Lake Louise & Hiking the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail | Banff, Canada
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
After our visit to Moraine Lake, we made the short drive over to Lake Louise and were promptly greeted with an overwhelming traffic jam. Cars arriving in the parking lot were quickly directed to the exit, and we followed suit. If you have the patience to wait, some parking spots could be found alongside the two lane road, albeit at the expense of blocking traffic. Instead, we opted to come back on Tuesday morning, with an earlier start. As with Moraine Lake, it’s best to aim to be in the lot prior to 9:00 a.m., so you can get there before the tour buses arrive. Once you park, it’s a very short walk to Lake Louise, and its popular photo spot. Unless you are there before sunrise, expect to encounter crowds looking for the perfect selfie.
Plain of Six Glaciers: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 5,249 ft.
Distance: 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,929 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Permit: None required for day hiking
Date Hiked: August 16, 2016
At the lake, we took a few quick photos, before continuing along the western shoreline towards the trailhead. As we visited in summer, the conditions for hiking were warm and clear. Before leaving, we filled our packs with water, snacks, and jackets (just in case!).
Tip: Due to the length of this hike, nearly ten miles, be sure to bring plenty of water with you! Much of the trail is exposed to direct sunlight and as you get closer to the glacier, the tree line has long since faded away.
As we made our way along the lake, the trail curves to the left, and we passed by some rock climbers getting ready for the start of their day. Crossing over a small wooden foot bridge, we hopped a few stones over the water and continued on our hike. From this point, the hike begins its gradual and steady climb to the top.
It wasn’t long before we had left the tree line behind, and encountered a more barren environment. With rocks, mountains, and glaciers ahead, we pressed on while stopping periodically for water breaks. Just under four miles in, we reached a special treat on the trail, the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
For hikers, the Tea House is a welcome sight, as it is rare to see any sort of food operations on the mountain. Since we had not packed a lunch that day, Julie and I grabbed seats on the top level of the Tea House, and took in the spectacular views.
Commissioned in 1924 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the route popular with climbers and their Swiss guides, began first as a rest stop. By 1927, three more cabins had been built for overnight hikers and now act as quarters for the current staff. The Tea House sells lunch and light snacks, which we eagerly indulged in. Julie had soup, while I ate the cheese sandwich, and we split the popular chocolate cake. Although it was hot day, Julie opted for a traditional cup of English breakfast tea, as I enjoyed a small cup of lemonade. In chatting with the staff, we found that they spend five consecutive days on the mountain before returning back to town for two days off.
Tip: While cash is an ideal method of payment here for simplicity purposes, the Tea House does accept credit cards. They utilize an older method, paper copy, and then complete the transaction once off the mountain.
Once we had our fill of lunch and felt sufficiently relaxed, we continued along the last portion of the trail to the glacier. By this point, the hike had become significantly more crowded, so we took our time continuing along. As we neared the glacier, the trail is not maintained and filled with loose rock. You can’t actually get up close with the glacier and many people scramble to a place where they can, somewhat uncomfortably, sit and take it all in. The size and scale of the glaciers is pretty amazing, particularly as you consider how the increasing temperatures have caused them to diminish over the centuries. We stood in awe for a few minutes before turning back to descend off the mountain.
Making our way back the way we came, we sped past the crowds around Lake Louise. Perhaps next time we visit, we’ll splurge and stay at the Fairmont Chateau that overlooks the lake. As a fellow hiker told us, with the currency conversion in our favor, it’s 25% off, albeit still $500+ per night…yikes!
The Plain of Six Glaciers is a fantastic hike and one we highly recommend when visiting Banff!
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