Lake Louise in December
January 6, 2019
Lake Louise in early December is a frozen scene. The lake, covered with ice, is being plowed to create more ice skating areas. A few ice sculptures are in place as the prep work for the January ice festival begins. Visitors are trying their hand at ice skating on the lake. The horse-driven sleighs are making their rounds. A handful of hardy folks walk the shoreline trail beyond the first hundred yards.
Lake Louise is located on the western side of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Start your day at the Lake Louise Visitor Center located in the Samson Mall complex just before you reach the lake. Think ‘plaza’ rather than ‘mall’ as you look for the complex. Ask the experts in the visitor center for a map and advice on activities in the area. Check on parking availability to ensure no special events are occurring that might require parking at the complex and taking a shuttle to the lake.
Wilson Mountain Sports, in the same complex, has a rental shop. You can rent ice cleats for the day from here. They also have advice on area hikes. Their advice is more blunt than the visitor center in terms of winter hiking and avalanche safety.
The Samson Mall complex also has a few cafes if you need pre-adventure caffine.
To get to the actual lake, either:
- park at the Lake Louise parking lot near the Fairmont Chateau
- Or follow visitor center instructions on parking and using the shuttle
The lakeshore walk starts in front of the hotel. The hike is about 2.5 miles total distance and is very flat. We had ice-cleats. However, the trail was well-traveled and regular hiking boots would have been sufficient.
Mid-week, there may not be many other hikers. It may be more crowded on a weekend. The majority of the hikers stick close to the hotel and do not venture to the end of the lake.
It is a pleasant, but not strenuous, walk. As you distance yourself from the hotel, the human sounds fade away and are replaced by the wind in the trees and the trickle of water from the hill into the lake. Occasionally, a dusting of snow falls from the trees onto your head.
The views of Mount Victoria and Fairview Mountain keep changing as you walk further down the lake. The lake itself is frozen and snow-covered so do not expect the turquoise blue color found in summertime photos. If you are lucky, the wind could kick up and a mini snow-tornado might dance across the lake.
As you approach the end of the trail and see a sign for the ‘Plains of Six Glaciers’ trail, you might hear voices. Look up and you will find ice climbers working their way up Louise Falls. Pause. Ponder how they know which piece of ice might hold their weight on their next move.
It is an out-and-back walk so return the same way you came.
This hike starts near the hotel. It is a little over 1-mile total distance out-and-back. We were told the viewpoint gives you a lovely view of the lake and the Chateau from above.
The advice from the folks we asked was this was the only other winter hike available, beside Lake Louise shoreline, that wasn’t an avalanche risk.
It is a not a flat hike – expect some quick elevation change to gain 450 feet in 1/2 a mile. Ice cleats were useful on this trail.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to complete this hike. Given that Lake Louise sits at about 5000 feet, the elevation change on this hike decreased our speed beyond our time constraints. We bailed out and returned down the trail before reaching the end of the trail.
On our next winter trip to Lake Louise, I would consult with local guides to see what other hikes are accessible from the Lake Louise area. I suspect a guided tour, with guides trained in avalanche safety, would give more options.
Other winter activities
Besides hiking, there are many other activities available in the Lake Louise area. The visitor center can provide more information on:
- Ice skating
- Downhill Skiing
- Snowshoeing on or near Lake Louise
- Trip Date: early December 2018
- Name: Lake Louise
- Location: Banff National Park, Lake Louise area
- Cost: $ – $$$ (park entrance fee, any rental or tour activities)