Classic hikes at Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Canada will take you on trails to either Lake Agnes Teahouse or Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. We chose to hike the Lake Agnes trail on the recommendation of the tourism office and other hikers we had met in Banff the night before.
The Plain of Six Glaciers provides panoramic views of glaciated peaks in the Canadian Rockies on a trail that’s 3.3 miles versus 2.2 miles for Lake Agnes, but the estimated time for each hike is 90 minutes one way. The difference is that there’s less elevation gain for the Plain of Six Glaciers, so it’s a bit easier on the legs.Imagine how yummy tea and peanut butter sandwiches can taste at the top of a mountain in a rustic teahouse. An assortment of hot teas are available (especially welcome in winter), and homemade goodies are baked on a wooden stove—much as when the teahouse was first constructed in 1905 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The food isn’t fancy, but dining in this historic place is a fun experience and worth the uphill trek to get there.
The Lake Agnes Trail, which is labeled moderately strenuous in my guidebook, starts in front of the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau. (Plan to arrive before 10:00 a.m. as the parking lot fills quickly). The trail climbs steeply for the first 1.6 miles, switch-backing through a forest of fir and spruce. It levels off at Mirror Lake, a wonderfully scenic spot that appears just when you need a break.Near the end of the trail, just below the teahouse, a beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes, gushing over a series of rocks with a refreshing spray. The trail concludes in a series of steps leading to the historic tea house that overlooks the lake and valley.
Not having brought snacks (bear warnings all around) we were hungry, so it was a good thing we arrived in time for lunch–homemade tuna, peanut butter, or cheese sandwiches. No luck on chilled drinks, however, because there’s no ice (everything has to be packed in to the teahouse), so we settled for drinking the water in our backpacks.
Somewhat revived, we headed out for another six-tenths of a mile slog on a fairly steep path to Little Beehive (the longer trail to Big Beehive, a distinctively rounded mountain, joins up with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail in the opposite direction). New vantage points provided impressive views looking back at Bow Valley, Lake Louise, and the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau, the original hotel at Lake Louise that’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The return 3-mile trip went much faster as our memory cards were already loaded with hundreds of images—and we resisted the urge to add more.There’s no better way to appreciate the stunning mountain scenery than on one of these hikes. Being photo hounds who savored our lunch break, the entire excursion took us about five hours.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier