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.
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.
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.
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.
From the Lake Louise parking lot or shuttle drop off point, walk towards the impressive Lake Louise and the mass of glaciers surrounding it.
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.
My distances start from the upper parking lot, which is about 500 m away from the Lake Agnes trail head.
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 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.
What is most impressive about Mirror Lake is the view of the Big Beehive towering above it.
From Mirror Lake, turn right (north) and continue up the trail. This is where the avalanche danger starts.
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.
You will know you are almost at Lake Agnes when you hit the waterfall. This is the head wall that creates Lake Agnes.
From here, walk up the steps to be greeted by the homey Lake Agnes Tea House.
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.
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.
To hike up to the Big Beehive, walk along the shore trail on the right side of Lake Agnes.
At the end of the lake, turn left and follow the shore trail across some boulders to the switchbacks on the other side.
The switchbacks make this steep incline very doable.
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!!!
At the top of the pass, turn left to hike to the end of the Big Beehive.
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.
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.
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.
From the Big Beehive pass, go back down the switchbacks towards Lake Agnes.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: August 25th, 2020
Group: Three (Alisen, Mike and Annette)
Distance: ~13.4 km
Elevation: ~578 m (1,907′)
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes