Lake Agnes or Plain of the Six Glaciers?
Did you know there are actually two teahouses at Lake Louise? Most have heard of the Lake Agnes Teahouse above Lake Louise, but did you know there’s another one at the back of the lake, called the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse?
Both are worth visiting if you have time and are interested in hiking, but if you’re short on time, you may be forced to pick hike one instead of the other.
There are a number of reasons why you may pick one over the other, so this blog post will tell you everything you need to know about both!
The Lake Agnes Teahouse
The Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike
First, let’s start with the one that everyone knows about; the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This teahouse is privately owned and operated and has nothing to do with the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s one of the most unique places to eat in the Canadian Rockies!
Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike Quick Stats:
Time: Approx 1-1.5 hours each way (We’ve done it in about 45 minutes at a fast pace, but 1.5 hours is more reasonable if you take your time)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. There are some steeper sections but it’s all walkable.
Part 1: Lake Louise Lakeshore to Mirror Lake
The first part of the trail is the longest and flattest bit. To gain the elevation here, there are long, relatively shallow switchbacks that gradually wind up the mountain. This part of the trail is entirely in the trees except for a couple of brief moments where you can look back through a gap and see the blue lake down below.
This is the most uninteresting part of the hike, but unfortunately there’s no alternative! It’s still a beautiful walk through the forest, but no views.
After about 30 minutes to an hour of hiking, you will notice the trail begins to point directly up the mountain, and you will quickly find your trail merging with the horse trail before emerging at the beautiful Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake sits directly beneath the Big Beehive, and when you’re standing on the top of it, you can see the deep green of Mirror Lake below.
Mirror Lake only really lives up to its name in the mornings, when the reflection is so perfect it looks like a mirror. If you arrive after the sun hits the lake, it will just look bright green!
Part 2: Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes
Part two (but really the last third) of this short hike continues upwards. If you’re facing Mirror Lake, turn right and the trail continues up to Lake Agnes. If you turn left, you can take the Plain of 6 Glaciers trail to the end of Lake Louise or find an alternative route up to Lake Agnes or the Big Beehive. There are many interwoven trails at Lake Louise that offer different routes to the same objectives, but in this post we’ll just talk about the most common path.
If you’re interested in some of the other hikes at Lake Louise, check out this post I have written on the 10 best Lake Louise Hikes!
Almost immediately upon leaving Mirror Lake, you’ll find yourself emerging from the treeline. You’ll see epic views of Mount Fairview on your right, as well as the entire valley that snakes its way back towards Banff.
There are a few twists and turns to come, and from here on out, the trail gets a lot more uneven and rocky. It’s still very walkable, but this is the point where less mobile hikers might start to struggle a little more.
Soon the hike points into the mountain again and you’ll pass a junction on your right with signs to the Little Beehive hike and Mount St. Piran.
The Little Beehive hike is shorter and easier than the Big Beehive hike, but some of the views of Lake Louise are partially obscured by the Big Beehive, so I like the Big Beehive views better honestly.
Pass this turnoff and continue just a little longer. You may see some horses tied up on the left, and then there’s a final staircase left to climb before you make it to the teahouse! Make sure you stop at the little waterfall before you climb the final steps!
Part 3: Reaching Lake Agnes Teahouse
The actual teahouse itself is quite small, and sits right along the edge of the beautiful Lake Agnes. It’s a small log cabin with a few picnic tables outside and a few more tables indoors.
With most of the seating outdoors, I would highly recommend bringing some warm clothing. Sometimes the mornings at Lake Louise can be quite chilly and it takes a very long time for the kettle to boil up there!
All food at Lake Agnes is hand made, and most options are small cakes and biscuits, as well as snacking options like chips and hummus. There are no full meals at the teahouse, so this is just a place to refuel before the second half of your hike.
There are a few good drink options as well; hot chocolates and various types of teas. Last time we visited, there wasn’t a coffee option, but the menu does offer a french press pot of coffee, so you may get lucky!
Horse rides to Lake Agnes Teahouse
You can actually take a horse to Lake Agnes, which is by far the easiest way up there. You can book horse rides from the Brewster Stables.
It’s worth noting that the horses don’t take you 100% of the way. You will still have to climb the last staircase at the end. This ride takes around 3 hours and costs $209 CAD per person. Departures are at 9am and 1pm and run during the summer months
Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike FAQ
How long is the Lake Agnes Teahouse hike?
Honestly this really depends on your fitness, but on average the Lake Agnes teahouse trail would take around 1-1.5 hours to hike. There are several places to stop along the way and take in the views, so this may increase or decrease depending on how many breaks you take.
How difficult is the hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse?
The hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is fairly easy. The trail is generally a well worn flat trail with the occasional root or rock sticking out. As you get closer to the teahouse, the trail gets steeper and more uneven, but generally speaking, it’s suitable for most abilities.
The elevation gain on this hike is about 400m, so there will be some steep sections required to gain all that height. But this is a long trail with plenty of gentle gradient switchbacks, which means any severe steep sections are generally avoided.
What kind of food and drink does the Lake Agnes Teahouse sell?
The Lake Agnes Teahouse menu is actually quite large, but most items are focused around quick bites and snacks. They also serve over 100 types of loose leaftea!
For drinks, they sell tea (obviously), a french press of coffee, hot chocolate with marshmallows, chai lattes, lemonade and hot water.
For food, they sell a variety of sandwiches (tuna salad, cheese, PB & J, and hummus, or soup of the day (usually tomato, vegetable barley or split pea soup).
You can also buy lunch combos that include chips and salsa.
But if you’re hiking and want a big calorie boost, the desserts are probably what you’ll be after. They do a great selection of sweet treats, like banana bread, cookies, apple crumble and date squares.
You can read the full and most up to date menu on their website, here.
Does the teahouse accept credit or debit card?
No, typically the teahouse only accepts cash (USD or CAD). Make sure you stop at the ATM before you leave the Fairmont or parking area below. They also take travellers cheques but I haven’t seen one of those in years!
Can I continue hiking on from the Lake Agnes Teahouse?
Yes, there are so many options for hikes beyond the Lake Agnes Teahouse (aside from the obvious requirement that you will have to hike back down the hill again).
If you want to see one of the most spectacular views of Lake Louise, you can continue your hike beyond Lake Agnes and continue on to the Big Beehive, or Little Beehive. I’ve written a full trail description of the Big Beehive Hike here, but in summary, you’re looking at about double the time, elevation and distance vs. Lake Agnes (about 3-4 hours round trip).
You can then continue further still, to the Devil’s Thumb scramble, which in total would be about 5-6 hours round trip (back to the lake shore).
In addition to this, you can also take a different route back to Mirror Lake by crossing the mini bridge next to the Teahouse and following the trail on the left side of the shore. This also connects with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail if you wanted to continue on to the second teahouse without summiting the Big Beehive (not a bad idea if you want to save your legs!
To do Mount St. Piran or the Little Beehive, there is a sort of sketchy, scrambly route at the back of Lake Agnes but I’ve never been able to figure it out. The easiest way would be to turn around and head back down the trail to Mirror Lake and then turn left at the signpost up to the Little Beehive.
Can you hike the Big Beehive all year round?
Yes and no. During the winter months, the traditional route to the Big Beehive has a high avalanche risk and is is not recommended at all.
The safest way to go up there in Winter is to turn left at Mirror Lake and take the back route up to the Beehive. I did that this winter, and although the snow was deep, there was only one very small section where the avalanche risk seemed a bit higher.
Is the Lake Agnes Teahouse open year round?
No the Lake Agnes Teahouse is only open in the summer months (June 4th to Canadian Thanksgiving (8am-5pm). If you’re from the US, Canadian Thanksgiving is in October each year! You can check the updated details at the Teahouse website here.
Can you see Lake Louise from the Lake Agnes Tea House?
No, except for one brief moment on the trail where you can see a small part of Lake Louise, this trail doesn’t give you any views of Lake Louise at all.
The views of the mountains are still spectacular from Lake Agnes, but if you’re looking for top down views of the breathtakingly blue Lake Louise, you will have to continue onwards to the Big or Little Beehive.
Are dogs allowed on the Lake Agnes Tea house hike?
Yes dogs are allowed everywhere in the National Park, including this hike, as long as they’re on a leash. Dogs are not allowed inside the Teahouse itself, but they can hang out on the deck with you!
Is the Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike busy?
Yes this is arguably one of the most accessible and therefore busiest hikes in Banff National Park. In the summer months this trail is absolutely packed. Not everybody stops at the teahouse, though and many people splinter off onto one of the other amazing trails at Lake Louise. If you have time, make sure you check out some of the other amazing hikes at Lake Louise!
Are there toilets at the Lake Agnes Teahouse?
Yes, you may be pleased to find out that there are toilets at the Lake Agnes Teahouse. You may be disappointed to hear that they are outhouses, and they won’t smell pleasant.
