The sight of Lake Louise, spreading in a deep aquamarine pool at the foot of silvery snowcapped peaks, is worth traveling around the world to see, which is exactly what many people do: If you come here in summer, you’ll be among an international gaggle of tourists for whom Lake Louise is the Canadian Rockies. A small village with the same name sits along Hwy-1, but the 1.2-mile-long (1.9-kilometer-long) lake itself is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) west, at the end of Lake Louise Drive.
Besides the summer sightseeing, the Lake Louise area offers world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding: Three mountains (over 3,000 vertical feet, 900 vertical meters) are yours for the price of a Lake Louise lift ticket (403/522-3555, C$99 full-day, C$81 half-day). One of the lifts operates throughout the summer as well, offering a grand Canadian Rockies panorama.
Like the town of Banff to the south, Lake Louise was developed over a century ago as a tourist resort by the Canadian Pacific Railway. As in Banff, the landmark here is a magnificent hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (403/522-3511, C$280 and up), which stands eight stories high above the lakeshore. With a Swiss Alps theme—bellhops wear lederhosen, for example—the 552-room Chateau Lake Louise has every service and comfort you could want.
Of course, there’s no charge to explore the hotel or walk along the lake and enjoy the views. You can rent canoes and paddle out onto the lake. From the hotel a popular trail climbs over 1,000 feet (300 meters) in about two miles (three kilometers) to Bridal Veil Falls, continuing a short way farther to Lake Agnes, where a rustic teahouse serves sandwiches and tea.
Immediately below the lake, the family-owned Paradise Lodge & Bungalows (403/522-3595, May-Oct., C$189-409) is smaller and friendlier, with cozy log cabins and modern lodge rooms, many with fireplaces.
Back down in Lake Louise Village, at the northwest end of Village Road, the HI-Lake Louise Alpine Centre (403/522-2201 or 866/762-4122, C$30 and up dorm beds) is a large modern log-built lodge. Across the road, the nice Bill Peyto’s Café (daily 7am-10pm May-Sept., daily 7:30am-9:30pm Oct.-Apr.) is the area’s least expensive place to eat. There are gas stations, gift shops, a grocery store, cafés, and the popular Laggan’s Mountain Bakery & Delicatessen (101 Village Rd., 403/522-2017), serving great pastries and coffee in the hard-to-miss Samson Mall. There’s also a large campground along the Bow River 0.75 miles (1 kilometer) south of town. The whole place tends to fill up most days despite having around 400 campsites.
Smaller, less visited, but every bit as spectacular as Lake Louise, Moraine Lake sits at the end of a summer-only road, six miles (10 kilometers) south of the midpoint of Lake Louise Drive. Despite the name, Moraine Lake is not in fact formed by a glacial moraine, but by a rockfall; nevertheless it’s a gorgeous spot, the placid lake reflecting the jagged surrounding peaks. From the lakeside, a three-mile (five-kilometer) trail climbs up to Larch Valley, where you can see fall color extraordinaire courtesy of the namesake trees, which are prolific here.