In early August this past summer, I hiked the Plain of Six Glaciers trail for my second time on my solo road trip through the Rocky Mountains and it remains one of my favourite hikes in Alberta’s Banff National Park.
Plain of Six Glaciers is a fantastic, rewarding and worthwhile half-day hike to do from Lake Louise. This moderately challenging trail climbs high into the mountains and goes through forests, a rocky avalanche path and along the ledge of a cliff. It has some of the most spectacular and beautiful views of glaciers, mountains, and valleys that I have experienced in the Rocky Mountains. The trail eventually leads to a charming and rustic tea house where you can enjoy delicious home-cooked food and a variety of beverages.
The trail began from the shoreline of Lake Louise in front of the Fairmont Chateau Hotel along the paved and flat Lakeshore Trail which followed alongside this beautiful turquoise glacial lake for the first 2 km. This portion of the trail can get quite crowded and is heavily trafficked during the day, but it was peaceful and almost empty in the early morning when I was there. The trail then reached the far end of Lake Louise and a wooden boardwalk crossed over a portion of the lake and then started the ascent into the mountains.
There were vertical cliffs on the side of the path where you will probably spot some rock climbers. The well-graded trail then entered into a beautiful and peaceful forest where I saw some adorable hoary marmots on the rocks beside a small river. The path continued on a moderate incline for the remainder of the way as it gained a total of 365 metres of elevation with some steeper and more challenging switchbacks in the last section of the trail leading to the tea house. It wasn’t too grueling but it wasn’t simple either and there were some areas where the trail leveled out to give your legs a rest too. The hike was moderately challenging but I took my time and stopped for frequent breaks along the way which helped me.
The forest opened up to a wide open area with stunning landscapes and incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, the Victoria Glacier, a large rocky avalanche path, and Lake Louise in the distance behind you. The trail continued through this landscape for most of the hike and then followed along a narrow rocky ledge on the side of a cliff before switchbacking up to the tea house on the last portion of the hike. Lake Louise got smaller and smaller as I climbed higher into the mountains and it provided a great perspective of how far I had gone! I was surprised to see so much snow and avalanche debris on the hike as I got higher in elevation and crossed the ledge area of the hike. The scenery on this hike was breathtaking, impressive and just so beautiful with plenty of wonderful photo opportunities.
As I got closer to the tea house, the views of the Victoria Glacier became even more stunning and I felt so close to it. The final section of the hike was the most challenging and consisted of a series of steep switchbacks up the mountain leading through the forest to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
It was such a relief to reach the end of the hike after climbing the entire way there. The tea house was a rustic and adorable two-storey log building with a balcony around the exterior on both levels with tables and chairs for seating. It was quite busy when I arrived there but managed to find a seat. I ordered the hand-ground hummus and salsa with tortilla chips and a hot chocolate for a light lunch and everything tasted incredible and fresh. I enjoyed admiring the spectacular views overlooking the glaciers from my spot on the second level veranda. It was so quiet and serene and amazing to be surrounded by such beautiful nature.
There were two outhouse washrooms outside of the tea house as well. From the tea house, there is the option to continue hiking an additional 1.6 km to a closer viewpoint overlooking the six glaciers, however I was exhausted at this point and didn’t end up doing it, although I am sure it would have been amazing. If you’re lucky you may hear the rumbling of an avalanche in the distance here as well (I heard one last year but not this summer).
The tea house is completely self-operational during the summer and supplies and food are flown in by helicopter at the beginning of the season and additional things that are needed are brought up by horses throughout the summer. Everything is prepared fresh daily, there is no electricity or running water and the employees live in small cabins around the tea house when they are on shift, using the same trail as everyone else to hike to and from the tea house. It is really incredible!
The trek down the mountain was such a welcome reward for my sore legs and the scenery was just as amazing coming down. I completed the entire 10.6 km round-trip hike in roughly 4 hours, including my stop at the teahouse. Overall, this hike was awesome and I can’t wait to go here again someday and do it all over again.
The Plain of Six Glaciers is an incredible half-day hike from Lake Louise in Banff and I would highly recommend adding this one to your itinerary. This hike has some of the most amazing views and landscapes that I have experienced in the Rockies
Tips for Hiking the Plain of Six Glaciers
- Dress in layers and bring warmer clothing with you on this hike (like a windbreaker and sweater). The temperatures get quite a bit cooler as you gain elevation and you will be thankful that you came prepared.
- Bring cash with you if you plan to get a bite to eat or something to drink at the tea house, as there is no ATM and they are not equipped to take credit/debit cards.
- Pack plenty of water and snacks to last you for the entire 4-hour hike.
- Be aware that this trail is mostly uphill on a moderate incline along with a steeper section before you reach the tea house. The air gets a lot thinner as you climb higher in the mountains, making it more difficult to catch your breath. Just go slow and take breaks if you’re feeling tired.
- If you have them, I recommend bringing hiking poles with you. Using hiking poles was very helpful for me to take some of the pressure off my legs while hiking this trail. My muscles also felt less sore the next day.
- This trail can get quite crowded during the daytime so I suggest arriving there early in the morning to begin the hike (around 7:30 or 8 am) in order to beat the crowds and secure yourself a good parking spot at the Lake Louise parking lot.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail begins from in front of the Fairmont Chateau Hotel along the shoreline of Lake Louise.
If you are staying in the town of Banff, drive along the Trans Canada Highway #1 through Banff National Park until you see signs for Lake Louise. Follow the signs and continue past the village of Lake Louise to the main parking lot at the lake. It is about a 40 minute drive.
Walk across the foot bridge and make your way to the Fairmont Hotel to begin walking along the Lakeshore Trail. Follow this paved pathway until it meets up with the Plain of Six Glaciers hike and then continue following the signs.
Have you hiked the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail in Banff National Park? What is your favourite hike in Alberta?
Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!