A few weeks ago, I loaded up a rental car and drove three hours southwest to Banff National Park. Driving in Alberta is a unique experience that happens in stages. Driving south from Edmonton, the landscape moves from commercial and industrial, gradually to rolling plains and agricultural land. Fields of grass and golden canola that stretch to the horizon. Turning towards the Rockies, things change fast.
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada and the most popular, seeing more than three million visitors a year. Lake Louise and its Lake Agnes Tea House see many of those visitors, though my destination was the other tea house at Lake Louise–the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. From the parking lot–which is insanely full at any time during the peak summer season. I recommend parking in the overflow parking a bit farther away to avoid getting caught up in the herds of cars searching for the closest spot–the hike winds 5.5 km up winding trail, along the side of Lake Louise, up through forest and open landscape valleys between jagged peaks and rock walls. The first part of the trail is flat and easy to traverse, though past the Lake Louise shoreline the grade does increase. In the mountains, the air can be cold at any time of year. Dressing in layers is key.
The teahouse itself was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1924. There is no electricity and staff are housed there for 5-day shifts. Getting a seat can be tricky, though the crowds certainly thin out along the way from Lake Louise. I took the time to try some fresh scones and blueberry pie, which was completely worthwhile.
The return trip will take you about 4 hours through bear country–which really isn’t an issue in the peak season when a moment of solitude on the trail is rare. One of the most stunning parts of the hike is the way back, which normally for me is the most daunting part of any hike. But, on this route you’ll be accompanied by views looking down on Lake Louise from the trail.
The drive back to Banff town also leads you past Mount Rundle (see above) and a few more points of interest. Banff town is pretty commercial, but is probably a lot more enjoyable when the crowds die back.
Thanks for reading!