Chateau Lake Louise at one end of the lake, and towering Fairview Mountain asserting itself directly across the valley. No rain yet, so we headed up the trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers, joining many, many new hiking friends. High up in the valley above Lake Louise, we found its source – the six glaciers among six major peaks – as well as the historic Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House. Leaving the multitude of visitors to enjoy their tea, we wandered beyond the end of the maintained trails to immerse ourselves in imagining these ancient glaciers carving up the mountains before us to create the otherworldly landscape below.
With a forecast for more rain, we planned for an inside day, getting ourselves caught up. With absolute glee, we woke to a bit of snow on the ground – we always do dances in honor of the first snowstorm of the year! We were just a bit less gleeful when the snow continued and we woke the next morning to another 4 inches of snow on the ground, cancelling our plans to hike. Oh well, we’ll cocoon in our trusty RV and get more stuff done – bake up a fresh batch of homemade (RV-made?) granola, update the computers, play music, do some planning for the next leg of our trip – and hike the next day. Reality set in when we woke to 4 more inches of snow. We talked to people in the mountaineering store and the Parks Canada information center to confirm that there was significant snow at elevation and the trails were all icy. Alas, our Lake Louise, and Banff National Park, hiking was over.
Although we typically travel without much of a schedule, we’re at a point in the trip where we need to be mindful of turning the corner and being back to Vermont by November. We thought about it… We chose to not extend our stay at Banff again, particularly when the forecast was for rain and snow for the next week.
Despite the crowds, the little taste of high alpine hiking in the Lake Louise area was delightful. And what did we miss? Paradise Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks – yes, the 3,000 metre (10,000 foot) ones. We’ll be back!