Lake Louise – Banff’s most famous spot. Everyone knows about this beautiful blue lake, but did you know the view of Lake Louise is better from up high? The Lake Louise Circuit allows you to hike everything at Lake Louise AND see the bright blue alpine water from above.
Another fun fact for you – in the immediate vicinity of Lake Louise you can also find 2 other lakes as well as 6 glaciers. These are 5 separate hikes OR you can complete the Lake Louise circuit and hike everything at Lake Louise in 1 day! This is what I did and I’d highly recommend hiking Lake Louise in this fashion.
Before we get into specifics about the Lake Louise Circuit, it’s important to note that Lake Louise is in Banff which is a National Park. You’ll therefor need a Park’s Pass for each day you’re in the Park which can be purchased at the Park gates, online, or at the visitor centre.
Now, let’s hike everything at Lake Louise!
- How to get to Lake Louise
- About the Lake Louise trails
- Lake Louise Circuit: Mirror Lake and Little Beehive, Lake Agnes, Big Beehive, Devil’s Thumb, & Plain of 6 Glaciers
- Best places to stay in Banff
- Essential hiking gear
- What to wear hiking
This post contains affiliate links; see my full disclosure. If you click these links and make a purchase you’re supporting The Holistic Backpacker. Thanks for your support & happy adventuring! – Taylor ♡
- 50+ Things to do in Banff in summer
- Discover more Banff trail guides
- Complete guide to the Icefields Parkway
- Step-by-step guide for planning a trip to Banff
- What to wear hiking in Banff
- Hiking gear guide for Banff
How To Get To Lake Louise
Parking for the Lake Louise Circuit and the trailhead marker:
You can bet that Banff’s 4 million+ annual visitors flock to Lake Louise’s blue alpine waters, making it the most popular place in Banff. Due to this finding parking is extremely difficult. You can drive here, but if you’re coming from the town of Banff, I’d recommend taking the Roam bus.
The Roam bus will cost you basically the same as it would to pay for parking (implemented as of 2021) and will save you the hassle of circling the lot a thousand times looking for an open spot.
If you aren’t coming from the town of Banff you’ll have to drive or rent a car to get to Lake Louise.
About The Lake Louise Trails
The Lake Louise trails are busy and well marked. You won’t get lost here, but if you do there are tons of other people around to ask for help. Since the trails are super busy, this is also a great place to try out solo hiking.
The terrain changes slightly as you move from one area to another, however everything BUT Devil’s Thumb is suitable for beginners. Devil’s Thumb is considered a scramble and features steep terrain covered in loose rock – this portion is not for the faint of heart, but it does offer incredible overhead views of both Lake Louise and Lake Agnes.
I recommend to hike everything at Lake Louise in a day because the trails overlap and you’ll have to re-hike sections to complete the individual hikes. However if you prefer to hike individual trails on separate days, here are the maps you’ll need:
- Little Beehive – add an extra 0.5km roundtrip to visit the teahouse
- Beehive Circuit (Little Beehive, Big Beehive, and Lake Agnes)
- Devil’s Thumb
- Plain of 6 Glaciers
Lake Louise Circuit
The Lake Louise Circuit is not featured on Alltrails or any other hiking app – The Holistic Backpacker is the self-proclaimed trail name-er of this beast.
The Lake Louise Circuit allows you to hike everything at Lake Louise and takes around 8-9 hours of continuous hiking to complete. Over the course of the Lake Louise Circuit you’ll cover 26km+ with about 1300m+ (rough estimate) of elevation gain. This seems intimidating, but I assure you it’s totally doable and well worth the effort.
Now, let’s get into the good stuff.
Mirror Lake & Little Beehive
The Lake Louise Circuit trailhead starts to the right of Lake Louise. You’ll want to start hiking up the Lake Agnes trail, NOT the Plain of 6/Lakeside trail; keep right and look for the teahouse signs.
The Lake Agnes trail is no walk in the park. You’ll continuously gain elevation, but it’s not overly strenuous and can be completed as long as you’re somewhat fit.
Within 3kms of starting the trail you’ll reach Mirror Lake. I hiked The Lake Louise Circuit late in the season which meant the lake was almost empty. If you hike earlier in the season the lake will be much more full and therefor a little more striking to view.
After Mirror Lake you’ll want to continue (right) and take a right at the next 2 forks; watch for the Little Beehive signs as you climb the switchbacks. You’ll reach the second fork in less than 1km, then it’s only a quick walk to the Little Beehive Lookout!
The best place to take photos is in the clearing. Here you’ll see one very prominent rock that looks “misplaced.” This is the location for the classic Little Beehive photo!
