As a family who’s been ice skating on Lake Louise for years, we still think this is one of the best things to do at Lake Louise in winter. We return year after year to Lake Louise in January to skate on the lake and see the Lake Louise ice sculptures.
While January is typically the coldest months at Lake Louise, it’s one time where it’s pretty much guaranteed that Lake Louise is frozen and there will be plenty of snow to play in! If you are visiting Banff in January, make sure to add a visit to Lake Louise to your Banff itinerary.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Skating at Lake Louise
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What Makes Lake Louise Skating So Special
There’s something that’s just more magical about skating on a Banff lake and being surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. It’s rare, but it’s possible that this incredible blue lake will freeze before snow falls on it. If you are lucky enough to skate on Lake Louise under these circumstances, it will be an experience you won’t forget! We still haven’t had this opportunity!
Often included in lists of the world’s most beautiful ice skating rinks, skating on Lake Louise offers the most spectacular mountain backdrop. It’s really no wonder skating on Lake Louise has become such a popular winter activity in Banff National Park!
Besides the surrounding snow-covered mountain peaks, skaters also get views of the Victoria Glacier and on the ice, a stunning ice castle built from large blocks of ice. The team at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise creates this ice castle, which also makes skating at Lake Louise feel even more magical.
It’s all about the ice at Lake Louise, and if you are there for the Ice Magic Festival or shortly after, you’ll have a chance to see the incredible ice sculptures at Lake Louise. While they are carved in the first part of the festival, they are usually left there until they melt (or are no longer safe to leave up).
Local tip: If your schedule allows, see the ice sculptures before they get snowed on.
21 Things to Know about Skating on Lake Louise
1. When can you skate on Lake Louise?
Typically you can skate on Lake Louise from mid-December to mid-April. The lake needs to be solid enough for skating and for the daily snow clearing. The exact date of when it’s safe enough to skate on the ice is different every year depending on the winter conditions.
2. What does it cost to skate on Lake Louise?
Nothing! It’s completely free to skate on Lake Louise. In fact, this is one of the best free things to do in Banff National Park in winter! You do need a National Park Pass though.
3. What are the hours for Lake Louise ice skating?
Skating on Lake Louise is open 24 hours a day, but keep in mind that there are only about 8-9 hours of daylight in the winter at Lake Louise. The Lake Louise skating rink is lit by floodlights nightly for some night skating. The lights are only on for Lake Louise night skating until 11pm.
4. Is there really an Ice Castle at Lake Louise?
You bet! The team from the Fairmont builds the ice castle on the lake every year using large blocks of ice. It’s beautiful and worth seeing! It truly adds to the magic of this experience!
5. How smooth will the ice be on the Lake Louise rinks?
The ice is cleared daily of snow, but set your expectations that this is still a lake and that the ice won’t be perfectly smooth like the ice in a skating rink. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise does do a great job at maintaining the ice on Lake Louise for a wonderful skating experience.
6. Where do I change into my skates?
There are always benches or picnic tables set up, making it easy to change from your winter boots into your skates.
7. What if I don’t have my own skates?
If you don’t have your own skates, you can find Lake Louise skate rentals at Chateau Ski and Snow Rentals (opens mid-November) or in the hamlet of Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports. If you are coming from Banff, skate rentals are available at Snowtips-Bactrax. For Canmore, Gear Up Mountain Sports has skate rentals.
8. What if I don’t know how to skate?
Wear a helmet! If you have someone who can give you some beginner pointers for ice skating to help you get going, that will make a world of difference. It’s a lot about balance – take penguin steps to start to get the feel on the skates. You’ll also want to keep knees slightly bent and look forward (not at your feet).
If skating isn’t for you, don’t worry as there are plenty of other incredible things to do at Lake Louise in the winter.
9. How can I know the conditions at Lake Louise for skating?
You can check the Lake Louise skating conditions on this page or check the Chateau Lake Louise webcam. Just last year, we were lucky enough to skate on Lake Louise when it was snow free mid-November. In order for this to happen, it needs to get cold enough for the lake to freeze solidly without it snowing too much.
10. Can I play hockey or join a game of shinny at Lake Louise?
Absolutely! Though it seems the set up is not entirely the same from year to year, there are always rinks set up for games of shinny!
11. Are there hockey tournaments at Lake Louise?
The Lake Louise Pond Hockey Classic was previously held at Lake Louise but there hasn’t been any indication that it’s coming back. There are other hockey tournaments that can happy at Lake Louise.
12. What if I don’t play hockey?
On the lake you’ll find rinks for both leisure skating and for hockey. So there’s really something for everyone.
13. How long can I skate on Lake Louise?
As long as your fingers and toes aren’t numb from the cold! There is no set amount of time for enjoying Lake Louise ice skating. It’s free to skate on Lake Louise and you can stay for as long as you want. Dress warmly!
