After two nights in Banff, Canada, pampering yourself in the hotels, exploring the town, and admiring the tilted mountain ranges, it’s time to head north to some of the most mind-blowingly beautiful scenes anywhere in the world—Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
It’s an hour northwest up Highway 1 from Banff to Lake Louise; Highway 1A along the Bow River offers better scenery, more wildlife, and doesn’t take much longer. The standard view room, several floors up in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, is small, with a Swiss-chalet feel. But a walk to the west-facing window is literally breathtaking, as your eyes drink in the view: Red Flanders poppies fill the foreground, behind which lies a glacial lake of an impossible light sea-green color—Lake Louise. Tree-clad hillsides rise steeply on either side, and behind the lake the massive Victoria Glacier crowns the scene with layers of snow and ice to 11,365 feet. All of this is perfectly reflected in the still waters.
In the morning, don’t miss the sunrise as it paints Victoria Glacier pink as a rose, reflected in the lake. If you’re energetic, grab a quick hike up to Lake Agnes and its teahouse, hidden in a hanging valley above. The trail begins at the north lakeshore and climbs up switchbacks for stunning views of Lake Louise. After 2.2 miles you’ll see the teahouse roof and a waterfall below the lake, climb a staircase, and suddenly the tiny green lake comes into view, backed by steep mountains.
No visit to Lake Louise is complete without the eight-mile drive to Moraine Lake, in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the second valley south of the mountains that flank the southern shore of Lake Louise. Under a summer sun, Moraine Lake is the color of perfect blue Kingman turquoise. From other angles it looks like Windex! You can canoe on the lake, but the higher you get above the water the bluer it appears, so at least walk up to the viewpoint on the rockpile at the lake’s east end, one of Canada’s most photographed views. Your friends back home will think you Photoshopped your pictures; no lake can be that blue! The classic hike here is to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass (see photos for details on this hike).
After two days in Lake Louise, it’s time to head for Jasper and its incredible wildlife. But first, take a day to explore what National Geographic says is one of the top “Drives of a Lifetime: the World’s Greatest Scenic Routes,” the Icefields Parkway.