Day 3 of our mountain getaway was spent in the area around Lake Louise, a glacier-fed lake just outside the hamlet of Lake Louise. The turquoise color of the water comes from the rock flour carried into the lake from the glaciers overlooking the lake, most notably the Victoria Glacier. The luxury resort hotel located on the lakeshore, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, was built in the early 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is a fabulous classic hotel with outstanding views of the lake and offering high-quality amenities to its guests.
Our day here turned out to be the busiest and least enjoyable hike of our time in the mountains. We got a late start, which no doubt contributed to the large crowds we endured. Reaching the Lake Louise parking lots at 10:30 am they were all full and we ended up 1 km down the road in the Great Divide parking lot. The pathway was crowded from the parking lot all the way to Chateau Lake Louise where there were hundreds of people milling about the lakeshore. Sadly, the ever-popular Lake Louise is plagued by traffic jams and parking shortages due to over-tourism, even this year!
There are a variety of hiking trails beginning near the Chateau, so we chose the hike up, and I do mean up, to Lake Agnes. We thought this trail would be less busy than the flat 2 km walk along the lakeshore…oh how wrong we were 😕 The trail was overrun with hikers and social distancing became a real challenge. This was the most unsafe we have felt in a long time!! Despite the crowds, we continued on. The Lake Agnes trail is a 7.6 km out and back hike with an elevation gain of 433 meters/1,420 ft. After 2.6 km you arrive at Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive looming above. Little did I know then that we would eventually be standing up there. We do have a habit of changing our hike route on the fly!!!
From Mirror Lake it is just 1.2 km further to Lake Agnes, the destination for most hikers. Sitting on the lakeshore at an elevation of 7,000 ft is the Lake Agnes Tea House, built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers. The Tea House was hugely popular with long lineups to buy lunch and enjoy a picnic on the lakeshore. We had packed a sandwich and were able to search out a relatively quiet spot alongside the lake for our lunch break.
After lunch, we walked to the end of Lake Agnes for more views of the surrounding mountains. While there we noticed a trail climbing steeply up the mountain and appearing to go over the other side. We asked a few savvy-looking hikers about the trail, determining it went to the summit of the Big Beehive. Well, that sounded interesting so off we went, here’s that part where we changed our hike on the fly 😂 The trail is steep and a tough climb but the views are so worth it, I have never been this high above Lake Louise before and the views are astonishing.
Descending the other side of the Beehive was almost as steep and tough as the climb up as the trail dropped sharply through the forest eventually meeting up with the Highline Trail, which took us back towards the Chateau. Our planned 7.6 km hike had turned into a 10 km hike to heights we could not have imagined. The official name of this loop we later found out is the Beehive Circuit Trail with an elevation gain of 647 meters/2,122 ft What a day it turned out to be!!!
Our final day in Canmore was a relatively easy one, we drove just past Banff to the start of the closed section of the 1A highway and cycled to Castle Junction and back. Starting at 8:30 am it was a quiet and enjoyable 49 km ride taking just over 2 hours, this is the second time we have ridden this road and the views are outstanding each time. After the bike ride, we took a drive past Lake Minnewanka, reminiscing about our scuba diving experiences here, before returning to Canmore to pack up and drive back to Calgary.
The takeaway from our 4 days in and around Banff and Lake Louise is that the area around the Chateau Lake Louise was the busiest place we visited because of the large crowds. This is more than likely due to the ease of getting there and a large amount of parking close to the lake. Johnston Canyon is not easy to get to, nor is Moraine Lake which means crowds were limited making our visits there much more enjoyable. Despite the lack of international visitors this year due to COVID, the number of people coming to Alberta from the rest of Canada is high. During these difficult times, it is nice to see Canadians touring and enjoying their own country.
Back in Calgary now, we are busy planning another short getaway soon…