trip report: Banff National Park – Lake Louise, Beehives, & Plain of Six Glaciers loop, August 2019

Our final hike on our roadtrip through the Canadian Rockies was a return to the place that inspired this roadtrip and perhaps my entire hiking career, thus this webpage. The place is Lake Louise and Moraine Lake region within Banff National Park.

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2011 roadtrip stop at a less crowded Lake Louise with Jared, Miguel, and Matt

However, sometimes impressionable memories are better as memories. While a return to this popular regions was still good, it just didn’t have the same magical feeling that we had on our first time through.

This is the twelfth entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series covering our twelfth and final hike. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

index

click to expand
1 planning & research
2 trip report day 0-1: getting in
3 trip report day 2-5: Kootenay National Park – The Rockwall
4 trip report day 6: Yoho National Park – Iceline
5 trip report day 7-9: Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park
6 trip report day 10-14: Mt. Robson Provincial Park – Berg Lake & Snowbird Pass
7 trip report day 15-16: Jasper National Park – Edith Cavell & Valley of the Five Lakes
8 trip report day 17: Jasper National Park – Bald Hill
9 trip report day 18-19: Jasper National Park – Skyline
10 trip report day 20: Jasper National Park – Wilcox Pass
11 trip report day 20-21: Banff National Park – Bow Summit Lookout & Peyto Lake
12 trip report day 22: Yoho National Park – Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
13 trip report day 23: Banff National Park – Lake Louise
      13.1 Moraine Lake
      13.2 hike information
      13.3 hike video
      13.4 hike report
      13.5 impressions & rating
14 trip report day 23-25: getting out
      14.1 day 23 – end
      14.2 day 24 – return to Spokane
      14.3 day 25 – flight home
15 final impressions, top 5, & budget

Moraine Lake

A stop in the Lake Louise region is typically accompanied with a visit to Moraine Lake as well, perhaps one of the most photographed lakes in the world at this point. In that respect, the small parking lot and heavy traffic will lead the road to close pretty early in the day. As such, we were up at 4 am to drive to Moraine Lake at 5 am on our last full day to catch sunrise at Moraine Lake. 5 am is the time you’d want to aim for should you want to drive up here. There is a shuttle service for the Lake Louise area if you don’t want to fight the early morning traffic (Parks Canada – suspended for 2020 due to COVID-19).

Once we were parked, we tried to nap for another hour since sunrise wasn’t until just before 7am. Most of the crowds set up at the mound just off the Consolation Lake trailhead for the sunrise pictures of the lake. Pretty soon, the main viewpoint was overrun with tourists with plenty ignoring the signs to stay on the paved path.

To prevent myself from making too many snarky comments, we decided to move to a different spot on the mound. It was pretty much the same view without too much crowds. Unfortunately for everyone, the cloud cover never lifted that morning.

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Alternatively, views from the banks Moraine Lake may just be as good.

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our 2011 visit to Moraine Lake

We considered several hikes (Parks Canada) in the Moraine Lake area including Wenkchemna Pass and Eiffel Lake (Hiking with Barry, alltrails), Sentinel Pass (A Wandering Foodie, alltrails), or especially the point to point hike over Sentinel Pass into Paradise Valley (Hiking & Walking, alltrails). But the cloud cover here and my wanting to show Meg Lake Louise as well dictated us saving these hikes for a future trip.

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hike information

  • name: Lake Louise, Beehives, and Plain of Six Glaciers loop
  • type: loop
  • distance: 13.5 miles (21.6 km)
  • elevation change: 3894 ft. (1187 m)
  • time: 6:14 hours (5:51 moving)
  • location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (google map directions)

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Our hike combined the 3 popular viewpoints in the Lake Louise Area, the Plain of Six Glacier Hike, Big Beehive, and Little Beehive. Each can be hiked separately as their own hike, the last of which was what we did in 2011. Again, there are more options in the area (Parks Canada).

Lake Louise has a larger parking lot, but you still want to get there early, before 7am was the estimated time given to us. Parks Canada also offers the option to shuttle up from the highway (suspended for 2020 due to COVID-19).

hike video

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hike report

Our hike started at the busy shores of Lake Louise in front of the Fairmont Hotel, so we didn’t stick around for long before heading for the Lake Agnes Trail. At least the skies had started to clear.

The trail starts off paved before giving away to a trail. However, the shear amount of hikers we found this time around may mean traffic jams ahead of you or letting way of hikers behind you. Many visitors here are not typical hikers so we would have to remind ourselves that they didn’t know the editcates of the trail, a theme very prevalent on our hike this time. It gets better as we went with hikers spreading out based on their own pace.

It was roughly 1.7 miles with an average 10.6% grade to reach the first point of interest, Mirror Lake. It was uneven though with a short 38.9% grade section and a few 23.4% grade sections. There were far more people here this time around.

The view of Big Beehive reflecting over a green pond.

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The next half mile was at a 14.8% grade up to Lake Agnes and the Tea House there. The lack of traffic from our first visit in 2011 may have been due to our hike being early in the season (June) as snow was still on the trail.

Just before our next destination, there is a nice waterfall from stream draining Lake Agnes.

Lake Agnes had been among my favorite viewpoints in June 2011 as there was a thing layer of ice still in the process of thawing out.

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Matt projecting his bada** nature in front of … nature in June 2011

2019 view wasn’t bad either, but just wasn’t as epic as I’d remembered.

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Neither was the ambiance at the teahouse.

We continued retracing my steps from all those years ago by first heading up to Little Beehive on the Little Beehive Trail. It was 0.6 miles with a 11.3% grade to reach the outlook, though you’ll get a better view on the outcrops along the way.

My last trip here as a bit different as Jared fired the first shots of the great Beehive snowball fight of 2011. Despite having the low ground to start, he overcame the odds to to put himself in prime position for the win.

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In the present we returned to Lake Agnes, but started to deviate from my previous hike. With the high snow in June 2011, we started our hike back here. This time we continued on the Big Beehive Trail and rounded the lake for about half a mile reaching the opposite side first. The weather had started to turn ominous as we reached the far side of Lake Agnes.

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The Big Beehive trail now started uphills with a series of switchbacks with an average grade of 27.4% to reach the backside of Big Beehive ridge. The moody weather did provide us with a nice rainbow for us to stare at when we stopped to catch our breath.

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Once we were on the ridge, it was another third of a mile to the shelter and viewpoint on a side trail. There were several groups here stopping for lunch and it is as good of a place as any. The trail here isn’t the clearest, but isn’t anything difficult as long as you continue along the ridge.

I especially liked the gloomy clouds and sprinkles played with the light.

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We returned to the junction and started down 0.7 mile descent at an average of -22.2% down the other side of the Big Beehive switchbacking through the forest with the first few steps especially steep at -48.2%. The Big Beehive Trail ends on a junction with the Highline Trail.

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We turned right on the Highline Trail and stayed on it for the next mile dipping down at .-8.1% grade and then starting back up around 6.1% grade. There are 2 junctions from the Highline Trail down to the Plain of Six Glacier Trail from when we turned onto it from the Big Beehive Trail, the first at 0.4 miles via a connector

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and the second when it joins the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail at the 1 mile mark. All along we could see the end of the valley ahead including Mount Lefroy.

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The Plain of Six Glacier Trail ascending to join the Highline Trail we were on

We just before we joined Plain of Six Glacier Trail, the Highline Trail goes over a a cool slab.

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Once we were on the Plain of Six Glacier Trail, it was 0.9 miles to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House with an elevation grade of 10.1%. The trail curves around a rocky wall and proceeds onto a moraine. The trail splits for horses and hikers, so stay on the hiking trail as it works up a couple switch backs.

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Similar to the Lake Agnes Tea House, it was a crowded mess at the Plain of Six Glacier Tea House as well.

We didn’t stay long and continued onward toward the outlook. The next quarter mile was over a rocky flat before we reached a sign indicating the trail was not maintained from here on.

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The trail would finish the final half mile uphill at average of 15.7% grade, with a max of 53% grade, curving onto the moraine. The view from here was more impressive here on the way down.

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The final view here is on the sloping scree of the moraine above the dirt covered Victoria Glacier. Mount lefroy is behind it with a small glacier on it. To the left of the mountain and more so behind it, there is a Lefroy Glacier. To our right, there is a hanging glacier hanging off of Mount Victoria, which we really didn’t have a view of since we were up against a rock face on it’s side.

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We hung out here for a few before heading back down.

