Seeing iconic Lake Louise is one of the most popular things to do when visiting Banff National Park. The mesmerizing turquoise colour of the water in Lake Louise is due to the rock flour released from the glaciers overlooking the lake in the Six Glacier Valley as they melt. The sun reflects off the rock flour particles and refract green and blue light wavelengths. To truly appreciate the colour you need to see it from above which means a getting up to one of the best viewpoints in this area on the Lake Louise Big Beehive hike. We stayed in Canmore for a month so were able to visit Lake Louise 3 times and hike several of its trails, an easy choice as one of the best things to do when visiting the Canadian Rockies.
How to Get to Lake Louise from Banff
Lake Louise is 57 km from Banff, 184 km from Calgary and is an essential stop on any Banff Jasper itinerary. If you are driving it is an easy trip on a double-lane highway with mountain views the entire way. There are 2 parking lots at Lake Louise that are free and you can park there for up to 9 hours. The parking is limited and can fill up, especially during the summer high season. It is recommended to get there before 9am or after 6pm. We visited in September and October and, while it was busy, the parking lots didn’t completely fill up. If you don’t have a car, then Roam Transit leaves from downtown Banff and the Banff train station 7 times a day and drops you off at the Lake Louise waterfront. The last option is to join a tour. You won’t have to worry about parking but you may not have enough time to do the Big Beehive hike.
Do You Need a Park Pass to Visit Lake Louise?
Lake Louise is located within Banff National Park so everyone is required to have a National Park Pass regardless of how you get there. Park passes are easy to purchase online, or if you are driving, at the park gates at the park entrance or in person at one of the Visitor Centres in Lake Louise or Banff. The daily pass/yearly pass costs:
$10/$69.19 for adults (18 to 64 years of age)
$8.40/$59.17 for seniors (65 years of age or over)
Free for youths (6 to 17 years of age)
$20/$139.40 for family or group (up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle in a national park)
Big Beehive Hike
The Big Beehive elevation gain is 647 meters and the trail length is 10.3 km. It starts at the photogenic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – one of Canada’s most famous hotels. It is the first thing you see as you walk to the lake from the parking lot. Make sure you stop to appreciate this iconic photo spot. This is the busiest place at Lake Louise as many people come to take a photo and maybe walk a bit along the lake. From here you can see the Big Beehive to the right overlooking the lake. There are three sections to this hike to get to the viewpoint. The Alltrails map shows the entire trail.
From Lake Louise to Mirror Lake
Start by passing in front of Fairmont Chateau and watch for a trail leading up shortly after, just past the bronze statue of a Swiss mountain guide. There will be a sign for Lake Agnes. This is the Big Beehive trailhead. This portion of the trail is a steady uphill beside the lake eventually turning into switchbacks. The path is in the trees and is quite wide so there is lots of room for passing hikers. It will take about 30-45 minutes before you see your first glimpse of Lake Louise from above. It’s from here that you can really begin to appreciate the shocking blue colour.
Continue up the trail as it narrows slightly and then gives a view over the Bow Valley you drove up to get to Lake Louise. The first real rest stop is a at Mirror Lake. It was pretty low when we were there in the fall but you can still get some great reflection pictures. It is from here that you get your first real look at the Big Beehive, the rock outcropping that towers over Mirror Lake. It looks intimidating from this angle but the side that you hike up is much easier.
Mirror Lake to Lake Agnes
From here, the Lake Agnes trail continues through the forest and is a little rougher than earlier. This section is only 20-35 minutes. You will soon hear a waterfall that you can stop at, then to the right there are stairs. Once you see these you know that you are almost at Lake Agnes. At the top of the stairs is the Lake Agnes Tea House where you can stop for tea, hot chocolate, snacks, soup, sandwiches or desserts. Bring cash if you can as there is a fee to use bank or credit cards. The Lake Agnes Teahouse is very busy, especially in high season, so you may not be able to get a table but you can get takeout and enjoy your snack on one of the benches by the lake.
At this point you have hiked a distance of 7 km with an elevation gain of 400 metres. It takes most people 1-2 hours to do this section of the Lake Louise Big Beehive trail. Hiking just as far as Lake Agnes is one of the best easy hikes near Canmore. From this side of Lake Agnes there is a view of the Big Beehive to the left and Mount Niblock on the right.
Lake Agnes to Big Beehive
After you have taken a break and enjoyed the views, follow the trail along the north shore of Lake Agnes. From here it is 1.6 km with 130 meters of elevation gain to the viewpoint. When we were there in late September the larch trees surrounding the lake and on the climb up to the Big Beehive were in their bright golden yellow prime.
By the time we came back 2 weeks later the needles had fallen off. Lake Agnes is beautiful either way but if you happen to be here in larch season it definitely adds another layer – which is why this part of the hike also made it onto my favourite larch hikes near Canmore. Most people stop at the teahouse and either head back down or take the trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers so your route will become much quieter now. Once on the far side of the lake (500 metres) you start the switchbacks up to Big Beehive. The switchbacks make it a reasonably gradual climb and the path is wide enough to pass hikers coming down comfortably.
Once at the top you can see a trail leading to the left to the Big Beehive viewpoint with a sign pointing the way. There is also an unmarked trail to the right that leads to Devil’s Thumb, another one of the best hikes we did in this area of the Canadian Rockies. Going to the left, continue along the wide ridge until you reach the viewing platform. We found that to get to the best views of Lake Louise you need to climb down some rocks to the edge. Cautiously.
