Friday, September 08, 2017

Memorable Hiking and Sightseeing at the Lake Louise Gondola

We spent our summer visiting many of the local ski resorts, and knew we couldn't skip the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola. We spent a couple days skiing and snowshoeing at Lake Louise as a family last winter, and we were excited to see what the resort would look like with grass and flowers covering the slopes.

Summer sightseeing at Lake Louise (photo: Chris Moseley / Lake Louise)

The Big Appeal of visiting Lake Louise in Summer

Lake Louise promotes their summer experience with the following slogan: "The Best Grizzly Bear Viewing & Scenery In The Canadian Rockies!"

While we personally did not see any bears while riding the chairlift or gondola, we talked with other visitors who had, and the resort does report "near daily" sightings. It just depends on whether you are one of the lucky ones to be passing over the lower slopes at the right time.

There are several grizzlies who call the Lake Louise Resort "home" - likely for the safety they get on the protected lower slopes that are closed to hiking.

A visit to Lake Louise in the summer (or autumn) can be summed up in the following words off the resort website:

"Ascend To One Of Banff National Park's Greatest Mountain Viewpoints Where Grizzly Bears Are Spotted Almost Daily! Tour Our Free Wildlife Interpretive Centre, Take A Guided Walk And Dine In A Variety Of Unique Restaurants!"

 Lake Louise and area from the Kicking Horse Viewpoint, accessible via gondola or chairlift and a short hike

Why We Personally Chose to Spend a Day at Lake Louise this Summer

This one was easy for me in that my son was BEGGING to visit the Lake Louise Gondola. After listening to his cries and pleas for a couple of years, I finally relented and agreed to take him to what I thought would be an extremely touristy and crowded place in summer. Turns out, they have a few gorgeous viewpoints and a lovely chairlift experience. The advertising doesn't lie.

The Lake Louise Gondola is a fabulous experience for grandparents and kids

Why the Lake Louise Gondola (over other options for Banff sightseeing)

In order to provide you with a better "well rounded" perspective, I interviewed a few families who've visited the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola over the past year. Below are their thoughts:

"We love Lake Louise and had never viewed it from the gondola, so it was on our wish list. We tried to get to the lake side at the Chateau and it was so busy with visitors, they were turning cars away. Visiting the Lake Louise Resort was a much more peaceful way of taking in the view."- Claire
Claire and family at the Lake Louise Gondola
"We chose to go here because my in-laws are in their 70’s, so a big hike was out of the question. But they’re reasonably fit, so we thought we’d get up high using the chair, and then walk as much or as little as they felt able once we were up. It was a win-win because either way, we got great views and a worthwhile experience for them on their visit from Scotland." - Michelle
"We chose the Lake Louise gondola as a trip to take the grandparents who came to visit from Europe as they are not very athletic. You get gorgeous views, and as a bonus, you have a very high chance of seeing a bear ( which we did right from the gondola.) And the idea of a shorter hike with amazing view was exactly what we were thinking they would be able to do. Also we took 18 month old and 3 year old kids. Again, to be able to hike at higher elevations is great with little kids as we are still far from enjoying those longer hikes." - Lucia

Michelle enjoyed showing off our beautiful mountains to her in-laws from Scotland

For my family, it came down to wanting to visit ALL of the sightseeing gondolas in the area. We couldn't skip one of the biggest resorts on this mission to become summer ski resort experts.

Enjoying the views from one of the lookout platforms above the gondola

What Families Enjoy about the Lake Louise Gondola

For my son, my mother, and myself, we enjoyed being able to do a lift-accessed hike that was within all of our abilities. My mother is 70, is very active, and loves hiking. However, she can't hike anything steep, and so climbing a mountain was out of the question. Getting her to the top of the Lake Louise Resort was an awesome feeling for us so that we could all get to a beautiful viewpoint (and have the same views as if we'd actually climbed something.)

My son would also add that he loved checking out the wildlife interpretive centre, a short hike from the gondola. It had a large "touch friendly" table and he got to study up on his animal facts.

