The Big Beehive hike in Lake Louise is one of the most beloved hikes in Banff National Park, combining a trip to a historic tea house with a climb to an impressive viewpoint overlooking Lake Louise.
Big Beehive Trail presents a nice mix of scenery and hiking experiences starting with a moderate uphill hike in the forest, then a scenic lakeshore walk, and ending with a challenging switchback climb to the top of Big Beehive.
This hike offers some flexibility in terms of route too, as it can be done as an out and back or as a loop. The hike can also be extended with a trip to the Little Beehive, Devil’s Thumb, or the Plain of Six Glaciers.
Big Beehive Hike
Distance: 10.4 km round trip
Difficulty: Moderate- Hard
Elevation Gain: 564 m
Surface: Paved to start then a mix of dirt and rock
Trail Type: Out and back (as described here) but can be done as a loop
Time: 4-5 hours (with breaks at the tea house and Big Beehive)
Trailhead: In front of Chateau Lake Louise, along the lakeshore
Like many other Lake Louise hikes, the Big Beehive hike starts beside Chateau Lake Louise, a short distance from the parking lot. You’ll find the first trail sign just after the bridge at the creek flowing out of Lake Louise. From this starting point, the Big Beehive is approximately 5.2 km and the Lake Agnes Tea House is 3.8 km.
The hike starts with an easy stroll on the paved path between Lake Louise and the chateau. After passing by the hotel, make a slight right onto Lake Agnes Trail.
The first part of the hike to Big Beehive follows Lake Agnes Trail through the forest and up to the lakeside tea house. The trail climbs continuously, but not steeply, on old pavement then packed dirt with some exposed rocks. Since this part of the hike is only moderately challenging, you’ll likely see many people on their way to the tea house, unless you got an early start.
There’s nothing notable on the trail until about 2 km into the hike, when you’ll get your first glimpse of Lake Louise through a small opening in the forest. As nice as this change of scenery is, it doesn’t compare to the view from the top of Big Beehive.
Continuing upwards through the forest, you’ll eventually arrive at Mirror Lake. Here you can see the Big Beehive overlooking and reflecting in this small, emerald lake.
After Mirror Lake, continue hiking in the forest on Lake Agnes Trail. A short while later you’ll come to a junction with Little Beehive Trail. If you’d like to visit the Little Beehive before the tea house, go right here. If not keep straight and enjoy views of the Big Beehive.
Soon you’ll arrive at a pretty waterfall backed by the Big Beehive. From here, go up the wooden staircase to reach the tea house on the shore of Lake Agnes.
Lake Agnes is a beautiful spot to take a snack break before heading out on the second stage of the Big Beehive hike. Just don’t expect some peace and quiet around the tea house in the summer- it’s a very popular place!
The next segment of the Big Beehive hike is far more scenic than the first, since Big Beehive Trail follows closely along the north shore of Lake Agnes. Not only does Big Beehive Trail offer unobstructed views of the lake, you also can see Mount Whyte and the Devil’s Thumb as you walk towards the end of Lake Agnes.
Once you reach the end of the lake there are some large rocks to cross over. A lot of the rocks have flat tops, so traversing them isn’t too difficult.
Next up, the trail crosses a scree-covered slope at the west end of Lake Agnes. This is a great vantage point for admiring the gorgeous hanging valley that Lake Agnes is nestled in. The tea house can be seen at the end of the lake, dwarfed by this grand valley.
Now comes the hardest part of the Big Beehive hike- the switchbacks. Climbing and weaving up the mountainside, these switchbacks make you earn the view that awaits you at the Big Beehive. Don’t hesitate to take some breaks here, especially since Lake Agnes looks fantastic from above.
After conquering the switchbacks, you’ll reach a flat area with a 4-way intersection of trails. Right leads to Devil’s Thumb, straight goes down to the Highline Trail, and left is the final section of Big Beehive Trail.
Heading left onto Big Beehive, the trail gets rockier and less defined the further you go. You have to hike over some protruding rocks and there are ups and downs along the route, but no significant elevation changes.
