The variety of hiking opportunities in the vicinity of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is surely equal to any area on the face of the earth. The region’s potential for outdoor recreation was first realized in the late 1800s, and it soon became the center of hiking activity in the Canadian Rockies.
This popularity continues today; trails here are among the most heavily used in the park. Hiking is best early or late in the short summer season. Head out early in the morning to miss the strollers, high heels, dogs, and bear-bells that you’ll surely encounter during the busiest periods.
The two main trailheads are at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Two trails lead from the village to the chateau (a pleasant alternative to driving the steep and very busy Lake Louise Drive). Shortest is the 2.7-kilometer/1.7-mile Louise Creek Trail. It begins on the downstream side of the point where Lake Louise Drive crosses the Bow River, crosses Louise Creek three times, and ends at the Lake Louise parking lot.
The other trail, Tramline, is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) longer but not as steep. It begins behind the railway station and follows the route of a narrow-gauge railway that once transported guests from the Canadian Pacific Railway line to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Lake Louise Hikes
Drive four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the TransCanada Highway up to Lake Louise to access the following trails. Probably the busiest trail in all of the Canadian Rockies is the Louise Lakeshore Trail (two km/1.2 mi, 30 minutes one-way), which follows the north shore of Lake Louise to the west end of the lake. Here numerous braided glacial streams empty their silt-filled waters into Lake Louise. Along the trail’s length are benches to sit and ponder what English mountaineer James Outram once described as “a gem of composition and of coloring…perhaps unrivalled anywhere.”
Continue beyond the end of the lake to reach Plain of the Six Glaciers (5.3 km/3.3 mi, two hours), which is a little more strenuous (370-m/1,215-ft elevation gain), where you can reward yourself with a snack from the teahouse.
The trail to Lake Agnes (3.6 km/2.2 mi, 90 minutes one-way) is a short, steep ascent to another teahouse (homemade soups, healthy sandwiches, and hot drinks); this one picturesquely sited on the edge of an alpine lake. From the teahouse, a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) trail leads to Little Beehive and impressive views of the Bow Valley.
Another trail leads around the northern shore of Lake Agnes, climbing to the Big Beehive, a total of five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the chateau. This is a great place to admire the uniquely colored waters of Lake Louise directly below.
Paradise Valley Hikes
This aptly named valley lies between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake; access is from Moraine Lake Road, 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from Lake Louise Drive. You can hike as far up the valley as you like, but the most popular loop is 18 kilometers (11.2 miles), which will take around six hours, sans stops. The trail crosses Paradise Creek numerous times in the first five kilometers (3.1 miles), then divides, following either side of the valley to form a loop.
Lake Annette is 700 meters (0.4 miles) along the left fork. It’s a typical subalpine lake in a unique setting—nestled against the near-vertical 1,200-meter (3,940-foot) north face of snow- and ice-capped Mount Temple. Those continuing farther will be rewarded with views across the valley and a series of waterfalls known as the Giant Steps.
Moraine Lake Hikes
Before heading off into the hills, make sure you savor the beauty of Moraine Lake from two spots—from the top of the high rock pile at the lake’s outlet and from along the paved lakeshore trail. Now you’re ready to tackle one of the many surrounding trails, such as to Larch Valley (2.9 km/1.8 mi, 60 minutes one-way), which gains 400 meters (1,300 feet) of elevation from just beyond the canoe dock.
In fall, when the larch trees have turned a magnificent gold and the sun is shining, few spots in the Canadian Rockies can match the beauty of this valley. But don’t expect to find much solitude (and don’t be too disappointed if trail restrictions are in place due to wildlife movement). Although the most popular time for visiting the valley is fall, it’s a worthy destination all summer, when the open meadows are filled with colorful wildflowers.
The trail to Eiffel Lake branches off the Larch Valley Trail after 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles), by which time most of the elevation gain has already been made. The lake itself soon comes into view. It’s small, and looks even smaller in its rugged and desolate setting, surrounded by the famed Valley of the Ten Peaks. Total trail length from the parking lot is 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles); allow two hours each way.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition