Lake Louise, Alberta, is undoubtedly Canada’s most famous lake. It is the jewel of Banff National Park’s many awe-inspiring lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
Visit Lake Louise in winter, and you’ll experience a snowy winter wonderland with dramatic, glacier-bearing peaks surrounding a jaw-droppingly pretty natural Lake Louise ice skating rink. Nearby, one of the world’s best ski resorts beckons.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know for planning a dreamy Lake Louise winter trip, including the best time to visit Lake Louise, getting there, fun things to do in Lake Louise in winter, Christmas at Lake Louise, best things to bring, where to stay, and what to eat.
Pack some extra warm clothes, and be prepared for the winter experience of a lifetime!
When Does Lake Louise Freeze
By mid-December, the ice on Lake Louise usually becomes thick enough for ice skating. The last two weeks of December can, however, be quite busy as many locals head to the mountains for their Christmas holiday.
Which Month to Visit Lake Louise in Winter
Winter last longer in the Rocky mountains compared to elsewhere. Typically, winter at Lake Louise lasts from November through to May. Each month of winter comes with ups and downs.
You can expect to see the first sprinkling of snow around lake Louise in November. The lake will be starting to freeze and will still reflect the mountains, but you can’t skate on it yet. Lake Louise Ski Resort usually opens in the first or second week of the month. November is usually very quiet in Banff National Park, so it’s a good time to avoid crowds.
The first two weeks of January are usually very quiet until SnowDays at the end of the month. The event includes a variety of winter activities in Banff town, such as snow and ice sculptures, sleigh rides, and at Lake Louise, the impressive Ice Magic International Ice Carving Festival. It’s a true magic festival that is not to be missed. It usually takes place in January. The estimated dates for 2023 are January 18-29.
February gets quiet again and is often the coldest month of the year, with temperatures dropping as low as -35°C (-31°F). It’s a great time to avoid crowds if you can handle the low temperatures! In March, the weather warms up a little, but you can still enjoy all the same winter activities.
In April, winter persists at Lake Louise. But with warming temperatures, the ground becomes a slushy mess, and the ice skating season comes to an end, so it’s not an ideal time to visit. The lake won’t completely thaw until May. In early May, you can catch the tail-end of the ski season; few people go at that time because most are starting to think about summer and forget that it’s still winter in the mountains.
Spending Christmas – Lake Louise in December
There aren’t a whole lot of Christmas activities at Lake Louise. You can expect some Christmas lights and decorations at Fairmont Chateau Lake. Besides that, most people enjoy the same activities at Lake Louise that they would at any other time in winter. Skiing on Christmas Day is a custom among locals; Lake Louise and Banff’s two other ski resorts remain open.
For more Christmas activity options, staying in Banff town 40 minutes away is better. There you’ll find more decorations, sleigh rides, Christmas caroling, the Banff Christmas Market, and the Santa Claus Parade of Lights.
Getting to Lake Louise
By car, Lake Louise is a two-hour drive from Calgary and 4.5-hours from Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton. For both routes, you’ll take the Trans-Canada (Highway 1) west of Calgary to Banff National Park. Lake Louise is 57 kilometers (about 40 minutes) past Banff town.
The turnoff for Lake Louise is just before the start of the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), the incredibly scenic road connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks. At that point, Highway 1 veers west toward British Columbia.
Just off the highway, Lake Louise Village is not on the lake but has amenities such as a gas station, Wilson Mountain Sports (where you can rent skis, skates, and other winter gear), the Lake Louise Visitor’s Centre, and a few restaurants and hotels.
From Lake Louise Village, it’s four kilometers (7 minutes drive) up to the huge parking lot, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and Lake Louise itself. It’s important to note that the side road to Moraine Lake, Lake Louise’s equally beautiful twin, is closed throughout winter.
If you don’t have a car, Brewsters buses run daily from Calgary (including the Calgary International Airport) and Banff to Lake Louise. Banff’s Roam Bus 8X also travels regularly between Banff and Lake Louise. Lake Louise’s Park and Ride Shuttle Bus are not available in winter because the parking lot doesn’t often fill up as it does in summer.
Lake Louise Ski Resort also offers a free shuttle bus from Calgary and Banff.
Side note: The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic drive alternative to the Trans Canada highway that connects Lake Louise and Banff.
Best Things to Do at Lake Louise in Winter
Not sure what to do in Lake Louise or what to see in Lake Louise? We’ve got you covered!
Here are some of the best options for winter activities to keep you entertained.
Walking and Hiking
Most visitors to Lake Louise simply take a stroll along the lakeside trail to admire the stunning views. You can also walk out right on the lake when the ice is thick enough. More serious hikers can take advantage of a variety of shorter and longer hikes.
Easier hikes include Fairview Lookout, starting from the lakeshore, and Louise Creek in Lake Louise Village. For more difficult hikes, such as the trail to Lake Agnes, make sure to research current conditions, avalanche warnings, and bring proper equipment, especially ice cleats.