My son enjoyed looking around the wildlife interpretive centre, one of the best in the Rockies

Other perspectives:
"We all really enjoyed it, the lines were not super long going up, and we loved that there was a choice of an open chair lift or enclosed gondola. Our 4 year old was so excited to ride the gondola and he loved the views as much as we did. He also loved watching for bears while we were riding" - Claire
"My in-laws absolutely loved the day. The weather was perfect, so that helped, but beyond that, the experience of riding the chair, seeing the views, doing a hike they would not have done on their own, and having a lovely lunch at the Whitehorn Bistro has been a highlight of their visit to Canada." - Michelle
"My daughter enjoyed riding on the chairlift and talking about where we ski in the winter. We also got to see Olivia, the grizzly, and her 2 cubs playing on our way down on the chair – which was great." - Stacy
Michelle's photo captures how memorable her day at Lake Louise was with her family

Isn't it Touristy, Busy, or Crowded at Lake Louise?

To echo Michelle's words below, the resort was quite busy if you stayed near the gondola. I honestly think a lot of people don't even make it over to the Whitehorn Bistro and Wildlife Interpretive Centre. They ride the chairlift or gondola up, take their photos from the viewing platforms, and ride back down again, satisfied with the views.

Check it out! This is where I skied last winter!
"It’s a bit busy and touristy inside the bear gates, but we were so surprised at how few visitors ventured beyond the gates to hike. Most visitors it seemed, were content to walk over to the viewing platform right next to the chairlift, or walk down to the Whitehorn for a bite." - Michelle

For active families, there are several hiking options just outside the "bear gates" on the upper mountain. It's also a short 10 minute walk down to the Whitehorn Bistro where you can enjoy lunch on the beautiful patio, or take a look through the Interpretive Centre (which is awesome for kids!)

Everybody I talked to agreed that the resort gets busier in the afternoons. Take the opportunity to ride the open chair in the morning when there are no line ups. Later in the day, the line up for the gondola will be shorter and you may have to skip the chair in favour of the shorter wait (as we did.)

No crowds in sight if you venture onto one of the hiking trails from the gondola


Families Share their Favourite Highlights of a Summer Visit to Lake Louise

For my family, the highlight of our day was our hike to the Kicking Horse Viewpoint. In hindsight we should have also splurged on lunch at the Whitehorn Bistro.

Other Families Share their highlights:

"The views up top, seeing the Grizzly bears, relaxing and having lunch up on the mountain." - Stacy
"Seeing how much my in-laws enjoyed the experience. There aren’t mountains like ours in Scotland, or the weather for that matter. It’s an ideal spot to show off our fabulous mountains – especially for out of town guests. Lunch at the Whitehorn was also really great." - Michelle
 "Our favourite part of the outing was the amazing views from the top - hands down one of our favourite views out of all we've seen during our 7 years exploring the Rockies. We could have stayed enjoying the views all day." - Claire
"Our favourite part was the views from the Kicking Horse viewpoint." - Lucia

Lucia at the Kicking Horse Viewpoint (her highlight from the visit)

Mountain Top Dining - the Experience!

Since we "cheaped out" and brought sandwiches with us (splurging on Starbucks coffee at the bottom instead,) I had to get help on this one.
Michelle's family enjoying drinks at the Bistro

"We ate at the Whitehorn Bistro at the top of the gondola - with a lovely short walk to it from the gondola. There was great food and great service, and you can enjoy the same awesome view from the patio! It must be the best patio view in Alberta!" - Claire
"We had lunch on the patio at the Whitehorn and were pleasantly surprised. We shared appies that were all decent size at about $15 a piece, so we had a good amount of food without breaking the bank, and it was really good. The service was good too." - Michelle


Lift Accessed Hiking and Guided Interpretive Walks at Lake Louise

We chose to do a short guided interpretive walk on the Trail of the Great Bear (a 45 minute tour where we learned about bear behavior and discussed what one should do if they see a bear, and how to stay safe in bear country.) While the walk was interesting, my son had a tad too much energy to stand and listen to the guide's talks at each station. We therefore didn't get as much out of the walk as others in our group definitely did.

Guided Interpretive Hike on the Trail of the Great Bear

Interpretive hike finished, we greatly enjoyed a hike on our own to the Kicking Horse Viewpoint, 1.7 km round trip with 149 metres of height gain. The trail started from the top of the gondola and was accessed via the electric bear gates that you have to walk through in order to gain entrance to the upper mountain trails. (The lower mountain is kept closed so that the bears have a private area to roam freely in.)