I always recommend some toe warmers, since toes tend to get cold in skates. I like these from Aurora Heat (save 10% using TRAVELBANFFCANADA at checkout) because they are thin yet use natural insulation from the beaver fur to keep the heat you are generating around those toes!
Looking for the PERFECT Lake Louise Souvenir?
If you love Lake Louise as much as we do, you’ll want to bring a piece of it home with you. This Lake Louise in Winter illustration by Diana Boyle at Rooftop Illustrations is the PERFECT souvenir!
See more Banff Souvenirs by local artists here.
14. Is it safe to skate on Lake Louise?
Lake Louise is safe to skate on when it is frozen in mid-winter. When the Fairmont is clearing the ice for skating, it is safe to skate on.
15. When is the best time for ice skating on Lake Louise?
The skating on Lake Louise typically falls between mid-December to mid-April, though it can be sooner if the winter conditions permit. Mid-December is a pretty safe time to expect that you can skate on the lake if visiting Banff in December.
We prefer to visit Lake Louise during the week, as it’s less busy. If we do happen to go on a weekend, we try to arrive early to ensure parking and still have less crowds. If you’d rather not contend with getting a parking spot, there are many alternate ways to get to Lake Louise.
Being at Lake Louise during the Ice Magic Festival is always a fun time. If we can’t swing it on the weekend, we’ll go as soon as we can during the week so we don’t miss the ice sculptures.
Lake Louise will become much busier during the Ice Magic Festival. It used to be completely free to attend but with the popularity growing over the years, you now require a ticket for weekends.
General admission tickets are available for the two weekends from 6pm to 9pm. Banff Hotel guests will receive a 50% off discount on tickets and can also visit during 6pm to 9pm on the two weekends. Louise Ski Resort guests will also receive 50% off admission but can visit from 4pm to 6pm. Tickets are available for purchase on December 12th. The cost for tickets is $14 for Adults, $7 for Children ages 3 to 12 years old, $9 for Seniors (55+) and under 2 years old is free.
Overnight stays in Lake Louise at the following Lake Louise hotels will include complimentary tickets to the Ice Magic Festival (but tickets must be reserved with your hotel) and can visit from 11am to 2pm on the weekends:
A complimentary shuttle is required for all visitors to the event. For guests of Lake Louise hotels, confirm your shuttle location with your hotel. All other guests will take the shuttle from the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise guest receive complimentary all-day tickets to the event.
The ice sculptures are on display until they need to be taken down.
If you don’t want to worry about parking or crowds, we recommend treating yourself to a stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You’ll be able to find times when you have the ice all to yourself either in the morning or late in the day. Want more info? We have a full review of the Chateau Lake Louise.
16. How busy will it be at Lake Louise?
It’s rare to visit Lake Louise and not see crowds, but this doesn’t need to ruin your experience. Yes, the afternoons, especially on weekends, are likely to be very busy with people heading out to skate on Lake Louise. There’s really enough space for everyone to enjoy Lake Louise skating!
We recommend going earlier or later in the day. If you are looking for some solitude, venture a little off the beaten track after your skate. There are plenty of winter hikes or snowshoe trails in Lake Louise where you’ll find yourself mostly alone.
17. How cold is it going to be at Lake Louise?
In all honesty, it’s probably going to be pretty cold! The average highs in Lake Louise in December and January are around -6 deg C. The average lows are around -20 deg C. If you get out in the morning, the mountains will be keeping the lake in the shade and it’s going to be a chilly start to the day. We always recommend layers and being prepared.
Also keep in mind that even when the day is warm and sunny, the temperature will drop quickly as the sun goes down. You’ll need some extra layers for night skating at Lake Louise!
18. Where can I warm up after ice skating on Lake Louise?
They used to do fires around the skating area where you could warm up, but we haven’t seen them in the past few years. You can grab a liqueur infused cocktail or hot chocolate at the Lake Louise Ice Bar to warm up. Alternatively, have a cozy lunch at the Lakeview Lounge or the Fairview Bar & Restaurant inside the Chateau Lake Louise.
19. Where Should I Park for Lake Louise Skating?
Park in the Lake Louise Lakeshore parking lot for free parking in the winter at Lake Louise. There are two big parking lots, but they do fill up quickly!
20. What if I have to use the facilities?
There are toilets in the Lake Louise Lakeshore parking lot.
21. What’s the best way to get to Lake Louise?
The easiest way to get to Lake Louise is to drive, but you can expect the parking lots to fill up quickly especially on weekends and even in the winter.
Other options for getting to Lake Louise are:
Getting to Lake Louise from Banff in the winter without a car is best done using the Roam Transit Route 8X: Lake Louise Express. The cost for this bus to Lake Louise from Banff is $20 for adults, $10 for youth and seniors, and children 0-12 years old are free (these are round-trip prices). You can even make reservations.
