THE DEVILS THUMB | Lake Louise

by | Banff

When exploring Banff National Park it doesn’t get much better than hiking the Devils Thumb at Lake Louise. If you want incredible views over the vibrant blue Lake Louise, Lake Agnes and surrounding mountains and glaciers, then this is the hike for you. There are few better views anywhere else in the world. This is a relatively difficult hike with some tricky sections but the reward at the end is special.

We also suggest incorporating the lookouts at Big Beehive and Little Beehive into your hike. This makes your hike a little bit longer but offers some crazy cool perspectives over the surrounding landscapes.

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Devils Thumb Hike Overview

Devils Thumb Hike Overview

How to Get to Devils Thumb, Lake Louise

The trail starts on the north edge of Lake Louise. This is one of the most famous places in Canada and the gem of the Canadian Rockies, so it is very well signposted.

From Calgary take the Trans-Canada Highway West through Banff National Park. The turn off for Lake Louise is 56 kilometres passed Banff town centre, and as mentioned, is well signposted making it hard to miss.

Take the exit for Lake Louise and keep left at the fork following signs for the village and Lake Louise. Then turn left onto Bow Valley Parkway and continue straight onto Lake Louise Drive.

The parking lot is located right by Chateau Lake Louise and it is likely to be busy, regardless of when you visit but you should still be able to find parking somewhere. Once your car is parked you can make your way to the edge of the lake to begin your hike.

The edge of Lake Louise in Banff National Park

Trail to Devils Thumb, Banff

Unlike most hikes, the first few steps of this hike are absolutely spectacular. As you walk passed the Chateau you get amazing views of Lake Louise, the mountains surrounding the lake on three sides and Victoria Glacier towering above the far end of the lake. Usually you have to put the effort in to get views like this, but that isn’t the case here.

The trailhead starts shortly after passing the grounds of the Chateau. The path splits and you take the path on the right, following signs for Lake Agnes Trail, which starts to ascend. The trail is very easy to find and follow but there are numerous signs to help guide you along the way.

You will pass straight through a couple more junctions as you cross over some horse trails to continue your hike. The trail climbs at a steady and moderate pace for the first 20 minutes, and then you will catch sneak peeks of the lake. You really don’t have to get very high above the lake before it turns a crazy milky blue colour.

After 20 minutes, you will reach the first switchback and you get your first clear view of the lake from above which is absolutely beautiful. As you continue on, you turn in towards the forest and away from the lake and join onto the horse trail. These trails are busy and you are likely to have to step aside for horses several times.

Lake Louise seen from above

Mirror Lake

After a few more minutes you will find yourself at the edge of Mirror Lake with Big Beehive lookout towering right above the lake. The lake is well protected from the elements meaning the surface is usually glassy smooth and you get great reflections from it, hence the name.

You have a couple of options on which way to go from Mirror Lake but we recommend taking the path on the right towards Little Beehive lookout. You’ll climb some tight switchbacks and once you reach the top of these you get some great views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains.

Shortly after this you come to another junction which could be easy to miss even though there is a small signpost here. The Little Beehive hike is along the path that almost turns 180 degrees back on itself.

Mirror Lake at Lake Louise

Little Beehive Hike

It’s only a few hundred metres along this trail to reach the lookout and you get some gorgeous scenery along the way. There were also lots of wildflowers here during late August when we visited, which made it extra special.

After walking a short distance along the trail the main viewpoint opens up completely and you get a stunning view of Chateau Lake Louise, Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes and the surroundings. This is the first time you really get to see everything from a high-up vantage point and it is mind blowing. There are so many different views to take in and it is worth spending a little bit of time here to enjoy them all.

You can follow the trail all the way to the end where there is the concrete remains of a lookout, but the best views are actually just before this spot. After enjoying the incredible sights it’s time to continue on towards Lake Agnes.

Viewpoint from the Little Beehive hike over Lake Louise

Lake Agnes Tea House

As you make your way down from Little Beehive you will come back to the junction you came to before. This time, turn right/stay straight to make your way down to Lake Agnes. The path descends gently down towards the Tea House and it only takes a few minutes from the junction to reach the edge of Lake Agnes.

This is yet another stunning spot on the hike with Lake Agnes a mix of deep blue and green with mountains towering over the far end of the lake. The water from the lake flows down a small waterfall right next to the teahouse.

The Lake Agnes teahouse is always busy, but if you are willing to wait to get a seat it is an awesome place to stop for a mid-hike refreshment as their patio looks right out over Lake Agnes. Keep an eye out for curious chipmunks who are so used to people being around that they will just walk between everyone searching for food.

To continue on to Big Beehive, you follow the trail round to the right of the lake. The trail follows the edge of the lake, just a few metres above the water line, and loops around the back end of the lake.

Lake Agnes and the Devils Thumb

Big Beehive, Lake Louise Viewpoint

After a nice flat trail around the lake, you reach a series of steep switchbacks which allow you to ascend quickly up above Lake Agnes. As you climb these gruelling switchbacks the colours of Lake Agnes get more and more impressive.

Once you reach the top of these switchbacks you will come to a four-way junction where you can turn right to climb up to the Devils Thumb or go left to reach the viewpoint for Big Beehive. Turn left and climb the gentle slope up towards Big Beehive lookout.

After only a couple of minutes, you will start to see the incredible views of Lake Louise. There are so many spots along this stretch of the hike where you can sit and enjoy the view. That’s one of the great things about this hike is that there isn’t just one main viewpoint. We managed to find our own secluded spot where we could take in the incredible views.

