Lake Louise Trails: Little Beehive – Lake Agnes Tea House – Big Beehive – Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House – Lake Shore Trails — Lake Louse, Banff National Park
The lovely gem of Banff National Park – Lake Louise. Of the two icons of Banff National Park, this one is the glacier lake with the hotel, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In addition to seeing the gorgeous lake, there are tons of hiking trails that include a variety of destinations including several peaks to summit and two tea houses. These tea houses are historic dating back to when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built – Lake Agnes Tea House was build int 1904 and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House was built in 1924. These are now open during the summer season and run by local families providing tea, refreshments and baked goods to hikers. But these spots have no electricity or running water – supplies is either delivered by helicopter or hiked up – even trash needs to be packed up and hiked back. Visiting both tea houses in one day is referred to as the “Tea House Challenge” and takes at least 14.6km to complete.
Lake Louise Hiking Trails
We decided to go all out and take on the “Tea Challenge” and the “Beehive Challenge” by tackling both tea houses and both Beehive trails. This included going from Lake Louise to the Little Beehive to the Lake Agnes Tea House to the Big Beehive to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House then back to Lake Louise. The full AllTrails description can be found here. While we did not necessarily intend on completing the circuit before the trip, we ended up doing all of the above in under 9 hours totaling 15 miles of hiking.
|Trail||One Way Distance||Elevation Gain||Difficulty|
|Lake Louise to Little Beehive||2.8 miles / 4.5km||1,755 ft||Moderate|
|Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Tea House||2.3 miles / 3.7km||1,427 ft||Moderate|
|Little Beehive to Lake Agnes||1 mile / 0.6km||–||Easy|
|Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive||3.5 miles / 5.6km||447 ft.||Hard|
|Big Beehive to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House||3.5 miles / 5.6km||–||Moderate|
|Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House to Lake Louise via Lake Shore||4 miles / 6.4km||–||Easy|
When we arrived at Lake Louise from the parking lot, we were stunned. We could not get over how beautiful it was! While it was still a bit dark, we were able to sneak through the crowd and grab a few photos before starting on our trails for the day. Full of energy despite the 3AM work up call, we were ready to start our journey hiking around Lake Louise just before 7AM. We left the crowd of people at the front of the lake taking all their photos as we began the trails.
Lake Louise to Little Beehive
We followed signs for Lake Agnes and the Little Beehive trails. As we began to climb the gradual inclines and gain elevation, the sun started peaking over the mountain tops bringing a golden glow to the lake and trees. What a beautiful morning!
We reached Mirror Lake about 45 minutes into the hike and gazes at the Big Beehive looming above. How on earth were we going to get up there? Since the trail split into left towards to Lake Agnes Tea House and right to the Little Beehive, we decided to avoid backtracking to go towards the Little Beehive first.
Little Beehive to Lake Agnes Tea House
It was much steeper at this part of the trail up to the Little Beehive than the trail had been so far. Looking over in the distance seeing how much higher the Big Beehive was certainly had been a bit concerned on how that part of the trail was going to go. What surprised us was how no one was on this part of the trail – it was just us. Around 830AM, we made it to the top of the Little Beehive and this view did not disappoint. Do not miss the Little Beehive if you are planning on hiking to the Lake Louise Tea House.
Since the way to the Lake Agnes Tea House was all downhill from the Little Beehive, we flew through this part of the trail and made it to the tea house before 9AM. We grabbed a table to have our morning snacks and while we had planned on enjoying tea, the line was bonkers. Many people hiking just to the tea house and back so this was definitely the most crowded part of the trail we found. Everyone was ok to continue on so we enjoyed our views of Lake Agnes and continued on the trail.
Before we left, I continued to check for bus tickets to get to Lake Moraine on Sunday since somehow I still had service. I checked while we were sitting at the table and low and behold, there were tickets that opened for Sunday at 8AM. Praying the cell serviced stayed with me while I completed the transaction, it went through. We were set to visit Lake Moraine without arriving to the parking lot at 3AM – phew!
Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive
Originally we had intentions of summiting the Devil’s Thumb but it was so unclear where you go to access that. After rounding around Lake Agnes, the signs only had markers for the Big Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. As we followed the trail to the Big Beehive, the thigh burning switchbacks started and these were at a decently sloped incline. While we all went at difference paces, I just took one at a time taking breaks after each one. There were surprisingly less switchbacks than I expected and we reached the base at 1020AM where we continued to see signs for the Big Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail but no Devil’s Thumb. Opposite the direction of the Big Beehive, we saw it – all the way at the top tiny people. That had to be the Devil’s Thumb but we were not about going off trail if there were no markers. Next time, Devil’s Thumb. (Update: Yes, this was Devil’s Thumb and it is unmarked as the park does not want inexperienced hikers wandering up here as it is very difficult with technical hiking skills required – many even recommend a helmet for the final scramble as loose rocks can fall causing injury.)
Instead we continued to the Big Beehive and with the switchbacks out of the way, the rest of the Big Beehive to the observation point was easy. And wow, did Lake Louise shine! The view from up here at 7450 feet elevation was spectacular – the color of the lake was that unreal blue glacier water color. We spent awhile enjoying the view.
Big Beehive to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
Around 11AM, we headed back to the intersection of the Big Beehive to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea HouseTrails and continued towards the Plain of Six Glaciers. The first part of the trail was magical. Through the woods we had the shade to keep us cool as we flew through the long switchbacks going down. I would suggest if you are looking to go to the Big Beehive do not go up the Plain of Six Glaciers and instead go the way of the Lake Agnes route up. This was a very relaxing portion of the trail and we enjoyed every bit of it.
The trail then led to a huge opening in the valley – we could not believe the scale! The mountains surrounded us and were just enormous. In the distance we could hear water and after examining we could see the tiniest river flowing at the bottom. This portion was very exposed and the sun was at its peak so it was a bit more uncomfortable. We saw a sign for 2.7 km so we were still in good spirits to make it to the second tea house.
This part ended up feeling like the longest march – people we passed all said it was not much farther and it was only another ten minutes… and ten minutes passed and we did not feel much closer. We passed horses on the trail and felt that we would pay pretty good money to hop on a horse for the rest of the journey. As we got closer, there was a climb to get to the top where the alleged tea house was located. I felt like my legs were about done as I dragged myself up each step. When I passed the smallest little water, I dipped my head in just to cool down which was a lifesaver. Just as it felt like I would never reach the tea house, we arrived at 1240PM.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is a stunning wood cabin with plenty of seating surrounding it. They have a pretty extensive menu of beverages and food that is made there. The group sampled a number of things including chilly, sandwiches, baked goods, and juices – everything was wonderful. We also ate our packed lunches which our bodies craved. Unfortunately, they were out of water by the time we got there which was definitely a disappointment as we were all almost out of water after we ate lunch. The view from here was really spectacular with the mountains in the background still covered in a bit of snow.
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House to Lake Louise via Lake Shore
We left the tea house before 2PM and headed back towards the lake. The way back was far more pleasant than the way up and at the pace we were moving, it was not going to take us very long to reach the lake that was far in the distance. We opted to take the Lake Shore Trail back to the lake to see a new part of the park and I am so glad we did. The trail continued down below the tree line and we got welcomed shade. Then that river that was so tiny on the valley floor from above because visible and at a certain point we were able to go to it.
We reached the top of Lake Louise at 3PM and we enjoyed the relaxing walk around the lake to the front. It was strange seeing so many people now after seeing so few on the trail. It took about a half hour to reach where we started at the front of the lake near the hotel. The crowd here was must larger than the one this morning and there was quite a bit of activity going on. We stopped by the restrooms which were well maintenance and filled our water bottled up with what was the best water we have ever tasted.
What an unreal day hiking the trails around Lake Louise. We accomplished far more than I expected to and each spot was so worth it. When you are visiting Banff National Park, these trails are definitely a must do for one of the days of your trip. Make sure you start early and pack lots of food and water for yourself. Also make sure to pack out what you bring and leave nothing behind. Even at the tea houses, there is no trash and they have to hike it all the way back the Lake Louise! We did not spot any wildlife on the trail but there are occasional sightings so always be bear aware and know your surroundings. Travel in groups when possible, making noise as you hike to let wildlife know you are there to not startle them.