There are several places on Big Beehive where you can stop to marvel at Lake Louise from above. Basically anywhere there’s an opening between trees you can see the lake. Be very careful though because a lot of these viewpoints are along the cliff. Don’t get too close to the edge and check for loose rocks before stepping or sitting.
Near the end of the trail there’s a covered shelter with a bench. This is the original Beehive shelter that was built in 1916 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The company built the shelter so that their wealthy clientele could find refuge in case of bad weather.
The shelter offers a comfortable place to sit, but you can’t see the lake from inside it because trees block the view.
Since there’s not an “official” viewpoint that’s safely contained by railings, you need to find your own spots to view the lake from. To make the most of your hike to Big Beehive, try to find a couple different places where you can safely sit and admire the lake. Some spots offer better views of the chateau than others, but overall you’ll find plenty of places with a stunning panorama of Lake Louise.
Once you’re satisfied with your time on Big Beehive, go back the way you came. There’s a nice view of Devil’s Thumb and other peaks on the return hike to the junction at the top of the switchbacks.
When you arrive at the 4-way junction, you can decide to extend your hike by proceeding onto the unmarked Devil’s Thumb Trail or going all the way to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. If neither of those are of interest, you’ll have to decide on a route to get back to Chateau Lake Louise.
For the return hike you have two options- retrace your steps down the switchbacks to Lake Agnes (out and back route), or head downhill into the forest then take the Highline Trail back to Mirror Lake (loop route). On both choices you will be redoing part of the Lake Agnes Trail.
In regards to scenery, the out and back route is far more interesting. Even though you’ve already seen Lake Agnes, it’s still enjoyable to experience it from a different perspective. The loop route is forested, but the benefit of this option is that it’s not as busy.
As far as difficulty, the loop route is slightly longer to get to Mirror Lake and has more elevation change, both in loses and gains.
Either way, both return options have something to offer and can be an enjoyable end to the Big Beehive hike.
Review of the Big Beehive Hike
Big Beehive Trail is a great option for people who want to experience stunning alpine scenery without having to embark on a grueling, difficult hike. Although the Big Beehive hike does have some challenging sections, it’s overall only moderately difficult for the average hiker.
This is a popular trail so you can expect to see a lot of people on the hike, but there is a noticeable decrease in traffic after the tea house. For that reason, along with the unobstructed scenery, the journey along Big Beehive Trail is more enjoyable than Lake Agnes Trail.
As beautiful as the second half of this hike is, the view of Lake Louise from the top of Big Beehive steals the show. Once you see it for yourself, you’ll understand why Big Beehive has become a classic hike in the Canadian Rockies!
Tips for Hiking Big Beehive Trail
Location: Big Beehive Trail is located at Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
Getting to the Big Beehive Trailhead: After you reach the hamlet of Lake Louise via Highway 1 or Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway), drive uphill on Lake Louise Drive to Chateau Lake Louise. The hiking trails start from the chateau.
Best Time to Hike to Big Beehive: The Big Beehive hike is best done in July and August but can be completed in late spring and early fall if clear of snow.
- Winter hiking is not advised because of avalanche risk.
- Lake Louise is extremely popular and the parking lot fills up in the summer months. Arriving early in the morning and/or on a weekday can help beat the crowds.
Facilities: There is a washroom building at the Lake Louise parking lot and an outhouse at the Lake Agnes Tea House.
- You can buy food and drinks at the Lake Agnes tea house. The tea house is open 8:00 am- 5:00 pm daily from June to early October. They only accept cash.
Visitor Guidelines, Safety and Etiquette: There are no garbage cans, even at the tea house, so all garbage must be carried out. Do not litter your waste along the trail.
- This hike is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it.
- This trail passes through avalanche zones that are marked by signs. Winter hiking beyond Mirror Lake is not recommended. Avalanches can happen from November to June.
What to Bring: Sturdy hiking shoes with ankle support are recommended because of the rocky, uneven terrain in places. Hiking poles can take some stress off your knees when descending from Big Beehive.
- Weather in the mountains can change quickly so come prepared with layers and rain gear.
You may also enjoy these other things to do near Lake Louise village:
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