The ‘Lake Louise area‘ is a vast area in Banff National Park with dozens of great hikes and adventures nearby. The area spans all the way up past Moraine Lake, behind Lake Louise Ski Resort to Skoki hut, and of course, there are several great hikes that begin at Lake Louise itself.
It’s a big area, but when someone asks me about ‘Lake Louise hikes‘ I generally take it to mean “which hikes can I actually do from the shores of Lake Louise?“. Or where can you hike if you’ve literally parked your car at the Upper Lake Louise car park?
So this is a post about the hikes you can actually access from Lake Louise itself!
If you’re looking for more great hikes in the Moraine Lake area, for example, you can read our separate blog post with our 6 favourite Moraine Lake hikes here.
The Best Hiking trails at Lake Louise
There are basically three directions you can go from the shores of Lake Louise, and those determine the hikes you’ll be attempting.
- Head to the right of Lake Louise and you can hike Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes and Lake Agnes Teahouse, The Small Beehive, The Big Beehive, Devil’s Thumb and Mount Saint Piran.
- Head down the middle of Lake Louise (down the right hand side), along the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail and you’ll eventually reach the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail and the Plains of the Six Glaciers Teahouse.
- Head to the left hand side of Lake Louise and you’ll hike the Fairview Lookout, Saddleback Pass/Mount Fairview or you’ll head off towards Paradise Valley and potentially up to Sentinel Pass and the Moraine Lake area.
Short of roping up and actually mountaineering, these are virtually all of the hikes you have to play with at Lake Louise. Read on and we’ll dig into each hike!
Easy Hikes at Lake Louise
Let’s start with the easiest trails at Lake Louise first and we’ll get to the tougher stuff later. These first four hikes are hikes that people of most abilities can manage, although 3 of the 4 have some modest elevation changes. These 4 hikes are all walkable and don’t require any challenging terrain or scrambling.
1. Mount Fairview Lookout
- Elevation Gain: 165m
- Distance 3.6km round trip (depending on where you start)
This is probably the easiest and shortest hike at Lake Louise, which begins on a trail right next to the boathouse with all the red canoes. The trail is essentially paved for the most part and climbs quite steeply upwards a lookout with incredible views of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
The trail is entirely in the woods until the final viewpoint, so it’s certainly not the most exciting trail in the world, however, it’s a great way to get out and stretch your legs if you’re staying at the hotel and need a little bit of exercise.
2. Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes
- Elevation Gain: 433m
- Distance: 7.6km round trip
The hike to Lake Agnes is a two part journey that passes Mirror Lake along the way. Mirror Lake is a stunning little lake that has mirror-like reflections in the morning. Get there before the sun hits it and you’ll see what we mean!
The trail between Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes is short and steep, and before you know it you’ll be up at the teahouse enjoying a nice cup of tea or a homemade scone. There are no views of Lake Louise from Lake Agnes, but the views are still stunning nonetheless.
This is an exceptionally busy hike at Lake Louise and in peak months the line up for the teahouse can be an hour. You can read a more detailed guide to Lake Agnes and the Lake Agnes Teahouse here.
This is also a very popular trail for horses, and if you go through the Fairmont you can actually book horse rides up to the teahouse.
3. The Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
- Elevation Gain: 0m
- Distance: 4.7km round trip
The Lake Louise Lake Shore trail is a flat trail that follows the edge of Lake Louise to the back. It’s exceptionally easy and the only elevation gain is once you’ve cleared the lake and start heading up towards the Plain of the Six Glaciers hike.
This is a lovely walk for families with small kids or people that aren’t able to manage hikes with too much elevation. The walk can be as long or as short as you like, and there are stunning views of the lake the entire time. It can also be turned into a loop trail and connect with the Big Beehive trail and Lake Agnes.
Once you’ve almost reached the back of the lake you’ll see a cliff band above you, and this is a very popular place to see rock climbers and ice climbers. In winter, this trail is used for sleigh rides as well!
4. The Little Beehive
- Elevation Gain: 535m
- Distance: 9km round trip
The Little Beehive is one of Banff’s popular, easy trails and isn’t too much further than Lake Agnes. Just before you reach Lake Agnes, you’ll see a trail to your right that will lead you off and up to the Little Beehive. The summit is roughly 20 minutes from the turnoff.
