50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park: Lake Agnes
By : Brian Patton and Bart Robinson1st edition
6.5 x 4.5 inches
- Tunnel Mountain
- Sulphur Mountain
- Johnston Canyon
- Sunshine Meadows
- Bourgeau Lake
- Lake Louise Shoreline
- Lake Agnes
- Larch Valley
- Parker Ridge
LENGTH: 3.5 km (2.2 mi) one way
ELEVATION GAIN: 400 m (1,300 ft)
WALKING TIME: 1 to 1.5 hours one way
STARTING POINT: In front of the Chateau Lake Louise
ORIGIN OF THE NAME: Lady Susan Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first Prime Minister
Lake Agnes is hidden in a hanging valley high above Lake Louise. In addition to its own charms, which include a teahouse, the two Beehives provide breathtaking views of Lake Louise and a broad stretch of the Bow Valley.
As you walk along the shoreline of Lake Louise, the trail to Lake Agnes branches right just beyond the hotel, then climbs steadily through dense subalpine forest. After 1.7 kilometres (1.1 miles), the first switchback marks a break in the trees where you have a clear view down to the pale turquoise water of Lake Louise.
Another one kilometre (0.6 miles) of forest-enclosed climbing brings you to Mirror Lake, a tiny lake with dark, layered cliffs of the Big Beehive looming above. The two trails leading off in opposite directions from Mirror Lake both converge at Lake Agnes; the left option is slightly shorter and steeper than the traditional route to the right. Regardless of which route you choose, the final climb to Lake Agnes is completed on one of two steep, wooden staircases, which surmount a cliff band beside a waterfall created by the lake’s outlet stream. Arriving at the narrow opening where Lake Agnes tumbles from its basin, the lake appears in its entirety, stretching westward to a jagged mountain backdrop.
The original Lake Agnes Teahouse was constructed in the early 1900s. The present-day version was built in 1981. It serves refreshments and light snacks from mid-June to early October and is one of the big attractions for many who do this hike. While its covered balcony is a relaxing place to sit and admire the view, it is usually very busy. The area surrounding Lake Agnes abounds with wildlife of the upper subalpine forest, especially those species who like to be where people are eating. Least chipmunks, golden-mantled ground squirrels, Clark’s nutcrackers, and grey jays congregate around the teahouse looking for an easy meal. Hoary marmots and pikas, who whistle and cheep from the rocky slopes above the lakeshore, are somewhat less corrupted by humanity.
OPTIONS: The most popular short hike beyond Lake Agnes is to LITTLE BEEHIVE, which provides an excellent panorama of the Bow River stretching from the mountains near its headwaters to surrounding peaks around the town of Banff to the south. Between Lake Agnes and Little Beehive are a number of rocky viewpoints overlooking Lake Louise, the hanging valley containing Lake Agnes, and Mount Aberdeen and the glacier-crowned peaks of Mounts Lefroy and Victoria. This 0.9-kilometre (0.6-mile) trail branches uphill from the shore of Lake Agnes just beyond the teahouse.
From the teahouse, it takes around 15 minutes to reach the western end of Lake Agnes, where a rough trail switchbacks up a ridge. Traverse eastward (take the left fork) along the ridge’s rocky spine to a gazebo-style shelter at the top of BIG BEEHIVE. Though somewhat obscured by trees, there are views over the Bow Valley and down to Lake Louise, over 500 vertical metres (1,640 feet) below. Total distance between the teahouse and Big Beehive is 1.6 kilometres (one mile); allow 40 minutes one way. (Do not attempt to shortcut down from the gazebo viewpoint in any direction; there are dangerous cliffs on all sides. Return back along the ridge the way you came.)
Hikers looking for a full day’s outing can include the PLAIN OF THE SIX GLACIERS in their itinerary after visiting Lake Agnes by crossing the Big Beehive’s summit ridge and descending steeply for one kilometre (0.6 miles) to a trail running up-valley from Mirror Lake. Turn right and follow this trail as it descends across the lower slopes of Devil’s Thumb to an intersection with the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail. Continue up-valley toward the imposing, glacier-topped summits of Mounts Lefroy and Victoria for another 1.4 kilometres (0.9 miles) to the Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse. Total distance for this combination of trails, without detours to the either of the Beehives, is 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) and you will have gained and lost almost 800 metres (2,620 feet); allow at five or six hours.
This text is from 50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park.