There are also nice spots on the rocks all along the ridge so explore until you find your favourite. If you go all the way to the end you will be able to find a viewpoint to also see over Lake Agnes but you can’t see both lakes at the same time on the Big Beehive – that viewpoint is only available on the Devil’s Thumb hike. Take your time and enjoy the view of the Chateau, lake and Fairview Mountain.
Options From the Big Beehive Hike Back to Lake Louise
1. Hike Back Through Lake Agnes
This is the easiest and shortest option. It should take less time than to hike up since it is all downhill.
2. Add Devil’s Thumb Hike
Go back to the turn at the top of the switchbacks and go towards the unmarked path with a fallen tree on it. It is another 1 km and 200 metres up to the viewpoint over both Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. This trail is significantly narrower, requires some scrambling over some slippery spots but if you have the energy and are comfortably with these hiking conditions I really recommend it as the view can’t be beat. It is definitely one of the best hikes near Canmore, or anywhere in this section of the Canadian Rockies. Once back down from the Devil’s Thumb hike you will have the same options on how to get back to Lake Louise as before.
3. Add Little Beehive Hike
Once back down to the Lake Agnes Tea House it is only 1 km and less than 100 metres of elevation gain up to the viewpoint on the Little Beehive hike. A lot of people chose to visit both viewpoints. Just before reaching the teahouse watch for a signed short cut to the left that will lead up to Little Beehive. You also have the choice of making it a loop by visiting the Little Beehive first, then across to Lake Agnes, up to the Big Beehive and follow the trail down to the Plain of the Six Glaciers before walking back along the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail. Its is a total of 13.4 km and 722 metres of elevation gain to do this and although it sounds confusing it is actually well-signed and especially easy if you follow the AllTrails map.
4. Make a Loop with the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
The first time we visited the Big Beehive we continued back down towards Lake Louise on the far side from the switchbacks and Lake Agnes. This trail that connects to the Highline Trail and the Plain of Six Glaciers trail is steeper and rockier than the others but is still very walkable. Once you connect to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse hike then the trail begins a gradual incline, much smoother and wider. We didn’t know what to expect from this part of the trail and really enjoyed the fall colours and watching the occasional avalanches on the far side of the valley. The teahouse here is similar to the teahouse at Lake Agnes and there are big benches to enjoy the views and watch the avalanches.
The trail back down eventually joins the Lake Louise lakeshore trail so the last couple kilometres are much busier but also flat and smooth so it’s a nice way to finish the hike.
The AllTrails map for this option shows the round trip being almost 20 km and 1,000 metres elevation gain so it’s a full day hike but worth for the tremendous variety.
Big Beehive vs Little Beehive Hike
So if you can’t go to both of the Beehive viewpoints which should you pick? In a quick comparison of the two there are a couple factors to consider. We preferred the view of Lake Louise from the Big Beehive. It is higher up and it felt like it encompassed the whole lake. The Little Beehive is closer to the lake and especially closer to the Fairmont Chateau hotel, which was nice, but it was difficult to get a picture of the whole lake. Of course, the Big Beehive trail is also longer, steeper and more difficult than the Little Beehive trail. In our opinion, if you have the energy, we would go with the Big Beehive.
When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Louise and the Big Beehive?
On our first visit to Big Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers we arrived at 8am and hiked until 2pm. It was much quieter in the morning and the parking lot was only a quarter full as it was the fall. It would likely fill up earlier in the summer. I really liked seeing Lake Louise in the morning light and pictures were better in the morning than in the afternoon. The second time we hiked to the Big Beehive, Devil’s Thumb and Little Beehive we arrived around 1pm and the trail to Lake Agnes felt much busier due to all the hikers coming down. By the time we finished hiking it was 6pm and it was very quiet and peaceful at the lake. But the pictures were best in the morning so we would suggest visiting shortly after sunrise.
Lake Louise itself is beautiful any time of the year. We have visited in the spring, fall and winter and it is amazing no matter the weather.
What to Pack for the Big Beehive Hike
As with any hike in the Canadian Rockies, you have to be prepared for anything on the Big Beehive trail. Weather conditions can change quickly so it is best to dress in layers. Carry lots of water and some snacks in case the lineups at the teahouse are too long. Wear good hiking shoes, or at least running shoes. Unlike most hikes in this area that we did during our time in Canmore, there weren’t any bear warnings. But it is always safest to carry bear spray when hiking in these mountains. We have a complete day hike packing list that goes through all the things you would want to wear and pack on the Banff Beehive hike.
The Big Beehive is one of the best Banff hikes because of the view of Lake Louise, having Lake Agnes and the teahouse along the way and the options to turn it into a Beehive circuit trail. If you have the time and energy you should definitely add it to your list!
Where to Stay
Lake Louise – the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is an expensive but iconic hotel choice right on Lake Louise. Staying here lets you experience Lake Louise when the crowds have gone home.
Banff – Moose Hotel and Suites is right in Banff, is walking distance to everything, has views from its balconies, has a spa and is very highly rated.
Canmore – We stayed in Canmore, which tends to be cheaper than Lake Louise and Banff but is still easy driving distance. A couple good choices in Canmore are Base Camp Chalets and the Lamphouse Inn, which is right downtown.
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