Traveling high above Lake Louise in Banff National Park and away from most of the crowds is the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. This amazing hike includes breathtaking views of glaciers, sheer cliffs shaped by avalanches, a tea house and the opportunity to visit several high-mountain lakes.
Most people that visit Banff National Park head to Lake Louise and gather on the shores to get amazing pictures. We highly recommend continuing and getting this very different and awe-inspiring look at the surrounding mountains.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail is a moderately-difficult hike and you will have to work hard. No doubt. But to those that are up for the challenge, the rewards are fantastic. Not only are the views incredible, you may also choose to experience a rare luxury on hikes like this-a stop at the tea house for well-earned refreshments!
PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
- Distance: 8.2 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Loop
- Elevation gain: 1,735 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 6,236 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Mid-summer to fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 6:00 am or after 6:00 pm
- Footwear: Hiking boots
- Watch out for: Bears, sun exposure
- Restrooms: At the trailhead and on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 4-5 hours
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail parking area, courtesy Parks Canada (used with written permission from Parks Canada)
Parking for the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail is from the Lake Louise parking area. Unfortunately, this means that you will have to contend with the intense traffic that is typically seen around the Lake Louise area.
- Directions from the town of Banff to Lake Louise (this takes about 40 minutes without traffic, but expect to be slowed by traffic significantly unless you are traveling in the early morning).
- Direction from Field to Lake Louise (this takes about 25 minutes and you will likely have less traffic than if you are coming in from Banff).
Parks Canada provides a great resource for determining parking conditions in Banff. We recommend checking it out ahead of traveling to the park. It even gives you up-to-the-minute conditions for parking in the various lots.
If the lots are full (which happens early in the morning May through October), a great option is to take the Roam Transit to Lake Louise. You need to make reservations in advance, though. We can’t emphasize enough about the parking challenges at Lake Louise (and Moraine Lake)-if you are not here by sunrise, it’s likely you will not get a parking spot. That seems crazy but trust us…it’s true!
If the parking lot is full when you arrive, plan on coming back either later in the evening (after dinner) or change your plans and come back the following morning.
There are restrooms available in the Lake Louise area. There are also restrooms available on the trail at the Tea House (they are pit toilets and used heavily).
PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is packed dirt. Even in the summertime, you can expect to see some snow on or near the trail, though most of it will be gone by mid-July.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. The first part of the trail along Lake Louise is flat and acceptable for those walking with a cane, but not for wheelchairs.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL
Since this hike is on the longer side, there are a few things that you’ll want to do to be prepared:
- Water. Bring plenty of water on the trail. Water is available for sale at the Tea House. As you can expect, it is very expensive (since it is costly to transport the water up here).
- Sun Protection. Much of the trail is exposed, so you will want to be sure you are protected with sunscreen and a hat, even if the temperature is cool.
- We recommend wearing several layers. You will be in and out of the shade during the hike and also gain in elevation quite a bit. You may find yourself wanting to adjust what you are wearing along the way.
- Bear Spray. Some people may scoff at this, but there are bears in this part of the world. While they are rarely aggressive, you should be prepared and have a v with you. It will likely bring you nothing but peace of mind, but we do recommend it.
- Hiking Boots. Hiking shoes or boots are recommended. On a long hike like this, boots will provide the most support and minimize the chances of injury.
HIKING THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL TO THE TEA HOUSE
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail map, courtesy Parks Canada (used with written permission from Parks Canada)
For many, visiting Lake Louise is the highlight of going to Banff National Park. Immediately after getting out of the parking area you’ll have an amazing view of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Hotel. We recommend snapping a few pictures quickly and continuing on the trail to get away (and stay ahead) of any crowds. It’s worth taking photos, though, as when you return the lightly will undoubtedly be different and you may regret not grabbing a few shots!
The path starts by heading to the right after arriving at Lake Louise on the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail. The first 1.5 miles travels along the northern side of Lake Louise. While there are some slight ups and downs along the trail, this part of the trail is mostly flat.
The views of Fairview Mountain to the south are quite impressive, particularly as you get further along the trail. As you get to the end of Lake Louise, there is a small sand beach that allows you to look back the length of Lake Louise. This is where most of the glacial runoff comes from that feeds Lake Louise.
Even if you can’t make the full length of the hike to the Tea House and beyond, hiking just to the southwestern end of Lake Louise is completely worth it. This area is so much quieter than near the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel!
As you pass by the source of the lake, there are small boardwalks to help keep you from getting your shoes wet. It’s at this point that you are entering in avalanche and rockslide areas.
While we don’t mean to scare you, we did see (and hear!) several rockslides while we were on this hike. All of them were to the south (near Haddo Peak and Mount Aberdeen), but there was also evidence of rockslides near the trail. Either way, we recommend enjoying the hike but be on the lookout for slides and don’t loiter in areas where danger is present.