Ice Skating on Lake Louise
If you do one winter activity at Lake Louise, make it ice skating on the lake. Lake Louise is the jewel of Banff National Park’s many awe-inspiring lakes. Nothing beats taking in the magnificent scenery while gliding around on the frozen lake. The rink is maintained by Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, with one section for hockey and another for regular skating. The best part is that it’s totally free!
If you don’t have your own skates, you can rent them at the hotel, or for cheaper at Wilson Mountains Sports in Lake Louise Village or other equipment rental shops in Banff town.
Skiing at Lake Louise
Lake Louise Ski Resort is the largest and most well-known of Banff National Park’s three ski resorts (the other two are Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay). The ski resort is located right across the highway from Lake Louise Village.
The ski resort features an impressive 143 runs covering four mountain faces. 10 lifts provide access to 4200 acres of slopes. The views are particularly impressive, with numerous glaciers and surrounding mountain peaks visible as you ski.
Snowshoeing in Lake Louise
There are several paths suitable for snowshoeing that begin at the shore of Lake Louise. These include the easy Fairview Lookout and the more difficult Highline Trail to Paradise Creek and Mirror Lake via Lake Agnes Trail. You can rent snowshoes at Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise Village. You can also snowshoe right on the lake.
Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise
Lake Louise is one of the best places to enjoy cross-country skiing. The area around the lake has been turned into a cross-country skiing paradise, with over 50 kilometers of scenic trails that wind through the picturesque landscape. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cross-country skier, you’ll find the perfect trail with single or double-track settings and skate lanes.
Cross-country ski rentals and lessons are available, so you can enjoy this winter activity even if you’ve never tried it before.
Perhaps the most enticing time to visit Lake Louise in winter is in late January during the International Ice Carving Festival. At this time, a variety of gorgeous ice sculptures are constructed beside the lake, including ice castles that can enter. Next to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, don’t miss the Ice Bar, made entirely of ice!
Afternoon Tea at Chateau Lake Louise
The best way to warm up after your outdoor activities is to enjoy afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the lake. The exquisite experience includes a variety of sandwiches, pastries, desserts, and your choice of tea. Afternoon tea is served from 12 – 2:30.
Other Lake Louise Winter Activities
Besides all the winter activities mentioned above, you can also explore nearby areas. There is definitely no shortage of places to visit in Lake Louise in winter and its surroundings.
- Dog sledding
- Ice climbing at Ice Walk at the Johnston Canyon
- Sleigh riding at Lake Louise
- Upper Canyon Hot Springs
- Visit Emerald lake or Peyto lake
- Go on a sightseeing gondola ride
- Spend afternoon shopping on Canmore or Banff main street
- Enjoy mulled wine or hot chocolate at the Banff Ice Bar
What to Prepare for Your Lake Louise Winter Trip
Temperatures can vary wildly at Lake Louise in winter, ranging anywhere from T-shirt weather to Arctic conditions. For this reason, it’s best to pack numerous layers that can be peeled off as necessary. Start with a base of thermal underwear, warm middle layers, and a good winter jacket and snow pants. Double up on socks, wear proper winter shoes and toque (that’s Canadian for winter hat), and especially make sure to protect your extremities, including fingers and ears, which are usually the first to freeze.
If driving, it is absolutely essential to have proper winter tires on your car. Also, pack emergency supplies in your car, including extra food, water, and blankets.
Bring lip balm and skin cream (it can be extremely dry, resulting in cracking lips and skin), sunglasses for glare off the snow, and sunscreen; even in winter, the sun can be powerful. If you plan to do any hiking, ice cleats are essential.
Where to Stay at Lake Louise
Lake Louise’s most iconic hotel is Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, right on the lake’s shore. 1.5 kilometers down the road, Paradise Lodge and Bungalows offers cabin-style accommodation and a fireplace in the lobby, while Post Hotel & Spa in Lake Louise Village has a heated pool and hot tub with a view.
For budget travelers, HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre is the only hostel in town, but it operates on a reduced schedule in winter. Finally, there are numerous hotels to choose from in Banff town, which is only 40 minutes away.
Dining at Lake Louise
Right at the lake, there are several restaurants in Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Feast on classic Canadian dishes at Fairview, cheese fondue at Walliser Stube, or afternoon tea at Lakeview Lounge.
In Lake Louise Village, some of the best choices include pizza and pasta at Timberwolf in Lake Louise Inn, fine cuisine at Post Hotel Dining Room, and excellent coffee and light meals at Trailhead Café.
That brings us to the end of this Lake Louise winter guide. We hope you enjoy your trip, and please let us know in the comments below how it goes!
Nick Kembel was born and raised in Alberta. After traveling and living abroad for two decades, he’s now back at home, exploring his home province. Read more of his guides at nickkembel.com.