Plain of Six Glaciers
Banff National Park
Time: 7 hours
Distance: 14 kms (return)
Elevation Gain: 420 m
How To Get There: Heading west from Calgary, follow the Transcanada until you get to the Lake Louise turnoff. Follow the signs for Lake Louise and do your best to find a parking spot. The trail is well signed. Start by heading on the paved path to the right of Lake Louise – if you’re facing the lake. The trail hugs Lake Louise for the first two kilometres. When you reach the end the of the lake, you'll find the official trailhead.
The forecast was calling for a gorgeous day of plus 28 in Lake Louise. You know it's a hot day when even Lake Louise's temperature is higher than 25 celsius. So I decided to take one of my favorite hiking partners with me, my mom, and we set off for the Six Glaciers Teahouse. I had already managed to visit the Lake Agnes Teahouse so I was excited to check the other teahouse off the list.
The trail started like most hikes in Lake Louise. Crowded. We were lucky enough to get a parking spot about 1 km away from the lake at the Continental Divide. From there, we fought through a heavy pack of tourists to move around the lake to our right, staying close to the lake itself itself of turning right again at the fork (this takes you to Lake Agnes). The first 2 km of the hike is on flat ground.
It didn't take us long to get to a point where we had a good view back at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
It took quite a while before the tourists began to fade away. It wasn't until we were about half way across the lake that we weren't practically walking over someone else's hiking boots.
We finally reached the end of the lake and made it to the official trailhead for our hike (along with a few others).
Stepping onto the trail takes you almost immediately to a rock wall, which is very popular for rock climbing enthusiasts. Of course, you don't walk up the wall, but instead take a slight left turn so that you are moving perpendicular to the lake.
Being on the completely opposite side of the lake is a bit surreal for someone who has been at the Chateau many times but never from so far away. The muddy swells at the bottom create a stark contrast to the turquoise blue beyond it.
Pretty quickly the trail takes you away from the lake and through the valley bottom that was carved out by the aforementioned glaciers so many years ago.
The trail remains completely flat as it travels across a bridge that takes you over the run off from the stream north of the lake.
A heavy forest of pine was our guide as we walked along the well-maintained and wide trail.
There is a short portion of the trail where you meet up with the stream and are able to take a short break along the bank. There were quite a few people hanging out at the stream's edge so we took a few pictures and kept going.
The first hour of the trail was thankfully spent in the shade of the the large trees towering above us which provided a nice reprieve as the elevation began to gradually gain upwards.
The reprieve didn't last long though and before we knew it, most of the trees shrunk down to shrubs and bushes, leaving us exposed to the bright sun above. On a hot day like this, it's important to make sure you have lots of water with you! The trail remained well-maintained but the higher we got, the more rocks began to jut out.
There were also a lot of gorgeous wildflowers along the way, including this beautiful yellow columbine.
About 500 m past the lake, our slow ascent rewarded us with our first view of what was to come as we were finally able to see the wall of mountains we were heading towards.
After another 500 m, there is a fork in the road where if you go to the right, you'll be able to head towards the Big Beehive, Contintental Divide or the Highline Trail. But our objective was the Six Glaciers so we continued going straight.
We finally reached the portion of the trail where we were completely exposed to the valley below us. It made for good views of the glacier run-off that trickled through the deposits.
The longer we hiked, the more narrow the trail became.
Did I mention that it was a hot day?
Several times the trail was interrupted by an avalanche chute that was doubling as a trickling stream.
It was July but there was still a lot of remaining snow from the long winter. At one point, we had to walk over the snow, which was slick from the heat. Several hikers in front of us almost fell on their butts! Talking to other people on the trail, it sounds like it's fairly common for snow to stay on the trail almost all-year round because of Lake Louise's high elevation.
A second fork in the road provided yet another opportunity to hike up to the Big Beehive.
Soon we were moving closely to the rock wall on our right with a deep slope to the left. The trail was adventurous and uneven as we were walking on a mixture of protruding stone and sporadic wild grass.
It was a really cool feeling to move along the rock wall until we could start to see nothing but the miles of rock deposit, telling us we were getting ever closer to the actual glaciers.
The trail then moves along so that it becomes a part of the deposits, rising slightly above the rest of the pile of rocks surrounding it.
I'm not sure if it's recent, but the trail then becomes slightly confusing due to an apparent avalanche that runs over and devours a small section. Instead of a simple path, the trail suddenly becomes a disarray of debris.
At the end of the debris, the seemingly more obvious trail that moves off to the left is actually for the horses (and does not lead to the teahouse) while the trail that moves up and to the right is for the hikers. Several hikers were tricked by this so just something to keep in mind!
The sun was high at this point which was unfortunate since we were gaining the most elevation at this point. Several switchbacks were on the agenda and most of them were climbed without the shade.
Once the three switchbacks had been ascended, we continued straight forward, still moving upwards but being thankfully (and once again) guided by larger pine trees. It was apparent we were getting closer to the teahouse as the amount of hikers on the trail was beginning to double.
As we rounded the last corner, we were greeted by a beautiful stream, park benches and stunning mountains.
The trail had turned into a well-kept pathway of flat cobblestone.
A sign indicate to visitors which way the teahouse, the bathroom and the lookout trail is. I was a little thrown off by just how many people were at the location as I had been told that Lakes Agnes was the busier of the two trails. Most likely the warm temperatures had brought out more people than usual.
I was actually really impressed by the size of the teahouse itself. It's very well kept and draped with a varied color of flags. Mom and I walked around the balcony quickly to get a good look of the place but didn't stay long as there were no empty tables. Some people were even eating and standing.
After checking out the teahouse, we continued east until we reached the bridge that crossed over the gorgeous creek. This was where the beginning of the glacier lookout was.
The trail to the lookout starts off much more roughly then the beginning of the teahouse trail. There are a sea of boulders to navigate around.
When the trail moves into the forest, it smooths out slightly. For the first while, the trail is completely flat.
But then a sign indicates that the trail is no longer maintained from that point on and the trail suddenly becomes a bit more rocky and "jutty" (it's a word...).
Gorgeous green foliage surrounds the loose dirt path, making us feel like we were walking through a jungle.
Looking back at how far we had already come provided a gorgeous shot of Lake Louise below.
Once the trees had disappeared, we were treated to an amazing scene of various wildflowers. The mixed colors of yellow, white and purple were a treat for the eyes and they smelled amazing.
The stones along the trail got bigger and soon we found ourselves having to carefully pick our way around, making sure not to twist our ankles as we hiked upwards.
And then, just like that, we reached the lookout point. Not only could we see the lake, but we were also given a great view of the Victoria Glacier.
Continuing along the trail takes you to a small waterfall that runs over the cliff an down into the glacier run-off.
Though the extra 300 m of hiking is difficult, it provides an even better (and closer) look at the glacier.
Mom stopped at the bottom of the slope and I continued upwards. The last part of this hike is more of a scramble as the gravel is extremely lose and you need to be careful with your footing.
I moved up and sat on the cliffs that are across from the waterfall and I felt like the queen of the castle. Plus, the spray from the waterfall felt amazing in the heat.
After taking in another view of the glacier, valley and waterfall, I climbed back down and joined mom back on the main trail.
One of my favorite parts of this hike is the fact that the scenery changes so often and the views are great for a moderate effort. The downside is the same as any hike in Lake Louise, as the crowds can be a bit off-putting. Still, there is a reason people come from all over the world to check out what this area has to offer! 10/10 would recommend!