Nestled between The Big Beehive and Mount St. Piran rests the Lake Agnes Tea House. While a bustling tourist destination that would rival the best of Paris Cafe's, winter brings an oddly calming almost surreal experience. Line ups and crowds trying to all squeeze through the doors at once are replaced by boarded up windows and kids skipping stones are nothing more than a smooth sheet of crystal white snow.
The trail itself is relatively safe from avalanche danger as long as you do not venture off the trail or further on to Lake Agnes. You do pass over an avalanche chute on your way to Mirror Lake so it is best to not linger in those areas. Otherwise it is a great snowshoeing adventure with ample viewpoints to show case the Lake Louise area.
Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes Trip Log
The trail starts off right near the lake shore. In winter you will find a lot of people venturing out for walks on the ice to take in the Lake Louise experience. On this day we even saw a couple horses pulling a sled of tourists around lake.
Follow the paved walkway along the northwest side of the lake.
As you make your way along the lake shore and pass the Chateau, you will come to a fork. Left follows the lake shore which further down, is not recommended in winter due to avalanches. Right takes you up right away and is the trail you will want to follow to Lake Agnes.
The trail itself is basically just an uphill walk. There are no technical challenges on it and for the most part, is popular enough to complete without snowshoes if you stay right on the trail itself.
Venturing to the side of the trail will quickly transport you three feet lower then you were previously standing. A fresh dump of snow or warming temperatures can still highlight the need for snowshoes so I would still recommend bringing them one way or another. Keep them strapped to the pack if the ground is solid enough.
There are portions of the trail where the break in the trees is large enough to catch glimpses of the cross country skiers as they streak across frozen Lake Louise.
The first sight you get to is Mirror Lake. In summer time it offers a great reflection of the Beehive, in winter though, it is a quiet and flat. No rippling of the water and no reflections to be found.
Past Mirror Lake, Parks Canada does rate the trail with avalanche dangers - "The trail is rated as Challenging Class 2 terrain for avalanche exposure and travel requires appropriate training and equipment."
The trail itself does pose great hazards once you reach Lake Agnes. I would not suggest venturing off the trail or past the start of Lake Agnes. There was an incident in '14 when two people perished and the remainder of the party was buried from an avalanche triggered by them as they traveled below The Beehive.
On the east side of Mirror there is a brown parks sign that points you upwards to Lake Agnes. The last section before the stair case is one long steep climb uphill.
The very last challenge is the stairs. If you have any traction devices on, such as yak traks or snowshoes, then it is a bit more manageable. Otherwise with boots only it is like trying to walk up a lubed up slide with socks on. Instead of descending safely, people have a tendency to slide on their bumps and glaze the entire staircase up.
Once at Lake Agnes the view opens up to a marvelous panorama. Mount St. Piran looms over your right side as you get a nice clear view down the length of Lake Agnes.
Visiting the Lake Agnes Tea House in summer time makes winter time resemble a zombie apocalypse. All of the windows are boarded up, no people in sight ... An eerie inverse of the hustle and bustle that the crowds of summer bring.
As I mentioned earlier, venturing further down the lake poses a lot of avalanche dangerous and should not be attempted.
It should be mentioned that the entire trail is not 100% avalanche safe. At the end of the large switch back where the trail takes you back northeast we came across a slide that happened while we were at Lake Agnes. The trail itself was buried but the amount of large snow chunks in it really gave a chilling reminder of how dangerous these avalanches are.
GPS Plotted Route
The GPS overview shows a nice visualization of the potential avalanche hazards up around Lake Agnes. The very bottom left portion of the trail before it makes a sharp U-turn and starts to the top right is where we came across the fresh avalanche.
There isn't much relief on this hike until you get to Mirror Lake and then subsequently Lake Agnes. It is all uphill otherwise.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences snowshoeing Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes?
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