Viewpoint at the Big Beehive at Lake Louise, Banff National Park

The viewpoint puts you about two thirds of the way down Lake Louise and you get the most jaw dropping views down to the lake and the Chateau from this point. The water is a ridiculous shade of blue that is totally spectacular. The cliffs drop away sharply from the edge here so you do need to be careful, but this also makes you feel like you are right on the edge of the lake.

We had seen so many photos of this place and even still managed to be incredibly impressed when we finally saw it for ourselves. It really is one of the most beautiful views in all of Canada.

If you continue all the way to the end of the trail you will come to a small wooden shelter which gives you similar views of Lake Louise but also lets you see Lake Agnes from directly above which is pretty special. This is a really cool place as well but we think the best views are on the right hand side as you make your way towards this shelter.

You could spend hours up here enjoying the view and we made sure to save our lunch for this spot so we could spend plenty of time taking it all in. Seeing the iconic red canoes travelling up and down the lake, looking like tiny specks from this high up was another cool moment.

Lookout on the Big Beehive Trail

Devils Thumb

There are no signs for this trail but it is easy to follow. Once you walk back to the junction near the Big Beehive lookout you go straight across the junction. There is a discernable trail even though there are no signs. Walk for a couple of minutes through the trees and you come to a rock face.

It is a steep initial climb up this rock face for a few minutes. The trail is marked with coloured ribbons to help you navigate along the easiest path. After a short climb you come to a ledge like path that is cut into the side of the mountain. As you traverse along this trail you get the most incredible views of Victoria Glacier.

Victoria Glacier in Banff National Park

Walk along this path for around 10 minutes and you will reach the toughest part of the hike. To reach the Devils Thumb viewpoint you have to scramble up a ludicrously steep section of loose dirt and gravel. You will need to use your hands to climb up this section of the trail.

On the left hand side of this section is a dirt path which is probably the easiest way to get up. You will need to grab tree roots, trees and basically anything you can get your hands on to help you climb up. It is only around 100 metres of the trail but it is slow and tough going to climb up it.

You will also need to be wary of people coming down and in the short time we were climbing up there were a couple of close calls. Some of the people climbing down dislodged large rocks as they slid and climbed down and they nearly took out some people below. Make sure to keep a close eye on rocks falling from above and be careful not to knock any down yourself onto people below.

Once you complete this scramble up the dirt and scree, the path gets slightly easier. It is still very steep but much more manageable. You will climb up through a boulder field before eventually reaching the plateau where the viewpoint is.

From the Devils Thumb you get breathtaking aerial views of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. Getting to see these two lakes, both with two totally different colours of water, is amazing. The hike to get here is pretty wild but the view makes it all worth it!

Hike to Devils Thumb, Lake Louise

Return Journey

You will have a couple of options when choosing your route home. One option is to follow the same route that you took to get here all the way back to the parking lot. But that sounded a little too repetitive for us, so we decided on an alternative route.

As you make your way down from the lookout at the Devils Thumb you will come back to the four-way junction at the top of the switchbacks you climbed up from Lake Agnes. Instead of turning left to follow the same route, you can turn right to follow an alternative route.

This route is a tiny bit longer, but there are very few people on it so you can fly down the trail. This trail descends down the mountain along long switchbacks and isn’t very steep. Eventually you will come to a junction, with awesome views of the lake, where you will turn left and then you traverse along the path until you reach Mirror Lake.

This section of the path is fairly flat, with some minor undulation and the views over Lake Louise are nice too. Once you reach Mirror Lake, turn right at the junction to reconnect to the main trail that you first hiked along. Follow this trail all the way back to the edge of Lake Louise and on to the parking lot.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from above

Where to Stay in Banff National Park

If you are wondering where to stay in Banff then check out our top suggestions below. It can be quite an expensive place to stay but there are options for all budgets.

Budget: Samesun Banff – This is one of your only options when looking for budget accommodation in Banff. A dorm bed in a hostel is a great way to meet other people while keeping your expenses down, plus you are only a 5-minute walk to the bars and restaurants on the main street of Banff.

>>Check prices and availability for Samesun Banff

Mid Range: High Country Inn – Enjoy mountain views and a little bit of luxury without breaking the bank. The High Country Inn offers a central location, spacious rooms and most importantly it has an indoor swimming pool, a dry cedar sauna and a hot tub.

>>Check prices and availability for High Country Inn

Luxury: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – When considering a luxury option near Lake Louise, one perfect place springs to mind and that is the Chateau on the edge of Lake Louise. Enjoy panoramic views from your bedroom window over the lake and take full advantage of their full service spa and fitness centre. If you are looking for the ultimate Banff experience this is the way to do it.

>>Check prices and availability for Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Want to know exactly what we pack for a day out hiking? Check out our quick list below or read our full guide for what to bring on a day hike here.

 

Download your FREE day hike packing list here!

Final Thoughts

The Devils Thumb at Lake Louise is is one of the most famous hikes in Canada and it does not disappoint. While it is definitely busy, it wasn’t quite as bad as we expected. Most people visit the edge of Lake Louise and don’t bother to hike so don’t let a fear of crowds put you off this amazing hike.

We almost felt let down when we first visited Lake Louise’s shoreline, but having completed this hike we see exactly what all the hype is about. We would highly recommend this hike next time you visit Banff National Park although beware, it may ruin every other hike you do after this one!


Planning a trip to Canada? Check out some of our other travel guides here:

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Wild About BC About Us

Hi, we’re Luke and Roxy, a couple of adventurers that are head over heels in love with British Columbia, Canada.

We share our activities and outdoor adventures with the hope of inspiring others to get out and enjoy beautiful BC!

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