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An Outstanding Hike to the Summit of Fairview Mountain

A hike up Fairview Mountain wasn’t our first choice last weekend. We’d actually planned to hike to Kindersley Pass in Kootenay National Park. I’d heard great things about the trail and as a bonus it can be done as a loop hike. But as we drove south towards Radium Hot Springs the weather looked bad with lots of heavy, rain filled clouds hanging over the mountains. We aborted 15 minutes south of Castle Junction.

I had a guide book with me and so we hurriedly leafed through it to see what might be interesting. I’ve wanted to hike to Cory Pass for some time but nixed it because we had a dog with us and a few airy sections might have been challenging. The C-Level Cirque hike near Lake Minnewanka was easy to access but it was more appealing to me as a shoulder season hike. With a decision needed at the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway we opted to hike out of the Lake Louise area. Our first choice was Lake Annette in the Paradise Valley but by law you need to hike as a group of four because of the bears – so it too was out of the question. (The fine can be as high as $5,000 if you aren’t a group of four.)

We finally settled on the hike up Fairview Mountain. It looks over Lake Louise and delivers grand in-your-face mountain views.

While catching your breath you can enjoy fabulous close-up mountain views - Fairview Mountain hike, Banff National Park

While catching your breath you can enjoy fabulous close-up mountain views

It’s only a 10.6 kilometre return hike up Fairview Mountain – but its steep most of the way with 1,014 metres (3,326 feet) of elevation gain. You’ll find the well-signed trailhead near the canoe rental facility on Lake Louise.

The first hour of hiking isn’t that interesting. Most of it takes you through the trees with the occasional view of the Bow Valley and the Lake Louise Ski Resort to keep you motivated. There is a popular detour to a lookout just 300 metres up the trail – but then it’s a kilometre in from there. Don’t bother with it as the views you’ll be getting are far superior.

One of the peek-a-boo views of the Bow Valley as you head up Fairview Mountain

One of the peek-a-boo views of the Bow Valley

It's pretty with a dusting of snow as you get close to the Saddleback, Banff National Park

It’s pretty with a dusting of snow as you get close to the Saddleback

By the time you reach the Saddleback you will have gained 600 metres. For many people this is a good turn-around point, especially in late September when the larches put on their spectacular show. We missed their glory days by a week or two.

We missed the larches in all their glory by about 10 days - hike to Fairview Mountain

Golden larch needles litter the trail

The next part of the hike gets really interesting and steepens yet again. It’s only 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) to the summit from the Saddleback but you must climb 414 metres (1,358 feet). Now that the snow has arrived at higher elevations, I’d recommend bringing ‘icers’ or a light-weight pair of crampons to ease the descent.

Looking up at Fairview Mountain, Banff National Park

Looking up at Fairview Mountain

John sporting a pair of light-weight crampons

John sporting a pair of light-weight crampons

Within minutes of starting up from the Saddleback, the mountains fill the frame. It’s an incredible sight for the next few hours.

Along the way we leap-frogged with a couple of groups – one from Lebanon and one from Australia so it was fun to see the scene unfold from a visitor’s perspective.

It’s steady climbing all the way to the summit – with the last 30 minutes completely in snow. Stop every so often and savour your surroundings. They are truly magnificent. Once at the summit, revel in the views – and stay well back from the edge.

It's a stiff 414 m climb from Saddleback to the summit of Fairview Mountain, BANFF NATIONAL PARK

It’s a stiff 414 m climb from Saddleback to the summit of Fairview Mountain

Big in your face mountain views in the way up Fairview Mountain

Big mountain views on the way up Fairview Mountain

It looks like you're walking off a cliff but it's actually not so bad, Fairview Mountain, Banff National Park

It looks like you’re walking off a cliff but it’s actually not so bad

I felt like I could reach out and touch the mountains - and the glaciers; Fairview Mountain hike

I felt like I could reach out and touch the mountains – and the glaciers

Watching a group pick their way down over an icy section - Fairview Mountain, Banff National Park

Watching a group pick their way down over an icy section

Looking down to Lake Louise from just below the summit of Fairview Mountain

Looking down to Lake Louise from just below the summit

Big views from the summit Of Fairview Mountain that include the reahouse at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Big views from the summit at 9,000 feet; you can see the tea house at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Summit of Fairview Mountain

Me bundled up at the top though at least the wind didn’t blow continuously

Our descent was rapid. In under two hours we were standing by Lake Louise along with hundreds of other camera-toting tourists. The wind died down and off came the layers of clothes. The weather for a Thanksgiving weekend was pretty darned sweet.

Check out the photo below. I think starting married life with a paddle on Lake Louise bodes well for the future – don’t you agree?

How would you like to start your married life with a canoe ride on Lake Louise?

How would you like to start your married life with a canoe ride on Lake Louise?

Despite the fact it took several attempts to nail a hike, we did well to choose Fairview Mountain. Allow 4  – 5 hours to do the return hike, more if you want to sit back and take in the views.

Other hikes that tend to be busier that start from Lake Louise I can recommend include the hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, the hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers or theLake Agnes-Little Beehive Hike.

An outstanding hike to the summit of Fairview Mountain

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Mandy Johnson says:

    Fairview Mountain is a great hiking suggestion and their is a geocache at the summit. Parks Canada has now ended the group of 4 minimum for hikes in the Lake Louise area. The trail from Morrain Lake to Sentinel Pass is stunning!

  • It’s hard to believe that you are hiking in snow already! Those views definitely look to be worth the steep climb – Lake Louise is such a beautiful spot. That last photo is lovely – I’m not sure I could have been talked into getting into a canoe in my wedding gown though!

    • @Lisa It’s especially hard to believe considering how warm it’s been in Calgary. We did go prepared though – especially since I can see the snow on the mountains from my dog walking route. The snow accentuated the strata on the mountain – extra pretty.

  • Marcia says:

    Snow?! Still, it looks absolutely spectacular.
    Talk about stunning, in your face views. You always find the most amazing hikes, Leigh.
    Ahh, how sweet and romantic! A lovely way to start their life together – on clear, blue, (relatively) calm waters.

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