It’s not a complete secret, but many people are not aware there is a second tea house in Lake Louise. In the summer months hundreds of people visit the Lake Agnes Tea House each day, but only a fraction of those numbers hike to the Plain Of Six Glaciers.
The trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House takes you up close to the heart of Mount Lefroy, Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. This is one of our favorite hikes in the Lake Louise area. It offers incredible views, opportunities to see wildlife and best of all the option to relax with a cup of hot tea. It is a moderately challenging hike that can be accomplished by people of average fitness.
The first few kilometers of the route is along the easy and relatively flat Lake Louise shoreline trail. Although you won’t have the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail to yourself in the summer months, you will leave the vast majority of the lake crowds behind you.
At the end of the lake a delta that has been created from silt deposited by the glacier melt. This glacier silt or rock flour is what the light reflects off of in the lake and gives it the beautiful turquoise colour.
The trail has a small hill to overcome and then as it corners you will pass beneath tall quartzite cliffs that are a popular spot for rock climbing. Just past the cliff faces a sign marks “End Of Nordic Ski Trail,” from this point the route starts to climb up into the forest. This is an area with avalanche chutes. Caution needs to be taken in the winter months and early hiking season.
There is nothing particularly difficult about the rest of the hike, but in this second half of the trail is where most of the nearly 400 meters of elevation gain occurs. From this point the route climb through a narrow valley towards Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria. As you start to get above the treeline and make your way along the valley ridge you can look back at Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Hotel. The little dark specks on the lake are canoes. When you reach a fork in the trail keep to the right, the left route is for the horse tours that can be booked through Brewster Stables.
The wildlife that you may encounter along the hike are Hoary marmots, Chipmunks, Squirrels, Pika, Mountain Goats and Grizzly Bears. The Mountain Goats tend to be on the steep mountain cliffs near the approach to the tea house.
If you spot a grizzly its hopefully off in the distance, such as this one we saw feeding on a grassy slope. They can be anywhere along the route but are more commonly spotted near the back of the lake or near the rushing waters of Louise Creek.
Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau hotel gets smaller and smaller as you climb higher in the valley, finally appearing like a small dot in the distance.
Along a second ridge the trail passes along spots of grass, moss and sometimes summer patches of snow. This section can be muddy or slippery. There are steel cables that have been bolted into the rock to hold onto if necessary.
It’s only the final set of switchbacks near the ascent to the tea house that are significantly steep. As you get closer you’ll bump into people on their return who will keep telling you “you’re almost there!” Keep patient and have a sense of humour as you continue to hear this over and over for the next half hour or more. The people coming downhill tend to forget how much quicker they are covering ground compared to those going uphill.
It can get tiring, but just take your time and stop for rests as needed. This is the final descent and by this time you will be comforted in knowing that a nice cup of tea or lemonade and homemade treats are within very close reach.
As the trail comes to an end it goes through the forest to an alpine grove and opens up to a meadow where the tea house sits. Just prior to reaching the tea house there is an area with several benches where hikers can relax and enjoy the surrounding mountain views.
We tend to be slow hikers that stop often to rest and to take far too many photographs along the way. With about an hour spent at the tea house and an additional hour to go to the Abbot Pass viewpoint our total time to do this hike was 7 hours. We didn’t start until 2pm and returned back to the lake at 9pm just as the sunlight was starting to set.
The Plain Of Six Glaciers Tea House Information And Hours Of Operation
The original tea house was built in 1924 by Swiss guides employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was a rest stop for mountain climbers making their way to Abbots Pass. The name Plain of Six Glaciers comes from the hanging glaciers of Mount Aberdeen, Lefroy and Victoria, as well as the Lower Victoria and Lefroy glaciers and the hanging glacier on Popes Peak. Three additional cabins were built in 1927 to house hikers overnight. These cabins are now used for sleeping quarters for teahouse staff.
- Seasonal Operation: Opens in mid to late June or early July depending on the conditions. It generally stays open through the month of September to mid-October for the Canada Thanksgiving holiday. (weather permitting)
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 9am to 6pm in July and August. June, September and October 9am to 5pm.
- Accepts cash only! There’s an ATM machine in the lower level of the Fairmont Chateau hotel accessible from the lake side entrance.
Sitting in the tea house after a few hours of hiking is a real treat. Similar to the Lake Agnes tea house, it has no electricity or running water. Everything is prepared daily on site and cooked with propane stoves.
