Lake Louise is a magical place within Banff National Park. The mountains and the brilliant turquoise color of Lake Louise must be seen to be believed. With such a landscape, it’s no surprise that you can enjoy many iconic Lake Louise hikes in the area, including the Plain of Six Glaciers hike.
Beginning as an easy stroll along the shoreline of the world-famous Lake Louise, the Plain of Six Glaciers trail is an incredibly scenic and rewarding hike. The Six Glaciers hike then continues beyond the Lake Louise upwards into a stunning natural mountain amphitheater.
The Rocky Mountain scenery alone would make this leg of the hike worth it, but you’ll also enjoy the rare opportunity to see some massive Lake Louise glaciers up close. Listen carefully for the awe-inspiring sounds of ice cracking in the ever-moving glaciers. Be sure to stop at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House to marvel at the Lake Louise glaciers while enjoying some coffee and chocolate cake.
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Plain of Six Glaciers Trail Highlights
Whether it’s your first time seeing Lake Louise or your 100th time, the sight of it will take your breath away every time. On your way to the Six Glaciers trailhead, take a moment to stop at the Lake Louise viewing platform to soak in the turquoise waters and majestic mountains which make this place so special.
Your journey begins in front of the majestic Chateau Lake Louise. The first 3km of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike follows the same trail as the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail – one of the best easy hikes in Banff National Park.
Take your time to enjoy the scenery and read the interpretive signs along this flat, crushed gravel trail. The Lake Louise Lakeshore trail could quite possibly be the most beautiful easy walk in Canada.
At 2.7km, the trail becomes a wooden boardwalk. It’s exciting to know that the rushing water flowing past the boardwalk comes from the Lake Louise glaciers you are hiking towards. If you can peel your eyes off the scenery, keep an eye open for rock climbers on the cliffs to the right of the trail.
Shortly after the boardwalk, you begin your ascent into the Plain of the Six Glaciers. Here you will enjoy the sights and sounds of the rushing glacial river to your left. The hiking trail is no longer groomed and you will start to encounter rocks, tree roots and piles of horse poop.
When you have confidence in your footing, take a moment to enjoy the scenery all around you on the 6 Glaciers hike. You’ll be excited to see your first glimpses of the glaciers near Lake Louise on the upper slopes of Mount Victoria ahead – a sight of incredible beauty, which only gets better with each step you take.
(In the fall, look up to see golden larch trees at the treeline on the surrounding mountains).
The Plain of Six Glaciers trail gets really fun at the 4.9km mark, where you need to walk along a narrow rock path on the side of a cliff. The drop-off is significant, but the path is several feet wide, so even those with a fear of heights (like me) should be able to cross without issue.
If you look carefully, you may get lucky and see one of the rare Rocky Mountain Goats who call these rocky slopes home. If you are interested in Banff wildlife, check out these great wildlife spotting tips from an excellent local photographer.
Beyond the rocky ledge, the Plain of 6 Glaciers hike just keeps getting better. Here, the Six Glaciers trail transitions to a rocky berm, heading straight towards the massive Lake Louise glaciers. Take a moment to appreciate the 360 degrees of beauty which surround you.
To your left, the tip of a massive glacier rests below you, while waterfalls flow down mountain slopes on your right. Behind you, the views of Lake Louise are stunning.
If you are lucky, you may even hear the astounding sound of ice cracking as the glacial ice continues to slide ever-so-slowly down the mountain.
Your Lake Louise glacier hike becomes a little steeper at 5.5km as you climb up a series of switchbacks. Watch your feet here as the ground gets wet from streams running across the trail.
Then, without warning, the rocky trail suddenly becomes really nice, smooth stepping patio stones. It’s a bit confusing at first, but then you’ll realize that you’ve arrived at the historic Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
The area around the Six Glaciers teahouse is amazing. There are benches thoughtfully placed next to a charming little mountain stream. Stop and enjoy the views and a snack or beverage from this historic Lake Louise tea house before the final push to the end of the Six Glaciers trail.
As you leave the Plains of Six Glaciers Teahouse, you’ll walk through a small forest of Larch trees, whose needles turn golden for a few weeks every September. If you are looking for a great larch tree hike, check out our list of larch tree hikes in Alberta.
Beyond the Larch trees is a huge rock field from a landslide down the slopes of Pope’s Peak. Listen for the distinctive “Eeeeek” sound of the cute little pika’s who call these rocks home.
The Plain of Six Glaciers hike is not maintained past the 6.3km mark. The trail becomes single track with many large rocks and tree roots to manage.
The final leg of the 6 Glaciers hike enters an incredible natural amphitheater, with massive glaciers resting on the slopes and valleys of the mountains they call home. Watch for glacial waterfalls streaming off the most impressive glacier on Mount Victoria, straight ahead.
At 6.9km, the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail comes to a rocky clearing, with stunning views of Lake Louise and the many glaciers in this valley. This is a popular spot to stop and sit on a rock to soak in the majesty of this special place.
But you’re not quite done yet as the Six Glaciers hike continues for another 500m along a raised berm. This final push is quite steep, but you’ll be so wowed by the glaciers you’ll barely notice.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail concludes at the end of the berm. The majesty of Lake Louise, Banff National Park and its incredible glaciers are on full display here. Enjoy it – you’ve earned it!
Plain of Six Glaciers Hike Stats
Distance: The round-trip distance of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail is 14.6km (one-way distance of 7.3km).
Elevation Gain: The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Six Glaciers Trail is 588m. There is virtually no elevation gain for the first 3.3km, but you’ll gain roughly 500m over the last 4km (for an average of 125m elevation gain per 1km on this leg). The 6 Glaciers hike starts at 1,734m above sea level and the elevation of the final viewpoint is 2,202m.
Difficulty: The first 3.3km of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike is almost perfectly flat along the beautiful shores of Lake Louise. Once you reach the end of Lake Louise, the trail starts a slow, but steady incline for the final 4km.
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Plain of 6 Glaciers hike as “moderate”.
Duration: It should take a typical adult about 4 hours to hike the full round-trip distance of the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail. We’ve done it in as little as 3h 30m.
Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike Location
How to Get from Banff to the Six Glaciers trailhead: The nearest parking lot to the Plain of Six Glaciers trailhead is the main Lake Louise parking lot near the Chateau Lake Louise. This parking lot charges for parking in the summer and is often full very early. If it’s full, try these alternate free parking lots in Lake Louise.
The fastest way to get to the Lake Louise parking lot from Banff is to drive west along the TransCanada Highway to the Lake Louise interchange. This very scenic drive should take you approximately 45 minutes from the Town of Banff.
Note that parking is very competitive at Lake Louise and access to the entire area is often completely shut down. If you are planning on visiting Lake Louise on a weekend or during the September Larch season, get there as early as possible.
The Plain of Six Glaciers trailhead shares the same trailhead as the Lake Louise Lakefront Trail. You share the same trail for the entire 2.5km length of Lake Louise. Most hikers turn back at this stage, but simply keep walking forward to enjoy the Plain of the Six Glaciers hike.
The Chateau Lake Louise is also home to several of the best Lake Louise hikes:
- Lake Agnes Trail: A short, steep, and very popular hike to the beautiful Lake Agnes. Be sure to stop at the Lake Agnes Teahouse to reward yourself! Extend your hike with challenging add-ons such as Devils Thumb, the Big Beehive and/or the Little Beehive.
- Lake Louise Lakefront Trail: This super-easy trail offers a ton of incredible scenery for very little effort.
- Saddleback Mountain Trail: A scenic hike to a mountain pass with options to continue hiking to the top of Fairview Mountain, Saddle Mountain or Sheol Valley. Saddleback is a great larch tree hike in September!
- Fairview Lookout: An easy walk to a lookout on the north slope of Fairview Mountain. Enjoy excellent views of Lake Louise and the Chateau Lake Louise sitting proudly at its eastern shore.
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail Map
The Plain of the Six Glaciers hike is pretty easy to follow; simply begin the Lake Louise Lakefront Trail and don’t stop walking until you reach the end. We used the AllTrails app while hiking the Plain of 6 Glaciers, but to be honest, we didn’t need it for navigation purposes.
We use AllTrails for all our hiking and biking in the Canadian Rockies and around the world. In addition to helping stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.). To find the Plain of Six Glaciers trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail”.
You are close enough to Lake Louise village that you should get intermittent cell service while hiking the Six Glaciers trail, but just to be safe, download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
A paper map isn’t required for hiking this Lake Louise glacier hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Plain of Six Glaciers trail map is found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.
Hiking Plain of Six Glaciers Trail with Kids
Our kids have grown up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and at age 5 & 7 are pretty decent little hikers. They have successfully hiked Wind Ridge (my favorite Kananaskis hike) and the Lost City in Colombia. We haven’t attempted hiking the Six Glaciers hike with our kids yet, but given they accomplished Wind Ridge, I expect they could also do the 6 Glaciers (with enough time and patience, of course).
