The Devil’s Thumb hike in Lake Louise is known for not only its unique thumb shape, but for the simultaneous view of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes from the hike’s peak.
This awesome Banff hike provides experienced hikers with the perfect view of one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world, all from above the crowds.
If you are confident in your hiking abilities, whether it is your first visit to this infamous turquoise lake or you are looking for a new way to enjoy this stunning destination, the Devil’s Thumb hike is for you!
With 880 meters of elevation gain over 6 kilometers, this is a great day hike – it isn’t overly time-consuming, leaving lots of time for exploring, enjoying the Lake Agnes Tea House, and soaking up the remarkable views.
A Local’s Guide to Hiking the Devil’s Thumb
- Length: 12 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 883 m
- Duration: 3 – 5 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Best Time to Go: Summer (June – September)
- Parking: Lake Louise
Devil’s Thumb Route Description
Begin on the Lake Agnes Trail
The Devil’s Thumb hike starts right at the world-renowned Lake Louise. The hike begins by following the paved path around the lake, known as the Lakefront Trail. It is here that you will experience the largest crowds, but do not be deterred by this. The higher you are willing to hike, the less busy the trails become and the more astonishing the views get!
As the paved path begins to wind around the side of the lake, you will want to veer to the right and into the trees following the sign for the Lake Agnes Trail. The Lake Agnes Trail is roughly 3.5 km long and is spent mostly in the trees with only a few viewpoints. This is a relatively easy start to the hike, with steady elevation gain and a wide dirt path that allows plenty of space for the many visitors this trail sees each day.
Part way to Lake Agnes you will have the pleasure of passing Mirror Lake! This is a stunning elevated lake in Banff with its own unique color. From Mirror Lake you get an unbeatable view of the Big Beehive – from this viewpoint it is obvious how the Big Beehive got its name.
From Mirror Lake it is not long until you reach the infamous Lake Agnes. After a few switch backs, a stunning waterfall, and a steep wooden staircase, you have made it to Lake Agnes and the unique Lake Agnes Tea House! From here, you have a few options:
- Enjoy the view of Lake Agnes and grab a tea at the cozy Lake Agnes Tea House, then head back down the way you came
- Continue one more kilometre to the Little Beehive Lookout – a short hike perfect for beginners, that is well worth the extra distance as you gain a stunning view of Lake Louise for easy effort. The trail to the Little Beehive begins right after the teahouse on your right. It’s easy to miss, but just keep your eyes open for it. I highly recommend getting up to the Little Beehive, it’s about 15-20 minutes past the Teahouse.
- Hike 1.5 kilometres to the Big Beehive Lookout – a slightly more challenging alternative that is ideal for beginners and intermediate hikers, that provides an even better view than the Little Beehive, although both are grand.
- Continue the 2.5 kilometres to the Devil’s Thumb – the most challenging option that definitely provides the most remarkable viewpoint of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. However there is a little scrambling involved as it gets steep towards the summit. A helmet may not hurt either as there are many loose rocks that other hikers above you may launch your way unknowingly. Since this post is about Devil’s Thumb, we’ll assume this is the route you are going to take – if so keep reading!
Follow the Signs for Big Beehive
The Devil’s Thumb hike is not marked by any signs. With Lake Agnes being such a popular tourist destination, Parks Canada wants to ensure that only experienced hikers are making this trip. Instead, you can follow the signage for the Big Beehive Hike, as the Devil’s Thumb is just 1 kilometer past this “summit”.
The Big Beehive trail will lead you around and behind Lake Agnes, providing a gorgeous view of this impressive lake. We had the pleasure of doing this hike in late September just as the Larch Trees were nearing their golden end, making the sites even more perfect. Once you’re at the back of the lake, you will begin to gain elevation again.
The trail leads you up a few switchbacks on a slightly narrow trail. This part of the hike is not too physically demanding, but it is still busy! Be prepared to pass many other hikers here, requiring you to stand to the side to make room on the narrow path. After a few steep switchbacks, you will arrive at an open, flat area with a sign pointing hikers towards the Big Beehive.
Use the Unmarked Footpath to Lead you to Devil’s Thumb
Once you get past a few switchbacks, instead of following the Beehive sign to the left, take the path less travelled to the right! This is where the more advanced hiking begins. A faint foot path will lead you up a steep, rocky section that requires some determination and leg power (probably some upper body power too!) to climb up. You’ll likely be using your hands in a few sections. From here on out you are out of the trees and will experience many points of high exposure.
The path leads you around the base of the Devil’s Thumb, again, on a narrow dirt trail. This is a section that requires a bit of conscious stepping, as a steep drop-off is just to the left of the trail. Though this spot is slightly exposed, it is a relaxing flat section before the scramble. Here you gain your first view of what lies behind Lake Louise – the Plain of the Six Glaciers!
