Lake Louise is probably the single most famous location in Banff National Park, and arguably also in the entire Canadian Rocky Mountains. Everyone has at least heard of this place and its iconic Chateau Lake Louise hotel on the world famous turquoise lake. So for a first-time visitor to the Rockies, it was a must-go site, despite the obvious tourist cliches and expected big crowds.
However, this being a bit of a hiking/adventure trip, we researched the numerous trail options in the area and were happy to find a challenging one that promised a view of Lake Louise that few get to see – from 1000 meters above the lake!
Mount Fairview is located on the south side of the lake, and you can’t miss it – it’s the big mountain on your left as you view the lake from the hotel. With a total ascent of 1013m, the Fairview summit is the highest trail-accessible point in the mountain parks. The trailhead is located near the upper parking lot, and perhaps due to the trail difficulty, we encountered very few hikers on this otherwise busy day at the lake.
The route first traverses an old-growth pine forest, gradually ascending a few switchbacks on the back of the mountain before the trees start to clear, giving a view of the hotel below and the ski slopes beyond. The trail then passes through a meadow leading towards Saddle Mountain with its characteristic double humps. Saddle Junction, at about two-thirds of the 5.5 km total trail length, is a good place to rest and replenish with snacks. You’ll need the energy to push on to the remaining 450m of vertical climb up steep scree slopes to the peak of Mount Fairview.
We met another hiking party that decided to turn back at this point, which was understandable. The trail becomes less clear as you scramble up the talus, often requiring you to pick your own safe path along the loose rock surface. But the effort was well worth it, because true to its name, the scenery from the top was nothing short of spectacular. Thanks to great weather, we had clear views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks as well as Lake Louise far, far below.
We stayed at the peak for a while, reveling in our achievement, before carefully making our way down the slopes and retracing the route back to the lake. By the time we arrived at the Chateau Lake Louise, the sun was low on the horizon and the visiting crowds had dispersed a little, giving us the opportunity to quietly enjoy a view of the lake from the more traditional vantage point.