We loved our hike but I would suggest some better signage in order to help visitors actually find the hiking trail off of the gravel maintenance road. There is a beautiful loop that leaves from the gravel road, but not seeing any signs, we stayed on the road all the way until we reached the final junction and turnoff for the viewpoint. Apparently we could have hiked though a meadow full of flowers on the way up rather than plodding up the road. We did find the actual hiking trail on the way down to finish the loop and enjoyed the ridge top trail that brought us back down to the road near the gondola.

Hiking down the ridge from the Kicking Horse Viewpoint

My friend Michelle also shares of her hike to the Kicking Horse Viewpoint:

We did the 1.7km loop out to Kicking Horse Viewpoint and back. We found trail signage to be poor, and there wasn’t anyone around from Lake Louise to chat with when you got off the lifts, but we had done our research, and we're experienced, so it was okay for us."

Most of the other families I talked to opted not to do any additional hiking beyond the Whitehorn Bistro and Interpretive Centre. With young children, there are no super easy hiking options, and everything requires an uphill walk (which in the summer heat, can be a bit much with preschoolers.)

And while there are three different viewpoints that you can hike to, it would appear that most people visit the closest Kicking Horse one. (based on my interviews and chatting with friends)

Solitude and gorgeous views from the Kicking Horse Viewpoint

The Autumn Experience at the Lake Louise Gondola

Summer may be over, but the best time to visit Lake Louise is right around the corner. September is the most glorious time of the year at Louise with forests of golden larch trees found on many of the hiking trails.

Enjoy lift accessed larch season hiking at the Lake Louise Resort this fall!

"Submerse yourself in the beauty of golden larches this fall while enjoying an unmatched and safe opportunity to see grizzly bears in their natural habitat amid some of the most stunning scenery in the world." (Lake Louise Resort website)
 Follow this link for all information on autumn sightseeing and hiking at Lake Louise.

Autumn at the Lake Louise Gondola (photo: Karen Ung, Play Outside Guide)

Tips for Visiting the Lake Louise Gondola

Calgary Mom, Claire, says that she bought her tickets from Costco the day before and that they were really good value.

Claire also liked the fact that there is a package option that includes brunch at the base of the gondola with the ticket which is a really good value for a buffet brunch.

Calgary Mom, Stacy, reminds local families that it's FREE to visit the resort in summer if you have winter seasons passes.

Stacy also wanted to mention that for those who are less mobile – the resort have van service from the chair/gondola over to Whitehorn – so if people are taking family members who could not walk along the trail – they can still enjoy the views and head over to the lodge for a bite to eat!  All you have to do is ask one of the staff and they will send the van to pick you up!  I asked because I would love to take my dad who is no longer able to walk that far.

Make sure you check out the wildlife interpretive centre, a short hike from the gondola

Full Information if You want to Visit the Lake Louise Gondola this Fall or Next Summer

Follow this link for information on all of the guided interpretive hikes available, starting from $9.95 per person.

A trail map can be found here if you want to do some hiking on your own from the gondola.

Hiking through flower meadows at Lake Louise

Information on the gondola can be found here (note that pets are not permitted) with pricing information here. And note, that while Lake Louise promotes their sightseeing "gondola," you have the choice of riding in an open chair or a closed gondola.

Find webcams here to see what the weather is currently like at Lake Louise.

No better views in the Canadian Rockies! (photo: Paul Zizka / Banff Lake Louise Tourism)

There is FREE parking (and lots of it!) with free shuttle service between the Chateau Lake Louise (where you'll find the actual lake,) the Village of Lake Louise at Samson Mall, and the Ski Resort. Find out more on the shuttle service here.
Fun at the Wildlife Interpretive Centre

Enjoy ride and dine packages from $38.95 per person!

Don't believe that there are near-daily Grizzly and wildlife sightings? View the calendar here!

All information on dining at the resort can be found here.

And finally, Videos!! Because let's be honest, they sell most experiences once you see what you're actually going to get with your visit.

Missed one of your questions? Find everything else out at the Lake Louise Summer Gondola website.

Disclaimer: My family received complimentary sightseeing and hiking at Lake Louise so that I could write this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

Special thanks to the families I interviewed for providing their honest opinions as well.

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