A trail just isn’t worth hiking, unless there’s something rewarding at the end. Sometimes, it’s a great viewpoint, other times it’s a waterfall or a lake. But the hike to Lake Agnes and the Little Beehive has all of those things, plus something else that I’d never found at the end of a trail: a teahouse.
The hike to Lake Agnes begins along the Lakeshore Trail, a few hundred meters from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel. Take the trail to the right…
… and you’ll quickly start climbing uphill. It’s a steady climb that’s tiring, but not extremely difficult. There’s not a lot to see for the first 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) since the trail is mostly surrounded by trees.
There is one break in the trees about halfway up the hill, at the trail’s first big switchback. At this point…
… you have a nice view of Lake Louise and the mountains on the southeast side of the lake.
After 2.7 kilometers of uphill hiking, there’s a good place to take a break at Mirror Lake. Its name suggests something a bit more beautiful — when I visited, it was basically a shallow pool, that wasn’t very mirror-like at all. Mirror Lake was surrounded by mud…
… and as I walked around, I spotted these tracks, possibly from a black bear?
I think this is Caddo Peak and Mount Aberdeen, both of which are on the south side of Lake Louise. Mount Aberdeen tops out at 3,152 meters (10,341 feet). Some of the most impressive peaks are to the south of Lake Louise, which is unfortunate, because it’s tough to photograph them with the sun behind them.
Beyond Mirror Lake, it’s only .8 kilometers (1/2 mile) uphill to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Along the way, you have a great view of the Big Beehive (obviously named because of its shape). Once you get to the tea house, you can continue on to the top of the Big Beehive, but it’s a 1.6 kilometer hike (one way).
The Lake Agnes Tea House, and the waterfall directly below the tea house, come into view a few minutes before you arrive. The trail leads up to the middle of the waterfall, and a staircase takes you the rest of the way to the lake.
There’s just enough room at the middle of the waterfall to sit on a rock, relax, and take a picture of the upper cascade. It’s always great to photograph a waterfall on a cloudy day.
It’s not as great to take a picture of a sparkling green mountain lake during dreary weather. On a clear day, I’m certain Lake Agnes would be absolutely stunning. At times, you can catch a nice reflection of Mount Whyte (center) and Mount Niblock (right) in the water.
The Lake Agnes Tea House is located at the edge of the lake, just above the waterfall.
In addition to some colorful tea kettles outside, there’s a porch for outdoor dining, but it was too cold…
… so I stepped inside and waited for a table. The crowded tea house has no electricity or running water. A helicopter delivers supplies once a year, but any fresh food must be carried up the mountain by the staff. I was hoping for a hot bowl of soup, but the only thing on the menu was split pea (why would you make such an unpopular soup your only choice? C’mon, keep a pot of chicken noodle on the stove, too!).
There were plenty of different kinds of tea available, but I’m not a tea drinker. So, I opted for a cup of hot cocoa and a serving of banana bread. Both were surprisingly good: the banana bread was more like bread and less like cake than any I’ve had before, and the hot chocolate had a distinctive spice to it.
Since the tea house will almost always be crowded, you can expect to share a table and make some new friends during your lunch. Barry and Mary from Atlanta were nice enough to invite me to join them. Oddly enough, I ran into them again the next day at Takkakaw Falls. There’s nothing more bizarre than being 3,000 miles from home, in a place where absolutely no one should know you, and hearing someone call out your name.
Chalk boards outside the tea house answer some of the most frequently asked questions, and display the menu. Remember, cash only! (In case you’re wondering, my bread and cocoa cost about $8 (CAD), with tip).
There has been a teahouse at Lake Agnes since the turn of the 20th century. The current one, however, was built much more recently (in 1981). It holds the honor of being the highest situated tea room in Canada.
Barry and Mary had just returned from a hike up to the Little Beehive, and they convinced me that I needed to go, too. So that’s where I headed next.
The trail to the top of Little Beehive involves yet another uphill climb, but after taking a break at the tea house, it wasn’t difficult. The trail is 1 kilometer (6/10 of a mile), but there’s a shortcut on the way back that connects with Mirror Lake, so you don’t have to return to the tea house.
Near the top of Little Beehive, there’s a good view of Mirror Lake (which still doesn’t look much like a mirror), and beyond it, Lake Louise and the Bow Valley.
The old foundation of an observation tower can still be found at the top of Little Beehive.
The view here is spectacular. Even though it was cloudy, gloomy, and cold, I was captivated by what I could see, looking up and down the Bow Valley.
It seems like wherever you hike in Banff National Park, you end up with a view of Highway 1. The same holds true here. This is the view looking north. In addition to the road, you can see (from left to right) Mount Daly (3,152 meters), the Waputik Range (including Waputik Peak, at 2,755 meters), and Mount Hector (3,394 meters).
Mount Richardson (on the left, 3,086 meters) and Mount Ptarmigan (3,059 meters) also stand out to the east.
And of course, there are great views of Lake Louise.
On the way back down, I snapped a few more pictures along the way, of the Big Beehive…
… and some of the other mountains that tower over Lake Louise. I made it back to the lake 5 hours after I left — of course, that includes time at the tea house and at the top of Little Beehive.