The Little Beehive is the lower of the two beehives and is the perfect place to watch sunrise. You’ll have an overhead view of the beautiful Lake Louise and you can watch the sun cast its morning alpenglow over the Victoria Glacier. At the top of Little Beehive you’ll have gained a total of 535m.
After the Little Beehive you’ll want to head back toward the second fork and continue walking straight toward Lake Agnes. Within 0.2km you’ll reach the teahouse!
The Lake Agnes teahouse is open during the summer; closed from Thanksgiving to early June. Here you can find all sorts of delicious treats as well as 100 types of loose leaf tea! Just be aware of the aggressive birds – one scratched my hiking partner’s face trying to get her food!
The day I hiked the Lake Louise Circuit Lake Agnes was covered in low fog, but normally you’ll have views of jagged peaks that surround the most unique dark green water.
If you’re lucky you’ll get to watch helicopters land near the teahouse to drop off supplies.
After Lake Agnes is when more of the “big hiking” starts. Next you’ll walk around the shore (right hand side) of Lake Agnes and take switchbacks up the mountain. Along the way you’ll cross over the large slabs of rock at the back of the lake and have the chance to view the teahouse from the opposite side of Lake Agnes.
Once you reach the top of the switchbacks, head left. Along the way to the Big Beehive you’ll come across the perfect spot overlooking Lake Agnes. Be sure to stop here and take a photo!
In just under 2km with 200m (approximate) gain, you’ll arrive at the Big Beehive. The Big Beehive overlooks Lake Louise from the rear end of the lake at a higher elevation point than the Little Beehive. This is excellent because the further you hike up, the bluer Lake Louise’s water looks below.
You’ll also find a pergola at the top of the Big Beehive which makes for the perfect place to hang out and and enjoy the views.
Now you definitely can’t hike everything at Lake Louise without summiting Devil’s Thumb. However I ONLY recommend hiking Devil’s Thumb if you or your hiking partners are experienced and have good physical fitness. If you’re not prepared for Devil’s Thumb, skip ahead to Plain of 6 Glaciers.
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To complete this part of the Lake Louise Circuit, hike back from the Big Beehive and locate the split in the trail; the split will go 3 ways. You’ll want to continue walking STRAIGHT from the direction you just walked from. There’s no sign marking Devil’s Thumb because it’s an advanced hike and Parks Canada wants to keep tourists off the trail.
As soon as you start hiking toward Devil’s Thumb you’ll start gaining elevation. On the way you’ll walk on a cliff edge, then start scrambling up a steep section of the mountain. The terrain is treacherous and you can expect some loose rock/scrambling along the way.
Some route finding skills are required here as the trail splits and the terrain changes as you go. Upon arriving at the top you’ll have overhead views of both Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes!
My experience hiking up Devil’s Thumb was a bit unique. As I previously mentioned there was low fog around Lake Agnes. To get to Devil’s Thumb I had to walk through the fog with absolutely zero visibility. It was quite spooky.
When I got to the top of Devil’s Thumb I had NO view. I couldn’t see a single thing. My hiking partners and I decided to wait it out and hope the fog dissipated. So we waited, and waited, and waited… About an hour passed when the fog finally started clearing!
What we saw was incredible… An inversion! As the fog cleared I saw a thin layer of clouds floating above these two beautiful lakes! The views were well worth the wait and then some.
Plain of 6 Glaciers
The final destination on the “hike everything at Lake Louise Circuit” is Plain of 6 Glaciers. Plain of 6 Glaciers is an excellent hike for all ability levels, but it does add a considerable amount of distance to your already long hiking day.
After summiting Devil’s Thumb, hike back to the 3 way-split in the trail and take the route in the middle; there should be a sign marking the Plain of 6 Glaciers. From here it’s pretty much a straight shot. You’ll be hiking in the trees for a few kilometres, then come out into a valley filled with vibrant wildflowers (hike during early-mid July for the wildflowers).
The terrain is easy to navigate and you won’t gain too much elevation. There’s a second teahouse just before the glaciers. Once you arrive at the teahouse continue for another 1km for up-close views of Lake Louise’s glaciers.
After Plain of 6 Glaciers you’ll walk back the direction you initially came from. Rather than taking the trail that leads higher up the mountain you’ll stay right and follow the path next to the stream; this is the glacial stream that feeds Lake Louise.
You’ll have around 7km until you reach the parking lot, but make sure you take time to check out the mini waterfalls along the way!
Looking for More Banff Adventures?
