Monday, March 26, 2018

L is for: Lake Louise & Lake Agnes Tea House Hike

"Because the greatest part of a road trip isn't arriving at your destination. It's all the wild stuff that happens along the way." -Emma Chase

Last fall, Justin and I took a road trip to forever top all road trips. And one of the things on my "To Do" list this spring is to catalogue some of my favorite stops here on the blog. If you weren't following along on Instagram with our hashtags, #exploringwithjandj or #roadtrippinwithjandj, let me give you a quick little refresher...

After my layoff from ESPN, we decided that a trip of some sort was in order. Eventually, the idea morphed into a road trip. I mean, when else in life do you have the opportunity to just take off on the road for 2+ weeks?

I knew Montana had to be on the list, as I was eager to show Justin my home state and introduce him to the rest of my family. My mom was gracious enough to lend us her Jeep to help us save on rental car costs, so we had a beginning and an end. Aside from that, we had some stops planned out along the way, but we tried to be flexible and spontaneous whenever possible.

We also spent A LOT of hours in the car. Which means, I had plenty of opportunity to work on obsess over a fun little video highlighting all the places we visited. I plan on blogging about most of the places we stopped, so this video is a nice little teaser for you of future blog posts.

Lake Louise
The first stop on our 16 day road trip was not originally scheduled. I reaaaalllly wanted to take Justin to Glacier National Park, but the devastating wild fires last year made that idea nearly impossible. So we improvised and went further north into Canada for a day and a half stay in the Banff/Lake Louise area. It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of our trip; a good reminder to embrace life's "detours."

Getting there:
Lake Louise is located in Alberta, Canada as part of Banff National Park. It's known for it's breathtaking vistas, with plenty nearby hiking trails and that signature turquoise water. (Yes, it really is that color!) It's about a 2-hour drive from Calgary, where we stayed overnight after a 5 hour drive from Great Falls. (Calgary is also the nearest major airport if you are flying. There are shuttle buses from there, but I would recommend renting a car so you can explore on your own!) There is a large parking lot directly at the base of the lake that's also shared by the Fairmont Hotel, making it extremely accessible. If you happen to visit in high season, you may have to use overflow parking and take a shuttle. 

Where to stay: The Moose Hotel & Suites
The iconic Farimont Chateau Lake Louise has unmatched views of the Lake, as it sits squarely in front of the water. However, I loved staying right in the town of Banff a few miles away, giving us way more options in the way of shopping and restaurants. The Moose Hotel & Suites was absolutely perfect for that. It's a newer hotel located in downtown Banff, walking distance from pretty much everything. The entire property has a log-cabin feel, and our room was equipped with a cozy electric fireplace & outdoor terrace, where we sipped morning coffee and enjoyed a view of the mountains.

I'm burying the lead here. The best part about staying at The Moose was the rooftop "hot pools" (basically, giant hot tubs.) It was the perfect way to soak our tired muscles after a long day of hiking in the snow. (Yes, it snowed in September!)

Where to Eat: Eddie Burger Bar
Since we only stayed in Banff one night, we really only ate out once. However, the meal we did eat was fabulous. We were pretty ravenous from our hike, so burgers definitely hit the spot. Eddie Burger bar has a wide array of burgers including angus beef, bison and even elk! Of course... when in Canada... poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds.)

What to do: Enjoy the great outdoors!
There are no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy at Lake Louise. Probably one of the more popular is to rent a canoe or kayak and take in the views from the water. As I mentioned, it was raining and snowing on our first day in the area, so we weren't bold enough (or warm enough) to head out on the lake. Instead, we braved the elements on the hiking trails and trekked up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse.

Lake Agnes Tea House Hike: The hike up to the teahouse is a little over 2 miles each way. Depending on how quickly you hike and how often you stop for photos, you should budget at least a half day for the hike (1-2 hours each way, plus however long you want to linger at the tea house.) You will definitely be stopping for photo ops, and you most certainly want to spend some time at the tea house relaxing and devouring some of their delicious food. The trail is pretty smooth most of the way, so aside from some puddles from the rain, I was mostly fine in my regular sneakers. As we learned first hand, the weather can change in an instant, so I would recommend packing layers, even in the summer.

From the parking lot, you will walk along the boardwalk in front of the Chateau Lake Louise and then look for signs pointing towards the Lake Agnes Tea House, which will branch off as you reach the end of the hotel grounds. (This website provides some more detailed directions and pointers.) You will eventually come to a little lake called "Mirror Lake," which is a nice little photo op and resting point. After that, you only have another 20 minutes or so until you reach the tea house.

When you are properly out of breath due to the hike and the altitude, you will turn a corner and see a towering log staircase shooting up in front of you and a little part of you starts to cry inside. I promise this Canadian stairmaster is totally worth it. At the top, stans a beautiful little mountain oasis, welcoming you with tea, sandwiches, delicious baked goods and a view of Lake Agnes.

Lake Agnes was named for the original First Lady of Canada, Lady Agnes McDonald. She visited the lake in 1886 and was struck by the beauty of this little mountain lake. It's not hard to see why!

The tea house itself is family run, with tea, coffee, homemade baked goods and soups. The staff (mostly college students) hikes up the fresh supplies 2-4 times a week. There is also one helicopter supply run a year, which flies in all of the flour, sugar, propane and other dry goods. We were pretty famished and also pretty cold, so I might be exaggerating, but the house-baked bread that they served the sandwiches on was some of the best I'd ever had. Justin got a PB&J, and I tried one with homemade hummus and cucumber. We also ordered some hot soup, and a brownie for the road. 

Oh, and some tea of course! (They have over 100 varieties of loose leaf tea.) Basically, I never wanted to leave. Whenever you do decide to head back down, offer to take down some trash. The staff has to hike that out as well, so every little bit helps!

Lake Louise is not the only lake in the area with that glacial turquoise water. Moraine Lake is nearby, and looks equally beautiful from photos (though a much smaller parking lot that fills up very early, so be prepared to use overflow parking.) I've also seen stunning photos from Bow Lake. Two days wasn't nearly enough time to see all the area has to offer, so definitely plan for at least four.

We could've easily spent a week in the area, but the thing about road trips is you kinda have to keep moving or you'll never get anywhere. Thanks to my mom for letting us borrow her car, and to Justin for the amazing photos to help us remember a once-in-a-lifetime road trip.

I'm glad I finally got around to blogging about Lake Louise, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I can't wait to share more with you about our travels from last fall. Until then... put Lake Louise on your bucket list if it isn't already!

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