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10 Breathtaking Lake Louise Hikes, Banff National Park

10 Breathtaking Lake Louise Hikes, Banff National Park

Lake Louise hikes are some of the best you’ll find in Banff National Park – and even Canada. Superlative mountain and alpine lake scenery is the reward for your efforts. The downside to most but not all of the Lake Louise hikes are the sheer number of people on the popular trails – especially Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers. 

If you can do it, book accommodation somewhere close to Lake Louise so you can spend more time hiking than driving. Then over three or four days knock off any number of these Lake Louise hikes but note that there are some new policies in place for summer 2020.

With limited parking at both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, there’s a new booking system for the shuttle service. It is scheduled now to open on April 30th, 2020 though COVID-19 may play havoc with timing. For detailed information go to the Parks Canada website. It looks like you HAVE TO make a reservation and there is no walk-on service. 

The Plain of Six Glaciers

It’s a beautiful though busy hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers which ends near the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. If you want to avoid the crowds hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon. 

The hike takes you along the shoreline of Lake Louise for the first couple of kilometres. From there it gently climbs through the moraines – with some interesting views of Lake Louise from an angle you don’t often see. As you get closer to the end of the hike admire the sight of the Lefroy and Victoria Glaciers riddled with crevasses. 

The hike finished in an otherworldly setting. Enjoy it with a picnic of your own or take advantage of the teahouse but note the hours before you head off.

Distance: 13.8 km and 380 m elevation gain

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours

Level of difficulty: Easy

Read: The Plain of Six Glaciers Hike near Lake Louise 

Beautiful scenery at the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike
Beautiful scenery at the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike

Big Beehive

The trail to the Big Beehive takes off from Lake Agnes so follow the directions the lake. Then pick up the trail as it curves around the west shore of Lake Agnes. Switchback up the gully at the end of the lake to reach a four way intersection.

To reach the Big Beehive go left and continue on an easy trail through pretty woods until it dies out at a viewpoint. Retrace your steps to return.

You can actually return to Lake Louise via the Plain of Six Glaciers but you would go straight at the intersection at the top of the gully to reach the Highline Trail. There is also the option to go right and do the challenging Devil’s Thumb. It’s on my list but beware that there is a short section on it with exposure.

Distance: 9.6 km return with 540 m of elevation gain

Time needed: 3 – 4.5 hours

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Read: The Lake Agnes – Big Beehive Hike

Stellar views of Lake Louise
Stellar views of Lake Louise from the Big Beehive in October

Fairview Mountain – one of the Lake Louise hikes with a big elevation gain

This is a wonderful hike with a lot of elevation gain but the reward is an outstanding view of Lake Louise. We did it in October when there was snow on the ground for the last 30 minutes of hiking. Be sure to carry icers with you if that’s the case.

The hike initially heads through forest – with very few views but that all changes when you reach the Saddleback. Some people may want to turn around here as that’s when the climbing starts in earnest. Note that in late September this area puts on a great larch display.

It’s only 1.6 km from the Saddleback to the top of Fairview Mountain but the elevation gain on this section is 414 metres. However, within minutes of starting up from the Saddleback, the mountains fill the frame. It’s an awe-inspiring sight for the next few hours. Be sure to take breaks – just to revel in the mountain views.

The descent was fast. We were back on the shore of Lake Louise in 2 hours! 

Distance: 10.6 km with 1014 m elevation gain

Time needed: 4 – 5 hours

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Read: An Outstanding Hike to the Summit of Fairview Mountain

Looking down to Lake Louise from just below the summit
Looking down to Lake Louise from just below the summit

Little Beehive

The Little Beehive hike delivers some of the best scenery in the Alberta Rockies – though to do it you have to walk up most of the way to Lake Agnes and that part of the hike is often ridiculously busy. 

Before you reach Lake Agnes you’ll see signage pointing you to Little Beehive at the 3.0 km mark. It’s only about a 20 – 25 minute hike in from here. The views of the Big Beehive and of Lake Louise itself are simply breathtaking.

Part way up towards Little Beehive you can turn onto the trail that takes you up Mt. Saint Piran – but that will add hours of hiking time to your day. (See below.)

Length: 8.2 km return and 490 m elevation gain

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours including a stop at Lake Agnes

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Beautiful views on the Little Beehive hike
Beautiful views on the Little Beehive hike
Beautiful views on the Little Beehive hike
Beautiful views on the Little Beehive hike
Looking over to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive
Looking over to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive

Lake Agnes 

Lake Agnes is probably the most popular of the Lake Louise hikes even though it’s not the most beautiful. It’s an easy one though – with food offered at the end – and that in itself is compelling for many.

The trail heads up into the woods from Lake Louise, passing Mirror Lake at the 2.6 kilometre mark. In the fall I’ve seen this lake fully dried up. From here you can approach Lake Agnes on one of two trails – with the trail that goes left at Mirror Lake offering the steepest, most direct route.

From Lake Agnes you can hike the Little Beehive, Big Beehive, Devil’s Thumb and even Mt. Saint Piran. But most people just do it as an out and back hike.