If you think you’ll need to use them, I would definitely recommend going earlier in the day, before it gets abused by the masses. Also expect long lines as there are only two stalls.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse
The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse Hike
This Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is far less well known and is located up into the mountainside at the very back of Lake Louise.
This hike is significantly further than the other teahouse in distance, but the elevation gain isn’t quite as bad. If you have time, you could even visit both in one day, but it would be a long day on the legs.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse Hike Quick Stats:
Time: Approx 4-5 hours
Distance: 13.8km ( a bit less to the teahouse)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. There are some steeper sections but it’s all walkable.
Part 1. Hike to the back of Lake Louise
The first part of this hike is the easiest as it’s completely flat. Follow the Lake Louise lake shore trail around to the right (if you’re standing at the Fairmont looking down the lake), then walk along the lake with it on your left until you reach the back of the lake. This section is approximately 2km long.
You’ll pass hundreds of hikers along the way, and plenty of bright red canoes in the Lake. The last time I did this trail, I jogged it on a busy summer day. It reminded me of one of those treadmill videos where you’re running through a busy tourist attraction and weaving in and out of tourists.
This part of the trail is really easy on the legs, but don’t be fooled. As soon as you reach the back of the lake, the trail will gradually start to snake upwards.
Part 2. The back of Lake Louise to the Moraine
From the back of Lake Louise, you will follow the trail in and out of the woods as it gradually winds upwards. Very quickly, you will come out of the treeline and will start to walk up a loose rock mound, called a Moraine (this is the dirt that’s pushed ahead of a glacier). There are two trails here, one is a footpath, the other is a horse trail (yes you can take a horse to this teahouse as well!).
Once you’re up on the Moraine, turn around and admire the long view back down the valley of Lake Louise.
Part 3. Last little Scramble to the Teahouse
The last section really isn’t a scramble, but it does turn up into the hillside and winds along some fairly narrow sections with long drops off the side. It’s not a scramble, but you don’t want to fall here!
The trail becomes decidedly rocky here, and you’ll have to grind up just a few switchbacks before you finally make it to the little oasis where the teahouse is hiding.
There is a nice little stream and the teahouse is hidden sneakily in the trees. You won’t really see it until you’re virtually on top of it!
From the back of lake Louise to the teahouse, the distance is around 3.6km, and you’ll gain roughly 360m elevation in that distance.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse
The Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse is another beautiful log cabin in the woods, buried at the back of Lake Louise. It’s located right in the shadow of the stunning Plain of Six Glaciers, Mount Abbott and the Victoria Glacier.
The teahouse was built in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, but was sold to a private family in 1959, who have continued to operate it the same way ever since. Food is flown in twice a year or hiked in by staff, and all dishes are hand prepared onsite.
It’s an amazing tradition that we’re fortunate to have in the mountains here, and it should really go on your bucketlist!
Plains of Six Glaciers Teahouse FAQ’s
What kind of food and drink does the Plain Six Glaciers Teahouse sell?
The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse also sells similar light snacks and lunches to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. There are sandwiches, soups, homemade hummus, quinoa salad of the day and meal deals featuring different food combos.
They also do a great selection of cakes and pastries as well. These include tea biscuits and jam (think scones with jam), chocolate cake, apple cake and chocolate mousse.
For drinks there are lots of options, including the usual hot chocolates, teas and coffees, but there is also the Arlo Barlo, which is spiced chocolate with coffee! Yum.
There is also a merchandise tent where you can buy souvenirs.
When I jogged here, it happened to be a day when it was above 30C, so I was very pleased to see they also sold water!
Here is a link to the full menu. Everything is handmade, with ingredients being flown in by helicopter twice per year.
Help pack out the garbage
One thing you might notice on the way out to the teahouse is that many people you pass will be holding garbage bags. This is because sometimes the teahouse kindly asks for volunteers to help pack out their garbage every day.
Does the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse accept credit/debit card?
Actually, surprisingly this teahouse does accept cards, but there is a $4 surcharge to run your card.
Horse rides to the Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse
Yes, you can also ride a horse to the Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse, and this costs approximately $270 per person. The ride is roughly 4 hours and departs each day at 1pm.
Is the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail busy?
Typically the first part of the trail around Lake Louise is very busy indeed, but as soon as the trail starts to slope upwards the crowds quickly thin out. There were a couple of groups there when I visited last time, but it certainly wasn’t super busy.
Which is the best Teahouse at Lake Louise?
Honestly, I think I prefer the Plain of the 6 Glaciers teahouse because it takes just a little bit more effort to get there and the vast majority of tourists don’t bother. It’s far less crowded and feels a lot more secluded. You also get the incredible views of Abbott Pass and the Victoria Glacier, which you don’t really get from the Lake Agnes Teahouse.
On the other hand, I absolutely love the Big Beehive Hike and the Devil’s Thumb scramble, and probably do them about 3x per year on average. I love being able to set off early and grab a hot chocolate on the way up there.
So for this reason, the Lake Agnes Teahouse holds a special place in my heart. I would generally never stop there on the way down though because it’s always absolutely so busy at that point and I don’t want to waste an hour lining up.
If you have the time and the inclination, I would really recommend checking them both out, even though they both do offer very similar experiences.
Which teahouse has the best views at Lake Louise?
Honestly both teahouses have great views. If we’re talking views strictly while sitting on a picnic table at one of the teahouses, then I think Lake Agnes might clinch it.
But when we’re talking about views along the way, the Plain of Six Glaciers hike easily wins in my book. You’re more out of the trees than in, and so you have amazing mountain and glacier views almost the entire way. Conversely, the Lake Agnes teahouse hike is mostly buried in the trees until the last minute, BUT it is a stopping point along some of my favourite hikes in the world.
Lastly, I just don’t think my photos do the Plains of 6 Glaciers Teahouse justice. I was jogging, it was smokey, and I was taking photos with my phone, so I will try to go back this summer to get some better pictures!
What to pack when hiking to the Lake Louise Teahouses
- Bug spray/insect repellant – I particularly noticed how bad the mosquitos were at the Plain of the 6 Glaciers teahouse, but the majority of the actual hike was not bad at all.
- Bear Spray – you are very unlikely to need this at all, because all of these hikes are very busy and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bear actually at Lake Louise in the hundreds of times I’ve been. Having said that, this is actually a very heavily populated area for Grizzly bears, and if you’re heading to the back of the lake, it’s a lot quieter and more remote, so there is a much bigger chance.
- Decent shoes – This is a must. Good ankle support is very important when hiking uneven ground. A twisted ankle would mean a very long limp back to help.
- Hiking poles – always a must when embarking on a hike with any significant elevation change
- Water – This is not a short hike, so packing hydration is a good idea, especially if you’re doing this in July or August when the temperatures can get quite high. They do sell water at the teahouses, but it is much better to pack a reusable bottle.
- Sunscreen and a hat – If it’s a sunny day, you will be exposed to a lot of sunlight. There are many spots along the hike where you will not be protected by shade at all.
- Raincoat or windbreaker – Once you’re up on the moraine, the wind can whip through the valley and can get quite chilly. You’re also hidden in a valley and can’t really see weather as it approaches. We’ve been hit by sneak thunderstorms many times at Lake Louise, and the weather really can change on a dime.
- Some sort of GPS or Map – It really is hard to get lost here because everything is so well signposted, but it always pays to know where you’re going with some form of map.
- A camera – definitely bring some kind of camera to capture the experience! The views are absolutely spectacular!
Should you bother packing bear bells?
Honestly, there really isn’t any evidence that these work. They are more of a gimmick that is sold in gift shops to tourists and they don’t protect you at all from Bears.
Bear bells may alert a bear to your presence, but bears are hazed far more aggressively with human voices. If you think there is a bear in the area, yelling “HEY BEAR” frequently is the best thing you can do, followed by bear spray as a last resort.
Where to stay while you’re visiting Lake Louise
There are relatively few places to stay in Lake Louise, but the Fairmont is excellent (of course), as is the amazing Deer Lodge (best hot tub around). If you want to check out the full list of hotels we recommend, check out this complete guide to hotels in Banff and Lake Louise here. There are also plenty of hotels and Airbnb’s in Canmore, if you’re looking for more options!
Parking at Lake Louise (2023 Update)
This year (2023), parking at Lake Louise is harder than ever. If you want to do these hikes, then the ideal place to park is up at the public parking by the Lake Louise lake shore. This currently costs $11 per day and fills up quickly!
If the parking is full, you will have to park at the Lake Louise overflow parking, which is located across the highway, by Lake Louise Ski Resort. Once parked there, you’ll need to pay for a bus ticket and take the shuttle up to the lake
The Complete Lake Louise Guide
No matter which teahouse you choose, or if indeed you visit both, the effort will absolutely be worth it! Aside from Europe, there are so few opportunities to experience something like this, so make sure you check it out!