This path quickly turns into a scramble, so be prepared for a demanding last few hundred meters. Some gloves will not hurt, and as mentioned a helmet is never a bad idea on popular scrambles. Marked by lots of boulders to step over and climb onto, this section is the steepest and most exposed. There isn’t much scree to this scramble, just large rocks that require a bit of climbing. The trail here is not well defined so choose your own adventure and be safe doing so.
Once you’ve made it this far, one of the most stunning views in the Canadian Rockies is just around the corner. As you finish the scramble to the top, follow the flat ground to its end, past the inukshuks and rock towers, and feast your eyes on one of the most sought-after sights in Banff National Park.
Advice for Hiking the Devil’s Thumb
- To try and prevent under-experienced hikers from following the wrong path, the Devil’s Thumb Hike is not marked with any signs. You will need to follow the Big Beehive Trail to its end, then look for the footpath pointing towards the thumb-shaped peak.
- Avoid crowds by beginning this hike bright and early in the morning, or in the early afternoon. We started the hike from Lake Louise around 12:00pm in late September, which allowed us to avoid major crowds on the way up and still left us lots of time to get down before the sunset. During peak summer months I would recommend starting before sunrise to avoid lots of people and to catch an absolute steller sunset over Lake Louise.
- Not only does avoiding crowds make for a more enjoyable hike, but it makes for a safer one as well. With this hike being a popular one it is possible for loose rocks to get dislodged by hikers above you – this has been a common cause of injury on this hike. Be mindful of both who is above you and below you when completing the scramble.
- Take a quick detour, either on the ascent or descent, to the Big Beehive lookout. The Devil’s Thumb hike leads you right past this alternative viewpoint. Though this view is similar to but not as extreme as the view from the Devil’s Thumb, it is still worth the extra few steps to check out.
- The Devil’s Thumb can often get grouped in with the Beehive hikes even though it is more physically demanding.
- With areas of high exposure, a scramble, and a poorly marked trail, I wouldn’t recommend this hike to beginners. We ran into a couple that had gotten lost amidst the cliffs and trees for over an hour trying to find the trail to the Devil’s Thumb. If you want a great scramble nearby that is slightly easier than Devil’s Thumb, try Mount St. Piran or Mount Fairview.
- At the top of the Devil’s Thumb, the ground becomes relatively flat and at the peak of summer, it is not too windy. This is a beautiful place to relax, eat lunch, and enjoy the view before heading back down again.
- If beginning this hike late in the day like we did, be mindful of the Tea House hours. You will be reaching the Tea House around peak lunch hour, so it will be quieter to stop in on your descent. Just be sure to check out what time it closes up so you don’t miss the tasty teas and delicious treats offered by this one-of-a-kind cafe.
How Hard is the Devil’s Thumb Hike?
The Devil’s Thumb hike is rated as Difficult and is recommended for more experienced hikers. Though it is pretty easy-going all the way to the Big Beehive, the lack of trail markers and steep scramble at the end could be a challenge for beginners.
I recommend downloading the trail map to your phone or GPS device ahead of time – we didn’t need to use ours, but I can imagine how easily one may lose the trail. You can see our GPX file here and follow if you would like. If you are equipped with a proper map, are physically fit, and understand the severity of scrambles, I believe that most able-bodied individuals with a keen sense of adventure are capable of completing this hike.
Duration of This Hike
The total duration of this hike is estimated to take 3-5 hours round trip if you plan to hike directly to the Devil’s Thumb and back down again. If you plan to visit the Big Beehive lookout, allocate an extra half hour or so. If you are feeling especially ambitious, hit the Little Beehive before setting off towards the Big Beehive and Devil’s thumb – this adds 2 kilometres (round trip) and should only add an hour or so. If you are feeling extra energized and want a full day out you can consider adding the Plain of Six Glaciers of Mount St Piran to your day.
The hike to Lake Agnes Tea House is likely to take an experienced hiker under an hour, but if hiking is still new to you it may take closer to 2 hours. From Lake Agnes, we made it to the Big Beehive look out in well under an hour. After soaking up the views from the Beehive, the final stretch to the Devil’s Thumb took us about 40 minutes to complete before reaching this final destination.
Is the Devil’s Thumb Suitable for Kids and Dogs?
If you are looking for a family friendly hike, I would recommend the Beehives. These hikes are accessible to almost every able-bodied person of moderate fitness. Both the Little and Big Beehive hikes should be suitable for children 6 years and up, maybe even younger. The trails are not suitable for a stroller, but physically fit individuals should be able to complete these hikes with a child carrier on their back.
