Hiking the Big and Little Beehive Circuit — Banff National Park, Canada

Lake Louise is one of the more popular places to visit in Banff National Park, but I highly recommend you putting in the extra effort to make the hike up to Lake Agnes and either one of the Beehives - you won’t regret it. I love how all the trails in this area connected, so you can extend your hike as much as you want to cover more points of interest.

This day hike that we picked was just under 8 miles round trip and included Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Big Beehive, and Little Beehive. You could also swap out Little Beehive for Plain of Six Glaciers or even a summit of Mount Saint Piran!

With its glacial lakes and impressive alpine views, this was the hike that really made me fall in love with the Canadian Rockies. Already can’t wait to plan my return trip!

 

Hike Info

Day hiked: Sep 20
Miles
: 7.84 roundtrip
Elevation change: 2,907 ft
Trail type: Loop
Trailhead: Google maps

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The Hike

We had heard the parking lot here can fill up by 8am on busy weekends. Since it was towards the end of the season at the end of September, the lot was only half full when we arrived at 8:30am.

After chugging the last of our coffee in the Lake Louise parking lot, we were able to make our way to the shore of the crystal clear lake just as the warm morning sun was starting to hit the surrounding mountains.

Don’t expect any quiet unless you come in the dead of winter - even though it was early in the morning, there were still crowds of people all along the shore snapping photos of the picturesque lake.

After admiring the calm, reflective views at Lake Louise, we started hiking up the switchbacks that led up and away from the lake, which now looked aqua from higher up. The crisp autumn air had us bundled up in beanies and gloves, but we still broke a light sweat from the steep trail.

As the trail continued climbing, the trees occasionally opened up, giving us a peak of the snowy mountains in the distance. After 1.8 miles, we reached Mirror Lake, which aptly named, perfectly reflected the Big Beehive above.

We had to climb up another 400 feet in elevation before we made it over the ridge and were treated to one of my favorite views of the entire hike - beautiful Lake Agnes with an impressive backdrop of sheer mountain peaks. The water at this alpine lake was so clear and calm, and the larches around the edges of the lakes had started to turn yellow for fall.

 Perfect reflections at Lake Agnes

Perfect reflections at Lake Agnes

Another unique feature of this lake is there is a tea house perched on the edge of the ridge overlooking the lake. We stopped in for a pot of steaming hot mountain chai that paired perfectly with some homemade, house-favorite mountain bars. I can say without a doubt that that was the most scenic backdrop I’ve ever enjoyed a cup of freshly-brewed tea to.

Another reason to hike early - this spot gets crowded fast. We were lucky to grab a table by a window inside, but the best spots are outside on the deck overlooking the lake.

Only 2.2 miles from the trailhead, most people turn around here to head back down the mountainside. We decided to keep going along Lake Agnes and head up towards the top of the Big Beehive. Snow had started to fall lightly, adding to the drama of the disappearing mountains ahead.

The trail up here was steeper and icier. After some crawling and careful maneuvering on some icy portions of the switchbacks, we eventually we reached the top. From here it was only 0.2 miles of walking on the top of the ridge on a well-marked trail to the very end.

I was completely floored by the views all along the ridge - Lake Louise looked so far below, yet the mountains across the basin didn’t look an any closer and were now drifting in and out of sight behind the quick moving low-lying clouds.

 The insane view from the top of Big Beehive

The insane view from the top of Big Beehive

We hung out watching the clouds come and go before heading down and over the ridge towards Lake Louise. The 0.7 mile section of the trail on this side of the mountain was not as icy as the other side, but it was the steepest incline of the day.

At the bottom you’ll reach the junction for the Plain of Six Glaciers, which would be an excellent addition if you had the time and energy. I’ve heard great things about this hike, so it’s definitely near the top of my list for my next Banff trip.

As we hiked parallel to the shore of Lake Louise, we were able to spot the occasional brightly-colored canoe drifting along the surface down below.

When we reached Mirror Lake again, marking the end of the main loop, we still felt pretty good after the 4.5 miles we’ve covered so far, so we decided to do the 1.5 mile detour up to Little Beehive.

Even though the hike up to the top is only 0.75 miles, you’ll still break a sweat as the trail is entirely uphill the whole way. I actually enjoyed the view from up here more than Big Beehive, as you' can see all of Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes, and the Big Beehive from here.

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 Still a beautiful view with the yellow larches and lightly falling snow

Still a beautiful view with the yellow larches and lightly falling snow

 Can spot all three lakes from the top of Little Beehive!

Can spot all three lakes from the top of Little Beehive!

We hung the hammock and ate lunch here while a snow cloud and a small tour group on horseback passed by. Soon it was time to retrace our steps all the way back to the car 1,550 feet below us.

The weather wasn’t exactly in our favor this day, but this trail turned out to be our favorite hike of our entire Banff trip. We had originally wanted to hike the Devil’s Thumb, which offers an even more impressive view of the valley, but the snow and icy conditions meant opting for our plan B of Little and Big Beehive - which actually pleasantly surprised us!

 

Favorite gear for this adventure: