one of the greatest drives on earth...
The largest ice cap in the Canadian Rockies, the Columbia Icefield covers 325 square km. (130 square mi.) or about the area of Vancouver. To put it another way, everybody in North America could stand on this vast icefield and there would still be room for more people to join the rather chilly party. The picture-perfect 103-km. (64-mi.) drive up to this climatic and geological wonder is not-to-be-missed.
An amazing natural phenomenon
From Lake Louise, take a unique excursion to the Continental or ''Great'' Divide, the point where all waters flow either to the Atlantic or the Pacific. This is also the boundary between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and neighboring British Columbia. Here, you can watch a stream flow not one, but two ways. The east branch heads toward the Bow River, the South Saskatchewan River and Hudson Bay. The west branch flows toward the Columbia River and then into the Pacific Ocean.
Hike to the ''highest tearoom in the Rockies''...
The hike to Lake Agnes is reputed to be the most famous in the Canadian Rockies, and it's easy to see why. From the shore of Lake Louise, it ascends 4 km. (2.5 mi.) on a wide trail past a smaller sub alpine lake and captivating waterfall, before arriving at what the Stoney Indians referred to as the ''lake in the clouds.'' In summer and early fall, the rustic chalet-styled Teahouse on its shore offers home baking, hand-warming soups and beverages. Find a spot near a window on the wrap-around porch and drink in the incredible views. A snack at the Teahouse will also give you the energy to continue to the nearby ''Beehives''. The best season to hike is June to October. Interpretive Mountain Heritage hikes to Lake Agnes depart from the Guides Cabin Tuesdays and Saturdays from mid-June, reservations are required.
Please note: this is closed during Winter.
''A matchless scene''Today, Lake Louise, and the Victoria Glacier beyond it, remain as beautiful as when Tom Wilson first gazed on them. In summer, the glacial lake, which is 1.5 miles long by 0.75 miles wide, is a canoeing paradise. In winter, it becomes a spectacular skating rink, 5,680 meters above sea level. Lake Louise has been visited by more than 100 million people and the number keeps growing at a rate of about 1.5 million per year.
In 1882, Tom Wilson, a CPR worker, was camping at Laggan, as the former Lake Louise station was called, when he heard the sound of distant ''thunder.'' This ''thunder'' his Stoney Indian guides told him, came from an immense ''white mountain'' nearby, high above ''the lake of little fishes.'' Intrigued, the next morning, he decided to investigate, becoming the first non-native to see what is now called Lake Louise. ''For some time we sat and smoked and gazed at the gem of beauty beneath the glacier.'' Although Wilson originally called it Emerald Lake, in 1884, it was renamed Lake Louise in honour of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of Canada's governor general.
Ultimate Rocky Mountain views
Visitors who want to see a peak panorama without a great deal of exertion have two choices, one in Lake Louise and the other at Banff's Sulphur Mountain. Pick a clear day, bring your camera, and wear sturdy shoes. Short hiking trails radiate from both gondolas' highest points.
LAKE LOUISE The Lake Louise Gondola will ''fly'' you 442 meters (1,450 feet) up Mount Whitehorn for dramatic views across the Bow Valley to the Chateau, Lake Louise, Victoria Glacier and Valley of the Ten Peaks. Open June 1 to mid-September.
BANFF The eight-minute ride up Sulphur Mountain soars 2,285 meters (7,495 feet) above Banff town site. At the top you can stroll along the Vista Trail and visit a historic weather observatory. There's also a trail up the mountain; those who walk up may ride down free. The Sulphur Mountain Gondola is 3.2 km. (1.9 miles) from downtown Banff, on Mountain Avenue next to the Upper Hot Springs. Open year-round.
A tiny gem encircled by ten peaks
A short drive or pleasant bike ride from the Chateau, turquoise Moraine Lake, set in the majestic Valley of the Ten Peaks, is a dramatic and striking ''little sister'' to larger Lake Louise. The priceless view from this hidden gem was once featured on the back of Canada's $20 bill. Moraine Lake is surrounded by excellent walking trails, including a suitable-for-all-ages stroll that meanders along the lake's wooded west shore, and a slightly longer viewpoint trail that ascends a huge reddish rock pile called the Tower of Babel.
Please note: this is closed during Winter.
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
Start your walk on a wide trail that starts up gently through a lush mossy forest beside bubbling Johnston Creek. This path leads to seven waterfalls and an optional walk through a wet tunnel. In the narrow canyon cut by water flowing over 350-million-year-old limestone, your world seems to consist only of fantastic rock formations and the sounds of swirling water. In some places, the canyon walls are more than 30 meters (98 feet) high and less than 6 meters (20 feet) across. Each year, rushing water wears away 2 mm. (0.1 inch) of limestone, scouring Johnston Canyon's face into amazing shapes.
In winter the Canyon becomes a mysterious, glittering world of stilled falls and pillars of blue-tinged ice. Johnston Canyon is a 35-minute drive from the Chateau on the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1-A). The best season for hiking is late-May through October. In winter, our Mountain Heritage program offers guided ice walks, including transportation to the canyon.
