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I dreamed of visiting the Chateau Lake Louise for years, ever since a family I nannied for in college showed me photos of it. Several years later, we were lucky enough to spend several snowy days there during Christmas week, and the place really was magical!

When we decided to go on a ski trip between Christmas and New Year’s, we knew we didn’t want to go to any of the super crowded Colorado ski areas; and if we were going to pay a lot of plane tickets, we figured we might as well go somewhere a bit novel. We had a couple of free night certificates (from the now-defunct credit card) for Fairmont Hotels, which manages the Chateau Lake Louise. So it was an easy choice.

Good for:

Ski trip, outdoors adventures, hiking, couples, families, travelers with dogs

How to get there:

We flew into Calgary International Airport (YYC), which has direct flights from other Canadian cities, as well as select US and international markets (we had a layover in Minneapolis on the way there and Seattle on the way back with Delta).

Calgary’s new international terminal is clean and efficient with electronic customs forms and US immigration officers on site. The airport also has car rentals onsite, making rental pick up and drop off easy. There are shuttles available into Banff, but it wasn’t much cheaper than a car rental, and we valued schedule flexibility.

It’s an easy and incredibly beautiful two-hour drive from Calgary to Lake Louise. The highways were well salted/cleared, so the driving conditions felt very safe. The hotel has plenty of parking on site ($30 CAD per day). Be aware that Lake Louise is within Banff National Park, so you’ll need to pay for a park pass while you’re there.

(TIP: If you’re planning to park your car at the hotel and not drive around while you’re there, you can get away with just one pass for the day you enter and one for the day you leave the park.)


Best time to go:

Because Lake Louise is so far north, it’s cold for a large part of the year. The lake doesn’t thaw completely until May! Late December through March is best for snow skiing, ice skating, and other snow sports; June through August is best for hiking, canoeing, and being outside.

The Hotel:

First of all, the hotel is huge. It’s big and imposing upon arrival, which is fitting given the giant mountains that surround it. The design is French chateau meets Swiss chalet–grand yet warm.

The main floor is filled with a variety of restaurants and shops. This definitely isn’t a boutique hotel, it’s a mountain resort and quite a maze. (I’ve heard the nearby Post Hotel is fabulous if you’re looking for a more boutique experience).

The hulking Chateau sits next to large, glacial lake, which is completely frozen from late fall through late spring. There are trails around the lake for snowshoeing, a horse-drawn sleigh ride, or hiking in summer. Once the lake is frozen enough, the hotel marks off a skating rink within it, and you can cross country ski across it.

The great news for holiday travelers is that the hotel knows how to celebrate winter! They construct a giant ice castle, an outdoor ice bar, and a maple syrup experience (à la Little House on the Prairie–pictured above). The lobby is adorned with holiday decorations and a massive Christmas tree during December.

What I didn’t know beforehand was that the Chateau is a popular tourist destination. You’ll see lots of people coming through the lobby during the day, but rest assured that it’ll clear out in the evening. If you’re out skiing or hiking during the day, you might not even notice. Plus, there are multiple restaurants and main floor areas that are marked off just for hotel guests.

The resort has a fitness center, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and co-ed steam room available for hotel guests, so pack a swimsuit. It’s the perfect place to relax after a long day of skiing, skating, or hiking!


Rooms:

The standard Chateau rooms are small but well appointed with high end furniture and Fairmont signature Le Labo toiletries (my favorite!). Some rooms overlook the lake and others look toward the ski slopes.

For a daily fee, you can bring your furry friend along. The hotel offers hourly dog sitting services as well.


Restaurants:

Fairview – Contemporary Canadian fine dining.

Alpine Social – Alpine-inspired comfort food with an après ski vibe.

Poppy Brasserie – Casual family restaurant serving a hearty buffet breakfast.

Walliser Stube – Swiss & German Alpine-style restaurant with fondue.

Lago Italian Kitchen – Casual Italian dinner restaurant with pizzas, pastas, and an Italian wine list.

Chateau Deli – Counter service with soups, salads, sandwiches, pastries, and a coffee bar.

Lakeview Lounge – Lobby lounge for drinks, snacks, casual meals, and afternoon tea with great views of the lake.

Activities:

Downhill skiing — The Chateau has a shop onsite with ski equipment rentals. You can also buy lift tickets through the hotel and store your skis overnight. There’s a free hotel shuttle to the slopes that’s about a 15 minute ride. The parking near the slopes is a nightmare, so I recommend taking the shuttle, but go early to avoid long lines. The Lake Louise ski area has a variety of groomed trails for beginners through advanced skiers. And the scenery is breathtaking! There are restaurants, restrooms, lockers, and indoor seating areas at the base of the slopes.

Cross country skiing — Equipment is available through the onsite rental shop, and trails leave directly from the hotel!

Ice skating & ice hockey — The Chateau rental shop has skates, hockey sticks, etc. available to use on the lake’s rink, which is open all day and lit at night.

Tours — The Chateau’s concierge service is fabulous and so helpful! They can arrange dog sledding, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and hiking tours for you.

Johnston Canyon hike — Johnston Canyon is an incredibly photogenic and relatively easy hike about 30 minutes from Lake Louise. During the winter, it’s an icy hike through frozen waterfalls. Though the terrain isn’t that steep, I highly recommend buying or renting crampons (spikes) for your boots or else you’ll slide all over the place! We ordered these STABILicers Ice Cleats from Amazon, which were as cheap or cheaper than the rentals. During summer, I imagine the hike is quite easy without snow on the ground. In both instances, it’s appropriate for small children and people of most fitness levels. You can book a tour if you want a guide to tell you about the history and flora/fauna of the area, but it’s really not necessary. If you go on your own, the parking and entrance are free, and the paths are well marked.

Points + Credit Cards:

At the time we went, we had the Chase Fairmont credit card, which gave us two free night certificates. Unfortunately for all of us, that card is no longer available. Fairmont is now under the umbrella of Accor Hotels, which has a rewards program (but that’s only useful if you stay at Fairmont, Raffles, Swissotel, or Accor properties).

Remember to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees (unless you already live in Canada)!

Why I loved it:

The drive through Banff National Park is truly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. As you leave the flat plains of Calgary, the jagged Canadian Rockies rise almost out of nowhere. The height and breadth of mountains is incredible, and a dusting of snow makes it all so romantic.

The Chateau itself was a bucket list kind of place for us, so it was a dream to go at Christmastime. It felt at once French, Swiss, and purely Canadian. The food was great, the scenery was awe-inspiring, and the winter activities were all loads of fun. It also didn’t hurt that a favorable exchange rate (about 75 cents to the dollar) made the typically high resort prices more manageable.

We can’t wait to go back in the summer sometime to see the crystal blue lake and hike to Lake Agnes Tea House!

And I have to say that all of the staff at the Chateau, and Canadians in general, are the kindest, warmest folks. That’s just icing on the already beautiful cake.

We traveled as a couple in December 2016.