Since retiring from my real job in 2016, I have worked for several companies in the Bow Valley. In May of this year (2019) I commenced a new adventure; shuttle driver for the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Having visited the village of Lake Louise frequently during the past few years, I knew it was a busy place, particularly during peak season (late June to mid-September). Now that I am in the thick of it, I am witness to just how frustrating, even infuriating it can be to enjoy a visit to this amazing place. Even with traffic control people trying to maintain order at all the intersections, ten hours/day, seven days/week—IT’S NUTS.
Travelers from all over the world come to Lake Louise for three reasons: to see the lakes--Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and to ride the gondola at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Ideally, getting in all three activities would be a perfect day at Lake Louise. So, what’s the problem? VOLUME.
NOTE: People are sometimes confused as to where they need to go. The Village of Lake Louise is located right off the trans-Canada highway and consists of the Samson Mall, three motels, the hostel, a couple of gas stations and lots of staff accommodation. The actual lake (Lake Louise) is located at the Fairmont - Chateau Lake Louise, about 4 kilometers up from the village. The turn-off to Moraine Lake is about halfway up to the Chateau and then 11 kilometers down a paved road to Moraine Lake Lodge. The Lake Louise Ski Resort is located about 2 kilometers from the village, on the opposite side of the valley as the Chateau.
In the absence of traffic, it would take about ten minutes to drive from the ski resort to the Chateau Lake Louise, each on opposite sides of the valley. During peak season, however, I have seen it take up to an hour. And that’s despite flashing signs on the highway and in the village warning that the parking lots at the lake are full. Cars, motorhomes and trucks pulling 30-foot trailers will creep up the only, and sometimes steep road to the lakes only to be turned around at the top and sent back to the village. Frustrating and infuriating indeed.
There are, however, ways to avoid the frustration and enjoy a pleasurable visit to this incredible place. The secret: buses and shuttles or, and better yet, very early arrivals (no later than 6:30 a.m.) to the Chateau Lake Louise or Moraine Lake parking lots.
1) The ROAM Bus service from Banff; an option for folks that might be staying in Banff or for travelers exploring Canada without a vehicle. The ROAM bus was initially the town bus service for Banff. In the past couple of years they have expanded the service to Canmore and Lake Louise. Riders can take either the ROAM Express direct from Banff down the trans-Canada highway to Lake Louise or the ROAM Scenic bus that travels down the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy. 1a). The scenic bus does have stops along the parkway at specific points of interest. Either way, you’ll get a ride right up to the parking lot at the Chateau Lake Louise. There is a fee for this service and depending on the day, there could be line-ups.
2) The Lake Louise over-flow parking lot is located on the trans-Canada highway, about 4 kilometers east of the village of Lake Louise. Parks Canada offers a regular shuttle service to the parking lot at the Chateau Lake Louise from this parking lot. This very spacious over-flow parking lot does, however, tend to get full very early in the day and I have seen traffic lined up back to the highway. There may also be a lengthy wait to get on a shuttle once you have found a parking spot. There is a fee for this service as well.
The Best Option – in my opinion, and not because I work for the resort.
3) The Lake Louise Ski Resort shuttle. Many visitors park in the crowded village mall parking lot and aimlessly wonder around looking for a shuttle up to the lake. Many of those folks have already tried driving up to Lake Louise and/or Moraine Lake only to be turned around at the top and sent back down. And, the mall lot only offers two-hour parking. Here’s what I suggest.
Drive up to the ski resort where there is ample free, all day parking. Before you do anything else, buy your tickets for the gondola and then immediately speak to the bus host who can be found at the shuttle bus stop outside the front door of the ski lodge. Because gondola ticket holders get preferred seating, you and your group will be able to reserve a spot on the 24-passenger shuttle bus that regularly runs between the ski resort and the lake. And this shuttle service is free. Enjoy your ride up the mountain on the gondola (in an open chair or an enclosed cabin) where upon reaching the top you’ll be treated to spectacular views from the viewing deck, knowledgeable guides at the interpretive center, hiking trails and delicious cuisine the Whitehorn Lodge. When you come down, you’ll take your reserved seat on the bus and be dropped off right at the Chateau and only a few steps from the iconic Lake Louise itself. We will also make sure you get back to the resort and to your car—if you make it back to the bus stop at the lake for the last run down.
Having said all that, visiting Moraine Lake can be a little trickier, but not impossible. Parking at Moraine Lake is even more scarce than at Lake Louise. Again, if you are resolute on parking at Moraine Lake, arrive early. I was there at 5 a.m. in mid-June and the place was starting to get busy, mostly with photographers setting up to catch the sunrise.
Parks Canada does offer a shuttle service to Moraine Lake, for a fee, but you need to get to the parking lot at the Chateau (Lake Louise) to get it. And, if you are not there early, expect line-ups and possible long waits before a seat becomes available. There is a private shuttle operator that parks in front of the ski resort shuttle bus at the Chateau.
If you are interested in a guided hike around Moraine Lake, the Lake Louise Ski Resort can look after that as well. You will need to check in at the guides cabin at the ski resort where they will provide the details. At present, there are two departure times/day - 10:00 a.m. and 2 p.m. Transportation to and from Moraine Lake is included.
These are the options that I am most familiar with. Some research might uncover other options for getting around a very busy Lake Louise. As noted, the ski resort option, in my honest opinion, is the best way to get the most out of your visit to Lake Louise. Arriving early for any of the options is your best bet at avoiding any delays.
For a complete overview of the services offered by the Lake Louise Ski Resort, go to: https://www.skilouise.com/groups-and-weddings/groups-summer-sightseeing-gondola.php