As far as storybook winter destinations go, Lake Louise—tucked into Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada—is about as enchanting as they come. “Winter is a magical time to visit Banff and Lake Louise,” says Kim Logan, media and communications manager for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism. “You can do almost every winter activity imaginable from here.” She’s not kidding: skiers, snow-shoers, and even ice skaters descend on the area at the first frost. But its pièce de résistance is unequivocally the lake itself, an eye-popping turquoise color thanks to rock flour that’s melted into the water from surrounding glaciers.
The best way to experience the Lake Louise area during the snow-dusted wintertime months comes courtesy of Logan, who has lived in Alberta for nine years: cross-country skiing. “It’s my favorite wintertime activity, and there are several easily accessible trails in Lake Louise including Moraine Lake Road—one of the first spots to open for cross-country skiing in Canada. Of course, gliding across the frozen lake and soaking in the mountain vistas is really special too.”
Landlubbers will find thrills aplenty back on shore, including sixty-minute sleigh rides through fresh powder with Brewster Adventures (December through April); come Christmas, they’ll even whirr you by sleigh to a mountainside Dance Barn to sup on roast beef and strawberry rhubarb pie before a night of dancing.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has a new, sceney dining spot that opened in 2019: Fairview Bar and Restaurant, where guests dine on locavore regional favorites—such as salmon fillet with braised leeks and crab ravioli—while peeping out on the jaw-dropping mountain panorama through the restaurant’s oversized arched windows. To soak up the atmosphere at a more toothsome price point, swing by for breakfast; try the traditional benedict with poached free-range eggs, blistered tomatoes, back bacon, home-fried potatoes and housemade hollandaise. For the coziest possible meal, locals flock to Ramen Arashi Banff for note-perfect and fiercely authentic Japanese noodles (order the Black Arashi Tantan Men, with pork belly, bamboo shoots, garlic, and a heady dusting of crushed peanuts and chili oil).
Ready for an afternoon of revelry? Head back to the Fairmont Chateau where you can indulge in the Toblerone chocolate fondue at Swiss-German pub Walliser Stube or drinks at the Ice Bar. Perched lakeside each afternoon, the Ice Bar is the spot to tipple a shot of whatever liqueur you like—poured into your glass down a hand-carved ice slide, like an edible luge.
The boutiques here will have you breaking out your loonies ($1 coin). Support the indigenous people of the region with a trip to Samson Native Gallery, a beloved local institution where offerings include everything from paintings to hand-beaded mukluks made by First Nations artists. Plenty of wares are packable in a carry-on, including birch-bark pencil holders and deerskin slippers.
Bibliophiles can pick up well-loved books to read fireside at Mountain Lights Books, which specializes in reads on mountaineering, railways, the Canadian Rockies, and antiquarian tomes. It’s the type of nook where spines reach to the rafters; ask to see their shelf of old, out-of-print books to thumb through literal history.
For history buffs and architecture aficionados, the grande dame resort here—Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise—is well worth a splurge. The 539-room retreat has earned its royal moniker since it was originally built in 1890; it’s hosted illustrious guests for generations (silver screen legends Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks reportedly “held hands everywhere they went” during their stay there, according to letters from era staffers). Want to sleep where Marilyn Monroe laid her head? Scoot just forty-five minutes down the road to sister property Fairmont Banff Springs, another castle-inspired hideaway where the iconic starlet canoodled with Joe DiMaggio in 1953 while she filmed The River of No Return. No surprise: the hotel is just as cinematic today, with a Stanley Thompson-designed eighteen-hole golf course that sits roosted along the Bow River and a mountain-inspired spa where waterfalls plunge into whirlpools. Consider us entranced.
When to Go: Stunning all year round, Lake Louise hosts wintertime events that may be well worth booking a trip for. Among the annual jamborees: the Audi FIS Ski World Cup (November/December) and the Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition (January). Ensure any borders you need to cross are open before booking your trip.
How to Get There: Banff is a ninety-mile drive west of Calgary International Airport (YYC). Insiders arrive by train via luxury train company Rocky Mountaineer, a nod to Chateau Lake Louise, which was built for travelers on the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the nineteenth century.
What to Pack: No matter when you travel, weather can get chilly in Banff and Lake Louise. But with January lows often hovering around 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius), prepare to bundle up. Pack lots of cozy ski gear even if you’re not hitting the slopes—wind protection and fleecy under layers will keep you toasty as you enjoy all the region’s outdoorsy exploits.