Few places live up to their hype. The Canadian Rockies, however, exceed all expectations. No matter how many times you have seen topographical maps, photographs, or the movie Brokeback Mountain, nothing prepares you for the majesty, the scale and magnificence, of these mountains.
At Lake Louise, when I awoke around 6 and opened the drapes to my room at the Fairmont Chateau, I could not believe what I was seeing. The view might have been a huge, PhotoShop-enhanced image stuck over my window. But it was real: mountains on either side of the lake, a glacier between them, and in the crystal-clear turquoise lake below, their reflection. A twittering noise turned out to be not birds but Japanese tourists photographing one another in front of the lake.
The Swiss-themed Chateau Lake Louise, with hundreds of rooms and multiple restaurants, is one of several grand old hotels built in the Canadian Rockies early in the last century to house passengers traveling by rail. There are many ways to appreciate its surroundings. Canoeing is a good way to witness the lake’s four shades of turquoise. Horseback riding tends to be “nose-to-tail” with inexperienced riders. Not far from the hotel is whitewater rafting, but hiking—independently or with a guide—is the preferred sport.
Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper form a triangle. Many tourists choose to visit all three locales. It’s a few hours drive between each destination through national parks, where big-horn sheep, elk, and brown bears can be seen from the road. The town of Banff is somewhat commercial—locals say the initials mean Be Aware Nothing For Free—but the alpine scenery and trails around the Banff Springs Hotel, another grande dame (with a Scottish theme) from another century, are accessible and not very challenging. It’s a very beautiful area but in my opinion second to Lake Louise. The hotel does, however, have a splendid spa offering all manner of sybaritic antidotes to woes caused by the exertion of hiking.
Accommodations at Jasper Park Lodge, situated on a lake with mountains in the far distance, are log cabins with fireplaces. Not that heat is needed in the summer. Between Banff and Jasper is a side trip well worth taking—the Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier, a vast expanse of grayish ice.
Waking up to the real Lake Louise is just a memory now, but I am reminded of that startling scene daily. The photo I took of the mountains and glacier reflected in the lake is now my screen saver.
For information on traveling in the Canadian province of Alberta, where Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper are located, visit www.travelalberta.com. Other good sites are www.banfflakelouise.com, www.jaspercanadianrockies.com, and www.columbiaicefield.com.
Chateau Lake Louise, Banff Springs Hotel, and Jasper Park Lodge belong to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. Various package deals are available through www.fairmont.com.