Lake Agnes Tea House, Big Beehive & Little Beehive

August 25, 2020

I am madly in love with the Lake Louise area. 

That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. You might not know it though, if you were to look at all the places I hike, because I spend very little time here. Unfortunately, that’s more a reflection of access and distance. With Covid keeping international tourists at home, Lake Louise is once again accessible to locals.

That’s not to say it’s not busy here, especially where I was going. But that’s okay. If I want to avoid tourists, its easy enough to do because I know exactly where they are. And where they are is the Lake Agnes Tea House.

If you have hiked in the Alps, you will know that huts are in almost every single pass. These ‘huts’ have fresh, hot food, drinks, and quite often beds with linen. In Banff National Park, there are two public tea houses located very close to Lake Louise. Combined with the spectacular scenery and great trails, the lure of food and a hot coffee is enough to make this a very popular destination.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles, and your regular day pack kit.

Please be aware that both the Lake Agnes and the Plain of the Six Glaciers trails cross major avalanche paths. Winter travel is not recommended.

Parking

If you are staying in Banff or Canmore, PLEASE take the shuttle from your hotel to Lake Louise. In the winter, almost all our ski guests take the shuttle, but in summer people insist on driving. There is VERY limited parking at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. If you take the shuttle, you are dropped right at the front of the line and are guaranteed to see the sights. You can also take the shuttle from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake to see them both in one day. If you drive, you will only be able to park in one lot (not both) and will have to choose which lake to visit.

Overview

From the Lake Louise parking lot, walk along the shore to the right (north-ish). At the far end of the Chateau Lake Louise there are two hiking trails. Straight ahead is the Plain of the Six Glaciers, and up to the right is Lake Agnes. Go right at this junction. Follow the trail to Mirror Lake. Turn Right here to continue to Lake Agnes.

To hike the Big Beehive, walk to the end of Lake Agnes on the right side of the shore. Follow the switchbacks up to the pass. At the pass, turn left and follow the trail to the Big Beehive lookout.

To hike the Little Beehive, turn right just past the Lake Agnes tea house. Follow the trail to the summit.

Trail Head

From the Lake Louise parking lot or shuttle drop off point, walk towards the impressive Lake Louise and the mass of glaciers surrounding it.

Looking at today’s goal from the Lake Louise shore. The Big Beehive is the big round face in the middle of the photo, just above the trees. Lake Agnes is to the right of the Big Beehive. The Little Beehive is on the far right – the flat face just above the trees.

After wiping your chin and taking your fair share of photos, turn right and follow the shoreline. Just past the far end of the Chateau Lake Louise hotel, the trail splits. Straight ahead is the Plain of the Six Glaciers. Up to the right is Lake Agnes. Turn right here.

The Chateau Lake Louise is directly behind me. This is where the trail splits. Go left for Plain of the Six Glaciers. Right for Lake Agnes and the Big and Little Beehives.

My distances start from the upper parking lot, which is about 500 m away from the Lake Agnes trail head.

Main Trail

The trail is straight-forward and very well marked. While there are a couple of junctions, just keep to the main Lake Agnes Trail.

The trail is extremely well signed the entire way. Every single junction has a sign, so just keep following the main trail to Lake Agnes.

The trail is very wide, and paved for part of the way. It is also a very long switchback.

Mirror Lake is at 2.6 km from the trail head (3.1 from parking lot). If you take the alternate return route from Lake Agnes, you pop out on the south side of Mirror Lake.

Hiking up to Mirror Lake. The trail to Lake Agnes is on the right. If you were to take the alternate descent from Lake Agnes, that trail pops out on the left hand side of Mirror Lake.

What is most impressive about Mirror Lake is the view of the Big Beehive towering above it.

This is our first real look at the Big Beehive.

From Mirror Lake, turn right (north) and continue up the trail. This is where the avalanche danger starts.

It’s less than a KM from Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes. Above this point are several large cliffs that funnel snow down onto the trail in the winter. This is a trail to avoid in the winter.

I think the best scenery on this trail is above Mirror Lake. It’s here that we found several large rock walls not normally found in the Rockies.

Not only is this an impressive rock wall, but check out this tree! It fell over, but then continued growing up the side of the wall. Above it is another tree growing out of a few inches of soil.

You will know you are almost at Lake Agnes when you hit the waterfall. This is the head wall that creates Lake Agnes.

The beautiful waterfall with an impressive view of the Big Beehive behind.

From here, walk up the steps to be greeted by the homey Lake Agnes Tea House.

