An opinionated review of the Lake Agnes teahouse hike in Banff National Park on Lake Louise, brought to you by Canadian Rockies hiking experts Kathy and Craig Copeland at hikingcamping.com.
- 7 km (4.3 mi) to Lake Agnes
- 9.6 km (6 mi) to Big Beehive
- 390 m (1280 ft) to Lake Agnes
- 540 m (1770 ft) to Big Beehive
- Trailhead 1730 m (5675 ft)
- Lake Agnes 2120 m (6955 ft)
- Big Beehive 2270 m (7446 ft)
Hiking time: 3 to 4 hours
Map: Gem Trek Lake Louise & Yoho
On a sunny, summer day, thousands of tourists mill about the paved path along the shore of Lake Louise, in front of the famous Chateau. Of those, hundreds extend their promenade to the teahouse at Lake Agnes.
Aren’t these teahouse-bound lemmings missing the point? Don’t they have an abundance of beverage-dispensing machines and enterprises where they live? Isn’t it the absence of civilization that distinguishes Banff National Park from their urban homes and attracted them to vacation here?
If you’re capable of walking to the teahouse, you’ll find more fulfillment on other trails, where you might experience at least an inkling of the wildness intrinsic to the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
Compared to nearby alternatives, the Lake Agnes cirque isn’t even that compelling a sight. En route, you’ll see the Bow Valley, but other equally accessible vantages are superior. Upon arrival at the teahouse, herds of incessantly chattering people will likely spoil what little visual delight the scenery offers. Only in spring and late fall does the stampede subside.
Saddleback or Larch Valley, both near Lake Louise, are much more climactic goals than Lake Agnes yet require only slightly more effort. They too, however, are popular.
To make the Lake Agnes stroll worthwhile, stop there only for a peek, then continue on a genuine hike. You have several options:(1) Ascend to Mt. St. Piran, perhaps with a quick side trip to the Little Beehive. (2) Nip up to the Big Beehive, for a between-your-toes perspective of Lake Louise, then drop to the Highline trail and proceed out to the Plain of Six Glaciers. (3) From Big Beehive saddle, ascend the Devils Thumb.
Fit, determined striders who start early can partake of all these options in a rewarding but challenging, 23-km (14.3-mi) day. Atop Piran or the Thumb, you’ll see few other hikers, if any. The Six Glaciers trail is crowned with yet another anachronistic teahouse, so expect a throng, but the peaky, icy panorama here is a vast improvement on the skimpy view at Lake Agnes.
It’s raining? Then Lake Agnes might be a worthwhile destination, despite gaining more elevation than the other trips we recommend for dismal weather. The trail is in trees all the way to the lake, so lightning is no concern. And you can warm yourself at the teahouse.
From Lake Louise village, go south-southwest on Lake Louise Drive. Continue uphill 5.3 km (3.3 mi) to the actual Lake Louise. About 200 m (220 yd) before the road ends at Chateau Lake Louise, turn left into the bi-level parking lot, at 1730 m (5675 ft).
From the west end of the lower parking lot, walk the paved path to the northeast shore of Lake Louise. Bear right. Continue following the paved path west-northwest, along the lakeshore, in front of the Chateau. At 0.8 km (0.5 mi) reach a sign near the lake’s north corner. Go right (northwest), away from the lake. Proceed into the forest on a well-maintained trail.
At 1.7 km (1.1 mi) a break in the trees grants a view south, across the lake, to 2744-m (9000-ft) Mt. Fairview. At 2.4 km (1.5 mi) bear left (west) where a horse trail goes right to Lake Louise village. A few minutes farther, at 2.6 km (1.6 mi), 2025 m (6642 ft), reach a junction at Mirror Lake. Turn left and, in 100 m (110 yd), turn right for the direct ascent to Lake Agnes. (Right at the Mirror Lake junction also leads to Lake Agnes, but it’s slightly farther that way.)
Reach the Lake Agnes teahouse at 3.1 km (1.9 mi), 2120 m (6955 ft), above the northeast shore. The Big Beehive rises above the southeast shore. Mounts Niblock (west) and Whyte (west-southwest) create the cirque.
Behind the Lake Agnes teahouse, turn right on the trail to the Little Beehive. Ascend northeast. In 200 m (220 yd) pass a trail descending right. At 0.5 km (0.3 mi), pass the left spur ascending north-northwest to Mt. St. Piran. Continue straight. Reach the Little Beehive at 0.7 km (0.4 mi), 2210 m (7250 ft).
The view extends northwest, up the Bow Valley, and southeast, down-valley, to the mountains around Banff townsite. The Slate Range, with 3086-m (10,122-ft) Mt. Richardson the highest peak, is northeast across the highway.
After departing the Little Beehive, you have the option of not returning via Lake Agnes. Instead, about two-thirds of the way back to the lake, you can descend left. Then, shortly beyond, turn left again. Soon reach Mirror Lake, where you’re on familiar ground. From there, return the way you came.
From the Lake Agnes teahouse, follow the trail southwest along the lake’s north shore. Curve around the west shore. Ascend switchbacks southeast to a 4-way junction atop the ridge, at 1.3 km (0.8 mi). This is Big Beehive saddle. Straight (south) descends to the Highline trail and accesses the Plain of Six Glaciers. Right (southwest) is the unmarked route to Devil’s Thumb. Go left (east-northeast) along the ridgecrest five minutes to the gazebo atop Big Beehive, at 4.8 km (3 mi), 2270 m (7446 ft). You’re now 150 m (492 ft) above Lake Agnes, and 540 m (1771 ft) above Lake Louise. Both are visible below.
From Mirror Lake, the Highline trail leads 3.1 km (1.9 mi) southwest to intersect the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. Atop cliffs, above the southwest end of Lake Louise, the Highline affords views of the Chateau, at the lake’s northeast end. At the Highline / Plain of the Six Glaciers trail junction, turn right (southwest) to proceed up-valley toward the glaciers, or left (northeast) to return to the Chateau via the northwest shore of Lake Louise.
Kathy and Craig Copeland are the opinionated hikers. They write unique guidebooks—bold, intelligent, entertaining and of course accurate—that ensure you make the most of your precious time outdoors. Their titles include “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide,” and “Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies, The Premier Trails in Kananaskis Country, near Canmore and Calgary.” Visit hikingcamping.com to see or purchase any of the Copelands’ books.