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The Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive Hike

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During my week-long exploration of Banff National Park, I had the opportunity to experience the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike for the first time. This trip was also my first visit to Canada, and I was excited to explore some of the best hiking spots available in the Canadian Rockies.

Out of all the hikes I did in Banff, this particular one was my favorite. The highlight of the activity was undoubtedly the breathtaking view of Lake Louise from atop the Big Beehive. Not only is the payoff view stunning, but the pit stop at the Lake Agnes Tea House for tea is a top Banff experience by itself.

But you’ll have to earn this view, as the hike up is fairly challenging and mostly uphill. It’s also important to note that if you’re planning to visit, make sure to arrive early, as the parking lot usually fills up by 7 am. Otherwise you’ll have to secure a reservation on a Parks Canada or private shuttle to reach the area.

On the day of our hike, cloudy conditions almost prevented us from catching a clear view of Lake Louise, but fortunately, the skies cleared up just in time. When we reached the top of the Big Beehive we saw nothing but white out conditions and we waited for over 30 minutes to catch a clear view of the turquoise waters below.

Lake Agnes Tea House during overcast
Cloudy conditions helped create this incredible reflection shot of Lake Agnes

The cloudy conditions did however contribute to my favorite photo of the entire trip at Lake Agnes, where the low clouds created an incredible reflection shot of the surrounding mountains and the tea house.

In hindsight, the only thing I would’ve done differently on this day is that I would have allotted more time for the hike to be able to add the Plain of Six Glaciers or Little Beehive to the list of stops.

In this blog post, I’ll cover everything you need to know when experiencing the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike. I’ll also share some of my favorite photos from this unforgettable adventure in Banff National Park!

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Where is the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike located?

The Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike is nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Located within the boundaries of Banff National Park and just above the vibrant waters of Lake Louise, the trail offers hikers an unparalleled view of the lakes turquoise water. Banff National Park sits west of Calgary, making it accessible for both locals and international visitors.

The trailhead itself originates along the shores of Lake Louise which sits just behind the Fairmont Chateau hotel.

Man taking photo in front of Lake Louise, Banff National Park
You’ll have an opportunity to experience Lake Louise up close before starting your Big Beehive hike

For visitors not staying at the Chateau, there are two options for reaching the trailhead. The most straightforward is to drive your own vehicle here but that will require you to be parked before 7 am to ensure you secure a parking space. The parking lot fills up before this time, especially during the summer, on weekends or days with favorable weather.

If you can’t commit to reaching the parking lot by this time your best course of action is to make a Parks Canada shuttle reservation. The shuttle picks up visitors from the park and ride at the nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort. You’ll still need to get yourself to the park and ride for pick up.

These shuttle reservations will be in high demand, and typically sell out. If you find yourself in a pinch without a shuttle reservation the next best option is to book a private shuttle with a tour company operating out of Banff.

This is the most expensive option and typically has the least flexibility with regard to return times. Your best bet is to check the Parks Canada website and try booking your shuttle reservation as far in advance as possible. These will sell out!

Where is the best place to stay when attempting the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

When planning a visit to the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike, where you stay will play a critical role in determining your logistics for reaching the trailhead. Fortunately, a number of options, ranging from luxury to budget-friendly, are available in the nearby towns of Lake Louise, Banff, and Canmore.

Staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a remarkable experience, considering its proximity to the lake and luxury accommodations. This option is the least budget friendly, but offers guests the ability to stay directly on the Lake Louise lakeshore and provides immediate access to the surrounding hiking trails.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Alberta Canada
If you can swing it, it would be worth spending a night at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Another great location to consider is the town of Banff. It is situated around 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles) from the hike, translating to a travel time of about 50 minutes by car. Although a bit more distant, Banff offers a wider variety of restaurants, attractions, and accommodations.

Canmore, while being the farthest of the three, is a more relaxed town that provides a more budget friendly set of lodging options. It stands about 81 kilometers (around 50 miles) from Lake Louise, which will result in a little over an hour drive to the lake area.

During my trip we stayed in Canmore for 4 nights and Banff for 2 nights. We had every intention of experiencing a stay in Banff proper, but ultimately spent most of our nights in Canmore so that we could keep our lodging expenses in check.

If you’re trying to make your budget work for a trip like this, I’d suggest doing something similar to get the best of both worlds.

Also, staying in Canmore means you should definitely hit the Three Sisters Viewpoint hike one evening. It’s super short and located in town, which makes it a great wind down activity after trekking all day in the mountains.

Three Bears Brewery in Banff, Canada
Be sure to check out my favorite restaurant in Banff, Three Bears Brewery

We found a spacious rental home in Canmore using VRBO and stayed at Brewster’s Mountain Lodge during our time in Banff. The best part about Brewster’s was that it sits directly across the street from our favorite restaurant in town, Three Bears Brewery.

