If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. If you want to go the scenic route…go with someone you love.
Lake Louise is one of those fairytale hiking destinations: what could be more enchanting than glacial lakes, fragrant pine forests, and a quaint teahouse at the top of the mountain? With this fantasy in mind, I made sure to portion out half a day to hike from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Tea House during my road trip through the Canadian Rockies.
The reality of traveling during peak season hit me the moment I arrived at the Lake Louise parking lot and crawled around for five minutes looking for a spot. It wasn’t even properly summer yet, and the lake’s bank was teeming with tourists and their selfie sticks. James and I both agreed on leaving the madness behind as quickly as possible, so we quickly kicked off our Lake Agnes Tea House hike.
That’s when I began to realize I may never be able to hike with him ever again.
0-1.7 km • Uphill
If you hike fairly regularly, you know the drill: take smaller steps, and keep a steady rhythm. Right from the get-go, however, James would march up stretches of the Lake Agnes trail and then wait for me to catch up before taking off again – like he couldn’t wait to get this over with. A seed of exasperation quickly sprouted; I wanted him to walk with me and enjoy the scenery, not race me to the top.
“I’d follow you to the ends of the earth,” I muttered to myself, “if you didn’t walk so damned fast.”
The switchback on the trail marks the halfway point, in terms of distance, to Lake Agnes. Here, from about 180 meters above, you’ll see a shard of the brilliant turquoise that is Lake Louise.
My face, on the other hand, was probably black as thunder, because James immediately tried to redeem himself by carrying my backpack for me. This only annoyed me further, of course.
I’d follow you to the ends of the earth…if you didn’t walk so damned fast.”
“I can carry my own pack,” I fumed. “It’s not that I can’t keep up with you. You’re sprinting instead of pacing yourself.”
His face fell. “I’m not rushing you; I’m just used to doing it this way. And I want to get past all these packs of hikers.”
“Well, the trail is getting wet so you might as well slow down.”
2.7km • Mirror Lake
Indeed, snow lined the Lake Agnes trail just before we reached Mirror Lake (this was in mid-June). I delighted in crunching through it like a child; the micro-climates of the Canadian Rockies amazed me. Mirror Lake’s smallness didn’t seem as popular with the Instagram crowd, but for me it held storybook charm: James found a bench hidden by the trees and indulged me for a bit as we sat together, in our own world.
2.9km • Highline trail shortcut
Balking at the steady stream of hikers following the route up to Lake Agnes, we decided to explore the shortcut from the Highline trail (turning left from Mirror Lake, towards the Plain of Six Glaciers) instead. Immediately we came upon some fun James couldn’t pass up: rock stacking.
Stone stacks are a common sight when hiking in Korea. The cairns, known as doltap (돌탑) are believed to bring good luck and represent wishes for loved ones. I crafted a small stack – nothing like James’s ambitious tower – and made a wish.
This shortcut is quite steep, and the “steps” up to Lake Agnes Tea House are hewn from stones and earth. I had to grab hold of tree branches here and there to support myself, so do not attempt this if the trail is wet or snowy. It’s best done on your ascent, so you can descend safely via the stairs on the regular trail.
3.5km • Lake Agnes Tea House
After close to two hours, James and I finally made it to Lake Agnes: named after Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald.
The half-frozen lake was a sight to behold against a foreboding sky, but the crowds gave us little peace to enjoy the view. With no refuge from the biting wind and a long queue at the tea house, we resigned ourselves to sitting out on the rocks and munching on the trail mix I’d brought. I was famished and, since we both didn’t like crowds, we quickly commenced our descent back to Lake Louise.
Following the regular Lake Agnes trail back down is straightforward enough – as long as you avoid the horse manure. The trail intersects with the mountain’s horseback riding trail, so be very careful not to make a wrong step, especially if there’s still snow and slush on the ground!
Can we go the distance?
By the time we ended our easy 7-kilometer hike, I felt like I’d conquered something far greater. This was, after all, my first real trip with a partner and I’d been worried that we’d end up hating each other.
Although James is not a fan of hiking, he came along with me to do something I love, and handled my moods with nothing but patience. That’s all that matters.
We may or may not go hiking together again, but I think we’ll be able to keep going through life together.
More Lake Louise hikes
If you’re keen on more intensive hikes on the Lake Agnes trail, there are several options that extend from Lake Agnes and the tea house.
Lake Agnes Lookout: +500m
Little Beehive: +1km
Big Beehive: +1.6 km
Highline trail: +5 km to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
Use this interactive trail map to get full details on these trails and to find more easy hikes around Lake Louise.
Getting to Lake Louise
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Since most people visit the Canadian Rockies on a road trip, driving is the most straightforward way to get to Lake Louise. Parking is free but you will need to purchase a day pass or annual Discovery Pass to enter Banff National Park.
Even without a vehicle, you can easily visit Lake Louise (either the town and the lakeshore) from Banff or even Calgary. The Banff & Lake Louise tourism website has shuttle locations and prices, and you can also find details on the Parks Canada shuttles.
Have you done the Lake Agnes Tea House hike? What else would you like to know or share?