The waterfall is directly behind me. These steps switchback right up to the tea house and Lake Agnes.
Just like that, the Lake Agnes Tea House appears. It was only around 9:00 am, but it was already full to capacity, with several dozen more people hanging out on the boulders outside.

There are boulders at the end of the lake. Even with our early start, there are people everywhere. Again, it’s easy to avoid the majority of the tourists – just keep going higher!

Time to Lake Agnes was 1 hour and 11 minutes from the parking lot, which included gawking time at the lakes and waterfalls. Official distance from trail head is 3.4 km, and distance from parking lot is 4.1 km.

Big Beehive

Lake Agnes is surrounded by a cirque of mountains. Some are easier to climb than others. The easiest is the Little Beehive and the Big Beehive. Above the Big Beehive is Devil’s Thumb, while above Little Beehive is Mount St. Piran. Mount Whyte and Mount Niblock are at the far end of the lake, and are both scrambling routes.

Looking across Lake Agnes. The Big Beehive is to the left. The tower straight ahead is the Devil’s Thumb, and above that is Mount Whyte.

To hike up to the Big Beehive, walk along the shore trail on the right side of Lake Agnes.

The walk along the Lake Agnes shoreline is beautiful and peaceful. There are many places to stop and admire the gorgeous blue waters.

At the end of the lake, turn left and follow the shore trail across some boulders to the switchbacks on the other side.

The boulders at the end of Lake Agnes are a great place to stop and reflect. The tea house is at the far end on the left.

The switchbacks make this steep incline very doable.

Looking across Lake Agnes to the switchbacks. The trail leads into them from the right. While this looks very steep, there are a lot of switchbacks, which keeps the elevation profile fairly reasonable.

Keep an eye out for the gorgeous rock formations along this section. Lake Louise is home to quartzite, which is a hard metamorphic rock. It is way harder than limestone, which is why this steep slope is a consolidated trail and not a messy scree slope. Enjoy!!!

A gorgeous view of quartzite rock. This is a hard, metamorphic rock that is found around the Lake Louise area. Most of the Rocky Mountains are limestone, which is much more crumbly.

At the top of the pass, turn left to hike to the end of the Big Beehive.

The Big Beehive Pass. There is basically a giant arrow in the ground pointing the way to the Big Beehive summit look out. Please stay on the path. This area gets SO much usage that the vegetation is barely hanging on.

This section is absolutely gorgeous. There are large boulders to walk over or around, and the trees and scenery are just so unlike anywhere else in our Rockies.

It’s about a 10 minute walk from the pass to the summit outlook. The large boulders make it fun and beautiful.

At the end of the trail, you’ll find a wooden shelter, and lots of large boulders to sit on, eat your lunch, and generally admire the view.

Annette in the shelter at the Big Beehive out look. Behind her is the Little Beehive. I’ll be seeing you soon.

The distance to the Big Beehive is 4.8 km from the trail head, and about 5.3 km from the upper parking lot. Time to the Big Beehive from the parking lot was about 1 hour and 40 minutes, or a good 30 minutes past Lake Agnes.

Little Beehive

From the Big Beehive pass, go back down the switchbacks towards Lake Agnes.

A view of the switchbacks from the top of Big Beehive Pass. The Lake Agnes shore trail is in the background.

Retrace your steps along the far shore. Prior to the Tea House is a trail sign pointing the way to both the outhouses and the Little Beehive Trail. Go left at this junction.

The Lake Agnes Tea House is on the right. This is the trail to the Outhouses and the Little Beehive.

I am fascinated by outhouses in the mountains. If you’ve ever spent time in a remote hut and had to change the outhouse barrels, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. These outhouses are ingenious. While waiting for my turn to use the loo, I noticed the unusually long porch, and the tracks in front of each loo. From what I can tell, the outhouse box is slid forward on the tracks, revealing the barrels down below. Once exposed, they can be long-lined out by the helicopter.

The unique solution to emptying the outhouses. The outhouse box slides forward on these rails, exposing the outhouse barrels below. These can then be long-lined out by a helicopter. Now you know why food is so expensive up here.

Back to the Little Beehive… Hike past the outhouses along a decidedly calmer and emptier trail. For whatever reason, the Little Beehive does not garner the attention that the Big Beehive does. I for one was enjoying the quiet.

The trail just slowly meanders up the backside of the Little Beehive, mainly through a cool forest. We stopped and nabbed this photo of the ridge.

This is a great view of the rock formations that make up the distinctive look of the two Beehives.

