One of the best things about hiking near Lake Louise is that your efforts can be rewarded with tea and cake! There are two famous teahouses above Lake Louise. We visited the first at the Plain of the Six Glaciers in the morning. Then, as we still had plenty of energy, we decided to return via the highline trail to the Big Beehive and the other teahouse at Lake Agnes. If you have less time, you could easily just pop up to Lake Agnes and the Beehive as a separate walk.
Our walk involved meeting three grizzly bears (a mum and her babies!) as well as plenty of snow. Once the snow and mist came down, most other walkers seemed to head home, so the highline trail was pretty empty. We had the views from the Big Beehive all to ourselves. Well…almost to ourselves; A cheeky chipmunk joined us for a while.
The Big Beehive and Lake Agnes loop
This map shows the full hike that we did, including both teahouses. However, you could skip the hike to the first teahouse and just visit Lake Agnes if you have less time/energy.
The Big Beehive and Lake Agnes loop – The basics
Distance: 10.8km (from Lake Louise) 18km (if you do the whole loop to both teahouses and the glacier viewpoint)
Elevation gain: 678m
Highest Point: 2270m
Time: It took us 4 hours from the Plain of Six Glaciers along the highline trail to the Big Beehive, down to Lake Agnes and then back to Lake Louise.
What to bring:
Walking boots. In autumn/winter micro spikes will make it MUCH easier too.
Bring warm clothes whatever time of year it is.
The ten essentials (as always)
There is a teahouse at Lake Agnes
There are loos in the car park and up near the teahouse.
Yes, but keep them on a lead.
How hard is it?
Moderate. The steep section up to the Big Beehive was hard with all the slippery ice, but it must be easier in summer.
The hike up to Lake Agnes is incredibly popular (and a little boring, as there are so few views through the trees!) If you can, go to the Plain of Six Glaciers first, and hike the way we did. It is a more picturesque, exciting hike.
Getting started – Return from the Glaciers
We started by walking along the Plain of the Six Glacier trail. Then, on the way back to Lake Louise we turned left onto the highline trail (rather than heading straight back.) There were some lovely autumnal views back down to Lake Louise.
On our way up to the glaciers in the morning, the cliffs had been covered in icicles. However, after just a little sunlight, they were starting to melt, break off and crash down onto the path! You can see the gaps where the icicles had started to break off! I spent loads of time looking left at the ice…until we noticed that everyone else on the path was looking in the opposite direction…
Banff grizzly bears(!)
We stopped and stared in the direction other people were looking for a while…but we couldn’t really see anything. It turns out the brown colour of grizzly fir is really well camoflaged with the surrounding rocks! It took us a while to spot the three of them. Can you see them all? Hint: one of the cubs likes to hide behind a tree!
How exciting is this!?
We were reeeeally far away (these photos are a little blurry as I had to use the full zoom of my big camera lens.) Marc and I found a really good spot to watch the bears dig things up with their paws and noses. We were there for such a long time that I started to freeze! I don’t even mind being cold when I get to meet bears!
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the grizzly mummy and her cubs and started walking towards the Big Beehive. The views up to the surrounding mountains were looking lovely.
The Highline Trail up to the Big Beehive
The great thing about the highline trail is that we didn’t have to lose much elevation. Once we’d turned onto the right path, it stays at the same elevation for a while. At first we walked through an area of bushes covered in berries. Then we moved into the forest and slowly started to climb back up the mountain.
The steep section
There is one part of this walk that was hard work! Just as we started to ascend to the Big Beehive, it started to snow. The ground was pretty frozen, so this made a very slippery, steep path for us to struggle up. We put our micro spikes back on which made it much easier. I didn’t see any other hikers following the same route as us, but we did meet quite a few French speakers heading back in the other direction. It made me wonder if there is a French hiking guide with this loop in the other direction!?
The Big Beehive Viewpoint
Once we made it up to the ridge, we realized it was just a short walk over to the Big Beehive view point. The Canadian Pacific Railway built a shelter here in 1916. It is still a perfect place to shelter from the snow. We stopped here to eat lunch, and to watch an inquisitive chipmunk. The shelter has a really good view down to Lake Louise, but it was a little too misty for us to make the most of it!
The Devil’s Thumb
One of the other hikes I’d really like to do here is hike up the Devil’s Thumb. We had this fantastic view of it from the Big Beehive, but it didn’t seem like sensible weather for climbing up there! I can add this to my list for next time. This time, we just looked up and admired the larches.
The next part of the hike was a set of steep switch-backs heading down to Lake Agnes. This would have been really difficult without our micro spikes, and we didn’t see any other hikers at all. If it looks like there is a possibility of snow, don’t try this without some spikes for your shoes! Once we’d made it down to the lake, the snow calmed down so we could look at the pretty reflections.
This is the view of the Big Beehive that we’d just descended. Doesn’t it look beautiful reflected in Lake Agnes!?
The path to the Big Beehive is the opposite side of the lake to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, so you have to walk almost all the way around the lake. Most people do this walk in the opposite direction. I quite liked having my first view of the teahouse from across the lake. The photo below (left) is the view of the Big Beehive from Lake Agnes. The photo on the right is looking up to the Devil’s thumb.
It’d be rude not to take a jumping photo when the views are this pretty!
Lake Agnes teahouse vs the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse
It might just be because I reeeeally liked that apple cake, but I liked the bright colours of the first teahouse (up at the Plain of Six Glaciers) best. The Lake Agnes teahouse seemed more cozy and a little more modern. Still I LOVE that there are two beautifully built places to drink tea so close together!
Which would you like to visit most? Or would you go to both!?
Heading back to Lake Louise
By the time we’d finished taking photos of Lake Agnes, it was 4:30pm, and high time for us to head back down to our car. The steps and the top of the path were so, so slippy, that we put our micro spikes straight back on. We watched some poor lads slip over countless times as they tried to reach the Lake Agnes teahouse. I hope they were okay on the way down! The top of the path is very steep, with a view of a waterfall.
Once you climb down a little, you get this fantastic view looking back up to the Big Beehive. This must be a little intimidating if you do the walk in this direction…but it was great for us. We could look up and be chuffed that we’d just been up there!
These are by photos of the Big Beehive as we descended. It looks pretty impressive from below. Eh!?
We had one last view out towards the Plain of the Six Glaciers before we made it back into the forest to descend through the long switch-backs.
This was our view of Mirror Lake. It was just a little too icy and frozen to look like a mirror. I imagine it must be a beautiful place to see the Big Beehive reflected in the water.
Slightly boring switchbacks
After that, my camera ran out of batteries. Still, it didn’t matter too much because there are not many views at all between Mirror Lake and Lake Louise. The path involves some long switch-backs that slowly zig-zag their way down the mountain. I warmed my camera battery in my hand, so had enough power to get a last couple of photos. The photo on the left was one of the very few views on the way down, and then I managed a final jump shot.
So, we made it back to Lake Louise. Now the sun had moved, the colour of the water was even more beautiful than it had been in the morning. I am so in love with this area!
Lake Agnes teahouse vs the Plain of the Six Glaciers teahouse?
This may be a little controversial, as most people seem to love the hike to Lake Agnes; But, if you don’t have time to do both walks, I think the hike to the Plain of the Six Glaciers teahouse was the nicest out of the two teahouse possibilities. The elevation gain and distance is a little longer, but you have stunning views for the whole walk. The hike to Lake Agnes in comparison is mostly though the forest with no impressive views until you’ve made it up to mirror lake.
Obviously, the very best option is to have a long day out and do both. This extra loop was just over 18km. 😉