After leaving the lakes shore, you will officially be on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. At the 1.8-mile point, the trail heads into a forested area briefly as you start to head uphill. Though the incline is never super steep, it is relentless, as it climbs nearly 1,500 feet in 1.6 miles as you head up to the Tea House. You can tell you are getting close when you reach the switchbacks.
PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TEA HOUSE
The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is a great stopping point. The Tea House was built in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a stopping point for guests heading to Abbot Pass. It still is run today much like it was in the old days, with the exception of supplies being brought in by helicopter rather than pack horse. There is no electricity up here, but you can still expect some great food! It is open from early June through October.
As we planned on heading to Mirror Lake rather than head straight back, we chose to make the Tea House our turnaround point rather than continuing to the end of the trail. We could see the end of the trail from the Tea House, which would have added 400 feet in elevation and about 0.5 miles to get to the end of the trail.
HIKING FROM THE TEA HOUSE TO MIRROR LAKE
We wanted to visit another popular location in the area and headed back down the trail the way we came. If you wanted to head back to the parking lot instead, the trail would be a total of 8.6 miles (round-trip, if you hiked to the end of the trail).
After hiking 0.8 miles back the trail meets up with the Highline Trail. We turned left at the fork to take this trail back. The Highline Trail is a mostly flat trail that heads along the side of Mount Whyte and stays approximately 400 feet above Lake Louise. There is a mix of hiking through beautiful greenery and the forest.
After being on the Highline Trail for 1.1 miles, we kept straight and went on the Lake Louise Highline Trail (rather than heading to the left onto the Big Beehive Trail. If you wanted to head to Lake Agnes, the Big Beehive Trail is the one you want. From the fork, the trail is 0.7 miles to Mirror Lake.
We loved this part of the trail. The views of Lake Louise were incredible. The trail was also very quiet. Even though it was the middle of the day, we only saw two other people on this stretch.
Mirror Lake is a small but beautiful lake. We stopped here and ate lunch while we enjoyed the backdrop of the Beehive. From Mirror Lake, it is only 0.5 miles to the Lake Agnes Tea House, which is another place to stop and refuel.
HIKING FROM MIRROR LAKE TO THE TRAILHEAD ON THE LAKE AGNES TRAIL
After Mirror Lake, we decided it was time to turn back to our starting point, as we were all getting a bit tired. We took the Lake Agnes Trail down to Lake Louise, which descends nearly 400 feet over its 1.5-mile distance. Part of the trail was paved and actually was quite busy, with hikers making the trek up the trail in the early afternoon.
The entire loop was 8.2-miles. We were tired at the end, without a doubt. However, we did wish we had taken the time to go to Lake Agnes while we were here, and recommend you doing the same if you have the time (and energy!).
WHY IS IT CALLED PLAIN OF THE SIX GLACIERS?
We had this question before we went on the hike. There are six glaciers that can be seen from this hike, including those from Mount Lefroy, Mount Victoria and Mount Aberdeen as well as the Lefroy and Lower Victoria Glaciers. Finally, there is the Glacier from Popes Peak that can be viewed as well!
PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Breathtaking Scenery. Without any question, the amazing views were the highlight of this hike. It was rare that we didn’t see anything but absolutely great scenery along the hike. Even though we were hiking in rockslide area, we loved seeing the way the landscape was shaped by natural occurrences.
- Loop Trail. We love a loop trail to avoid seeing the same thing twice, and this hike did not disappoint!
- View Lake Louise from a Different Perspective. Lake Louise is great at lake level, but seeing it from the southwest end and also from high up was incredible.
- Crowds. We’re fine with people wanting to see the same things we do, but the parking here was really challenging. We arrived around 6:30 and barely got a spot. In the end it was okay, but just be prepared!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS TRAIL
The main attraction in this area is Lake Louise and the nearby hiking. Our recommendations include:
- Take out a canoe on Lake Louise. This is a great way to get up and close with the southern side of the lake which is unreachable by foot. Be prepared, as lines can be long.
- The Fairview Mountain Trail is a very challenging 5.7-mile round trip trail that climbs over 3,000 feet and overlooks Lake Louise.
- If you are not able to take the Fairview Mountain Trail, the Fairview Lookout Trail is a great alternative. It is only 1.5-miles round trip and about 520 feet in elevation gain. It has an outstanding view of the lake and the Fairmont Hotel.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON BANFF NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- If you are looking to head to Banff National Park, you’ll want to read our blog on What to See and Do in Banff National Park. We go into detail about how to navigate your way through this amazing park.
- One of our most popular vintage posters is our Banff National Park poster of Lake Louise.
- If you want something a bit more unique, then check out how we can create a vintage-style travel poster from one or more of your photos.