Before attempting the Plain of Six Glaciers hike with kids, we recommend looking at the Six Glaciers hike stats above and making sure your kids are capable of the physical exertion. The second half of the hike has 125m of elevation gain per km hiked, so it’s not super steep, but it’s a pretty long hike.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The Plain of the Six Glaciers trail is incredibly scenic from start to end, so you can plop down for a break nearly anywhere and enjoy the views. That said, the best spot to stop for lunch is the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House – roughly 6km from the trailhead.
Built in 1927 for the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is one of the most historic buildings in Banff National Park. Enjoy home baking while enjoying amazing views of the 6 glaciers. There are many tables to sit at near this Lake Louise tea house, but if these are full, there are also many benches located along a relaxing little babbling brook.
Other excellent options for a break are:
- Grab a large rock in the landslide field just minutes beyond the Six Glaciers teahouse. Keep your eyes peeled for the cute little pikas which call these rocks home. They are so small, they are hard to see, but listen for their distinctive “Eeeeeeek” call.
- The Abbot Pass Viewpoint is about 1-1.5km beyond the Six Glaciers teahouse. It’s a wide-open area with lots of places to sit on rocks and enjoy the incredible views of the Six Glaciers and of Lake Louise in the distance.
The Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail is very close to Lake Louise village, so be sure to reward yourself after this difficult hike at one of the excellent restaurants in Lake Louise.
Plain of the Six Glaciers Hiking Safety
- There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Six Glaciers Trail. The trail is not maintained beyond the Plains of Six Glaciers Teahouse and the conditions become a little more risky. You’ll walk along sections of raised berms on loose rocks with steep drop-offs. It’s easy to be distracted by the beauty of the Lake Louise glaciers, so be careful to watch your step. These rocks can be slippery on the descent.
- Banff National Park is prime bear habitat, with black bears and grizzly bears calling the Lake Louise area home. Please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park.
- Cougars also live around Lake Louise. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.
- Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
- We recommend you check the latest Plain of the Six Glaciers trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
For recommendations on what hiking gear to bring on the Six Glaciers hike to improve your safety, see below.
Plains of Six Glaciers Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Plain of Six Glaciers hike; in fact it’s a very popular hike with dog owners.
- Mountain biking is not allowed.
- There are several washrooms in the Lake Louise parking lot. You will also find toilets at the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, which is great as it’s near the furthest point on this there-and-back hike.
- There are no drinking water facilities on the Plains of Six Glaciers Trail, so fill your hydration packs before you leave. If you need fluids or simply want to treat yourself, the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse menu has coffee, tea, hot chocolate and lemonade for sale (and chocolate cake too!)
- You should get intermittent cell service from Lake Louise Village for most of your hike, but never count on it for your safety.
- Lake Louise is a world-famous destination known for its stunning natural beauty and excellent hiking opportunities. Accordingly, the Lake Louise parking lot fills up very early, even on weekdays. When Lake Louise gets too full, Parks Canada will actually put up roadblocks to prevent additional cars from entering. No matter when you come to Lake Louise, get here as early as possible.
What to Bring While Hiking the Six Glaciers Trail
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear while hiking in Alberta. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
The Plain of Six Glaciers trail is a reasonably long Banff day-hike, so we would like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff.
- Water – the Plain of 6 Glaciers Trail is long and sometimes difficult, so you’ll need a decent amount of water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but you will see many people using them on the Plain of the Six Glaciers hike to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the descent.
Plain of Six Glaciers Footwear Recommendation
The Plains of the Six Glaciers trail is in decent shape for most of its length. You will have to contend with some rocks and roots along the trail and the odd little mountain stream crossing the trail. The trail conditions are likely too much for normal city shoes, so we recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots.
Plain of Six Glaciers Hiking Tour
If you’d like to hike the Plain of Six Glaciers trail with a small group and a guide, Discover Banff Tours offers guided hikes every Wednesday and Friday in season.
More Banff Hiking Trails We Recommend
- 14 Winter Hikes in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis
- Johnston Canyon Hike
- Tunnel Mountain Hike
- Stewart Canyon Hike
Kananaskis Hiking Trails We Recommend
- East End of Rundle (EEOR)
- Yates Mountain Loop Trail
- Ha Ling Peak Trail
- Miners Peak Trail
- Chester Lake Hike
- Karst Spring Hike
- Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike
- 9 Best Kananaskis Hikes for Social Distancing
- Heart Creek Trail
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