Canada's third highest waterfall
''Takakkaw'' means magnificent in Cree and the 380-meter
(1,246 feet) falls, named by CPR President Sir William Van Horne, do not disappoint. Among the highest in North America, these falls originate from the meltwaters of the Daly Glacier, out of sight beyond the cliffs. The glacier itself is fed by the vast Waputik Glacier that straddles the Continental Divide. To get to what locals call ''Tak Falls,'' take the Trans-Canada Highway west from Lake Louise into Yoho National Park. Turn right at the sign for Yoho Valley at the bottom of the long hill down from Kicking Horse Pass. The 14 km. (8.7 mi.) paved access road to the falls has one set of switchbacks that are extremely steep and narrow. There is a picnic and parking area at the trailhead to the actual falls. Please note this is closed during Winter.
A marvel of modern engineering
The display at the Lower Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint, 8 km. (5 mi.) east of the nearby town of Field, British Columbia on the Trans-Canada Highway, explains a railway and engineering marvel.
At this interpretive display, you'll learn how looped tracks were devised to solve the problem of the sharp gradient on the Canadian Pacific Railway's (CPR) line between Field and Lake Louise. The amazing result, completed in 1909, reduced the railway's grade from 4.5 percent, by far the steepest of any North American railway, to a more comfortable and efficient 2.2 percent.
Summer solitude in bustling Banff
The striking Park Administration Building at the top of Banff Avenue was not the first building to occupy this commanding site. Dr. Robert Brett operated the Brett Sanitorium Hotel and Hospital here until the early 1900s. Wealthy international guests soaked in the hot sulphur water, piped in from the hot springs above. In summer, Cascade Gardens, located behind the present Park building, offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Banff's main thoroughfare. Built in 1923 as a Depression-era project it is filled with decorative pools and tranquil gardens of columbine, delphiniums and poppies.
Cave and Basin - the steamy beginnings of Banff
Travel back in time to when Banff National Park began. ''The beautiful glistening stalactites that decorated this silent cave were like some fantastic tale out of the Arabian Nights.'' In 1883, that's how William McCardell described discovering sulphur hot springs within a misty cave. He stumbled across the ''Cave and Basin'' while prospecting for minerals at the base of Banff's Sulphur Mountain. Today, this national historic site is a fascinating mixture of photo galleries, Edwardian-era exhibits and interpretive hiking trails. Admission fee applies, guided tours offered in summer.
Fairmont Banff Springs
Canada's Castle in the Rockies
Never mind if it's raining, or snowing too hard to ski. A ''must-see'' stop on any Chateau guest's daytrip to the town of Banff, since 1888, The Fairmont Banff Springs has been titled ''Canada's castle in the Rockies.'' While the Scottish baronial exterior of our sister hotel impresses, it's interior delights. Nestled between craggy Rundle and Sulphur Mountains, at the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers, The Fairmont Banff Springs towers above some of the most idyllic scenery in the Rockies. Catch a fascinating glimpse of Rocky Mountain nature, history and culture in the rotating exhibits showcased in Heritage Hall. Play a round of golf on the acclaimed Stanley Thompson course. Or if you are in the mood for renewal and relaxation, treat yourself at the world-famous Willow Stream Spa.
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
While in Banff townsite, head here for an inspiring introduction to the human history of Banff National Park. Heritage exhibits, from photographs to Indian moccasins, transport you to early settlement days. Art, including the renowned works of museum founders Catherine Robb Whyte and Peter Whyte, holds a major place in the museum's permanent collection, dedicated to capturing this area's enchanting landscapes. The Whyte also houses a major themed exhibition which changes frequently. 111 Bear Street, (403) 762-2291.
Birds and bees to rabbits and wapiti
The most obvious place to see animals in Banff National Park is along the roadway. In the early morning or evening, drive out almost anywhere, except the TransCanada Highway and you may well be rewarded. The Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1-A), the Banff-Windermere Highway (Highway 93) and the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) are likely to bring you close to elk, deer and bighorn sheep, maybe even a moose, coyote or bear - if you drive at a reasonable pace and look carefully. The best seasons are spring, fall and winter when much of the area's big game has moved from the subalpine forest into protected valleys. An even better place to see all kinds of mammals and birds, from eagles to rock rabbits, is away from the roads on the many hiking trails that surround Lake Louise. Find out all about these magnificent creatures and their home on of the Chateau's guided Mountain Heritage adventures.
REMEMBER: Although it may seem obvious, the best way to view wildlife ''up close'' is through binoculars or a camera lens. Although they may look harmless, these animals are still wild and unpredictable. Don't get too close, because you can disturb them. Keep in mind that feeding wildlife in a national park is illegal and disrupts the animals' natural feeding pattern.
Please note some of these activities/venues are closed during winter. After you arrive at the Chateau, see our Concierge staff for details on these attractions and directions.