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The total downhill was 2.6 miles at an average of -10.7% grade. It was a retracing of our steps until the junction where the Highline Trail left us as we continued down the Plain of the Six Glacier Trail. Near the end of our downhill, there were a few spots where you can get close the stream draining into Lake Louise, but we continued on to avoid the crowds we had passed.

For the final 2 miles or so to the parking lot, the trail would be flat as it rounds Lake Louise. It started by going on a wooden boardwalk over the wide delta at the head of Lake Louise.

Then it rose above the floodplain delta and the Fairmont hotel was now in view.

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On our other side, was a large rock face where climbers can do some top roping. There were clipins drilled into the wall here.

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The rest of the hike was a flat stroll around the lake, trying to dodge or pass the many tourist groups. We had to remind ourselves again that most on this section didn’t know hiking edicate. So we did our best just to enjoy the view of Lake Louise.

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final impressions & ratings

The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.

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views/experience: 3. I thought the best view of the hike was from Big Beehive overlooking Lake Louise.

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Little Beehive has a similar view, but more of a nostalgia point for me to hike to. The glaciers in the Plain of Six Glaciers might been the least interesting glacier we saw on our road trip and was plenty “dirty” with a covering on dirty on it. We didn’t have great sunshine then, so maybe it shines through on better days. The view down the valley was my favorite section of the hike.

All the quality put together really should push this hike closer to a 4 rating, but hordes of tourists on the trail, especially those that don’t know trail etiquette (NPS) or follow leave no trace (lnt.org), just doesn’t make it worth it. I typically don’t mind crowds and believe in sharing the best views and believe everyone should be able to enjoy the wonders of the world, however I just observed so much self centered behavior where they were impervious to fellow hikers and signs to stay on the trail that it really rubbed me wrong on this hike.  Maybe I’m just getting old. I personally don’t see myself returning to do this hike again anytime in the future. I would also suggest visiting the many other amazing hikes in the Canadian Rockies, especially during peak season in July or August.

difficulty: 3. Our entire loop ended up over 13 miles and 3800 ft of elevation change, so it can be a bit difficult. There were plenty of steep uphills and downhills that will make your thighs sore. The openness of the Highline and Plain of Six Glacier trails, especially on the moraine, can be draining in the sun and unpleasant in bad weather.

technical: 1. The trail is very well marked and very busy, so navigation isn’t a problem. The only technical aspect is the unmaintained moraine section at the end of the Plain of Six Glacier trail. However, it is very well worn and no scrambling was required.

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getting out

end of day 23

After Lake Louise, we had done our last miles on the trail. Meg was also done with her  shoes.

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After returning to Banff, our dinner plans involved the hole in the wall Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub (tripadvisor). It was cheap fried bar food with large portions.

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day 24 – return to Spokane, WA

The next morning, we ended up deciding on paying for the breakfast buffet at the former Delta Hotel. It wasn’t the cheapest, but it was the most convenient and would be a major meal for the day.

What we thought would be a long drive back to Spokane, Washington ended us being a lot longer as the border crossing back into the United States took a couple hours. That teaches us to cross during the normal day time. At least we were able to visit the duty free store to use the rest of our Canadian cash. Who knew Gretsky was good at making whiskey. The red wine cask aging definitely rubbed off on this whiskey providing for a pretty unique flavor. The gin was nice too.

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Once we were cross, it was getting to the late afternoon. We had planned to be in Spokane at this point and were planning to enjoy a night out in town. Instead we would be getting in late. So we opted to stop for a luner and found Joel’s Mexican Food in Sandpoint, Idaho (tripadvisor) along the way, just before they closed at 4pm. The tacos here were possibly the best food we had all trip.

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It was late evening when we finally reached the Hilton Garden Inn at Spokane Airport (tripadvisor). We decided to pay out of pocket for a final night for USD$149.21. The free shuttle service allow me to return the rental can that was due back before midnight. Our road trip came to an end with 2536.3 miles.

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day 25 – flight home

Our last day of the trip was a travel day back home. We woke up early and enjoyed a free breakfast as part of my Diamond Status through my Hilton Aspire Card (Frequent Miler Hilton Honors guide). We had to eat quickly though as our flight was early in the morning.

After a free shuttle to the Spokane Airport (GEG), we actually ended up with more time that we thought, even with checking our bags. Our flights included a connection Phoenix (PHX) and a stop in Indianapolis (IND) without us needed to get off before reaching our destination in Baltimore (BWI). It was a long day of flying, but an uneventful end to our trip.

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