Hiking the Canadian Rockies at Lake Louise, Banff National Park
By Candyce H. Stapen
Banff National Park, in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies, features some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America. The towering peaks, lush forests and verdant valleys plus the rivers, glaciers, hot springs and lakes create miles of varied terrain for summertime hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing and wildlife viewing. You can even walk on a real glacier.
Lake Louise is our favorite base for exploring the region. Situated at 5,000-feet, the mile-long lake is flanked by mountains. The peaks of Victoria Glacier, its slopes covered with ice, rise just behind the lake. The shore side Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a 4-diamond property, completes the idyllic setting, especially for those of us who crave a massage and a good meal after a hard day’s hike.
An especially nice touch for those who want to explore the landscape: a mountain adventure concierge employed by the hotel. He can tell you which trails lead to sweeping views or to secluded, fast-flowing streams. For those like us who want to learn some lore or try a new adventure, the mountain concierge can lead you on a guided hike, a rock climbing outing or a mountain bike trail.
Mike, our naturalist guide, gets us through the steep, initial half-mile of our hike on the Lake Agnes trail by keeping up a lively repartee about the park’s grizzly bears. We’d be lucky to see one, he tells us, dispensing such bear lore as the fact that a 600-800-pound grizzly munches 200,000 berries each per day. (Pity the poor graduate student who had to literally uncover that information from droppings).
Walking in a group and talking –or making noise—is the best way to alert the bears to our presence so that they simply move away. “The Canadian Rockies,” Mike tells us, “is a wilderness with soul because the animals are still here. We have black bears, grizzly bears, lynx, elk and other animals.”
Tall spruce trees and larch shade the trail. Sometimes around a curve, we see a vista of snow-covered slopes or glimpse a clear mountain stream. As we near the Teahouse, about two miles up, the terrain turns to scrub brush. The Teahouse, built in 1908 and reconstructed in 1981, serves tea, coffee, snacks and has bathrooms.
Another morning, we rise early to enjoy the still mountain air and to catch the Victoria glacier perfectly reflected in the green lake water. Later, we ride the gondola up to the Lake Louise Wildlife Interpretation Center. From the deck we savor a panoramic view of the eastern range, some of the highest and most rugged mountains in the Canadian Rockies.
As we wait for our “great bear walk,” we explore the center’s exhibits. We find out that a whitetail deer’s molars are flat to grind leaves and that carnivores such as wolves use their jagged, sharp incisors to scrape meat from bone.
On our hike we gather such tidbits about bear safety as don’t linger in a patch of buffalo berries, a bear favorite that comes into fruit at the end of July to mid-August and don’t run if you see a bear.
What to do? Put your hands in the air (makes you look bigger), retreat by walking backwards (never turn your back on a bear) and talk in a calm voice (Nice grizzly, nice grizzly). Most of the time this works. And remember, Banff National Park is a vast area. Chances are the only bears you’ll see are the stuffed teddies for sale in the gift shop.
In the meantime, enjoy the grizzlies’ splendid habitat by day and the pampering of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the evening.