Upon arriving in Banff, the first thing I wanted to do was visit the world-famous Lake Louise. After years of stalking this lake online, seeing it in person was game-changing. A beautifully-pristine-turquoise-glacial lake surrounded by the towering Canadian Rockies and about 250 other people all circulating for the most unobstructed view of the lake.
The key with anything in Banff/Yoho/Jasper is to do it extremely early in the day or after dinner. Anything between that time will have you paying for $30 shuttle rides because of packed parking lots.
Someone I met hiking in Mt. Edziza Provincial Park, recently described Banff perfectly:
“Banff National Park is like being thrown into a rose bush. Many, many thorns and mostly uncomfortable . Hordes of front country people, disgusting continuous development that Canada seems to excel at with their National Parks and endless parking problems and congestion. But strike out early enough – you can have those amazing “rose” moments like this one at [referring to Moraine Lake]. Unparalleled, serene beauty….”- Joe McKenna
You can see Joe’s breathtaking photography at:
To try to find some relief from the crowds at Lake Louise, you can head up one of the hikes from the Fairmont at the lake. We chose to go up to the Big Beehive by route of Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes. The Big Beehive is a great choice for those up for a moderate day-hike and want a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise.
It took us about four hours in total. This included us stopping at each lake, and the Lake Agnes Tea house! It is a gradually steep hike that switches back for 2.6 km (1.6 mi) you reach Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake is a small but stunning lake, that is backdropped with your fate, the Big Beehive.
Follow the signs towards Lake Agnes. The trail steepens on the way to your next stop. You will want to take a well-deserved break at the famous tea-house at Lake Agnes. Make sure you bring cash (USD or CAD) or bring your own treat. Also, we saw many hikers disappointed on our way down, who learned the teahouse is only open from 8:00AM to 5:00 PM! The view of this lake with the Great Divide in the backdrop, is truly jaw-dropping.
After a quick snack, start along the trail that goes along the shoreline of Agnes. This trail is mostly flat (for the time-being!) but boasts high winds that come over the mountains. You also get great views into the clear lake.
Tip!: If you go mid-September– you will be treated to the changing Larch trees!
Once you get to the other side of the lake, you will begin a very steep set of switchbacks, which are your final ascent to the top of the beehive. It is very doable, and requires no special equipment.
The switchbacks are short and sweet. You are rewarded with the iconic view of Lake Louise. There is an old shelter at the very top, but it does not provide any views. Try to find an isolated place along the cliffside to soak it all in!
From the top of the beehive, you can continue onto a different adventure and return to Lake Louise via the Plain of Six Glaciers. This adds a few miles, but is supposed to be phenomenal. We were spent and ready for a glass of wine, so we returned the way we came.