This is an amazing hike with a slightly different perspective of Lake Louise. The view from the Big Beehive is definitely better (in my opinion), but it’s also much further away. From Little Beehive, you can see Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes in addition to Lake Louise. The horse trails lead all the way up the Little Beehive, so if you were to take a horse tour from Lake Louise, this would potentially be an option.
If you’re looking to turn this into a much longer hike, you can continue onwards up to Mt. Saint Piran from here.
Challenging Hikes and Scrambles at Lake Louise
5. The Big Beehive Hike
- Elevation Gain: 647m
- Distance: 10.3km round trip
The Big Beehive hikes is a continuation of the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike. It’s roughly another hour further and takes you around the back of Lake Agnes and up 8 switchbacks to the beehive. The switchbacks are gruelling but the end point is well worth the effort.
Eventually you’ll reach a fire lookout with incredible ‘top-down’ views of the Fairmont Lake Louise and Lake Louise itself. This is an incredible place to watch the sunrise if you can drag yourself out of bed in time! I’d say in total it takes around 2 hours to reach this point from the Fairmont.
We absolutely love this hike and do it at least once per year, sometimes more! It’s a great hike with an incredible payoff, and the Lake Agnes Teahouse is a great way to break up the monotony of the hike.
If you’d like to read more about the Big Beehive hike and the Lake Agnes Teahouse, you can read our full hiking guide here.
6. The Devil’s Thumb
- Elevation Gain: 883m
- Distance: 11.9km round trip
The Devil’s Thumb is a final way to extend the Big Beehive Hike, and this final section will take you to the cliff bands above the Big Beehive. It’s easily my favourite hike at Lake Louise. From the shores of Lake Louise, you just can make out the thumb shape above the Beehive.
The Devil’s Thumb is a little more challenging that the Beehive, as it requires you to be a little more hands on. There’s a small bit of scrambling involved almost immediately after leaving the Beehive, but it’s very straightforward. Then the trail wraps around the back of the mountain where you’ll eventually double back on yourself and will have to climb the steep scree/dirt slope to the top. This is quite slippery and challenging, but with decent boots and the occasional use of your hands, it shouldn’t be an issue. Coming down is always harder (in my opinion).
Once you’re up the scree slope, the trail flattens out and you need to traverse onto the large, flat rock platform. Keep going and suddenly you’ll hit the view; incredible panoramic views of the entire valley, Lake Louise and Lake Agnes!
In total this hike is probably about 5-6 hours round trip from the Fairmont, and we really try to do this at least once per year!
7. Mount Saint Piran
- Elevation Gain: 918 m
- Distance: 12.2km return
Mount Saint Piran is one of the lesser travelled hikes at Lake Louise, but it still packs a punch with it’s views. Follow the route for the Little Beehive, and then onwards up towards the summit of Mount Saint Piran.
The trail is mostly switchbacks and is technically very easy. There’s no scrambling and most of the trail is fairly gentle (although steep). It’s also an incredible autumnal hike, because many of the higher altitude trees are larches that turn yellow at the end of September.
The hike is around 12.2km so it’ll take 4-6 hours round trip. Be prepared for a grind, but it’s well worth the effort for the views of Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, Temple, the Big Beehive, The Little Beehive and the Devil’s Thumb!
8. Plains of the Six Glaciers
- Elevation Gain: 588 m
- Distance: 14.6km return
The Plains of the Six Glaciers trail is one of Lake Louise’s most popular trails. The trail starts with the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail, which then merges into the Plains of the Six Glacier Trail.
The trail is completely flat until you reach the back of the lake, at which point it starts to climb gently upwards towards the glaciers at the back. The trail doesn’t really have a definitive end point, but eventually you’ll reach a fairly close up view of the glaciers and the ‘other’ teahouse! This one is a lot further away than the Agnes Teahouse but that means you’ll have less of a wait when you do eventually get there! Be aware that the credit card fees there are enormous, so you might want to try and bring cash!
The Plains of the Six Glaciers hike can also be turned into a loop by connecting with Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes, so if you’re after a really long day, this might be a great option.