Getting to Lake Louise from Calgary in the winter without a car is best done using Brewster Express services. The cost for this Calgary to Lake Louise shuttle is $169 for adults and $85 for children (these are round-trip prices).
What to Bring for Lake Louise Ice Skating
Depending on how long you plan to be outside, here’s what we wear and bring for ice skating at Lake Louise.
Dress in Layers
The best way to dress for winter at Lake Louise is in layers. Start with a wool base layer, including your socks. On top of your base layer add a fleece layer or a warm mid-layer. Finally add a warm winter jacket. Something windproof and waterproof is best.
For bottoms, you can wear snow pants on an extra cold day. Otherwise you might be able to get by with some extra warm fleece tights and a pair of shell pants to block the wind.
Keep Fingers and Toes Warm
Warm mitts or gloves are a must! You’ll want warm winter boots for your feet after skating as well. Further to that, skates are terrible at keeping feet warm! If there’s one thing I know, it’s that cold fingers and toes will ruin even the best outdoor adventures.
I ALWAYS pack hand and foot warmers in the winter. I’d rather have them on me, in case I want them. Re-usable hand and foot warmers are the best way to go. The Aurora Heat warmers are re-usable and sustainable, plus they won’t irritate sensitive skin like the disposable warmers can do. While they might seem expensive, keep in mind that they will last years! You’ll use them over and over again!
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A Backpack for Extras
Bring a daybag to store extra layers. You might want to remove your jacket on a warm sunny day while skating, but you’ll cool off quickly when you stop and take your skates off.
Wear a Toque (or Beanie)
Don’t forget to keep your head warm. If you have children who will be wearing a helmet skating, make sure they have a hat or toque without a pom-pom. We always struggle with this, since the cutest toques always have a big pom-pom.
Kid Winter Gear
Kids should be wearing waterproof snowpants or a snowsuit. You can expect they’ll be playing on the ice and in the snow. Don’t hesitate to pack an extra pair of mitts or layers, in case anything gets wet.
A Sled for Extra Gear
When skating with kids, there’s always more to carry. We use a cheap sled to get our gear to the lake. Don’t forget a thermos with hot chocolate!
Traction Devices for Hiking
Other Things to do at Lake Louise in Winter
For many, ice skating on Lake Louise won’t be a full days event but there are plenty of other things to do at Lake Louise in the winter. Some of our favorites are snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or a winter hike.
While many of the things happen away from the lake, here are 9 things you can do at Lake Louise in winter without getting back in your car:
- Walk the lakeshore trail to see the frozen Louise Falls
- Afternoon tea at the Fairview Bar and Restaurant
- Cross-country ski on Lake Louise
- Take a snowshoe or winter hike up to Fairview Lookout
- Tobogganing on the hill near the Lake Agnes trail
- Enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride
- Make a post-skating appointment for the spa at the Fairmont Lake Louise
- Cozy up to the ice bar with a hot chocolate
- Take a walk through the ice sculptures
Best Places to Stay at Lake Louise
When choosing the best hotel in Lake Louise, choose one that will minimize the amount of driving you need to do. You’ll also want one where you can relax in the evening and even have a soak in a hot tub for those weary muscles.
Here are our top choices from these 6 best hotels in Lake Louise:
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The top luxury hotel in Lake Louise is an obvious choice. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is right on the shores of Lake Louise, it offers guests magnificent views of the massive Victoria Glacier, the Lake Louise ice castle and of Lake Louise itself.
A sister hotel of the world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise is renowned for its level of luxury. With over 500 rooms, the Chateau Lake Louise has a guest room for all tastes, ranging from a simple Fairmont Room, to 1 or 2 bedroom suites with a lake view, to opulent accommodations on the Fairmont Gold floor.
With the level of luxury you’d expect at a Fairmont hotel, a stay at the Chateau Lake Louise does not come cheap, but we encourage you to view the current deals for the Chateau Lake Louise.
HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre
As a budget hotel in Lake Louise, this Lake Louise hostel has shared accommodation with 4-6 beds per room. But, this Lake Louise hostel also offers private rooms ranging from a basic double bed to rooms with a private washroom. HI Lake Louise hostel has private family-friendly rooms with a loft that sleep up to 6!
Lake Louise Inn
The Lake Louise Inn has a heated indoor pool and hot tubs, perfect after a day out in the snow! There are a wide variety of room options available at the Lake Louise Inn. As a family, we appreciated the ability to rent a 1-bedroom apartment, as the extra space helps everyone get a better nights sleep.
There are two restaurants on-site at the Lake Louise Inn, including Timberwolf Pizza & Pasta Cafe and the all-day Legends Restaurant.
Skiers will love the many amenities available at the Lake Louise Inn during winter, including a free shuttle to the nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort, along with ski storage and a ski tune-up area.
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.