The hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House is a classic hike in Banff National Park provides access to stunning natural landscapes and finishes at a historic tea house. The trail begins at Lake Louise and ends at the Lake Louise Tea House, and has grown to be one of the most popular hikes in the park.
It has a rich history and the Lake Agnes Tea House (commonly referred to as the Banff Tea House) dates back to 1901 while the name itself takes the name of Canada’s first First Lady, Lady Agnes MacDonald. It’s a stunning alpine lake that is set inside a breathtaking cirque formed by the peaks of Mt Saint Piran, Niblock, and Whyte.
The Lake Agnes Tea House Hike
- Length: 7.6 km
- Duration: 2-4 hours
- Elevation Gain: 433 meters
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
- Best Time To Go: May – October
- Parking: Lake Louise
Lake Agnes Tea House Hike Route Description
Starting from Lake Louise the hike makes its way along the lake’s north shoreline. Right from the start views of the lake are astounding and there is no mystery as to why millions visit the lake every year. Turquoise blue water, soaring peaks, forests, and the stunning Mount Victoria topped by an expansive glacier make for one of the most ideal settings on earth. It is a sight that never grows old no matter how many times you see it in person.
The lakeside trail is where you’ll see most visitors heading as it is the start of the vast majority of hikes around Lake Louise. To find the trailhead is pretty simple to the Big Beehive, but you do have two options for the route and allows hikers to avoid taking the same trail in and out.
We recommend taking the trail to Lake Agnes and Mirror Lake first as it’s more a gradual climb and offers better sights along the route. As you leave the crowded shore of Lake Louise you’ll begin a gradual climb on a wide trail that follows a series of long switchbacks to the first stop. You’ll get a few fleeting glimpses of Lake until you’re surrounded by a spruce forest as the trail moves around to Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes.
Mirror Lake is the first stop and it offers great views of the Big Beehive. While the lake is not as vibrant as Lake Louise it does have some color and serves as nice foreground to Big Beehive. From this angle, it’s pretty easy to see where the namesake comes from as it quite literally looks like a very very big beehive.
From Mirror Lake the trail moves to the right following signs to Lake Agnes and the Beehive hikes. From here the trail continues to climb through a series of switchbacks where the occasional opening of the forest allows views of the soaring peaks that surround.
You have two options from Mirror Lake up to Lake Agnes, but the trail to the right is more scenic with a waterfall and provides access to the Little Beehive hike. It’s also the route you’ll want to take to complete the Beehive Circuit.
The Little Beehive is a 1.2-kilometer round trip detour and not too difficult so it’s a great addition. It rises to a nice ridge with fantastic views of Lake Louise and Mount Fairview. On the lookout, there are a series of large rocks that make for a great place to take photos and clamber along the ridge edge. The view does differ from the Big Beehive and it generally sees fewer hikers.
From the Little Beehive, the trail can either descend the same way back to the original trail to catch a view of the waterfall coming off of Lake Agnes. Or take a shortcut directly Lake Agnes and the Tea House. Hikers that forgo to Little Beehive will catch some great views of the waterfall before arriving at Lake Agnes and the tea house.
The historic Lake Agnes Tea House dates back to 1905 and has been serving hikers for over a century. If nothing else it’s worth checking out the wood Banff tea house just to get a sense of the history and it’s close ties to the conservation movement in North America.
By midday, a long line forms outside the tea house, and tea house is packed with visitors. If you’re lucky enough to arrive around the opening of the tea house at 08:00 a.m. it’s worth having a cup of tea before more hiking in the area.
After visiting the Lake Louise tea house take in the views of Lake Agnes and epic cirque formed by Mount St Piran, Niblock, Whyte, and the Devil’s Thumb. A trail goes around the Northwest side of the lake and it’s worth the hike even if you do not plan to hike any further. We particularly love some of the large rocks at the end of the lake that is a perfect spot for picnics and does not disturb the natural environment off-trail.
From the end of Lake Agnes, the trail continues up to the Big Beehive which requires another half hour of hiking to the ridge. The Big Beehive much like the Little Beehive offers some fantastic jaw-dropping views of Lake Louise and the surrounding area. If you have the strength we can not recommend the hike enough.
There are several routes down from Lake Agnes. If you climb up to the Big Beehive we suggest you take the route down towards the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. For those descending from Lake Agnes for some variety take the shorter trail across the bridge from the Lake Agnes Tea House and down the staircase. It’s shorter and provides some variety to hike back down to Lake Louise.
The staircase also provides some views of the waterfall from another angle a quick glimpse of the valley and the Little Beehive.
Advice on Hiking to the Lake Agnes Tea House
If you’re up for the hike it’s well worth the addition of the Little Beehive or Big Beehive for some extraordinary views of Lake Louise. The views from the two vantage points do not require much more work than the Lake Agnes hike and they offer surreal views out over Lake Louise and the Bow Valley. Quite literally it may be the most beautiful landscape you’ll ever see.
Please, refrain from the use of the restroom facilities at Lake Agnes. There is no sewage and a long drop toilet is used to collect human waste. Due to the sheer number of hikers who choose to use the restroom at Lake Agnes a daily helicopter collection of sewage is needed to remove the waste.
That’s right the helicopter many hikers will see is not dropping off supplies but collecting hiker’s poop. There are public restrooms at Lake Louise. This goes for facilities around the park, please treat them respect the amount of time, money, and resources required to manage human waste would be shocking to most.
