by Candyce Stapen
The location of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is extraordinary. Situated at 5,000-feet on the shore of an emerald green lake, facing the Victoria glacier and surrounded by the towering peaks of Canada’s Rockies, the 554-room hotel delivers a fairytale setting. The Chateau, like its sister property the Fairmont Banff Springs, lies in the 2,564-square mile Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park. The Chateau’s “backyard,” part of a UNESCO World Heritage area, features some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in North America.
Snowcapped mountains, glaciers, river valleys and lakes define Banff National Park, in the province of Alberta. It was precisely because of this majestic landscape that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), the developers, chose the hotel sites. The company’s philosophy: “If we can’t export the scenery, we will import the tourists.”
Pretty shrewd for a 19th century railroad company hoping to sell train passage. The castle-like Banff Springs, offering upmarket accommodations, opened in 1888. For Lake Louise, Cornelius Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, envisioned “a hotel for the outdoor adventurer and alpinist.” In 1890, a simple wooden structure debuted. As the Lake Louise location gained popularity, the company in the 1900s built a pair of Tudor style, half-timbered wings that increased capacity to 240 guests. In 1913, CPR added the concrete Painter wing and a grand dining room. After a 1924 fire destroyed the wooden structure, the company erected an eight-story brick wing, changed the hotel’s name to the Chateau Lake Louise and reopened in 1925.
The property operated as a summer only resort until 1982. In 1990 after $65 million in renovations, upgrades and a new wing, the Chateau turned into a year-round resort. In 2000, Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts acquired the Fairmont Hotels. In 2004, an additional wing geared to meetings debuted.
The Chateau’s storied past, large scale and AAA Four Diamond rating reinforce its image as a grande dame resort. So do the public rooms. Couches and upholstered chairs fill the large lobby’s seating area, but our favorite spot is the Lakeview Lounge. The floor to ceiling Palladian windows overlook the green lake, the snow-capped mountains and the glacier. Sitting here is a joy, but the waiters really expect patrons to order something. With afternoon tea, served from noon until 4 p.m., you and your kids get pastries, chocolate and the great view. Another option is Sunday brunch.
Children do not receive any special welcome gift; arriving at the property is its own reward. It’s in that spirit that you should choose this hotel. The Chateau is the sort of place where you and your children explore the magical setting together by hiking, canoeing, fishing, skiing or simply strolling around the dazzling green lake.
To learn more about Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, please visit Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- Dazzling alpine setting
- Hiking, mountain biking, canoeing
- Excellent skiing
- Horse Back Riding
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Lakeview deluxe rooms at 275-square feet offer slightly more space than the standard Fairmont rooms, which at 165-square feet, are workable but too "cozy" for two adults and two children.
At 300-square feet, the Fairmont Gold rooms offer ample space plus complimentary hot and cold breakfast as well as snacks throughout the day. The Fairmont Gold Suites are even roomier 480-, 550- or 640-square feet. Junior suites, 420-square feet, come with a sofa bed as well as two queens and the hotel has two bedroom suites with two and a half bathrooms.
The "alpine modern" decor features soothing beige tones accented with soft blue blankets and contemporized with simple lines and modern curved headboard. Complimentary nightlights, outlet protectors, cots, cribs and bedrails are available by request. The daily service fee includes Wi-Fi.
In winter your kids and teens can sample a total of 7, 700 acres cut with 240 trails at three ski areas. The Lake Louise facility, a 10-minute drive from the Chateau, rates as one of North America's largest with 4,200-skiable acres. Its longest run stretches for five miles and plenty of gut-wrenching steeps, open bowls, and chutes challenge your teens. The ski area also has beginner and intermediate trails. Kidski offers ages 5 to 12 supervised skiing and instruction Shreddies does the same for snowboarders ages 7 to 12. In season, the Chateau operates a complimentary shuttle to Ski Louise, as the hill is affectionately known.
Sunshine Village, between Banff and the Chateau, features additional runs as does Ski Banff@Norquay, the ski mountain nearest to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.
In ski season, the Chateau hosts a supervised Children's Playroom, open daily for ages three (potty trained and older) for a nominal fee. Don't consider this a daylong children's program. The facility works best as a "relief center," a place for your children to find other kids for a couple of hours of coloring, crafts, board games and movies while you savor a glass of wine by a roaring fire. From Monday through Friday, the playroom is available from 2 until 10 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Few ice "rinks" in the world reward you with such majestic scenery as the frozen Lake Louise, crowned in season with a man-made ice castle. For more ice time, tweens and teens can sign-up for a guided walk through ice-covered Johnston Canyon, dazzling with its frozen waterfalls. Johnston Canyon is a 35-minute drive from the Chateau.
Remember too that Canadian winters often bring below freezing temperatures and bitter wind chills. That makes the Chateau in winter best suited to skiing tweens and teens accustomed to frigid temperatures.
In summer, tweens and teens can ride the gondola up Sulphur Mountain for the sweeping views of ridges and the river.
Year-round kids can swim in the indoor pool, but those 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.
In winter families can also enjoy guided moonlight snowshoe tours and sleigh rides. As scenic as the park is in snowy season, summer, we think, is more glorious. In fact, about 75 percent of the more than 2.5 million annual visitors to Banff National Park come between mid-June and mid-October. The towering peaks, lush forests and verdant valleys plus the rivers, glaciers, hot springs and lakes create miles of varied terrain for summertime hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing and wildlife viewing.
True to its alpine heritage, in spring and summer the Chateau offers a mountaineering program complete with a mountain adventure concierge. This expert matches your hike to your mood. Do you feel like finding a sweeping view or a trail that leads to a secluded, fast-flowing stream? Pick your pleasure after consulting the concierge and pack a picnic lunch from the Chateau's deli.
The naturalist guides lead hikes as well as rock climbing and mountain biking tours. Even though you and your children can do these activities by yourselves, we recommend at least one guided outing. You'll learn more and will go farther than you thought you could, creating that sweet feeling of satisfaction.
On our hike we gather more tidbits about bear safety: don't linger in a patch of buffalo berries, a bear favorite that comes into fruit at the end of July to mid-August and don't run if you see a bear. Instead, put your hands in the air (makes you look bigger), retreat by walking backwards (never turn your back on a bear) and talk in a calm voice (Nice grizzly, nice grizzly). It's unlikely you will spot a bear at all, especially at close range. Banff National Park is vast. Chances are the only bears you'll encounter are the stuffed teddies for sale in the gift shop. In the meantime, enjoy the grizzlies' splendid habitat by day and the pampering of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the evening.
For those families with young kids who don't want to go uphill, enjoy an easy stroll around the dazzling lake.
From the Chateau you can take one of Canada's most scenic drives. The Icefields Parkway (highway 93) stretches for 143 miles from Lake Louise to the small town of Jasper. En route look for bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats, ravens and other birds as you drive through river valleys and pass forests, lakes, snow-capped mountains and distant glaciers. Spectacular views abound in this landscape of peaks reaching 10,000 + feet. Among our favorite sights: turquoise Peyto Lake, the bluest in the Canadian Rockies, a result of how the fine particles of ground rock, called rock flour, scatter the sun's rays.
A few miles after Parker Ridge, you leave Banff National Park and enter Jasper National Park. Not too far from this border is the Icefield Centre, the starting point for your glacier stroll. A bus with balloon tires that grip the mud and ice, tackles the road with its 32 percent grade for the 15-minute ride to the glacier, billed as "the world's most accessible." After the bus parks on ice estimated to be 1,000-feet thick, you get out to walk on a real glacier. The glacier, even if crowded with busloads of tourists, looms impressively. Reserve ahead and bundle up for this outing. On a sunny July day the temperature hovered at 50 degrees F. (In January, it's a blistering -40 degrees F.)
Icefields Parkway remains open to non-commercial vehicles from about April through October (check ahead).
All of the Chateau's restaurants have children's menus.
The Poppy Brassiere, an informal restaurant, serves a buffet breakfast, continental breakfast as well as individual portions of eggs, pancakes and other typical breakfast items. High chairs are available. For lunch, the restaurant offers burgers, salads, pasta, sandwiches and vegetable stir fry. In summer, enjoy lunch on the patio with its lake view. In summer the Poppy Brassiere serves dinner as well.
From the children's menu, ages 6 to 12 can pick pasta, pizza, chicken fingers, hot dogs and burgers as well as steak or broiled chicken. Desserts include banana splits, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream and fruit salad.
For sandwiches, snacks and picnic fare for your hikes, go to the Chateau Deli, open 24 hours. The small eatery also offers muesli for breakfast as well as hot chocolate and coffee plus brownies and the deli's special banana bread. The Deli will also deliver to your room, a nice touch that's part of the resort's 24-hour room service.
Enjoy dinner at Walliser Stube, a wood-paneled, Swiss influenced restaurant with a wine bar, fondue specialties and a view of the lake.
Fairview Dining Room
Try the Fairview Dining Room, the resort's AAA four diamond rated restaurant that serves Canadian inspired cuisine. Entrees range from sole to rack of lamb, beef tenderloin and venison.
Lago Italian Restaurant
Open during the summer season, families will love the Italian cuisine here.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Babysitting services are available for an hourly, per child fee.
The family pet is allowed as long as he/she weighs under 20 pounds. The hotel charges an extra per night fee.
Wi-Fi access is included in the daily service fee.
The daily service fee includes Wi-Fi access, fitness classes and ski valet and shuttle.
Art of Smart Timing
Most vacationers -- 75 percent of them -- visit Banff National Park during June, July and August's high season. The lowest rates are in winter from November to March. Shoulder season is April, May, September, and October.
Calgary serves as the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a two-hour drive from Calgary via the Trans Canada Highway. Stop in the town of Banff to browse the shops or grab a snack. From town, the hotel is about a 45-minute drive.
The service fee includes a seasonal ski shuttle. There is a fee for parking.
For Mom and Dad
After tackling a difficult hill, soothe aching muscles at the Escape Spa and Salon. While not glitzy or large, the facility offers pampering facials, wraps and massages.