Nothing beats a heart pounding climb ending in a serene, still, glacier lake. On day 2 in Banff National Park, we headed out to see the infamous Lake Louise and hike the Lake Agnes trail.
Lake Louise has a pilgrimage feel to it. Masses of people make their way through the small village and up the hill to the parking lot. Signs on HWY 1 will indicate the parking lots are full and direct you to leverage the shuttles. Yesterday we saw enough of the traffic to decide to arrive early early early.
The secret is to brave the cold morning and arrive at the parking lot before the masses! The initial reaction from Steve, who’s not an early riser, is “I’ve seen a lake” was not accepted.
By 8:00 AM we parked in a 3/4 full lot and headed out to join the lake edge selfie crowd. Was it pretty? Turquoise? Worth It? Of course. The lake sits under Mount Victoria (3464 m), and both the upper and lower Victoria Glacier. It’s the first glacier fed lake my eyes have enjoyed.
Hiking in Lake Louise
There are 3 trails routes leaving the shoreline.
- Shoreline walk 2 km one way
- Up the north canyon side to Lake Agnes 3.4 km one way
- Past the lake and up the drainage to the Plains of Six Glaciers 5.5 km one way
Today is about lakes and the Lake Agnes trail fit the bill. It’s a steady, mostly easy incline up 1420 feet in elevation gain per AllTrails.
Mirror lake is just below Agnes and is a nice break point. The Stoney Indians called it the Goat’s Looking Glass.
From Mirror Lake you can continue up to Lake Agnes around either side of the lake. We took the longer less steep trail to the right on the way up and the slightly shorter trail when we came back down.
Although the hike up didn’t feel crowded on our early morning trek, the tea house and lake area felt crowded. The tea house was built in the early 1900s by the railroad as a way to attract wealthy visitors to the area to not only discover the splendid wilderness but do it in luxury.
‘Lake in the Clouds’ as the Stoney Indians called this beauty. It possessed a sculpted painting vibe that even the crowd couldn’t dilute. It was named after two famous Agnes’ in 1890. The first white woman to visit the lake was a Toronto based public speaker, Agnes Knox and Lady Macdonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister.
The return hike down flew by but wasn’t necessarily enjoyable. It was late morning and the herds were in force both directions on the trail. Hikes for me mean getting away from it all and being on a high traffic trail isn’t fun. I’m very happy we committed to setting an alarm, getting up in the dark (and cold) to start our lake visit before the traffic picked up.
Trekking to Lake Moraine requires patience, scheming, and luck. On day 2 visiting Lake Louise, we observed that they had the road closed to incoming traffic when we arrived and when we left. We assumed they were limiting incoming traffic to just shuttles…plus maybe a small lot for cars. But how early would you need to arrive? In the 45 degree weather, the wee dark hours wasn’t something we wanted to do. We ventured back on day 3 after 5 PM.
We thought we were smart. Unfortunately, the road was closed so we drove onward to Lake Louise’s supposed full lots and found parking easy enough. Headed to shuttle area only to find the shuttle to Lake Moraine stops at 4 PM. What a big let down.
Leaving the area was a little sad as we didn’t meet our objective but then sometimes you get lucky…as we exited the Lake Louise parking and drove toward the village, we saw Lake Moraine’s road was open. I’m still amazed at how well that worked out; when we left Lake Moraine, returning to camp the entrance was again closed to incoming cars. Timing and luck!
Moraine is the glacier rubble left behind when it recedes. There were natural piles of rubble at the base of the lake and to the left. Walk around and up the path to the most recent one and you’ll be standing at the top of the latest Moraine.
Rain lightly came down while we were here. The sprinkles were fun only because we were here to be tourists, to see and wander and not hike.
The scenery here may sound the same; it’s another glacier formed, beautiful turquoise, mountain framed, blue lake. Add in the moraines, the driftwood shoreline and even the rain, made this my favorite lake visit in Banff.
One more surprise on the lucky outing. Our one and only large wildlife sighting of the whole week in Banff and Jasper. Lady Moose crosses the road. We saw her leap to the road and were able to slow down enough for her to continue meandering to the other side. The 2nd moose played it safe and stayed behind the trees. I caught a glimpse of her just watching, wondering what her crazy girlfriend was thinking.
Return drive on Moraine Lake Road
Just enough elevation for a valley view to cap off our evening outing to Lake Moraine!