The Banff tea house is very busy and you’ll often have to wait in line to get a cup of tea or baked goods from the historic business. If you do want to enjoy the experience arrive early in the morning when they open at 8:00 or go for an evening hike as they close at 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, the Lake Louise tea house is most busy from 10:00 until 2:00 p.m. when most visitors arrive to Lake Agnes.
Lake Agnes Tea House Hike Duration
The hike up Lake Agnes is 3.5 km long and climbs about 400 meters in elevation. There are several worthwhile stops along the way and plenty of trails for detours in the area. On average expect the hike up to Lake Agnes to between one to two hours. A roundtrip journey is around three to four hours, of course, it’s very easy for the hike to take more or less time.
How Hard is the Lake Louise Tea House Hike?
In our opinion the hike is very easy and should be appropriate for most visitors to the park. If you’re extremely limited in physical abilities it may not be the best choice as the hike does climb 400 meters. The reward is well worth the work as Lake Agnes is one of the most scenic spots in all of Banff National Park.
When Can You Hike to Lake Agnes?
The trail to the Lake Louise tea house is best done in the summer months from June – September. In the shoulder months of May and October, hikers should expect to find snow and ice on the trail, but not enough to make navigation of the trail too difficult. Lake Louise and Lake Agnes are frozen in the winter months and should melt around late May-early June.
Of course, weather is seasonal and every year the melt date is different and it’s possible to extend well into June. In 2019, we visited in early June and found ice-free lakes. In 2020, Lake Louise was not thawed until mid June.
How Popular is the Lake Agnes Tea House?
Aside from the hike through Johnston Canyon off the Bow Valley Parkway, the hike to Lake Agnes is the most popular in all of Banff National Park. Despite this, you’ll be surprised by the number of people who do not choose to venture up to Lake Agnes. It’s been said that nearly 80% of visitors to Banff, Yoho, and Jasper venture further than 1 kilometer from the road or parking lots.
As you progress through the hike you’ll increasingly find yourself alone on the trail and it’s possible to find some isolation along the Lake Agnes shoreline. That being said if you’re looking for peace and quiet the Lake Agnes trail is not for you unless the first up to the lake or the last one to descend for the day. We took the photo above at around 9:00 p.m.
Should You Bring Dogs & Kids on the Lake Agnes Trail?
The trail is appropriate for most hikers who feel comfortable walking uphill. If you’d like to take the detours to the Little Beehive or Big Beehive it would be appropriate for anyone of moderate fitness. I’d say kids from ages six years old and up, maybe even younger. Strollers will not work on the trail, but if you have a baby carrier you should be fine hiking to the lake.
Dogs should be able to handle the trail just fine. Just keep in mind the hike is over 7 km in length so small dogs may struggle with the length while large dogs will handle the trail with ease. Also, remember dogs must always be on a leash in the national park for the safety of fellow hikers, the dog, and wildlife.
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
Always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
What to Wear On a Hike in the Rockies?
- Down Jacket: A down jacket is an essential in the Rockies. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth which is needed on almost every mountain summit.
- Hiking Pants: Good hiking pants are important in the Rockies as there is a lot of loose scree and rocks that can tear others pants easily. Our favorite hiking pants are the Fjallraven Kebs (Mens and Womens)
- Hiking Leggings: Hiking leggings are great for women in the Rockies. They provide awesome mobility and these ones from Arcteryx aren’t see through and are heavy duty.
- Windbreaker/Rainjacket: An important item to have while hiking is a windbreaker jacket. They come in especially handy on mountain summits when the wind is aboslutely whipping. Arc’teryx Windbreakers are our preferred jackets
- Sunglasses: Proper eye protection is important. Our favorite sunglasses brand is Smith.
- Scrambling Gloves: I don’t go on a hike or scramble in the Rockies witout a pair of rugged clothes to protect my hands. My favorites are from Outdoor Research.
- Trail Runners: Honestly I complete most hikes in trail runners so I can run or jog parts of the trail when I want. My go to trail runners are made by Salomon.
- Hiking Boots: On multi day hikes when I am carrying a large load I turn to proper hiking boots. The Salomon Outline boots are fantastic.
- Wool Socks: Don’t cheap out on your hiking socks. A proper pair of wool socks can make the difference between wet and dry feet.
- Hiking Underwear: The difference between hiking in normal underwear and actual moisture wicking underwear meant for outdoor actitivites is extreme. Yes they are more expensive but they last forever. My favorites are from Patagonia.
- Performance Shirt: The Outdoor Research Echo Series are the best hiking shirts for men and women.
- Hiking Poles: Can save your knees, especially on the descent of some of these steep hikes. Black Diamond is my preferred brand.
- Lightweight Backpack: You’ll need an awesome backpack for carrying all your gear. My favorite hiking backpacks are made by Camelbak.
Other Easy Hikes in Banff
You don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to enjoy the Canadian Rockies. It’s very easy to find a number of great trails that should be appropriate for all visitors.
We’ve compiled a few of the most popular easy Banff hikes that everyone can enjoy. A number of these in our opinion are better than Johnston Canyon, like the Emerald Lake Path above, not technically in Banff!
Things to Do in Lake Louise
There are a plethora of things to do in Lake Louise. After taking in the spectacular scene go for a hike, climb, ski, or canoe in Banff National Park. Lake Louise is an image that will last with you for a lifetime. It’s hard to find a more majestic and awe-inspiring place in the world than Lake Louise