At the beginning of the season a helicopter flies in to stock the tea house with supplies such as flour and sugar. Additional goods are brought up frequently packed in by horses or with the employees when they come in each week for their shifts. The staff do five day shifts and hike in and out on the same trail as the tourists.
While you are sitting on the veranda of the tea house you can enjoy views of the glaciers, although you can’t see all six of them from here. It is the perfect vantage point to witness avalanches which are common in the early summer months. You’re likely to hear an avalanche before you see it. Listen for a thunderous sound and then look towards the glaciers to see a spectacular dust cloud of snow as pieces of ice tumble down the mountain.
Hike The Extra Distance To The Abbot Pass Viewpoint For Even Better Views
Taking an additional 1.3 km trail past the tea house along a lateral moraine arrives at the Abbot Pass viewpoint. It covers 50 additional meters of elevation and will take approximately one hour return trip from the tea house. We had a pleasant hike along the moraine, but we have been told it can get quite windy.
From here you can look down across the crevasses of the Lower Victoria Glacier. It also allows you to get within very close view of the hanging glaciers on top of Mount Victoria. This is what you were looking at way back from the front shore of Lake Louise.
You can see moraines left behind hundred of years ago by the Lefory and Victoria glaciers. There is little of the Mount Lefroy glacier left today, just a small amount of ice remains at the base of the mountain.
The photo just doesn’t do any justice to the glacier. It’s full of massive crevasses that can be up several meters wide.
Continuing along the lateral moraine.
You can keep going further along the moraine and get even closer to the glacier, but it starts to become very steep and has loose rock. We didn’t feel comfortable to continue on.
You can make out the red backpack of the gentleman that continued ahead of us.
A climber by the name of Phillip Stanley Abbot was one of the first recorded North American mountaineer fatalities. He fell to his death in 1896 while trying to climb Mount Lefroy. This incident led to the Canadian Pacific company hiring their first two professional Swiss mountain guides that could lead visiting climbers safely to the peaks.
In 1922 a hut was constructed by the CP Swiss guides in at the top of Abbot’s Pass using stones from the pass. It still stands in its original form. It was used as an overnight shelter for mountaineers climbing the pass which is named for Philip Stanley Abbot.
Today the hut is still a popular hiking destination that is operated by the Alpine club of Canada. It is the second highest permanent, habitable structure in Canada. It sleeps up to 24 people and has an equipped kitchen with propane burners and lights. It is rarely accessed from the Lake Louise side, there’s a much safer route coming in from the other side of the mountain in Yoho National Park in the province of B.C.
The Abbot Hut appears as a tiny dark speck on top of Abbott’s Pass which sits between Mount Victoria on the right and Mount Lefroy to the left. The pass is also called the “death trap” due to the avalanches and falling rocks as well as the dangerous hidden crevasses near the top.
Hiking Tips For Plain Of Six Glaciers
- The temperatures can change dramatically as elevation increases, bring layers to adjust as needed.
- The majority of the hike is exposed, in the summer months it can get quite hot.
- Bring lots of water and clothing to keep covered up or wear sunscreen.
- Hiking shoes are the recommended footwear
- The tea house only accepts cash as payment, either Canadian or U.S. dollars
- You are entering bear territory, it’s advised to carry bear spray. Make noise as you hike, especially around blind corners and at the back of the lake near the rushing waters of Louise Creek where bears are frequently spotted.
Directions And Information For The Plain Of Six Glaciers Trail
From the Lake Louise village just off the Trans Canada Highway, take Lake Louise Drive uphill for 4 kilometers to the Lake Louise public parking lot. Cross Louise Creek on the foot bridge and make your way to the front of the lake where the Chateau Hotel sits. Follow the shoreline trail to the back of the lake where it connects up with the Plain Of Six Glaciers Trail.
- Distance: 5.5km’s one way (3.4 miles)
- Time: anywhere from 4 to 6 hours return trip
- Elevation Gain: 370 meters (1215 ft)
- Maximum Elevation: 2100 meters (6890 ft)
Loop Hike To Both The Plain Of Six Glaciers And Lake Agnes Tea Houses
You can connect the Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers tea house trails via the Highline trail to form a 14.6 km loop. It will take a minimum of 5 hiking hours to complete, not including stops at the tea houses.
The trail can be taken in either direction starting with the Plain of Six Glaciers or Lake Agnes Tea House. Some people prefer to go to Lake Agnes first then cross over to the Plain Of Six Glaciers. This way you get to see continuous glimpses of Lake Louise as you descend back down from the Plain Of Six Glaciers. Take note that the high line trail does require a steep and strenuous climb over the Big Beehive summit.