At the summit, we found an old fire lookout that was built in 1941. It was decommissioned in 1978, and finally torn down in 1984. The cement foundation is still here.

The view from the Little Beehive is a totally different perspective. You get an amazing panorama up Highway 93 north. Across the valley are all the mountains around Skoki, like Redoubt. You can just see Whitehorn (Lake Louise Ski Resort) through the trees. To the right is then Lipalian and Castle mountains.

The distance from Lake Agnes to the Little Beehive is about 1 km, with about 80 m (265′) of elevation gain.

I would encourage you to hike up here, as the views across the highway to Redoubt, Whitehorn, Lapalian and Castle (plus many others) are gorgeous.

On the way down, we found this lookout spot. I tried to get a panorama of it, but finally decided on a short video. We got the full view of Lake Louise, Fairview Mountain above, Mirror Lake, Big Beehive, and Lake Agnes. This alone was worth the effort of hiking up here.

Panorama view from a lookout near the summit of the Little Beehive. From left is Lake Louise, Fairview Mountain (above to the left), Mirror Lake (below), Big Beehive (above), and Lake Agnes. Above the Big Beehive is the Devil’s Thumb (middle peak) with Mount Whyte towering above that.
Gorgeous view of Lake Louise, Big Beehive and Agnes Lake from the Little Beehive vantage point.

About half way down the Little Beehive trail, we found an alternate route to Mirror Lake. It might have taken off a little bit of distance, but its main attraction was the blessed lack of people. No one else came down this way, and we only passed two groups heading up.

This is the turnoff to the alternate descent off the Little Beehive. Take the trail to the right, which will bypass Lake Agnes and connect you just above Mirror Lake. Again, all the trails are very well marked. Feel free to play around.

We were soon connected back with the main Lake Agnes trail, just above Mirror Lake. From here, it’s a quick jaunt back to Lake Louise.

Lake Louise is the jewel of the Rockies for a reason. Despite it being over-crowded even in the best of times, I absolutely love its beauty and energy. I will gladly come back here again and again. If you are new to hiking, plan to arrive early and try and get to as many places as possible during your stay.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date: August 25th, 2020
Group:  Three (Alisen, Mike and Annette)
Distance:  ~13.4 km
Elevation:  ~578 m (1,907β€²)
Time:  3 hours 30 minutes

This map shows the route from Lake Louise, past Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes. From there, take the shore trail to the Big Beehive, which is the saddle between Lake Agnes and Lake Louise. From there, return the same way. Right before the Tea House, take the trail leading up to the Little Beehive. The trail going past the Big Beehive is not included here. To summit the Devil’s Thumb, please click here (link coming shortly!).
This is the elevation profile for Lake Agnes, Big Beehive and Little Beehive. The steep area between the two black lines is NOT included in this description. To summit the Devil’s Thumb, click here (trail report coming soon!)
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
17 comments on “Lake Agnes Tea House, Big Beehive & Little Beehive
  1. Amit Kumar says:

    Again Great Post with beautiful pics with information and i liked your first line.
    Thank you ma’am!

  2. One of my favourite hikes as well. We are originally from the UK and we always take our visitors there. So much variety and definitely doable, even if you don’t hike regularly.

  3. This is one of my favourite hikes in Banff National Park. I’ve hiked to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive twice, except went to the other tea house as well on the way back. And agreed, it’s so much easier to take Roam transit (i.e. the bus) than have to fight for parking. Last time I hiked this, our bus driver told us that the main parking lot filled up by 6:15a.m. I had no regrets.

    • alisendopf says:

      The Roam transit is amazing. I love how they have bike racks as well. Thank you very much for mentioning this. I was thinking of the shuttle at the Lake Louise Overflow Parking lot, but truly, the Roam transit system is the way to go.

      The Plain of the Six Glaciers is so beautiful. That will have to be another post πŸ™‚

  4. Looks like a great place!!!

  5. da-AL says:

    beautiful local & gorgeous pix – many tx for sharing πŸ™‚

  6. Lotus Laura says:

    Wow looks amazing! Love the big beehive!

  7. bhaatdal says:

    You are a magician .. you do magic with camera ..

    • alisendopf says:

      HA! I love that. So sweet of you to say. To be honest, the scenery does the hard work. It’s easy to take good photos in such a beautiful area. Not all of the Rockies look like this, so I am glad it is preserved as a National Park.

  8. wow looks amazing! it seems like such a fun hike!! i loved this post, thank you for sharing!❀️

    Follow @everythingtips for tips and recommendations if interested! It would mean a lot to me!πŸ₯ΊπŸ€

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