What do you do on the first day of your trip when the forecast is a high of 42°F and rain? When you have six kids with you who are grumbling about the possibility of being outside at all? You go for a hike. You’re in Banff, after all. Gather the cold weather gear, tell the kids to suck it up, and choose a long one.
We chose to hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House for a chance to see three lakes, a waterfall, and some “Beehives” (whatever those were supposed to be). Hot tea and homemade baked treats at the midway point were a great incentive for us to get going. Despite the weather, some of us insisted on shorts.
Round Trip Distance: 4.6 miles (7.5 km)
Elevation gain: 1,300 feet (367 m)
Trailhead: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Trail Map and Information
|Open: June 4 until Canadian Thanksgiving
Hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Serves: Tea, soup, baked items
Currency: Cash only (CAD or USD)
Menu and Information
The trail to Lake Agnes Tea House begins at the northern shore of famous Lake Louise. With clear skies, this view boasts mountains on either side of the lake. On this day, however, the clouds were thick and enveloped the peaks. Raindrops peppered the lake.
Bundled up, we walked the paved path that runs along the lakeshore, with views of the hotel on our right. Just past the hotel, the trail veers right into an old-growth forest of spruce and fir, and the lake disappears from view.
After a long steady climb upwards, we reached the first switchback and our first glimpses of Lake Louise’s turquoise waters through the trees.
The trail became steeper and rockier after this point. Mirror Lake, a small emerald pool, was a good spot to rest before ascending to the tea house and Lake Agnes. Together with Lake Louise, these three glacially-fed lakes are referred to as the “Lakes in the Clouds”. At Mirror Lake, we had our first clear view of “Big Beehive”, a large rounded peak shaped like – you guessed it (pictured below). Shortly after this viewpoint, we passed a waterfall rushing down the mountain from Lake Agnes. The trail continued upward to the tea house steps.
As we reached the tea house, the rain became snow and the landscape turned white. It was beautiful.
Lake Agnes Tea House
The tea house was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s as a rest stop for climbers and hikers. Now privately owned, the tea house offers homemade baked goods, sandwiches and snacks, and a huge selection of tea. There is no electricity or running water; supplies must be hiked in daily by tea house employees, or brought in by helicopter at the beginning of the season. Water is pumped into holding tanks from Lake Agnes and must be boiled before use. Garbage and recycling are carried down the trail each night.
Inside the tea house, seating is limited to a few tables. There is a large stone fireplace for warmth. The outdoor deck offers more seating options that overlook the lake and views of Big Beehive. Even in the cold weather, we barely squeezed our party of 10 onto the tea house deck. It was packed but cozy.
On this particular day, while we were enjoying our tea and trail snacks, a helicopter flew in to retrieve an injured staff member unable to make the hike down the mountain.
From the tea house, we had the option to return down the trail we had just hiked, or add on with a variety of trail extensions. Half of our group continued on to Big Beehive, with limited visibility and lots of snow. A perfect day for shorts.
To get to Big Beehive, follow the trail along the western shore or Lake Agnes. The trail begins to climb at the south end of the lake and significantly steepens. There are several switchbacks to reach the top.
On a clear day, enjoy incredible views of Lake Louise and surrounding peaks. At the summit of Big Beehive there is a small structure for protection from rain and a photo op.
Hikers can return to Lake Louise via the Highline and Plain of Six Glaciers trails. This entire route is 8 miles total.
The trail descends through meadows and forest to the south side of Lake Louise, with views of Chateau Lake Louise in the distance.
Despite the clouds, rain and snow, it was a perfect day for a hike. The perks of choosing this trail on a wet, cold day are: scoring a parking spot in the public lot, avoiding crowds on the trail, and finding a seat at the tea house upon arrival. It was a rewarding hike with interesting terrain and stunning views (despite the clouds).
Parking. During the summer months, Lake Louise is one of the busiest locations – and one of the most popular treks – in Banff. Visit Parks Canada’s map of parking lots in the Lake Louise area. If you’re not lucky enough to find a parking spot in the public lot near Lake Louise, hikers will have to park in the overflow lot and ride a shuttle to this area. Visit Parks Canada’s Banff Now page to check the current parking capacity of many destinations within Banff National Park.
Tea House Information. In addition to the Lake Agnes Tea House, the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is also accessible via the Lake Louise shoreline and is 9 miles (15 km) round trip. Typical hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, but these hours are adjusted depending on the month and weather conditions. Neither tea house accepts credit cards so be prepared with cash before your hike. There is an ATM in the main level shopping area of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Be Prepared. Dress for the weather, bring ample water, and be prepared for bear country. Our hike was in early June: most of us wore waterproof hiking shoes, rain jackets and rain pants to keep dry. If you are hiking early or late in the day, make sure to check tea house hours before you go. There are public restrooms located in the main parking lot but none at the hotel. Outhouses are available at the tea house.
Trail Extensions. There are many ways to extend this hike. Pick up a trail map at one of the visitor centers for specific distances and details. Here are a few options:
- Follow the trail around the shore of Lake Agnes and back to the tea house.
- Add a short but steep trip to Little Beehive, via the trail just beyond the tea house washrooms. There is a shortcut back down to Mirror Lake so you don’t have to come back to the tea house.
- From the far end of Lake Agnes, hike to the top of Big Beehive for views of the Bow Valley and Lake Louise below. Return to Lake Louise via the tea house and Mirror Lake.
- For the longest option, from the Big Beehive, join up to a trail that connects to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House for a total round trip of 9 miles (14.6 km).
For additional day hikes in this area, visit Parks Canada’s list of day hikes near Lake Louise.
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