If you could send just one postcard home showing off your travels to Canada, Lake Louise might be the winner. It is no wonder the place is packed in the summer. Even with all the hype, as you step in front of the majestic mountains and crystal lake, it feels worth the wait.
“This is why people want to visit Canada!” I thought to myself, taking one photo after another and drinking in the scenery, giddy with excitement. In moving back to Canada we’ve been lucky to visit Banff and Lake Louise in the winter and spring. In our opinion the question is not should you visit the Canadian Rockies, but when?
This vegetarian travel guide for Banff and Lake Louise outlines our favourite places to eat, stay, shop and explore. Scroll down for all the details and we hope this can be a great resource for you as you plan your travels.
The history of Banff unfolded around us, stories slipping out about the Swiss mountaineering guides brought here by the Canadian Pacific Railway to help tourists find their way through the mountains. The first wooden skis then came from Europe encouraging local young daredevils to replicate their own. The Canadian Pacific Railway had a vision to create a tourism destination with a series of luxurious hotels across Western Canada, and when the Winter Carnival was created it sealed Banff’s popularity.
Off we went to check out Lake Louise, driving along the highway, stopping every so often to wade through deep snow and take photos of bubbling rivers in the winter sun. Eyes peeled for moose, we never saw one but rumour has it the best place to look is the ice fields where the moose can’t resist licking salt from the roads.
Lake Louise was a winter wonderland. At first I was surprised not to see the famous blue waters, the lake was frozen over a thick sheet as far as the eye could see. However the winter charms won us over, the jolly horses jingling with their sleds behind them, the swish of the skates on the ice, and miles of tracks over the lake to the valley on the other side. Our visit happened to be during the Ice Magic Festival, and in front of the Fairmont hotel glistening ice statues slowly transformed under the sun’s rays.
When we had the chance to visit the Rockies for a second time, we knew we wanted to come back in the spring and see the lake in its full emerald glory. Both times were marvellous – hard to choose a favourite!
Where to Stay – The Fairmont Hotels
- Fairmont Banff Springs | Staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs is like staying in a museum. The “castle in the sky” first opened its doors in 1888, welcoming guests from around the world including Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill. The hotel boasts a onsite spa with hot pools, an elegant lobby, sweeping mountain views, and multiple dining outlets to satisfy your thirst and hunger. Only a short walk into town (or catch the hotel’s car service), you can also hire snow boots, among other winter equipment, to walk the nearby trails along the Bow River.
- The Fairmont Lake Louise | Lake Louise is located within the Banff National Park, less than an hour drive from the town of Banff. I’ve been told its a lovely experience to book a room at the Fairmont Lake Louise for the weekend, curl up in one of the bay windows with a book, and look out over the lake. We can attest to the wonderful feeling as you sit in the Lakeview Lounge enjoying a glass of wine, musing about how pretty the scenery is. There is excitement in the air, as if each guest knows they’ve found a special place on earth.
Where to Eat – Vegan & Vegetarian
- Nourish | Hands down, our favourite vegetarian spot in Banff is Nourish. Good cocktails, a large selection of bitters and caesars made with in-house worcestershire sauce, great daily specials, and vegan ‘Glow Food‘ cheese made right here in Banff. This cozy spot is decorated with Edison style light bulbs, paper mâché, projection art and local paintings. Our recommendation would be to start with the Nachos, voted best Nachos since 2016, overflowing with 29 ingredients and accompanied by a strawberry salsa. The ravioli makes an excellent main to follow. After chatting with the bartender he shared with us his favourite part of Banff was the people.
Everyone’s a similar age group and you meet a lot of international travellers and interesting people.
- Wild Flour Bakery | Proudly local, Wild Flour is a great organic cafe that offers vegan sandwiches and a selection of freshly baked treats straight out of their stone hearth oven.
- Stock | Located within the Fairmont Banff Spring lobby, Stock is a good option for grab and go or a casual sit down meal. Choose from warming soups, avo toasts, exotic lattes, and fresh pastries. Check out the futuristic display fridge with fresh sprouts and greens, and challenge your mate to a game of giant scrabble.
- Three Ravens | A highly rated fine dining restaurant in Banff with modern decor and great views which offers a selection of vegan and vegetarian options, if you can look past the otherwise mainly meat and fish based offerings.
- Sky Bistro | More for the view than the vegetarian selection, though they do have a few vegetarian dishes to choose from, Sky Bistro is a pretty special place for date night at the top of the mountain with a romantic gondola ride to get there.
- Juniper Bistro | Another spot with a wonderful view and some vegetarian/vegan options available.
- Fairmont Lake Louise – Lakeview Lounge | Stunning views from cozy plush chairs or sit outside on the patio on a sunny day, this is the spot to enjoy a glass of wine take in all the beauty of Lake Louise.
- Ice Bar | For a novel experience during the winter Ice Magic Festival order a drink from the Fairmont’s open air ice bar and watch the hockey players skate around the lake.
Where to Shop
- Rocky Mountain Soap Company | Gorgeous collection of soaps and other skin care products. Choose a box and fill it with four of your favourite handmade soaps for great gifts all year long.
- Branches Marketplace | Just a super cute little shop with local and handmade items to peruse.
- Amaryllis Crystal Garden | The place in Banff for all your precious stones and crystals, take a wander and see which stones you are drawn to. This is one of the reasons you gotta pack light!
- Banff Tea Company | Local store selling loose leaf tea with delicious blends like Mama Bear and Banff Trail Mix.
Get Out & Explore!
- Ambraham Lake | Abraham lake is a bit of a drive from Banff (2 hours and 15 min) and off the beaten track, but this is a special sight which draws photographers from far and wide. Look to go in February or March when the lake freezes over and giant bubbles are trapped in the ice creating a gorgeous winter scene.
- Johnston Canyon Hike | A popular hike near Banff that runs through the canyon, along the river, up to multiple waterfalls and lookout points. Gets very busy with tour buses so plan your trip accordingly.
- The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course | A challenging course with gorgeous mountain scenery and exceptional views of the hotel, if you’re lucky you might see some elk sighting during your round.
- Skiing at Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay | Our favourite mountain was Sunshine Village for a day of skiing in the Rockies, and Lake Louise offered steeper slopes for more of a challenge.
- Banff Upper Hot Springs | Just the ticket for a soak after a day of hiking, skiing, rock climbing and river rafting, or let’s be honest… even after a day lounging around your hotel in a robe.
Who should visit Banff and Lake Louise? You should start planning your trip if you like gorgeous mountains, pristine nature, outdoor adventures, rich history and want to see one of Canada’s most beautiful national parks.
Some of our best memories include the views from the ski slopes, exploring Banff village, dining at Nourish, walking snowy trails under thick trees with snow falling on our face, and learning about the rail history that first opened this region up to the world.
Let us know if you’re planning a trip or you’ve had a chance to visit, we’d love to hear from you. Our new favourite motto at Sails and Spices after visiting Banff and Lake Louise is ‘Ski your Blues and Eat your Greens’!