For me, hiking to the Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glacier tea houses – both near Lake Louise in Banff National Park – is as much about the adventure of the hike as it is about the strawberry kiwi tea and date squares.
An Easy Introduction to Tea House Hiking
Lake Agnes Tea House was originally built as a refuge for hikers by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1901. Four years later they began serving tea. Guided horse trips ferried railway passengers staying at the Chateau Lake Louise up to the tiny jewel of a lake named for Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s wife.
When my daughter turned six, we took her and a few of her pals up to Lake Agnes for birthday tea. The short but steep trail zigzags through the forest, passing tiny Mirror Lake and gains 385 m (1,230 ft) of elevation over 3.4 km (~2 mi) – just enough to feel like you’ve earned a treat, but not enough to leave you feeling too tired to enjoy it. We needed the energy to finalize orders from giggly grade school girls facing a menu with 100 varieties of loose leaf tea!
If you overindulge on sweet treats and want to work off the excess, there are two short side trips from the teahouse – both of which are spectacular during the golden larch season in autumn. Little Beehive is a short fifteen to twenty minute walk out to a panoramic overlook of the Bow Valley. The trail starts just down from the lake. Big Beehive trail wanders along the lakeshore, past sunning marmots and squeaky pikas before climbing up to a 1916-era wooden shelter with outstanding views of Lake Louise.
Plain of Six Glaciers
In 1924, Swiss guide Edward Feuz started building a chalet for the CPR overlooking the Plain of Six Glaciers as a resting place for mountaineers tackling Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy. The hike to today’s tea house meanders along the lake and wanders uphill past rock climbers and mountain goats. You’ll probably be passed by a guided group on horseback along the way. Horse trips run out of stables in Lake Louise.
Depending on how long you spend sipping tea and admiring the mountain views, it takes about four hours to complete the return hike to the tea house. We usually take a longer break to enjoy a bowl of homemade soup before our sweet rewards.
Two Times the Fun
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, consider looping these hikes together. I like making a day of it by starting with the stroll up to the Plain of Six Glaciers, breaking for tea and then heading across the Highline Trail to Lake Agnes. It’s a full day experience, covering just over 14.5 km (9 mi). On one such trip we surprised a nanny goat and her kid clambering across the trail.
Unsure of hiking on your own? No worries! Discover Banff Tours offers guided treks to the tea houses throughout the summer months.