Jim Byers photo
Moraine Lake might be the most beautiful body of water on the planet.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the sumptuous Post Hotel and Spa in Lake Louise; a fabulous hotel with all the amenities you could want.
This time I’ll fill you in on a couple other options: one quite highly priced but with perhaps the greatest mountain view on the planet, and the other quite reasonable and family friendly and with one of the top breakfast dishes I’ve ever had.
The Moraine Lake Lodge Sits at one end of what might be the most beautiful lake in the world. I don’t know how I’d missed it on previous trips to Alberta, except in fairness it’s closed in winter and I couldn’t have visited in December or January even if I’d wanted to.
This time there was no mistake. You reach the lodge via a short drive from the road approaching Lake Louise; maybe 15 minutes off the main highway. There are some nice views along the way but nothing prepares you for the view at Moraine Lake, where you’ll find one of those crazy green-blue lakes with nearly 5,000 feet of vertical rock rising up behind it in huge, towering spires of ancient awe. There’s a massive glacier up on one of the mountains and there are eight or ten majestic spires in all, one piece called the Tower of Babel. You can walk around the edge of the lake for free and park for free. We tried a canoe for an hour and I have to say it would probably be the best $50 you’ve ever spent. The closer you get to the mountains that surround this alpine beauty the more impossibly impressive they get. There’s even a small waterfall thrown in for good measure.
Hotel general manager Michael Clark tells me the lake wasn’t even known to white folks until the end of the 1880’s, which seems incredible. When we were there, there were dozens of visitors, many of them East Indian and Chinese and other ethnic groups, which I found pretty cool.
Clark says some folks often mistake Moraine Lake for Lake Louise and says he’s seen photos published of “his” lake that are identified as the more famous neighbour around the corner.
The property was a fishing camp in the early 1900s and later evolved to include cabins and a proper lodge. Now there are 33 units, 18 of them deluxe King cabins. The resort is only open from June 1 until the end of September because of early and late winter weather in these parts, which probably helps explain the price tag. Rooms go for $500 and up, Clark tells me.
It’s steep, but the advantage is that when the crowds disappear late in the day you have the place to yourself and can soak –or try to soak – it all in. Ditto in the morning, before the cars start pulling into the parking lot.
Jim Byers photo
The patio at the Moraine Lake Lodge is a fine place for a drink or a meal.
Most units have fireplaces and some have small sofas with a day bed and can sleep three people. The rooms are lovely, with hand-made furniture and nice, outdoorsy touches such as red moose pillows. But these really aren’t family units and four people in a room is pushing it. It’s not cheap, but Clark is smart enough to toss in a free buffet breakfast, free Wi-Fi and free parking, as well as free use of the canoes, free guided hikes and interpretive talks three nights a week in the hugely impress library, where you’ll find a big stone fireplace and comfy furniture and free coffee and tea in the afternoon. They also have romance packages and gourmet getaway packages where meals are included.
There’s a killer patio with spectacular views, but you also can see parts of the lake and the mountain from inside thanks to tons of glass. The food is extraordinary. I tried an exceptional salad with artisan greens, cranberries and pistachios, and the elk with braised red cabbage and roasted veggies was fabulous. They also make an excellent lamb and very good seafood chowder.
You won’t find the same kind of views at Baker Creek Mountain Resort , located on the Bow Valley Parkway a few minutes outside of Lake Louise. But you will find spacious, lovely rooms along a gurgling river and pretty decent mountain views and lots of grass for the kids to play a game of Frisbee or football or badminton. They do a smashing job with landscaping (tons of red geraniums) and have great fire pits lining the river and the night we were there they were all surrounded by couples and families with coffee or glasses of wine, enjoying the night sky and the smell of deeply scented pine mixed with pleasant wood smoke.
My unit, a Jacuzzi Suite, had high ceilings and a nice balcony overlooking the river and a hot tub right in the room, plus a coffee maker and fridge. I bought a bit of food for breakfast but found out I didn’t need it when I checked out Bistro, the on-site restaurant. One of the dishes I tried was called Temple Hash, with squash, sage, potatoes, onions, bacon, cheese and eggs. Unbelievably rich but oh-so-tasty; like the tastes of Thanksgiving rolled into a giant breakfast plate, plus more.
The staff is super friendly and helpful and it’s a great location. The CP Rail line runs close by but I didn’t hear at all during the night.
You can find rooms in August from $250 and up. Two night stays are often required.
Jim Byers photo
Lake Louise might be the most photographed lake in Canada. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise , which has smashing views of what’s probably the most photographed lake in Canada. Canoes also can be rented here, and there are great walks along the edge of the lake, past small waterfalls and towering pine trees. In winter, they have skating on the lake and also snowshoeing, which I tried last winter and absolutely loved. I found rooms earlier today for less than $500 a night in August.