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 spot 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.
There is nothing particularly difficult about the rest of the hike, but it does cover 400 meters of elevation over a series of switchbacks. It’s only the final set of switchbacks near the ascent to the tea house that are significantly steeper. It can get tiring, take your time and stop for rests as needed.
Where the trail reaches the end of the lake there is a delta that has been created from silt deposited by the glacier melt water.
From here the trail passes beneath 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.
Looking back as you start to make your way along the valley ridge there is a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Hotel. The little dark specks on the lake are canoes.
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.
Hopefully if you spot a grizzly it is off in the distance, such as this one we saw feeding on a grassy slope. Which is just fine with us, we would rather see them from afar. They can be anywhere along the route but are more commonly spotted near the back of the lake near the delta and the rushing waters of Louise Creek.
As you get closer to the tea house you’ll find people returning 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 the hikers going uphill.
From the valley ridge you can look back at Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau as it gets smaller and smaller, finally appearing like a small dot in the distance.
Along a second ridge the trail continues alongside spots of grass, moss and sometimes even summer patches of snow. Some of the sections can be muddy or slippery.
At the end of the final switchbacks the trail climbs through the forest to an alpine grove and finally to the tea house.
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, stopping to rest often and to take 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, it took us 7 hours in total to do this hike. We didn’t start until 2pm and returned back to the lake at 9pm just as the sunlight was starting to diminish.
The Plain Of Six Glaciers Tea House
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 en route 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.
- Seasonally Operation: July and August, and into September as weather permits.
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 9am to approximately 4:30pm
- Serves: Sandwiches, soup, chips and hummus, scones, cake, lemonade and tea.
- Accepts Cash Only, either Canadian and U.S. There is an ATM in the lower level of the Fairmont Chateau.
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 on site and cooked with propane stoves.
At the beginning of the season a helicopter makes a trip in to stock the tea house with supplies such as flour and sugar. Additional goods are brought up by horses or packed in by the employees each week. The staff do five day shifts and hike in on the same trail as the tourists. They sleep in cabins surrounding the tea house.
While you are sitting on the veranda of the tea house you are at the perfect vantage point to witness avalanches. They are particularly 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
The Abbot Pass sits between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy. You can hike an additional 1.5 km’s past the tea house along a lateral moraine to the Abbot Pass viewpoint. It covers 50 additional meters of elevation and will take approximately one hour return trip to and from the tea house.
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. You can continue further along the moraine and get even closer to the glacier, but it starts to become very steep and has loose rock. We did not feel comfortable to continue on.
At the top of Abotts Pass sits a hut that was also constructed by the CP Railway’s Swiss guides. Using stones from the pass it was built in 1922 and 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. He was the first North American mountaineering fatality when he fell to his death during the first attempt to ascend Mount Lefroy in 1896.
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 known as the death trap due to falling avalanches of rock and ice. A much easier route is used on the other side of the mountains in Yoho National Park in the province of British Columbia.
In the photo below you can see the Abbot Hut that appears as a tiny speck on top of Abbott’s Pass.
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: 2 hours one way
- 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 highline trail does require a steep and strenuous climb over the Big Beehive summit.