Distance: 7.0 km round-trip with 390 m elevation gain 

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours

Level of difficulty: Easy

Read: The Lake Agnes Tea House Hike near Lake Louise 

Lake Agnes in the summer
Lake Agnes in the summer

Mt Saint Piran

Mt Saint Piran is described as an outstanding hike by the authors of Don’t Waste Your Time in the Rockies.

Follow the trail as though you were going to Little Beehive but part way along – about 400 metres before the Little Beehive summit, look for a beat up trail sign in the woods on the left. The path takes you up through larch trees and then onto a rocky slope.

Once you dispatch with the trees, the trail is easy to follow but be warned that the last 15 minutes of hiking is on a spine atop loose rocks. From the top some of the most gorgeous picture-postcard scenery in Banff National Park unfolds. You can see as far as the Waputik Icefield to the north and the Bow Valley to the east.

Distance: 13 km with 910 m elevation gain

Time needed: 4 – 6 hours

Level of difficulty:

On the summit of Mt Saint Piran
On the summit of Mt Saint Piran – photo credit: John Johnston on Flickr Creative Commons

Consolation Lakes

Start from the Moraine Lake parking lot and head over a large rockslide and into the forest. After 1.6 km of hiking head right to reach a boggy meadow. Then it’s just another 1.5 km to reach the north end of Lower Consolation Lake. To continue to Upper Consolation Lake, it’s another 30 minutes or so of hiking,

This doesn’t tend to be a busy hike but it does offer an excellent effort – reward ratio.

Distance: 6 km with less than 100 m elevation gain

Time needed: 1.5 – 2.5 hours

Level of difficulty: Easy

Lake Louise hikes – Sentinel Pass is one of the premier hikes

The hike to Sentinel Pass is one of the most impressive day hikes in Banff National Park. On this hike it’s required, by law that you hike as a tight group of four between July 12th and October 8 because the trail traverses prime grizzly bear habitat. 

Start just past Moraine Lake Lodge. Steeply climb for 2.5 km via a series of switchbacks to reach Larch Valley. In late September, this is probably the most popular area in the park as it’s a study in yellow as the larch trees needles turn colour. 

Pass Minnestimma Lakes and continue up into a craggy, austere environment via more switchbacks. At Sentinel Pass – 2611 m – you will be at the highest point reached by a maintained trail in the Rockies. Views are sublime in every direction you look.

Distance: 11.6 km return with an elevation gain of 726 m 

Time Needed: 4 – 5 hours

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

John and my son at Sentinel Pass
John and my son at Sentinel Pass
Looking down towards the Valley of the 10 Peaks
Looking down towards the Valley of the Ten Peaks

Eiffel Lake – Wenkchemna Pass

The Eiffel Lake trail shares the same trailhead as the highly popular hike to Larch Valley. If you do the hike in summer you can expect to see an incredible array of wildflowers along with golden mantled ground squirrels, pikas, and whistling marmots.

The big reason to do the hike – at least as far as Eiffel Lake – is the close-up views of the 10 peaks. If you’re short on time don’t feel like you have to go to Wenkchemna Pass, though if you do enjoy the hike in what has been called “intriguingly desolate moraine.”

Distance: 11.2 km return and 405 m elevation gain to the lake, 19.4 km return and 725 m elevation gain to the pass 

Time needed:  5 – 6 hours

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Eiffel Lake, Banff National Park
Eiffel Lake, Banff National Park – Photo credit: John Johnston on Flickr Creative Commons

Lake Annette and Paradise Valley

The hike to Lake Annette is pretty enough and Lake Annette is lovely – especially as you can admire the north face of Mt. Temple. But the truly exceptional scenery lies after the lake. Set aside a full day so you can do it. 

After Lake Annette head up Paradise Valley. There are a couple of options when you reach the intersection signed for Sentinel Pass.

You could continue up to Sentinel Pass and then back to Moraine Lake – but you would have to hitchhike or arrange a car shuttle back to the Lake Annette trailhead. You could go up and back from the pass and then onto the Giant Steps – where Paradise Creeks streams over quartzite slabs. Or you could nix the pass and simply do the loop that includes the Giant Steps.

There is the option too of camping in Paradise Valley. Be sure to reserve a backcountry permit.

Distance: 11.4 km return with an elevation gain of 250 m to Lake Annette; 20.3 km return and 400 m elevation gain for the full circuit

Time Needed: 4 – 5 hours or 7 hours for the circuit

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

It's an easy hike to Lake Annette
It’s an easy hike to Lake Annette
Beautiful Lake Annette
Beautiful Lake Annette

Where to stay in and near Lake Louise

If you want to be on Lake Louise it will cost you. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise enjoys the best views of the lake but with a price. 

Deer Lodge is a more affordable option and just a short walk away from the lake. Their updated rooms are great.

Paradise Lodge and Bungalows, a kilometre from the lake would be another option.

In Lake Louise Village the Post Hotel and Spa is lovely and the food is great but it’s not on the lake. 

If it’s cozy log cabins you’re after check out Baker Creek Mountain Resort.

An affordable hostel option is this one in Lake Louise.

Further reading on hikes that are a short drive from Lake Louise

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

10 breathtaking Lake Louise hikes

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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