Tea Places

The Tea House Challenge at Lake Louise

Road trip across North America, Day 16

a.k.a. one of the best goddamned days of my life.

I’m so excited we’ve finally arrived here!

I wanted to share this with everyone for so long. Someday I am going to become a tea house hermit in the Canadian wilderness. It’s only a matter of time.


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The Tea House Challenge

The Tea House Challenge is a 14.6km round-trip hike that starts at the base of Lake Louise and takes you in to and behind the mountains around the lake, and back again.

It should be considered a sacred pilgrimage for any tea-lover who finds themselves in western Canada.

At least, that’s how I feel about it.

There are two tea houses: the Lake Agnes Tea House, and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. Each has it’s own trail, or you can combine them into a super trail for the longer Tea House Challenge Route, which is what we did.

You don’t need any maps. The trail is straightforward. When you reach Lake Louise, follow the path that leads towards the back of the lake and you’ll come to the trailhead naturally.

Everything can clearly marked, with lots of good signposts along the way. A lot of the signs were in miles. Canada only got their metric act together in the 70s, and a lot of the signs have been here much longer.

And hey, we made this awesome video to share with you.

It starts off on a rainy morning. We saw lightning strikes as we headed across the Lake Louise Parkway.

We weren’t allowed to film inside the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. They have a no-media policy to preserve the atmosphere and let their guests tune in to nature instead. Totally fine by me. Their chocolate cake made everything okay.

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Okay, so I did sneak one photo. Of this mostly-eaten cake. I couldn’t stop myself; the cake was half-gone before I even picked my camera up.

Not in the video: When we arrived at the Lake Agnes Tea House (with only enough money for one chai!) the staff at the Lake Agnes Tea House gave us a note to take to the staff at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. In exchange (and out of the kindness of their hearts) they gave us a cookie.

The two sets of staff hang out together and walk the path between tea houses all the time. They also walk up and down the mountain nearly every day, with trash or to get supplies.

The note said, “See you for church night. Don’t stand us up again!”

I asked our server what church night is.

“Oh, it’s half off wings and beer down in town.”

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The Banff Tea Company provides the tea for the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house. I visited the tea company in Banff the day before (because of course I did) and there I learned that the woman who started the Banff Tea Company now owns the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

The Banff Tea Company even does a special Plain of Six Glaciers herbal blend. I got this and some of their Traveller’s Tea. They do a lot of specialty blends with rocky mountains and Albertan themes. Definitely visit them if you’re in Banff.

You can’t buy any loose tea at the tea house. Bringing up stock is difficult so they only keep on hand what they need to cook for guests. If you want to buy tea, best stock up in Banff before or after.

The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is pretty old. It was built in 1927 by two Swiss guides for the Canadian Pacific Railway. There is also a dog named Arlo-Barlo.

The Lake Agnes Tea House is the oldest tea house in Canada. It was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and started serving tea in 1905. They have been serving tea for 110 years.

Honestly, walking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House was like walking into Rivendell. We were so tired and it was such a paradise. There’s even a waterfall with stairs going up the side you have to climb to get there.

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For Canada, that’s mighty old.

That’s a lot of cups of tea.

It was so chilly outside the tea house and warm inside with the ovens going that thick condensation hugged the windows. It was so cozy. I could have spent the whole day here.

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I don’t know if you can tell, but I am VERY happy here.

Also, we had some ridiculously good photo weather. I mean, and this is half brag and half incredulity, but just look at these!

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I kept feeling like I was in Jurassic Park, or a new Mac OS screensaver. Either way, goddamn lucky. It was rainy and overcast when we left (as you can see in the video). Never thought we’d get clouds or sun like this.

The photo above is a piece of the mountain known as the Big Beehive.

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If you do this route, don’t forget to bring cash.

The Lake Agnes Tea house is cash only, and Plain of Six Glaciers did take our VISA, but bring cash, that way you’re good no matter what.

Ask me any questions you want about the trail! Is there anything I forgot to add?

And (of course) a rainbow at the end of the day to tie it all together.

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This was a day when I felt really lucky to be alive and be human and get to climb mountains and drink tea and see rainbows.

The world is a really extraordinary place. I’m very privileged and lucky, but you know what? A lot of people who can afford to, don’t even make time for little pleasures, like looking at rainbows, and drinking tea. They say they can’t, or just don’t think of it.

Make time for those things, okay guys? They’re really important.

And you know what? Rainbows are free. Tea is nearly free.

What’s that phrase, “the best things in life…”

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Day 16 Costs:

  • Family Diner, Lupper for 2: $34.29
  • Lake Agnes Tea House, Chai Latté: $4.00
  • Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (chocolate cake, 2 sandwiches, soup with corn chips, chai latte, 2 bottles of water, lemonade): $53.80

Total: $92.09

4 comments on “The Tea House Challenge at Lake Louise

  1. Hi Mel
    What a lovely first hand account of the Tea House Challenge. As a fellow tea obsessive I solute you with teacup in hand. These teahouses are such special places in the mountains and the teams who work up there each year are steeped ( ha ha) into the area’s tea history as are my team at the Banff Tea Co, its like a fun tea party family! So glad you liked our store too and hope you get to visit us again soon.

    • Mel Hattie

      Thanks Siona! I’m glad I got to catch a glimpse into the world of tea in the rockies. I loved that warm relationship between the two tea houses and the Banff Tea Co. Nothing better than people coming together to spend some time in nature drinking tea! I hope I get to come back soon too. 🙂

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