Lake Louise is a stunning alpine lake in the Canadian Rockies, a turquoise jewel nestled at the base of glacier-packed mountains. Picturesque? Always. Tranquil and soul-restoring? Well – that depends. After all, Lake Louise is located in a national park that welcomes several million visitors every year. In summer, long lines of cars, RV’s, and massive caravans of tour buses arrive daily at the lake’s shores for photo ops. Winter brings the skiers in droves to the region’s slopes (and of course, those famous turquoise waters will be hidden below ice and snow.)
Having been to Lake Louise at various times of the year, we’ve come to the conclusion that early autumn may just be the most brilliant time to visit – and the diminished crowds aren’t the only perk. Here are our best reasons to give an ‘off-season’ trip to Lake Louise a try:
Avoid Those Mountain Traffic Jams
Lake Louise at peak tourism times in the summer is known to have stand-still, bumper-to-bumper traffic winding down from the lake all the way to the town site about 4 km below. Why spend your precious vacation time stuffed into your car? These extreme traffic jams may not be daily occurrences, but summer time (even on the least busy day) ensures bustling crowds at the lake shore as day-trippers congregate for their alpine photo-ops.
In early October, however, a quiet, easy-going stroll minus the urge to sharpen your elbows is more than possible. The same can be said for nearby Moraine Lake, accessible off the main road to Lake Louise. Packed with crowds in the summer, the majestic, peak-encircled lake whose image once graced the Canadian twenty-dollar bill can be enjoyed in relative serenity.
Summer Services Are Still Available
The summer tourism season officially ends immediately after Canadian Thanksgiving Monday (around mid-October – this year, Monday October 12). After that, many operations in the area come to a virtual standstill; for instance The Post Hotel where we spent our week shuts down completely for several weeks in preparation for the ski season. Until then, however, you can enjoy the activities, services, and experience everybody seeks out in summer – but without the ‘everybody’.
We were thrilled to learn that the Lake Agnes Tea House would be open during our stay. Taking advantage of the glorious near-summer-like weather on the first full day of our trip, we drove up to the lake then hiked for an hour or so up the mountain trail to the rustic tea house for refreshment. We enjoyed a piping hot pot of Early Grey (the menu boasts over 100 tea varieties), munched on yummy sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread, and ended with homemade chocolate chip cookies. Best of all, we easily secured a table on the tea house’s deck overlooking the lovely Lake Agnes – without feeling in the least bit crowded or rushed.
The Weather Works in Your Favour – No Matter What It Decides to Do
On a summer trip to the mountains, you’re probably hoping for a day or two when you can strip off that fleece layer and enjoy a mountain picnic in your shirtsleeves. In winter, of course, it’s all about that perfect dusting (or dump) of snow. But mountain weather is notoriously variable, so you can almost count on having to change your plans.
Autumn is different. We all know it to be a season of transition, so right away it’s easier to embrace unpredictability. You may be blessed with a few summer-like days (as we were), and if so – great! Take a longer hike, rent a canoe from the still-open boathouse and paddle the Lake, take a meandering drive headed for Banff on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway, or maybe go on that picnic wearing shirtsleeves.
On the other hand, it could be snowy or cold or both. You know you’re not going skiing, but you can enjoy the chalet-atmosphere of many of the accommodations. On a few chilly afternoons at The Post, we took full advantage snuggling up by the wood-burning fireplace in our room. When we felt more social, we sat on cozy sofas and overstuffed chairs in the hotel’s front lobby for the hotel’s daily complimentary tea and coffee services (for guests only). There was also the option of having a beverage in the Sir Norman lounge by its large stone fireplace.
And if you get the timing right, whether the temperatures are warm or cold, autumn in the Lake Louise area might offer you something you will never see in July or February – mountainsides painted yellow and gold as larches and aspens turn colour. Contrasting with the dark evergreens, cool slate of the mountain rock, the brief glimpse of golden tones is truly breathtaking.
The Elegant Comfort of the Post Hotel Menu – Even Better When Cooler Temps Rule
Dining is always a first-class experience at The Post. But the menu is also hearty and generous. Rich, sumptuous options like Quebec Foie Gras, Veal Stroganoff, Lobster Risotto, and five-course tasting menus can be enjoyed year-round, but are more suited to bracing temps. Begin with a drink in the Sir Norman lounge by a warm, crackling fire, and the rest of the evening is sure to fall in place.
Any description of the dining at the Post would be incomplete without a mention of its incredible wine cellar. One of the most extensive in Canada and winner of a prestigious ‘Grand Award’ from Wine Spectator, any wine-lover passing through Alberta must make a stop at The Post. We sipped such rarities as the Hermitage (Jean-Louis Chave) 2009, the Leonetti 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, and even a Australian ‘Sticky’ Tokay. We appreciated long conversations with the restaurant’s knowledgeable sommelier as well as a private tour of the cellar’s remarkable collection.
Fondue (Somehow) Tastes Better…
The Swiss mountaineering influence is everywhere in the Lake Louise region, from the fascinating historic photos lining the Post Hotel’s walls to the heritage signage around Lake Louise itself. But the tastiest tribute by far is the traditional cheese fondue.
We’ve spent many holidays at Lake Louise, and have always planned on at least one dinner at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Walliser Stube. It’s impressive woodwork interior and even more stunning views of Lake Louise can’t be beat, but this year we discovered that it’s food can be. The Fondue Stubli has recently opened at the Post Hotel in the intimate setting of the former cigar lounge. Fondues are not all alike, and the meal we were able to enjoy prepared by executive chef Hans Sauter is one that eclipses our fondest Chateau experiences. Everything from the portions (huge, generous), to the unforgettable flavour and textures (rich, sharp, smooth), access to the Post’s seemingly-endless wine list, to the service (impeccable and friendly) stood head and shoulders over the Walliser Stube.
I should note that in addition to the unforgettable food and presentation, we had the place entirely to ourselves. Now this surely wouldn’t happen at the height of summer or in the depths of the winter ski season, would it?
If you want to ski, then yes – don’t go to Lake Louise in early October. But if you want to hike, paddle, picnic, drive, eat, relax – basically do all the things you’d do anyway in summer but without the crowds, book your 2016 trip now.