Where do you fly into for the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

The ideal airport to fly into when planning to visit Banff National Park and Lake Louise is Calgary International Airport (YYC). The drive from the airport to Lake Louise covers a distance of 196 kilometers (approximately 122 miles) and takes around two hours.

Calgary International Airport, situated east of Banff National Park, is the largest and closest major international airport to the park and Lake Louise area. Its convenient location, coupled with a scenic drive along the Trans-Canada Highway, makes it the best option for travelers seeking to experience the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike.

Do you need to rent a car when doing the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

Renting a car adds a layer of flexibility and convenience to your trip to Banff National Park that’s hard to beat. Considering the long distances between different towns, activities and shuttle pick ups I would strongly suggest renting a vehicle for your trip.

While the Parks Canada Shuttle system runs reliable service to Lake Louise and the Big Beehive trailhead, having a car allows you to explore more of the Banff National Park and its surrounding regions independently.

Having a vehicle also provides the freedom to set your own schedule, make impromptu stops, and visit other attractions in the park that don’t have shuttle or public transportation access. It’s also an important thing to have if you want to hit stops like the Peyto Lake Viewpoint or Bow Lake which are located along the Icefields Parkway.

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Hike is another where you’ll need a car to access the trailhead since it’s located off the scenic Bow Valley Parkway.

Other worthwhile stops like Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls are located in neighboring Yoho National Park which are difficult to reach without access to your own vehicle.

Peyto Lake in Alberta, Canada Banff National Park
Glacial runoff feeds Peyto Lake and the sediment that creates results in the turquoise water color shown here

However, even with a car, you might want to utilize the Parks Canada Shuttle system to reach the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike, particularly during the busy summer period. The shuttle helps mitigate the common issue of limited parking spaces at Lake Louise, which often fill up before 7:00 am.

It’s crucial to remember that rental cars, particularly during the peak summer season, can be in high demand and book up well in advance. I’d highly recommend making your rental vehicle reservation ahead of time to avoid issues with high prices and sold out vehicles.

What is the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike best known for?

The first notable attraction that the hike is famed for is none other than the charming Lake Agnes Tea House itself. Nestled on the shores of its beautiful namesake lake, the tea house offers weary hikers a chance to relax and enjoy a warm cup of tea before making their final push up the Big Beehive.

Meanwhile, the Big Beehive, marking the trail’s highest point, is famous for the unrivaled panoramic views it offers. Hikers who endure the steep and switch-backed path to the summit of the Big Beehive are rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the vivid turquoise waters of Lake Louise.

Lake Louise from the Big Beehive viewpoint
Utilize the panorama photo setting on your smart phone to take a super wide photo like this of Lake Louise

After experiencing these views firsthand, after nearly missing out due to poor visibility, I can say this is one of the best views in all of Banff National Park.

What is the Lake Agnes Tea House named after?

Lake Agnes, the picturesque alpine lake that resides roughly at the halfway point of the hike, received its name in honor of Lady Agnes Macdonald. Susan Agnes was the wife of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John Alexander Macdonald.

Lines forming at the Lake Agnes Tea House
Be mindful that the Lake Agnes Tea House can be extremely busy later in the day

The tea house itself subsequently derived its name from Lake Agnes, where it resides.

What is the Big Beehive hike named after?

The Big Beehive is named for its unique shape. Resembling a massive beehive, this eye catching geological formation commands attention as it towers over Lake Louise and Lake Agnes.

The Big Beehive in Banff National Park
This photo of the Big Beehive towering over Mirror Lake suggests how it got its name

Hikers who scale the Big Beehive are rewarded with commanding panoramic views that encompass the vibrant lakes, lush forest, and rugged mountain peaks of Banff National Park.

Is there cell phone service during the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

Given its secluded, remote location within Banff National Park, visitors should be aware that reliable cell phone service can be sparse or even non-existent in many areas along the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike.

Foggy morning conditions in Banff National Park
Who needs cell signal when you can enjoy views like these during your hike?

Cellular reception in mountainous regions like this often tends to be weak or intermittent at best due to a variety of factors, including the rugged terrain, the distance from cell towers, and the obstruction caused by natural elements such as tree coverage and rock formations.

How much does visiting the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike cost?

While the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike itself does not have an entrance fee, visitors should be prepared for the costs of transportation and potential refreshments during their adventure. Be sure to allocate budget for a Parks Canada pass, parking, shuttle services, tea and hiking snacks to ensure you don’t accidently overspend during your trip.

