Plain of Six Glaciers Hiking Guide
A classic hike in Banff National Park, Plain of Six Glaciers, starts on the shoreline of world-famous Lake Louise, climbs up to a traditional teahouse and finishes with stunning glacier views.
LAKE LOUISE: A PLACE WHERE THE TREK STARTS
Lake Louise, where this trek begins is one of the most famous lakes, if not the most famous one in the Canadian Rockies. The number of visitors grows every year, and the parking lot is very often full. But this should not dissuade you from hiking to Plain of Six Glaciers, because only a fraction of visitors have enough time, enthusiasm or physical ability to finish this trek, and this place sees a surprisingly small number of tourists when we compare it with Lake Louise itself.
Still, do not expect to have it just for yourself, especially during summer months, but what we want to say, it would be a shame to be discouraged by crowds on the shoreline.
We believe that Lake Louise is on your itinerary anyway while traveling in the Canadian Rockies and Plain of Six Glaciers is a great way how to stretch your legs and see more from this beautiful mountainous piece of land.
This moderately challenging hike has its rightful place on our list of all time favorites treks and belongs among one of the most classic hikes in Banff National Park. That's why we did this trek not only once, but twice.
WHEN TO HIKE TO PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS
As we mentioned above, we hiked to the Plain of Six Glaciers twice. Once in late June and once in mid-September. Those months basically define the summer hiking season in the Canadian Rockies. In late June, we still had a bit of snow on the trail, but the path was passable.
Generally, between October and May, you can expect to snow in the Canadian mountains. Always check the situation in the visitors center in Lake Louis or Banff if the trail is open as outside the summer season it can be impassable and there is also a risk of avalanches.
HOW TO GET TO LAKE LOUISE
Lake Louise parking lot can be full, and it is annoying to whirl around in circles and wait for others to leave an empty space. If you don't want to waste your time, take a free shuttle bus from Lake Louise overflow parking lot. The bus runs every 15 minutes from mid-May to mid-October.
SAFETY & DISTANCE
This area is known for its population of bears, and it is recommended to hike with a party of at least four people and always carry a bear spray (read our advice on how to stay safe in bear country). The hike should take you anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the trail you choose.
You can either walk to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, climb a bit further to the Abbot Pass viewpoint to get nicer views of hanging glaciers and go the same way back, or you can return via Lake Agnes Tea House.
Don't forget to dress accordingly, as the weather here can change any minute. If you are going up to the viewpoint of Abbot Pass, and back the same way, it is approximately 14 km. When returning via Lake Agnes Teahouse, add another 4 km. The total elevation gain is 420 meters, and you will gain the most of it in the last section of this trail.
Tea House has a seasonal operation. It opens usually in mid-June, depending on weather conditions and closes in mid-October. Only cash is accepted, and you can buy some drinks and snacks. The original teahouse was built in 1924 by Swiss guides who were employed by Canadian Pacific Railway. It was a rest stop for mountain climbers on the way to Abbot Pass. There are also three cabins, but they serve as a lodging for teahouse staff, and it is not possible to spend a night here.
HIKING THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL
The beginning of this trip is an easy walk along the lake shoreline, here it can be a bit busy, but no worries as most of the people will turn back sooner or later. Once you get to the far end, the trail starts to climb steadily up through the forest. Trees thin quickly, and you can admire open grand views of the Lake Louise from the opposite side. You will pass beneath cliffs that are a popular spot for rock climbing.
There are a few intersections along the path, but all of them are well-signposted, and you shouldn't get lost as this trek is pretty straightforward. Once you get above the treeline, the trail starts to climb a bit steeper, but it shouldn't be a problem for moderately fit hikers. After 5km you'll reach the Teahouse, where you can relax with a hot drink, but the best is yet about to come.
Another 1.5 km relatively flat journey will take you to the highlight of this trip, Abbot Pass Viewpoint. Apart from Abbot Pass, you can see Victoria Glacier, Mt. Victoria and Mt. Lefroy.
The view of massive rock wall carved by the glaciers thousands of years ago, the look of the valley and scattered snow-capped peaks are unforgettable.
When you look closely at Abbot Pass, the furthest on the right, you can see the mountaineer's hut at a distance built in 1922. This hut is still in use for mountaineers until today.
From this point, hikers usually turn back and return to the starting point in the same way. We would strongly recommend you to walk back via Highline trail to make a full 18 km loop.
From viewpoint return to Teahouse and here start to descend to the first intersection where turn left to Little Beehive, Big Beehive, and Lake Agnes.
This section is quite demanding as you'll have to climb up again the rocky and muddy trail, but once you'll reach Big Beehive with a stunning panorama of Lake Louis and then Little Beehive offering views of the Bow Valley, you'll know it was worth it.
Now the trail goes only downhill via several switchbacks to Lake Agnes with another Teahouse where you can buy a refreshment, and from this point, it is an undemanding stroll down back to Lake Louise.
Are you looking for accommodation in Lake Louise? We would recommend you to stay in Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the lake shore offering panoramatic views of Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier.
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