A couple months ago, I ventured to Canada for the first time with Haley, one of my best friends. We've both done a ton of international travel over the years (she's who I lived in London with) but embarrassingly enough, neither of us had ever been to our most neighboring country! We were both really craving a winter wonderland and Lake Louise had always been on both of our travel bucket lists, so we decided to plan a trip around that destination. We discovered it would be easiest to meet in Calgary (Haley was coming from Jacksonville and I was coming from Chicago) so we flew in and grabbed an Airbnb near the airport our first night (we didn't land until late!) You can find great flight deals throughout the year to YYC through sites like Skyscanner or subscriptions like Scott's Cheap Flights, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if you know this is a trip you want to take.
There is also so much to do around Lake Louise so we decided to rent a car (with winter tires!) so we could have more control of what we saw and visit some remote "off the beaten path" sights. Our first stop? Emerald Lake Lodge.
This cozy lodge is tucked away in Yoho National Park (about 2.5 hours from YYC) and is the epitome of magical. It set the bar so high for the rest of our trip because right off the bat we felt like we were living in a whimsical snow globe! There was fresh powder everywhere and barely any people around. The lodge itself offers century-old fireplaces and an oak bar salvaged from the 1890's. The rooms are housed in separate cozy cabins while the reception and dining areas are together in a separate lodge (this is the only area of the property that has wi-fi). Haley and I had some work to do when we arrived, so we cozied up by the window in the lodge to watch the snow fall, eat some lunch and do some work. That slowly turned into spending our entire afternoon and evening chatting with the staff, ordering multiple rounds of drinks and becoming buddies with them by the fireplace until finally, we braved the cold (and large amounts of snowfall that had accrued) to venture back to our cabin. It truly looked like a winter wonderland with the twinkling lights reflecting on the snow- no photo could properly do it justice.
The next morning we ventured back to the main lodge for breakfast (after having a slow cozy morning in our cabin drinking coffee, watching the sunrise and spending some quiet time with God). After an entire evening of snow, the property looked even more beautiful than it did the night before. We walked around the winter wonderland to take it all in (and naturally, take some photos).
I would highly recommend visiting this property for anyone looking for a place to retreat and reset. Don't plan on being very connected to the outside world (as I mentioned, service and wi-fi are spotty) but instead, bring a great book to read and let yourself unplug a little. It really set the tone for the rest of our trip to be slow, restful and reflective. I definitely want to return to this cozy cabin in the future!
From Emerald Lake Lodge, we hopped in the car and drove just under 40 minutes to our next destination:
Staying at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has been a long time dream of mine and I was so thrilled to finally see it for myself! For starters, there is hands down no better place to stay in Lake Louise (this is the only property right on the lake!) Haley and I felt a little silly to realize the lake would already be frozen by the time we arrived (we had long pictured the piercing blue waters that Lake Louise is famous for) but we both agreed once we got there that we were so glad to experience it in the winter. There was a beautiful magic so different than what we've previously seen in photos and we were so thankful for the unique experience (and now we have reason to come back in the summer!)
The property itself is gorgeous and offers plenty to do no matter what time of year you visit. There was tons of ski festivities happening nearby (although we opted to stick to the on-site dining and hiking around the property).
The concierge team was so helpful in pointing us to the overlook path we wanted to hike (and even loaned us grips to strap to our boots so we wouldn't slip!) They were also available to point you to any other activities you may want to book (snowmobiling, skiing- whatever your heart desires!)
For food, we spent a lot of time in the Lakeview Lounge, which offers incredible views overlooking the lake (along with delicious food!) We both commented how lovely everyone on the staff was. Not only were they charming and hospitable, but they were people from all over the world. We befriended our server from France the first afternoon we spent there and the next night we became fast friends with our Irish bartender. We may have been in Canada, but I loved sharing conversation with fascinating people from all over the world! We also enjoyed a delicious breakfast (also with beautiful views) at Poppy Brasserie one morning and an incredible fondue dinner at Wallister Stube (the fine dining restaurant) one evening. We were so impressed with all of the dining options at the hotel-we never left the property for any meal!
I would highly, highly recommend staying here for anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing Lake Louise. As I previously mentioned, there's just no better option than being right next to it (plus the property is stunning, the food is delicious and the staff couldn't have been more wonderful).
After an amazing two nights at Fairmont Lake Louise, we drove a quick half-hour into the town of Banff to stay at another amazing Fairmont property:
Located right in the heart of Banff National Park, Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is known as Canada's "Castle in the Rockies." It's been in business for over 125 years and is truly a once in a lifetime experience, no matter what time of year you visit! While Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was great for the proximity to Lake Louise, Fairmont Banff Springs is ideal for those wanting to be close to the town of Banff. Staying here put us close to dozens of wonderful restaurants (the property alone has dozens and the town has even more!) Some of the ones we experienced included:
AT FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS:
Rundle Lounge: A beautiful place to relax and enjoy Banff's best mountain views. We loved sitting here for drinks one afternoon to take in the scenery around us.
STOCK Food & Drink: We popped in here for coffee + snacks a few times, but our most memorable treat was hands down the dressed hot chocolate.
IN THE TOWN OF BANFF:
The Maple Leaf: We loved coming here for drinks and charcuterie (Canada has some seriously incredible meat so this was a great place to sample their variety). It had such a cozy ambiance and the staff was fantastic!
Saltlik: We had an amazing dinner here one night (with a cozy lodge-style ambiance). Both of us loved our meals and our server was wonderful too.
I would highly recommend staying at Fairmont Banff Springs for anyone wanting to spend some time in the heart of this adorable mountain town. It was a totally different experience than Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise but I really enjoyed both experiences, both properties and all of the staff at both properties that we worked with.
I was really happy with the way that Haley and I spaced out our time in this region of Canada, so I'd definitely recommend replicating our same itinerary. Starting at Emerald Lake Lodge and slowly working our way back toward Calgary (stopping at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and ending at Fairmont Banff Springs) made for a shorter drive back to YYC and let us see a variety of isolated nature but also a bustling little mountain town. The combination gave us so much beauty to see and a variety of things to do. Some general things to know before you plan a trip of your own?
- Be mindful of what kind of experience you want to have. If you prefer activities like hiking or water sports, aim to visit in the summer months. If you want to enjoy a winter wonderland with plenty of snow, aim for the winter. Lake Louise is typically frozen over starting as early as November and doesn't usually start to thaw until June.
- Factor in how much time you desire to spend in each place. Haley and I had 6 days in this region but it did feel like the time flew by (we spent a fair amount of time getting to and from each destination- especially with Calgary on the front and back end) so you might want to allow more time if you want to really do all of these places justice.
- Remember the exchange rate. Prices may seem astronomical if you're visiting from the US, but the conversion actually works in our favor. You'll end up spending less than what you actually think you are, but regardless it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the exchange rate at the time you're traveling.
- Stick to the speed limit. While driving through the parks there were times it was completely empty and it felt like we were traveling at a normal pace. Unfortunately, we were stopped for speeding (and ticketed- UGH!) so be sure you don't make the same mistake that we did!
Any other questions you have about planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies? Let me know in the comments below!