The Big Beehive and Little Beehive are two of the most popular hikes in all of Banff National Park. While the trail often feels far from being in the wilderness the surreal views more than compensate for anything that you can say negative about the crowds on the hike.
The greater “Beehive Circuit” makes for a tremendous day out for beginner to intermediate hikers with some spectacular views and a solid challenge. Here’s the ultimate hiker guide for you to complete the Little Beehive and Big Beehive yourself!
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The Beehive Circuit
- Length: 14 km
- Duration: 4 – 7 hours
- Elevation Gain: 1,032
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Best Time To Go: Summer (June – September)
- Parking: Lake Louise
Beehive Circuit 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 Little and 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 Louise 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 ahead of you. While the lake is not as vibrant as Lake Louise it does have some color and serves as nice foreground to Big Beehive. At Mirror Lake 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. 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.
Once you reach Lake Agnes you’ll get beautiful views of the lake. You can’t miss the teahouse on your right, and if you’ve hit it on a nice summer day there’s definitely going to be a line of people waiting to get in.
Just past the teahouse is a small trail on your right, take that to access the Little Beehive. You’ll notice immediately that the crowds thin out. 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 to Lake Agnes and the Teahouse. Or if you are really in for an epic day, you will continue onto Mount St. Piran from the Little Beehive. Hikers that forgo to Little Beehive will catch some great views of the waterfall before arriving at Lake Agnes and the teahouse.
The historic Lake Agnes Teahouse dates back to 1905 and has been serving hikers for over a century. If nothing else it’s worth checking out the wood teahouse just to get a sense of the history and its close ties to the conservation movement in North America. By midday, a long line forms outside the teahouse, and the teahouse is packed with visitors. If you’re lucky enough to arrive around the opening of the teahouse at 08:00 a.m. it’s worth having a cup of tea before more hiking in the area.
After visiting the teahouse 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 don’t 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 last section of trail climbs the Big Beehive through a series of switchbacks. The gradual incline and switchbacks make the climb to the top of the ridge easy enough for most hikers. Views from the ridge of the Big Beehive are expansive and due to its length, it’s very easy to find your own spot even with the crowds that are typical on the hike.
Continue along the ridge to the end where you reach the “summit” where you’ll find a historic gazebo. It’s served as a resting place for nearly a century and the wood building has names carved into it from decades back. Take some time to appreciate the view and catch some of the history.
To return to Lake Louise you have two options the first is to return the way you came or continue the circuit down to the Lake Louise Highline trail. The trail descends the opposite side of the saddle and after a series of switchbacks connects to the trail. You’ll then cross below the Big Beehive ridge back to Mirror Lake where you’ll catch glimpses of Lake Louise along the way, but after descending both ways I would suggest sticking to the Lake Agnes Teahouse way.
It’s also possible to make the circuit a truly epic day by combining the Plain of Six Glaciers hike with the Beehive Circuit. That epic day comes to about 20km and 1,000 meters very possible for fit hikers. Be sure to plan for a full day around eight hours between hiking, enjoying the views, and lunch. One of our favorite days in Banff National Park filled with some of the best sights in the park.
Additionally, you can continue up to Devil’s Thumb or you could have made the choice to hike up Mount St. Piran from the Little Beehive. None are bad options, but my favorite views of Lake Louise are definitely from Mount St. Piran.
The Beehive Circuit
To get a better understanding of the route and the locations of the points of interest take a look at the maps above. This is the full Beehive Circuit route which is just under 14km in length and gains about 1,000 meters in elevation. It’s a pretty big day for most people, but anyone with decent fitness should be able to handle the hike.
You can shorten the hike by cutting out the Little Beehive for a moderate version. Then the next would be to do only the Little Beehive Hike and not the Big Beehive, this is an easy version of the Beehive hikes. Last would be to simply do the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike, but you’d miss out on the views from the Beehive lookouts and they honestly aren’t much further once you reach Lake Agnes.
Advice on Hiking the Beehive Circuit
The Little Beehive is a great addition that many forgo, but the view from the Big Beehive is better if you only pick one. The views from both are surreal and will quite literally be one of the most spell binding landscapes you’ll ever witness. We’ve explored plenty of the park and still consider this route one of the most spectacular in the park despite the crowds.
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 teahouse 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 teahouse is most busy from 10:00 until 2:00 p.m. when most visitors arrive at Lake Agnes.
How Hard is the Beehive Circuit?
The Beehive Circuit, Big Beehive, and Little Beehive are varying degrees in difficulty. However, none of them are too difficult as the terrain is simple, trails well maintained, and the incline is gradual along the trail. We’d say most able-bodied hikers should be able to make it to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, and to the Beehives.
The Beehive Circuit Hike Duration
The duration of the Beehive hikes and circuit varies greatly as there are so many options to extend the hike or shorten the hike. If you complete the full Beehive Circuit I would plan for the hike to take between three to seven hours. Make sure to pack a lunch that’s great to enjoy on Lake Agnes or from the top of the Big Beehive. If you plan to do just the Little Beehive plan for two to four hours. Then for just the Big Beehive plan for three to five hours. Of course, everyone hiking time varies, but an average pace falls in the middle of the suggested hike times.
When Can You Hike The Beehive Circuit?
The trail 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, the 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 an ice-free Lake Louise and melting Lake Agnes.
How Popular is the Beehive Circuit?
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 from Lake Louise. 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 at different points along the hike. That being said if you’re looking for peace and quiet the Beehive Circuit trail is not for you unless you’re 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 after climbing Mt Niblock, in addition to the Beehive Circuit (Epic Day!).
Should I Bring Dogs and Kids on the Little and Big Beehive?
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 the Beehive Circuit dependent on fitness.
Dogs should be able to handle the trail just fine. Just keep in mind the hike is around 14 km in length so small dogs will struggle with the length while large dogs will handle the trail with fine. 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.
On that note, 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.
In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.
Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS.
Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
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.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post! Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.
Hikes in Lake Louise
Looking for the best Lake Louise hikes? We share the most popular hikes around the lake and share all of the details in this guide to experience the best hikes around Lake Louise. If you want to add some more hikes to your list check out our list of the best Banff hikes.
All of these hikes start from Lake Louise and are certain to have stunning views of the stunning turquoise lake, surrounding mountains, and awe-inspiring glaciers. Any hiker who gets the opportunity to hike around Banff National Park and Lake Louise should consider themself very fortunate.
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