A couple years ago my parents surprised my brothers and I with an extra-special Christmas gift: a trip to the Rockies. We had toured the eastern provinces previously, but this was our first time going west as a family. We stayed in Canmore and spent our days hiking and skiing in Banff. I fell in love with the area, so when I returned with Aaron I had a list of things I wanted to show him. One of the things on this list was Tunnel Mountain.
Contrary to what the name suggests, there is no tunnel in or anywhere near Tunnel Mountain. Years ago when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, original plans called for a tunnel to go through the mountain. The idea was later scrapped (a decision that ended up saving the CPR millions of dollars) but to this day it is still known as Tunnel Mountain.
The Tunnel Mountain hike is short, and relatively easy with unreal views of the town and golf course below. It was a perfect morning hike before we carried on to Lake Louise.
The last time I saw Lake Louise it was completely frozen over, so seeing the famous emerald water was a first for both Aaron and I. The lake is fed by the meltwater of Victoria Glacier. As the water trickles down the mountain it takes a little of the mountain with it. The result is the milky, mineral rich water that Lake Louise is famous for. Originally named “Lake of the Little Fishes” by the Stoney First Nations, the lake is best known as the namesake of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta.
When we arrived the shores of Lake Louise were packed with people. The water was stunning but it was a little hard to enjoy with so many people jostling around, trying to get the perfect group photo or selfie by the water.
We decided to take a short hike to a lookout point we had read about. The short, steep hike was totally worth it. We had a perfect view of the lake and the chateau all to our selves. We watched canoeists on the water below for a while before heading back down to rejoin the crowds.
The next day we returned for a hike that I had been eagerly anticipating since day one of our trip. being a through-and-through tea lover I was excited to learn about the Lake Agnes tea house, one of the highest elevated tea houses on the continent. Built in 1901, the tea house has been serving hikers since 1905. The trails are the only way to access the cabin, so supplies have to be hiked in by staff. The cabin sits on the edge of the stunning Lake Agnes, so you can enjoy a pretty amazing view while you sit and rest your legs. Homemade soup, freshly baked bread and a delicious pot of vanilla green tea (all prepared on an old-school wood stove) made for an exceptional lunch break.
We were looking for an intense, all-day hike so we plotted a loop that would take us from Lake Louise to Mirror Lake, to Little Beehive, to Lake Agnes, to Big Beehive, and finally to Victoria Glacier before heading back down to Lake Louise. It was an ambitious route and we couldn’t have asked for a better day to do it. All three lakes were gorgeous, and Big and Little Beehive were well worth the steep climb for the panoramic views at the top.
On our way up Big Beehive, some other hikers pointed out a mountain goat on the cliff face opposite us. At this point we had witnessed mountain sheep, moose, plenty of white-tailed deer, and a herd of elk, but the shy mountain goat had eluded us. He was just a white spec in the distance, and if it hadn’t been pointed out to me I never would have noticed. Thanks to our trusty camera lens I was able to zoom in and get an okay picture, but I would still love to see one up close.
As we made it closer to the glacier the scenery began to change, getting rockier than before. We started to notice trickles of water everywhere, tiny trickles that would eventually connect and become a river, which flows into Lake Louise.
Making it to Victoria Glacier was a pretty cool feeling. From the shores of the lake you can see this snowy spot in the mountains, it looks so far away and unattainable but a day’s effort had brought us here. It seems like so many people come to Lake Louise, jump out of their car, snap a picture and drive away. Taking the time to spend a couple of days exploring the area felt really worthwhile to us. We felt like we really got to know the lake, beyond the postcard-perfect view that you first see from the parking lot. I’m glad so many people, Canadians and otherwise make an effort to visit one of our country’s natural wonders, but I can’t help but feel that a lot of those visitors are missing out on some of the best bits when they rush the experience.
After a long and lovely day of hiking we enjoyed an unbelievably good dinner at Chateau Lake Louise, a very nice treat from Aaron’s mom. We were seated next to a giant window which of course overlooked the famous view. Handcrafted cocktails were a highlight, but the mouthwatering lemon tart at the end was the real showstopper. It was a once in a lifetime sort of meal that tasted especially good after a very full day.
The next day we returned to the lake once more for a morning paddle before moving on. The calm lake was an easy paddle and a perfect way to say goodbye to the place we had very quickly fallen in love with.
Soon we were packing up and carrying on to our next stop: Jasper.