9. Fairview Mountain
- Elevation Gain: 1011 m
- Distance: 9.2km return
Fairview Mountain is the big, looming mountain on the left of Lake Louise when you’re standing in front of the Fairmont facing the lake. It’s quite a big mountain with a snow capped peak for much of the year, but it’s well worth it for the top-down views of Lake Louise from the summit. There’s over a thousand metres of elevation gain on this hike, so it’s not for everyone, but those that get to the top will be glad they made it!
The hike winds around the rear of the mountain, away from Lake Louise. This will give you wide views of the Bow Valley, Paradise Valley and Mount Temple beyond as you slowly climb the saddle. After you’ve gained about 600m in elevation, there’s a steep 400m scree section to reach the summit.
Worth it to check off one of the biggest mountains in the Lake Louise area!
10. Paradise Valley
- Elevation Gain: 753 m
- Distance: 20.6km return
Paradise Valley is the last hike you can check off in the Lake Louise area, and it’s a big one. You can start either at Lake Louise parking lot or drive a short distance up the Moraine Lake Road and use the parking lot about a kilometre from the entrance (these are the stats above – from Lake Louise would be much more elevation and more distance).
This is a long hike that snakes through a beautiful valley between Mount Fairview and Mount Temple.
The trail passes the gorgeous lake Annette (a lake that I can personally attest to be freezing), before following a stream to the ultimate destination; The Giant Steps – a cascading waterfall and a great place for a picnic break.
On the return journey, you can either follow the loop back or even ascend into the Moraine Lake area by Sentinel’s Pass. Bear in mind that if you take this route it’s another 6km to the Moraine Lake Parking lot, followed by an 11-12km walk back to Lake Louise. Having said that, it’s an amazing route that will show you both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on one hike.
Paradise Valley is an under appreciated hike, and a beast, but totally worth it if you’re looking to escape the crowds and get off the beaten track a little.
Where to stay when visiting Lake Louise
Our recommendation if you’re looking to bang out a few of these hikes would definitely be the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. All of these hikes literally start from your doorstep, so you can crash out when you get back without having to worry about driving home exhausted.
One of our favourite summer things to do is hike the Devil’s Thumb for sunrise and then check into the Fairmont in the afternoon and grab afternoon tea while we wait. It’s the perfect mix of adventure and luxury! This is particularly great when it’s peak summer and you can’t face sitting in traffic with all the regular day trippers.
If you’re an Alberta resident, there’s also an extra incentive to stay at the Fairmont this summer, as residents can qualify for a special discounted room rate. If you’re looking to get away from home but aren’t able to travel, this could be an amazing way to take a quick vacation (or staycation)!
Where to eat at Lake Louise
As I mentioned, we love to eat afternoon tea at the Fairmont after a long hike (in the Fairview Dining Room), but if you’re not looking to do something so fancy, there are several other great cafes and restaurants in the hotel too.
If we’ve been on a really long hike and have a massive appetite, our absolute favourite restaurant at Lake Louise is the Walliser Stube Austrian Restaurant in the Fairmont. Try the Chateau Experience with 2 types of fondue and a chateaubriande steak course. It’s expensive, but it’s an epic food experience!
How to get to Lake Louise
Lake Louise is an easy 45 minute drive from the town of Banff along the Trans Canada Highway (west). The Lake Louise parking lot can get extremely busy during peak season and weekends, so we really recommend getting there early and starting your hikes in the morning. Sometimes traffic can back up all the way to the highway, forcing people to use the overflow parking.
Normally we would recommend taking the public transport, but many of those systems have been suspended in 2020 due to COVID. That means it’s more important now than ever to arrive early!
When is the best time to hike at Lake Louise?
Honestly it depends on your experience levels and if you’re comfortable hiking on a bit of snow at the summits. With that being said, the trail to the Big Beehive and Devils Thumb isn’t accessible until at least June each year because the trail crosses a significant avalanche path.
Our recommendation for hikes at Lake Louise generally is to aim for July to late September.
The higher altitude hikes in Banff are particularly good in Autumn because of the many larch trees in the area. These are trees that turn a golden yellow in mid to late September. Timing your hikes for Fall (Autumn) can be particularly rewarding.
These ten hikes are more than enough to keep you going for a long time. It’s taken us many years to finally check these all off, even though some of them are favourites we like to summit every year.
If you’re staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, these are all hikes that you can literally access from your doorstep, with zero driving required!