Plain of the 6 Glaciers
A classic hike in Banff National Park, the Plain of the Six Glaciers guides you beside Lake Louise, up past a lovely Tea House, and the trail finishes with stunning glacier views. We also share a very special alternative route back, which goes along The Highline trail, up to Big Beehive and down to Lake Agnes.
Drive up the hill towards Chateau Lake Louise and park in one of the lots to the left of the Chateau. PARKING IS LIMITED and is often full by 8am. Parks Canada offers shuttles from the Lake Louise Overflow Parking Lot.
|When to do|
June through October
Out and back
You’ll need to get to Lake Louise early to get a parking spot, or else take a bus or taxi. If you get here before 8am you should be able to get a parking spot in the Lake Louise Parking Lot, though every summer it gets earlier. If you can’t get there that early, consider a bus or taxi from Lake Louise Village or Lake Louise Overflow Parking Lot.
From the Lake Louise parking lot, make your way down to Lake Louise, where you follow the broad path that goes to the right, passing by the Chateau Lake Louise. It’s crowded here, with thousands of tourists all trying to get their photos taken.
Follow the lakeshore trail around the right side of Lake Louise. Here, you will pass signs to go up to the right towards Little and Big Beehives, however to get to the Plain of Six Glaciers you need to continue on this wide path around the lake, soaking in its tranquility.
Towards the end of Lake Louise, you will pass over a delta created by the glacier’s silt deposits as it melted. As you get farther on this trail, the crowds will subside. Finally, at the end of Lake Louise you begin to feel like you’re on a proper hike and anticipate getting to the Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers viewpoint.
You will pass a popular rock-climbing spot – take a moment to gaze up at climbers suspended in space, always an intriguing part of the trek. The forest will quickly thin as you climb, granting you views down to Lake Louise and the valley below. You will hike up and then begin to cross left above the tree line. The view below will be scattered with deep, dark crevices and massive imposing mountains with huge, sheer faces. In addition, right below the Tea House are two sets of switchbacks that are especially steep.
After 5.5km of hiking, during which you have gained 365m of elevation, you will arrive at the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House. This Tea House is beautiful and quaint, and serves tea, coffee, scones, soups and sandwiches. Be forewarned that during peak season it can get very busy. You are not allowed to bring you own food to eat in the hut – it is reserved for patrons only. The Tea House typically opens mid to late June in most years and it is cash only. There are also washrooms here, though they can be busy.
While many people stop at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, we love the Abbots Pass Viewpoint that is roughly 1.5km farther along. The route to this viewpoint is still a hike, though it is more challenging then the trail to the tea-house. At times the trail is narrow as it goes along a glacial moraine. The route is may or may not be suited to young children, depending on how well they can hike.
To get to the viewpoint, continue on the trail from the tea house, for a relatively flat 1.5km hike. The trail comes to an end on the side of a scree slope looking up at glaciers and the pass, which separates British Columbia and Alberta. This is sometimes called the Abbots Pass viewpoint, though in reality it is the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. Look closely up at Abbots Pass (the furthest right) and you might be able to make out the mountaineer’s hut built in 1922 that still stands. Marmots and chipmunks, however, will certainly be around. So, if you are eating your lunch here, take care that none gets stolen! Be warned, do not attempt to access Abbots Pass from here, as the route up is called The Death Trap for a reason – it’s highly dangerous.
We like to take a break at the viewpoint and soak in the incredible views. Many other hikers climb up and scramble on the rocks above the trail, though we don’t like to take a chance with increased rockfall risk.
To return to Lake Louise, most hikers simply retrace their steps. This makes it an achievable day for most hikers. There is an alternate route back to lake Louise, described below.
Alternate Route back to Lake Louise
We love the alternate route back to Lake Louise, taking the Highline Trail, then up to Big Beehive and down to Lake Agnes, before hiking back down to Lake Louise. This alternate route is shown in Yellow on the map. This is a more challenging hike, as the total distance for the hike is 19.4km, with 905m of elevation gain. This means you are adding 4.4km and 485m of additional elevation gain to take this route back.
To take this alternate route back to Lake Louise, hike back to the Tea House. From there, continue on the path you came up on for 1.5km as you head back towards Lake Louise until you reach a junction. At this junction, take the path that goes to the left.
This path goes up and down over the next 1.8km, before starting up a series of switchbacks that take you to the pass just below the Big Beehive. You can look down here and see Lake Agnes below, and to your right is the Big Beehive. We like to take the trail to the right and have a look at the views from the Big Beehive. The views are very nice here, but it’s very hard to capture it with a camera.
From the Big Beehive, walk back to the pass and then hike down the steep switchback to Lake Agnes below you. Go left when you hit Lake Agnes and contour around the far end of the lake, before coming back towards the Lake Agnes Tea House. This is another great, though busy, teahouse.
From the Lake Agnes Tea House, follow the well-signed trail for 4.0km as it heads back down to Lake Louise, passing Mirror Lake along the way.
If you start very early or quite late you may be able to find space at either of the Tea Houses for a snack. If it’s cold or raining you may luck out and get a seat inside, a rare treat when it is cold outside.
If you don’t want to hike, consider booking a horse tour through Brewster Stables.
Bring layers for the hike. The temperature changes drastically from the warm Lake Louise to the windy Moraine.
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