Adventurer’s Day Hiking Guide to Lake Louise, Banff National Park: Lake Agnes, Devil’s Thumb, and Plain of Six Glaciers
Calling all adventurists, want-to-be adventurists, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. In one of the most famous national parks in the world, Banff National park, is a hikers playground, Lake Louise. From expert scrambles to meandering strolls to teahouses, Lake Louise has a day hike for any adventurer.
AL = adventure level from 1-5
1 – Resortists (you travel for the sake of the hotel)
2 – Tourists (want experiences but also comfort)
3 – Campers (ready to get off the beaten path a bit)
4 – Explorers (nature and adventure are always the priority)
5 – Adrenaline Junkies (probably sponsored by a big name brand)
Read more about what level adventurer you are here.
First, I recommend starting all these hikes before 9am for three reasons, 1) So you can get a less crowded and well-lit view of Lake Louise early in the morning, 2) You are more likely to get a table at Lake Agnes Teahouse (see the Teahouse’s summer hours here) and, 3) The sun won’t beat down as hard while walking toward the Plain of Six Glaciers. P.S. See the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse hours here.
Route A (AL 2): Lake Agnes Teahouse
If you want to see the beauty of Banff without the adventure and physical exertion of the strenuous hikes, this is your hike. The easy 3.5 kilometer hike is a steady incline through a lovely forest and stops at the pretty Mirror Lake before finishing at Lake Agnes Teahouse. The small hike is greatly rewarding when you sit and have tea at the Teahouse while taking in the gorgeous ridges of mountains reflecting on the lake. Snack on tea and desserts before returning down the way you came. Note: They only take cash (US or Canadian)
Route B (AL 3): Lake Agnes to Big Beehive
So you’re ready to move outside your comfort zone a teensy bit, I like it. This is perfect for someone who wants a few hour hike, slightly strenuous but not too difficult. After the directions from Route A to the wonderful Lake Agnes. Continue around the right shore of the lake upon which you’ll reach some steep switchbacks. Don’t worry, they won’t last long. After .7 km (.4 mi)—only 15 minutes, you’ll finish the climb and go left at the saddle, following signs for Big Beehive. Feast your eyes on noteworthy views out to Banff Valley and toward the towering mountains behind you. Either head back the way you came or if you don’t like backtracking (like us) continue down toward the Highline Trail. When you reach the junction, turn left and you’ll be brought back to Mirror Lake. This section is 2.4 km (1.5 mi), about 1 km longer than backtracking, but is almost entirely downhill. Finish the last 2.7 km with a beautiful view of Lake Louise.
Route C (AL 3): Lake Agnes to Big Beehive to Plain of Six Glaciers
This route contains equal adventure level as the last hike but with nearly twice the length and endurance. Once you’ve achieved spectacular views of the Big Beehive, head down the steep trail and once you reach the junction for the Highline Trail, go right and follow the signs toward the Plain of Six Glaciers. After hiking 2km through blooming meadows along the mountainside, you’ll reach a narrow ridge in the valley of the Plain where you’ll gaze longingly toward the glacial endpoint that you will soon reach. 1.2 more kilometer and you’ll come across the lovely resting point of the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. The lunches looked really good here so I recommend waiting on having food until you get here (although the meals are a bit pricey). Despite how much your feet might hurt by the time you get here, it’s worth the short 1 kilometer push to view the entirety of the remaining four glaciers from the scree slopes below a large pouring waterfall. Finally, make the long, lovely, 6.8 km (4 mi) descent to Lake Louise and once again take in the gorgeous blue waters.
Route D (AL 4): Lake Agnes to Devil’s Thumb to Plain of Six Glaciers
This is the five-course meal of hikes, expensive as hell, in effort that is, but gloriously worth it. See Banff’s most gorgeous views from its most attractive angles. See the jaw-dropping reflections from Lake Agnes Teahouse, have your mind blown atop the epic scramble of the Devil’s Thumb and see beyond dozens of mountains in a panoramic view as well as the glaciers of the Plain of Six Glaciers and a glacier mountain by Lake Agnes and the entire Banff Valley, and take in the magnificence of the glaciers and waterfalls at the furthest point on the Plain of Six Glaciers. Lake Louise will finish off your hike with one last oomph of beauty.
I suggest you start this hike before 9am for crowd and heat reasons. The 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) to Lake Agnes are a great warm up for this long day of walking. The trail heads steadily uphill through the forest, past Mirror Lake, for an hour before reaching Lake Agnes and the Teahouse. Once you arrive, take in the wonderful view from the balcony of the tea house where you can enjoy tea, coffee, or a dessert. After a short rest, continue right along the shore of Lake Agnes and up a few steep switchbacks which should take only 15 minutes (about .7 km) upon which you’ll reach the saddle where, instead of going left to the Big Beehive, you’ll walk right to get to the Devil’s Thumb. This next section will take 1.5 to 2 hours though it is only about 2 miles round trip. Follow a narrow, well defined trail straight, you’ll reach a small rock face that you’ll have to scramble up, then head left around the mountain for about 15 minute. You’ll then see a scree slope above you. Challenge accepted! 15 more minutes and you’ll be rewarded with the most epic views of your life. Have a snack by the cairn and rest your legs. Make SURE you take in all of the panoramic views. Now head back down the way you came and at the saddle, go right down a steep 1.5 km (1 mile) hill toward the Highline Trail. You’ll arrive in flowering meadows shortly that trace the edge of the mountainside and you’ll begin to see portions of the Plain of Six Glacier. Hiking here for 30 minutes, 2 km (1.2 mi) will bring you to ridge with a lookout of the towering glacial mountains and thirty more minutes will bring you to the second Teahouse. This teahouse seemed to have some good (but pricey) food but we had already brought snacks. Rest your legs to make the final uphill section. At last you’ll see the entire Plain of Six Glaciers view complete with waterfalls, blue Glaciers, black glacial peak, and scree slopes to view them from. Looking back you’ll see Lake Louise down in the valley. Guess what? That’s where you’re headed. Begin the 2 hour, 6.8 km (4 mi) return trip to Lake Louise via the rightmost trail which provides beautiful views the whole way back. The pure blue color of Lake Louise is a perfect view to end this hike.
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