Cloudy conditions at Lake Agnes in Banff National Park
Be sure to budget time and money for a tea break at Lake Agnes (shown here)

After completing your hike, you may want to treat yourself further by grabbing a snack, coffee or a meal at the nearby Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

If you’d like to canoe on Lake Louise, you’ll need to budget considerably more as rates exceed $100 USD per hour. We chose to canoe on Lake Moraine instead since the lines are typically shorter even though the prices are comparable.

Be mindful that you cannot make canoe reservations at either lake in advance.

Are dogs allowed at the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

Dogs are allowed on the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive trail. Just be aware that dogs must be on a leash at all times. This rule is in place to protect both the dogs and the surrounding wildlife, as well as maintain the overall experience for other hikers.

Views along the Big Beehive hike in Canada
There’s quite a bit of steep and rugged terrain on this hike so make sure your furry friend is up for it

It is important to note that the trail can be challenging for dogs, with steep inclines, rocky terrain, and varying weather conditions. Dog owners should be cautious and considerate of their pet’s capabilities, ensuring their dog is physically fit and prepared to handle such conditions before having them tag along on this hike.

Are there bathrooms at the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

First and foremost, restrooms can be found at the parking lot near the Lake Louise lakeshore and inside the Fairmont Chateau. These facilities are conveniently located at the beginning of your hike, making it a sensible idea to make use of them before venturing onto the trail.

As you proceed on your hike, be aware that your next opportunity to access restroom facilities will be at the Lake Agnes Tea House. While bathrooms are available here, they may not be as clean or well-maintained as those found at the parking lot or the Fairmont Chateau.

Can you swim in Lake Agnes?

While it is permissible to swim at both Lake Louise and Lake Agnes, visitors should be aware that the waters of these alpine lakes can be extremely cold. Even during the hottest summer days the water temperature of either lake doesn’t rise meaningfully above freezing.

Views of Lake Agnes in Banff National Park
If you decide to swim in Lake Agnes, be careful of the uneven and rocky lake bottom

Even though it’s unlikely you’ll spend much time swimming in the lakes of Banff National Park, it’s something you should try at least once during your visit. Taking a refreshing dip in the icy turquoise water of a glacier fed lake is a memorable experience.

We visited nearby Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park specifically for this reason as it’s one of the most ideal alpine lakes in the area for swimming.

What should I know before visiting the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

Adhering to the Leave No Trace Principles and demonstrating good trail etiquette are important things for visitors to know before doing the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike.

Hiker taking photo atop the Big Beehive in Banff
There will be a lot of other hikers looking to take photos at the best viewpoints, be sure to share!

The Leave No Trace Principles encourage outdoor ethics that respect nature, aim to preserve the environment, and maintain a high quality of recreational experience for all users. These principles include disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife, and leaving what you find. Be sure to pack out any litter and do not disturb the natural habitats, plants or rocks along the trail.

Good trail etiquette is equally important. This can involve yielding the trail to uphill hikers, maintaining a fair distance with the other hiking groups and staying on the designated trail to protect delicate plants and prevent erosion.

Hikers should also be considerate of others at popular rest stops or viewpoints, refraining from hogging any specific areas and permitting others to enjoy the view.

What is the best time of year to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

The ideal time to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike is during the summer to early fall period, specifically from June to September.

The summer months, particularly from late June to August, bring pleasant weather, longer daylight hours, and beautiful flora along the trails. The trails are generally snow-free during this period, making them more manageable for hikers of different experience levels. During these months, the tea house is also in operation, which is one of the main reasons for doing this hike.

Views of Lake Louise from atop the Big Beehive
We thoroughly enjoyed our hiking throughout Banff National Park during a September visit

If you’re hoping to see snow on the surrounding mountains, I’d suggest visiting in early summer before it has all melted away. Alternatively, consider visiting around mid September as the crowds will start to fade and there will be an opportunity to enjoy fall colors in certain areas of the park.

Regardless of when you plan to visit Banff National Park, trip planning can be quite the undertaking. Luckily, I’ve put together guides on how to find cheap airfare and tips for planning travel abroad that are worth reading if you haven’t already. These guides will help you save money and avoid common travel planning mistakes that I’ve mastered during my adventures!

What is the best month to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

While every season has its unique charms, I’d recommend an early to mid September as the best month to plan your hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive.

The Big Beehive hike in Banff National Park
During my September visit, the trails were clear of snow and there were pops of Fall color emerging

The weather during this month is generally cooler but still comfortable, perfect for a strenuous hike such as this.

Meanwhile, most of the summer crowds have dissipated by now, which means the trails are less busy, making it more likely that your journey will be peaceful and unhurried.

