When visiting Banff National Park in the summer, one of the quintessential Canadian bucket list items is to canoe Lake Louise.
The emerald waters of Lake Louise reflect the imposing Victoria Glacier as the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise stands proud at its has for 100 years.
We were excited to get on the glacier lake, albeit a little nervous. It’s nearly impossible to capsize in a canoe, but these waters are freezing hovering around zero degrees.
Lake Louise Canoe Adventure
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It is the most beautiful setting in Canada. It’s no wonder that Canada’s national park system was born here in Banff National Park.
Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and we were excited to canoe on Lake Louise for the very first time.
Banff National Park is an hour’s drive from the Calgary airport and Lake Louise is another 40 minutes further west.
With our rental car packed, we were excited to explore one of the first tourist attractions in Canada.
Lake Louise was first discovered in 1882 when surveyors followed First Nations guides to the glacier.
Knowing how special this location was, they soon built a chalet on the site in 1890 and it has been one of Canada’s most famous sites ever since.
When to Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise can be visited any time of year. We’ve been in both summer, winter, spring, and fall.
In the winter the water freezes over and it turns into the world’s most beautiful skating rink! Read all about that here.
Crowds are far less in the winter and in shoulder season. But it starts picking up in April and goes all the way to late September.
Summertime is peak season in Banff National Park and unfortunately, it is also the best time to go canoeing on Lake Louise.
Go Early in the Morning to Lake Louise
If you want to have the lake to yourself, arrive early in the morning. They do offer sunrise paddles so you can check at the Fairmont for more information.
The parking lots fill up fast, so if you arrive at sunrise, you’ll have no problem getting a parking spot.
While you wait for the boat rentals to open up, you can go for a hike around the lake on the Lake Louise Loop (4km) or you can enjoy a coffee in the Fairmont Hotel.
National Park Pass
Be sure to purchase your national park pass in advance. They do ticket the parking lots and there are no exceptions.
Lake Louise is in the center of Banff National Park and you must have a park’s receipt on your windshield.
You can purchase it at the kiosks on Highway 1 as you enter the park, or order it in advance online.
Canoe Lake Louise – An Authentic Canadian Moment
The prices to canoe Lake Louise are steep.
It is $125 Canadian Dollars (about $100 USD depending on exchange rates) for an hour and another $115 for every half hour after that.
The price includes up to 3 people, so if you split it, it’s not so bad.
It is a lot, but if you want to do something truly Canadian, canoeing is the thing! It’s a rite of passage. Even in high school, we had a canoe trip every year to learn about life in the Canadian wilderness.
Canoeing in Canada is second to hockey!
We suggest spending two hours paddling Lake Louise to take in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and an up-close and personal view of Victoria Glacier.
But you really only need an hour on the lake for a good taste of canoeing Lake Louise.
The budget can ramp up quickly in Banff, so an hour will do, plus you’ll have bragging rights for the rest of your life to say “I canoed in Canada!”
Crowds of Lake Louise
If you want that spectacular photo opportunity of the Victoria Glacier reflecting in Lake Louise, go early in the morning.
Lake Louise is one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions, and when visiting in summer it can be overwhelming.
Tours and busses flock to its shore.
Visiting in shoulder season is recommended, but the weather is cooler and you’ll feel the chill of the water.
After our first visit to Banff, we knew to visit early in the morning, but when we went canoeing for the first time it was mid-day and it was non-stop people on the boardwalk cluttered with tourists.
The evening is not the best time to visit Lake Louise for photographs, but late afternoon is the best time for canoeing since the tour busses have moved on by then.
So I suggest going early in the day for optimal picture taking opportunities.
If you are in Lake Louise early spring, be prepared for the lake to still be frozen and snow-covered, you are in the Rocky Mountains of Canada after all.
The lake is quite large so once you are in the canoe and paddling around, you can get away from the crowds quite easily.
Once we were out on the water we situate ourselves under the shade of a mountain.
Dave managed to take some great shots of the Glacier from a different angle. People stuck on the boardwalk could not have gotten this view.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from Canoe
Looking back towards the hotel was quite beautiful.
It is one of Canada’s most imposing views and if you can stay there for a night or two, it’s highly recommended.
Staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a splurge, but if you only visit Lake Louise once, it’s worth it.
Deer Lodge located right next door is also a spectacular place to stay.
For our full recommendations of where to stay in Banff – Read here.
Authentic Canadian Moment
While paddling Dave commented on what an “Authentic Canadian Moment we were having – Canoeing in the Rocky’s on the majestic Lake Louise.”
It was calm and pleasant and the water was like glass.
We also could not get over how cold the water was in Lake Louise.
It is a glacier-fed lake after all and once we dipped our hands into the water we realized why they were so strict with their rules before we started paddling.
If anyone fell in the water in the middle of the lake, they would be in serious trouble.
The water never gets over 4 degrees Celcius.
Renting a Canoe on Lake Louise – The Details
There is only one canoe rental on Lake Louise and it is run by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You can view more details here.
The season starts when the snow and nice melts.
Rental Rate Cost: $125 per hour for up to 3 people. $85 per hour for hotel guests.
There are different packages like sunrise and sunset canoe trips as well as voyageur canoe experiences.
You need a parks pass to visit Banff National Park and Lake Louise. You can purchase upon entry to the park on Highway 1 or order it online.
Dress in layers. Bring a sweater and wear non-slip shoes. You will feel the chill of the water through the canoe.
Pack sunglasses and a hat. The reflections of the water can be quite harsh.
Unless you are staying at Chateau Lake Louise you cannot make reservations.
Otherwise, just walk down to the canoe docks and stand in line.
You can bring your own canoes and kayaks to paddle on Lake Louise.
If you can canoe Lake Louise, it is a magical experience. I would suggest two hours over one, but you can see plenty in an hour.
However, the joy of canoeing is being able to explore nooks and crannies that others can’t. So make a morning out of it and take your time to explore Lake Louise by canoe.
Where Else to Canoe in Banff National Park
You can canoe in many places around Banff National park. Canoes, Kayaks and row boats can be rented by the Banff Canoe Club on many lakes and rivers.
Nearby Moraine Lake is one of the most picturesque places in Banff to paddle, so once you’ve paddled Lake Louise one day, head over to Moraine the next.
Other popular local spots are the Bow River, Lake Lake Minnewanka, Vermillion Lake, and Two Jack Lake. All are located in Banff National Park.
Our Lake Louise canoe experience was part of a larger Rocky Mountain road trip and although we have stayed in Lake Louise and Banff several times, this trip, we moved on to Bow Lake to stay that the Num Ti Ja hotel.
If you get the chance, this is the coolest hotel in Banff. Located up the Glacier Parkway, Num Ti Ja stands directly on Bow Lake, the most picturesque lake in the area.
The Icefields Parkway is one of Canada’s most famous road trips, so we highly recommend working your way up to Jasper to stay awhile.
You’ll never forget it!