Banff is an adventurer’s & view seeker’s paradise. If you’re planning a trip to this gorgeous Canadian Park, you can start with this step-by-step guide designed to help you plan the perfect Banff itinerary.
Alternatively, check out this page with all my Banff resources.
Banff Hiking Resources
On this page you can find all my Banff trail guides. A few signature hikes in Banff are these easy trails, Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Lake Louise, and Johnston Canyon. If you’re only in Banff for a few days, start with those!
More Banff Resources you Might Find Interesting:
Want to continue your Canadian Rockies expedition outside of Banff? Check out my trail guides & travel resources for British Columbia and Kananaskis Country as well as Jasper, Waterton, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks 🙂
Tips For A Successful Hike
- Ensure you have a decent level of fitness
- Wear the right clothes and have the right hiking gear – I’ll talk more about this next (skip ahead)
- Bring extra food and water OR bring a water filter/aqua tabs and cheese cloth to ensure you have enough water and sustenance for the day
- Start early: catch sunrise from little beehive, avoid the crowds, and make sure you have enough time to complete everything
- Bring cash/card if you plan on making a purchase at the teahouse(s). Check with the teahouse to see whether they’re taking cash or card payment
Where to Stay in Banff
The “best” place to stay in Banff depends on your price range and what you’re looking for. There are a few ways to go about finding accommodations in Banff according to each price range:
- Find all accommodations in Banff here.
- Iconic Banff hotels: Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Rimrock Resort hotel, and Sunshine Mountain Lodge (ski in/ski out at Sunshine Village).
- Popular hotels in Banff: Mount Royal, Elk & Avenue, Juniper Hotel & Bistro, Banff Park Lodge, and The Banff Caribou.
- Budget accommodations in Banff: there are numerous hostels in Banff, The Dorothy Motel, Blue Mountain Lodge Bed & Breakfast, Banff Rocky Mountain Resort.
- Iconic hotels near Banff: Emerald Lake Lodge (Yoho), Prince of Wales (Waterton), Mount Engadine Lodge(Kananaskis Country), Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (Jasper).
Tips for Saving Money on Accommodations
I won’t lie, Banff can be a pretty expensive place to travel (but worth every penny). So, to help you offset some of the costs of your trip, here are tips for saving on accommodations in Banff:
- Camp in town. If you don’t have camping equipment you can rent tents, cooking sets, sleeping bags, and just about everything else from Bactrax.
- Stay at one of Banff’s hostels: the Banff International Hostel, Samesun Banff, HI Banff Alpine Centre, or the HI Lake Louise.
- Utilize Booking.com to compare hotel prices and amenities to ensure the hotel you book suits your needs. Some of the benefits of using Booking.com are their price match guarantee, free cancellation on almost all bookings, and clear pricing with no hidden fees.
- Check out hotels in Canmore. Canmore often offers cheaper rates and is located only 20 minutes from Banff.
Stay right in the action – if you want to stay IN Lake Louise, choose no other than the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The Fairmont is located right next to the beautiful Lake Louise and offers direct access to the trailhead with private parking! No need to go through the hassle of finding transportation to Lake Louise when you stay at the Fairmont!
Recommended Hiking Gear
The following items are some of my favourites – I never hit the trail without them!
The Capture Clip by Peak Design is a sturdy, safe, and super convenient way to carry your camera while hiking or backpacking.
Find it on Amazon (CAD).
Find it on Peak Design (US).
A hydration reservoir is SO important. It holds 2L+ of water and keeps you hydrated on-trail. I use the 2L Hydrapak; it never leaks and has a detachable tube.
What To Wear Hiking in the Rockies
For a detailed guide on what to wear hiking in the Canadian Rockies, check out this post.
Choosing what to wear hiking can be confusing, but the secret to properly dressing for a hike is layering. You can mix and match the tops and bottoms you already own to make up your base layers, however in addition to those clothes you’ll need a few extra things:
A waterproof jacket is the most important layer for hiking – it keeps you warm and protects you from wind and rain. I use the Marmot Eco Precip Jacket (men’s version) which is totally a bang-for-your-buck. If rain is in the forecast, don’t forget to pack waterproof pants (men’s version) too.
A good pair of hiking boots are Gore-tex, provide ankle support, and are durable. I use the Scarpa Kailash boot (men’s version) and they’ve never let me down. You’ll also want a good quality pair of socks. I use Smartwool – they’re great quality and last an entire season.
Rocky Mountain hiking exposes you to different natural elements and conditions – it’s imperative that you’re prepared for whatever nature throws at you. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way!
More: Day-hiking Gear Guide
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About The Author
Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.
I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.
Get to know me and my story more here 🙂
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!