If you plan on visiting outside of the June to September window I’ve laid out here, just be mindful that the Lake Agnes Tea House does not operate year round and you’ll risk visiting during a window when it’s closed for the season.

What is the best time of day to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

The Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike is one of the most popular trails in Banff National Park, attracting visitors eager to take in the breathtaking views of Lake Louise and enjoy the rustic charm of the tea house. To make the most of your hike I’d suggest beginning extremely early in the morning.

Cloudy conditions atop the Big Beehive near Lake Louise, Canada
Starting early left us plenty of time to wait out the cloudy conditions we encountered atop the Big Beehive

Setting out early in the morning, preferably around or shortly after sunrise, has several benefits. First and foremost, you will encounter fewer fellow hikers on the trail at this time, allowing for a more tranquil atmosphere as you enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.

Additionally, early morning hikes come with cooler temperatures. By embarking on your journey first thing in the morning, you will avoid the afternoon heat and sun exposure that can make strenuous outdoor activities more challenging and less enjoyable.

Reaching the tea house in the early morning also provides you the best experience as it can be extremely crowded later in the day. The last thing you’ll want to do mid hike is wait in line for an hour to have your cup of tea!

How difficult is the the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike hike?

This trail measures at approximately 7 miles (or just under 11 kilometers) in length and takes most visitors between four to five hours to complete, making it a popular choice for a half-day activity.

While the trail is not overly steep or strenuous throughout, it does include a considerable amount of elevation gain, over 2,300 feet (or 700 meters) in total. The journey from the Lake Louise lakeshore to the Big Beehive has a steady uphill incline pretty much the entire way.

Not only that, but you’ll be starting this hike nearly one mile (1600 meters) above sea level so the air will be thin for anyone visiting from outside the region. Don’t underestimate how much this can contribute to difficultly!

As with any hike, it’s crucial to be prepared, carry plenty of water, have salty snacks on hand and trek at a pace that suits your comfort and fitness level.

In summary I would characterize this hike as moderate in terms of difficulty, but I would skew towards it being on the difficult side of that rating, as opposed to the easier side.

Do I need any special hiking gear for the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike?

One essential piece of gear for the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike is a good pair of hiking boots. The trail surface includes uneven ground, rocks, and roots, making proper footwear necessary for comfort, support, and safety. Quality hiking boots provide essential ankle support, cushioning, and grip, enabling you to tackle the trail with comfort and confidence.

A glimpse of Lake Louise from the Big Beehive trail
As you hike you’ll catch views of Lake Louise peeping through the tree line

Another piece of equipment that visitors may benefit from is a set of trekking poles. While not absolutely necessary, they can enhance your hiking experience in various ways. Trekking poles provide additional support and stability on uneven terrain and can alleviate some of the strain on your knees, especially during steep ascents and descents.

We did this hike on the last day of our trip and by this time our legs were fairly fatigued from all of our other activities, so you best believe I pulled out the trekking poles for this one.

It’s also crucial not to forget essential items like water, snacks, and sunscreen. Staying well-hydrated is extremely important when embarking on any hike lasting several hours, such as this.

I’d suggest looking over my complete day hike checklist to ensure you don’t forget any gear that might help you complete this trail comfortably.

Is the hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike dangerous?

The Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike, a popular and scenic trail in Banff National Park, is not considered dangerous when approached with proper preparation and care. While some sections of the trail may require extra attention, visitors should not be overly worried about steep drops along the way.

The ascent from Lake Agnes to Big Beehive does have a few narrow sections where hikers should exercise caution, but these can be navigated safely and confidently by anyone with some hiking experience and patience. Generally, the path is well-maintained and well-traveled.

Although the Big Beehive overlook is exposed to steep drops which the stunning vantage point over Lake Louise, the surrounding area is wide and flat, allowing hikers to appreciate the views without venturing too close to the edge.

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is hiking the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike worth it?

The diverse range of scenic spots, lakes and lookouts as you climb from Lake Louise, past the Lake Agnes Tea House and to the Big Beehive made for one of the most engaging hikes I’ve ever experienced. In fact, this trail was my favorite hike within Banff National Park and will go down as one of my all time favorites.

Lake Louise Lakeshore, Banff National Park
Once you complete your descent you can rest and recover by soaking up views of Lake Louise

I’d go as far as saying that if you only had time to do one hike in Banff National Park, it should be this one. Although, hopefully you’ve left yourself plenty of time to enjoy some of my other favorites such as Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass or Consolation Lakes.

The only way this activity could have been even better would be to add on a stop at the Plain of Six Glaciers or Little Beehive. These points of interest would be great options for adding to an already epic hike.

I hope that you enjoy the Lake Agnes Tea House and Big Beehive hike during your trip to Banff National Park as much as we did!

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