Considering the steep drop-offs and demanding scramble, the Devil’s thumb hike is not suitable for kids, unless they have experience scrambling in the Rockies. Not only is this hike physically challenging, but it could be quite dangerous if they were to take a wrong step.
If you are looking to bring your furry side kick, I would say that most medium and large dogs can handle the Beehive hikes. I did see lots of small dogs making the trip to Lake Agnes, but I think they would struggle with the Beehive hikes and would be incapable of making it to the Devil’s Thumb.
As for the Devil’s Thumb, if your medium-large dog has experience with scrambles and high exposure then they are likely ready for this hike. Be prepared to lift your dog up some of the larger rocks during the scramble. Keep in mind that all dogs are required to be on-leash in the National Parks. This is for the protection of other visitors, the various wildlife that lives in the area, and of course your own dog.
When Can you Hike the Devil’s Thumb?
The Devil’s Thumb trail is best used from June – September. During these months, you shouldn’t experience any issues with snow. We were a bit too eager to complete this hike and attempted it in late May, but got turned around behind Lake Agnes as the trail was still covered in deep snow. Depending on the year, you may be able to do this hike in October, but be prepared for potential snow cover and especially chilly alpine temperatures. Right before you start the ascent to Big Beehive there is an avalanche chute that should be noted in the shoulder months when there is still snow on the ground.
How Popular is the Devil’s Thumb Hike?
Lake Louise is one of the most well-known lakes in the world and the traffic on the surrounding hiking trails can definitely reflect this. Despite the many crowds that surround the lake no matter the season, the further you are willing to hike the quieter the trails become.
The lakefront is the busiest part of the trail no matter the day. As you follow the relatively easy trail to Lake Agnes, the crowds become smaller but the Tea House is still a highly sought-after destination. It is once you leave Lake Agnes and the Tea House, as you make your way to either of the Beehive lookouts or to the Devil’s Thumb, that the trails become much quieter.
The trail that leads to the Beehive and Devil’s Thumb is moderately trafficked. You will still be passing many hikers on this trail. It isn’t until you reach the Big Beehive turnoff and begin following the Devil’s Thumb trail that the hike becomes quiet. This last kilometer to the Devil’s Thumb, being the most difficult to access, is the least busy. You will still pass a few other hikers, but are likely to have the final view to yourself for at least a few quiet moments.
Advice on Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
- No matter the season, you need to dress appropriately for mountain environments. The temperature from the base of the hike to the summit can change drastically, and you will want to be prepared. Check out this article on What to Wear Hiking, or the Best Hiking Clothes for Men and the Best Hiking Clothes for Women.
- Despite how busy and highly trafficked a hike may be, it is always possible to lose the trail. My favorite app to use while hiking is AllTrails. Not only does this provide you with details of the hike and reviews from other hikers, but you can download the route directly to your phone if you pay the small subscription fee.
- Be bear aware! Always carry bear spray and ensure it is in an accessible area – we use a holster to attach ours to our hip or chest strap on our backpack. Bear encounters happen most commonly when the bear doesn’t hear you coming and you accidentally sneak up on them. To avoid this, some people carry bear bells. I personally just like to keep a conversation flowing at a decent volume, and if you grow tired of chatting, singing your favorite songs is sure to let the bears know you are there.
- Don’t be afraid to turn around before the summit or final destination if needed. It is sometimes the smartest and safest decision to call it quits, whether it is due to the weather, you’re running out of time before it gets dark, or you are just too exhausted. There is always another day to reattempt a hike when you are feeling more prepared.
Other Must-Do Hikes in Lake Louise
The hiking opportunities in Lake Louise are plentiful, each with its own unique benefits and challenges. It is nearly impossible to choose my favorite hike in the area, so I recommend you check them out for yourself. Take a look at our guide to all the hikes around Lake Louise, and be sure to let us know if you are able to choose a favorite!
Things to Do in Lake Louise
The outdoor adventures to experience, the lodging to enjoy, and the dining to indulge in Lake Louise seems to be never-ending. If you are making the trip, you will need a few days to even make a dent in the list of Things to do in Lake Louise. No matter the season, this gorgeous lake that sits behind a magical hotel and in front of a marvelous glacier has something to offer everyone!
About the Author
Hey guys, I’m Regan – an outdoor enthusiast living in the beautiful Bow Valley! I have always been eager to make the most of nature’s playground, mainly through hiking, skiing, and camping, and feel lucky to now be doing so in one of the most beautiful places on this planet. I believe that the Canadian Rockies have something to offer everyone, and I want to do my part in helping you explore the area and all its beauty!
Follow my adventures: @regan.mahoney