8 Best Hikes at Lake Louise
Surrounded by mountains and glaciers, the turquoise colored Lake Louise is one of the most impressive sights in Banff National Park. Millions of people are drawn here each year by the sheer beauty of the area. If all you do is wander in front of the Chateau Lake Louise and gaze out at the spectacle in front of you, you will have only scratched the surface.
For many that is enough, but if you crave more, one of the best ways to escape the crowds and get a better appreciation for the landscape is to take a hike. Hiking trails around Lake Louise are available for all levels of fitness and ability and range from strolls along the lakeshore to heart-pounding ascents of mountain passes.
Hiking reveals the hidden gems you may not otherwise think about, like clear babbling brooks, vibrant summer wildflowers, glorious fall colors, and wildlife. Little creatures like pikas, hoary marmots, and chipmunks will likely join you for lunch as you sit on the rocks and rest your legs, but if you're lucky, you may get a glimpse of larger wildlife as well. Occasionally group hiking with four participants is enforced when grizzly bears are in the vicinity of a particular hike.
All the hikes below are within a small geographical area, and if you can stay right at Lake Louise, access will be easiest. If that's not an option, be aware that parking is at a premium at both Lake Louise and especially Moraine Lake and that the park has recently implemented a shuttle program.
1. Lake Louise Shoreline Trail
One of the easiest trails in the entire Lake Louise area is the Shoreline Trail. The trail is completely level and ideal for those who are just looking for a relaxing walk along the lake. The views from this short walk are amazing.
Most of the crowds are found at the start of the trail, but as you walk along, the people disperse and the trail is surprisingly relaxing. If you come in the early summer, keep an eye on the end of the lake, where frequently you'll see the glacier calving off and crashing to the plains below.
The hike is only four kilometers return, relatively short by Lake Louise hiking standards. It's an in-and-out hike, beginning in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, so you can turn back whenever you like.
The farther up the lake you go, the better the view back towards the Chateau. Looking towards the far end of the lake are glacier and mountain views, with the Plain of Six Glaciers in the distance. Nearby, a glacier-fed stream merrily makes its way across rocks to the lake.
2. Lake Agnes Tea House Hike
One of the most popular hikes in the Lake Louise area is the Lake Agnes Trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Not only does the trail take you to a hanging lake set against soaring peaks, but you can stop in for a drink and a bite at the scenic teahouse.
The trail is wide and mostly even footing, but be forewarned, it is a relatively challenging hike. You'll gain approximately 400 meters (1,260 feet), and the trail is 6.8 kilometers round trip. The Tea House is at the halfway point.
This is an ideal hike for groups, as you can walk two or three abreast for most of the way. A small lookout along the way allows for a narrow view of Lake Louise below.
Just 800 meters before you reach the teahouse, you'll come across Mirror Lake. This is a good spot to rest your legs before the final push to the teahouse.
At the teahouse, you'll find washrooms, a patio area, picnic tables, and benches looking out over Lake Agnes and the surrounding mountains (Mount Niblock and Mount Whyte).
The trailhead is located on the right-hand side of Lake Louise, a very short distance from the Chateau Lake Louise. If you don't want to hike, you can also join a tour and ride a horse.
3. Big Beehive Hike
The Big Beehive hike is an extension you can add on to the Lake Agnes Tea House hike. If you've made it to the Tea House and soaked up the view of Lake Agnes, Mount Niblock, and Mount Whyte, and find you're still looking for a bit more adventure, consider continuing on to the Big Beehive hike.
The Big Beehive is the large bulwark of rock that towers above Lake Agnes. From the top of the Beehive are stunning views out over Lake Louise and down the Bow River Valley, making it one of the top hikes in Banff National Park.
The hike leaves from the teahouse and follows the lake around to the far end. From here, you can snap the iconic photo of Lake Agnes with the tea house at the far end.
At this point, you may think the hike is pretty easy, but you will reconsider when your legs begin to ache as you ascend the switchbacks towards your ultimate goal. Once you've made the roughly 140-meter (450-foot) climb from Lake Agnes to the top, its an easy stroll along the ridge to the picnic shelter at the end.
Combined with the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, this is a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) round-trip hike. Total elevation from Lake Louise is approximately 535 meters (1,755 feet).
4. Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
If you start Shoreline Trail and are curious as to what is around the corner at the end of the lake, continue on to The Plain of Six Glaciers hike. The total hike is 10.6 kilometers (6.6 miles) round trip and has an elevation gain of 365 meters (1,977 feet).
A bonus feature of this hike is the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. This picturesque building dates from 1927. Inside, you can order tea, baked goods, and other tasty treats.
Many people turn around at the teahouse, but you can continue onward for roughly another 1.5 kilometers where the views are even better. This is pretty much the end of the trail and a great place to rest.
5. Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail
Once you arrive at Moraine Lake, it's hard not to be awed by the incredible scene before you. Like Lake Louise, Moraine is a turquoise colored lake and surrounded by snowcapped mountains, but the setting here in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is a bit more dramatic. The lake is smaller and the mountains feel closer.
The Moraine Lake Shoreline trail is the best way to take it all in. Be forewarned that the trail is busy, but don't let that deter you, it's mostly flat, wide, and suitable for anyone.
The trail is three kilometers (1.9 miles) round trip, and this will take you to the viewing platform at the south end of the lake. At this point be sure to check out the water tumbling across the rocks as it finds its way down from the glaciers above. You can turn back on this trail at any time if you aren't up for the full walk.
After you've soaked up the view down the lake and up to the hanging glaciers above, simply retrace your steps and enjoy the views on your way back.
Note that the most iconic photos of Moraine Lake are not taken from this hike. They are generally taken from the short Rockpile hike at the start of the lake.
6. Lake Annette Hike
Often overlooked by hikers drawn to the big trails of Sentinel and Larch Valley is the Lake Annette hike. This wonderful trail is mostly level and climbs only near the end as it follows Paradise Creek all the way up to Lake Annette. At the end of the hike, you'll be greeted by a stunningly blue lake set against sheer cliffs with Mount Temple in the distance.
This is a relatively easy hike, with less elevation gain (245 meters/803 feet) than many of the other hikes in the area. The hike is approximately 11.4 kilometers (6.8 miles) return. The trail is in the woods for quite a bit of the time, but occasionally you'll come to open areas where wooden bridges cross the river.
An interesting addition to this hike is to continue on to the Giant Steps Waterfall. Here, you'll see Paradise Creek tumble off a series of wide ledges.
Note that this is prime grizzly bear territory, and the trail can frequently be closed. Parks Canada may at times also enforce group hiking in pods of four or more people to reduce risk.
7. Larch Valley Trail
As you look out at Moraine Lake, you may not be aware that above and to your left is a wide-open valley filled with larch trees. This trail is ideally taken in the fall, when the larch trees turn a golden yellow. This sight with the Valley of the Ten Peaks in behind is one of the top shoulder season hikes in the Lake Louise area.
The Larch Valley hike is 8.6 kilometers (5.2 miles) and gains 535 meters (1,755 feet) of elevation. It is one of the shorter hikes in the area and offers an excellent return on effort versus reward. The middle of September towards the third week are when the trees are at their prime. Note, however, that at this time of year, the weather can be very changeable and cold. Pack for all conditions.
The trailhead is just past the Moraine Lake Lodge and from here, the ascent is over a series of well-graded switchbacks. The sound of the forest along this section is punctuated with the delightful burbling of small streams as they descend from the valley above.
When you emerge from the trees and if luck is on your side with the sun shining, the large trees almost burst with their yellow and orange-tinged needles.
Take some time to wander onwards to the Minnestimma Lakes area — the view back over the lakes with the trees in the foreground of the mountains is not to be missed. If you are feeling strong, and the switchbacks up to Sentinel Pass don't faze you, continue onward and upward for even more spectacular views.
8. Sentinel Pass Hike
Sentinel Pass has all the wonderful aspects of Larch Valley, plus you'll get to peer over the edge at the top into the appropriately named Paradise Valley. To get to Sentinel Pass, begin the above described Larch Valley trail and then continue onward and up past the Minnestimma Lakes.
Sentinel Pass is a relatively difficult hike — you'll be covering just over 11.6 kilometers (7.2 miles) and climbing nearly 725 meters (nearly 2,400 feet).
From the lakes, it may appear that the pass is right there, but it's still 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles) and nearly 200 meters (650 feet) to the top. Even if you are in good physical shape, you'll be breathing hard, as the air is thin up here.
At the top, having ascended to just under 3,000 meters (8,500 feet), you'll have lots of time to catch your breath as you gaze back out at the panorama of mountains in front of you. If that view grows boring somehow, just look off the other side of Sentinel Pass over into the stunning Paradise Valley. Occasionally, you'll see some intrepid climbers attempting to ascend one of the Sentinel towers.
At this point, you can return the way you came, or if you have a car shuttle arranged, continue down the steep slopes into Paradise Valley and back past Annette Lake to make a complete loop.
Frequently Asked Questions
What about parking at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake?
With the popularity of the lakes increasing over the past number of years, parking has become a major pressure point. If you want to park at Lake Louise, plan to be there early. If you want to secure a spot at Moraine Lake, which has a much smaller parking lot, you may need to be there by sunrise.
To alleviate the crunch, the park has implemented a shuttle system. This is really the best way to make sure you get to the lakes. Reservations to board the bus for a specific time are required and can be booked online through the park website.
Can I bring my dog on the hike?
Yes. Dogs are allowed on hikes, but they must be on a leash at all times. Keep in mind some of these are very busy hikes, and you will be passing people regularly along narrow trails.