Lake Agnes Tea House Hike: A Must-Do Trail at Lake Louise
One of the highlights of a visit to Banff National Park is a stop at Lake Louise. The green waters reflect the surrounding mountains and glacier, and the fabulous Chateau Lake Louise stands majestically on the edge of the shore. Most visitors wander along the lakeside path, but you can take your visit to another level by hiking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House above Lake Louise.
By mountain standards, this is an easy trail, although it's rated as moderate due to the elevation. If you aren't used to hiking in the mountains, you may find it more difficult than expected simply because of the altitude.
The good news is, after you hike up, you can stop and enjoy a snack at the Lake Agnes Tea House and soak in the alpine scenery. Afterwards, you can linger around the lake, tack on a hike up to the Big Beehive if you have more energy, and then meander back down to Lake Louise.
You should generally plan on half a day to do this hike and enjoy some time at the tea house. It's best to go earlier in the day before the crowds.
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The Hike to Lake Agnes Tea House
The hike leaves from the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail, just a short stroll from the Chateau Lake Louise. From here, it's a steady but not overly steep 3.5-kilometer hike up to Lake Agnes and the Tea House. The total distance of the return hike is seven kilometers (4.5 miles), and the elevation gain is approximately 400 meters (1,312 feet).
Exact distances in elevation depend on whether you are starting from the parking lot at Lake Louise or the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail where it departs from the Shoreline Trail.
The Lake Agnes trail is a wide hiking trail that leads through forest. Views from the trail out to Lake Louise are almost non-existent on this hike. At a switchback approximately one kilometer or more into the hike is a scenic spot where you can see Lake Louise below, and many people stop here for a photo. Don't do this hike if you are looking for a great view over Lake Louise, unless you plan on continuing on to the Big Beehive Trail, above Lake Agnes.
At about 2.7 kilometers into the hike, you'll come to Mirror Lake, more of a pond than a lake. This is a popular resting point with a couple of benches at one side of the lake looking out onto the usually still water and a great view of the Big Beehive behind.
From here, it's only another 800 meters to Lake Agnes, but tired souls sometimes turn around here if they aren't up for completing the hike. Once you've come this far, it's definitely worth pushing on to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
At Mirror Lake, the main trail leads to the right. A second trail on the left is a slightly shorter but steeper path to the lake. It's best to continue on the main trail and on the return trip down from the lake, you may want to come down the steeper path, turning the portion from Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes into a loop.
Just before you reach the tea house, the trail ends at a long set of stairs with about 58 steps. The Lake Agnes Tea House is at the top of this set of stairs. You literally can't miss it. You'll see a corral on the side of the trail just before you reach the stairs, and this is as far as horses go. Right at the base of the stairs is a waterfall and popular photo spot.
From the Lake Agnes Tea House are views over across this beautiful alpine lake to Mount Niblock and Mount Whyte. Allow some time to walk along the shoreline trail to the right of the lake. This path continues on and goes up to the Big Beehive, which you can do if you like, or turn around at the end of the lake.
Along the shore near the tea house is a small bridge with a lovely vista across the lake. If you don't want to go back down the same way you came, you can cross the bridge, and the trail from here goes down and joins up with the main trail at Mirror Lake. This is a steeper section, but does shave off a bit of distance.
The Lake Agnes Tea House
Set on the shore of Lake Agnes, this is said to be the oldest tea house in Canada. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901, specifically for hikers, and it began serving tea in 1905.
The cottage-style structure offers an impressive list of more than 100 types of loose leaf tea, as well as coffee, lemonade, bottled water, and an assortment of sandwiches, snacks, and sweets.
The view from here is spectacular, with vistas that encompass the lake, the mountains that tower over the lake, and out to the runs of Lake Louise ski resort in the distance.
The elevation of the Lake Agnes Tea House is 2,135 meters (7,005 feet).
Hiking from Lake Agnes Tea House to the Big Beehive
Resembling a giant beehive capped with trees, the Big Beehive is a very distinctive feature that can be seen from the shores of Lake Louise, high above on the right side. From Mirror Lake, it's impossible to miss this rock wall towering over the lake. And as you walk from Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes, it dominates your view as you look up the path.
From Lake Agnes, you can see the trail leading around the back of the lake and up a series of switchbacks. This is the hike to the Big Beehive. From the tea house it's about a 1.7-kilometer hike to the top of the Big Beehive (3.4 kilometers return) and an elevation gain of 135 meters (442 feet)
The trail runs to the right of the lake from the tea house, following the shore all the way to the end of the lake and along the back side before it starts ascending. The hike up is spectacular, with views over Lake Agnes and across to the mountains. The trail is steeper than the hike to Lake Agnes, so be prepared for a grunt.
At the top, the trail runs along the edge of the Big Beehive, and it's from up here that you get fantastic views of Lake Louise far below. If you are afraid of heights, you'll want to stay well back from the edge of the cliffs.
Note that there is also a Little Beehive Trail, so make sure you take the correct trail!
Taking a Horse to the Lake Agnes Tea House
If this all sounds like way too much effort, there's always the horse option! You can do a half-day trail ride to Lake Agnes with Brewster Adventures. You'll still have to climb the steps at the end of the trail to actually reach the tea house, but they are a sturdy set of proper stairs.
The horses follow the same trail as the hikers for the last portion of the trail and take in Mirror Lake. They do morning and afternoon rides, and reservations are highly recommended.
The Other Lake Louise Tea House Hike
The Lake Agnes Tea House is not the only tea house at Lake Louise, and this often confuses visitors. The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is also a popular hiking destination. This tea house is found on the Plain of Six Glaciers hiking trail, and is one of the best hikes in the Lake Louise area.
The hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is about 11 kilometers return and has an elevation gain of approximately 360 meters.
Tips for Hiking to Lake Agnes Tea House
- Go Early in the Day: The trail generally becomes more and more congested as the day goes on.
- Adjust to the Altitude: If you are arriving in the mountains from a low elevation, the change in altitude can often make physical activity more challenging. If you have a few days in the area, you may want to try to plan this hike for later in your stay. It will be more difficult to do on the first day you arrive.
- After the Hike: While you may have had a tea or snack at the tea house, spending a leisurely afternoon enjoying lunch looking out at Lake Louise is hard to beat. Pop in, or better yet, make a reservation in advance, at the Chateau Lake Louise and dine on their outdoor patio. If you want more activity, there are plenty of other things to do at Lake Louise, including paddling.