Location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Park here: Lake Louise Parking Lot (payment required)
Public transportation: Direct from the Park and Ride, located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, to the Lake Louise Lakeshore (reservations and payment required)
Hike distance: 13 km roundtrip
Elevation gain: 883 m
Hike duration: 5 hours
What makes it hard? Steep, hands-on scrambling and scree, in addition to elevation gain over a short distance after Lake Agnes to the summit
Trail website: Click here
Lake Louise, an iconic spot located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park, is a must-see on anyone’s bucket list to experience the turquoise blue lake and many hiking trails. The 13-kilometre Devil’s Thumb trail provides stunning 360-degree views of Lake Louise on the right and Lake Agnes on the left, with the Fairmont Château Lake Louise in the background and the towering mountain ranges behind you, making it a stunning hike.
The lakeshore is typically packed with tourists trying to get a glimpse of the Gatorade-blue water, so our advice to those wanting a quieter hiking experience is to head out for a sunrise or sunset adventure.
Finding the Trailhead
We decided to summit Devil’s Thumb to watch the sunrise and beat the crowds at the lake. We arrived at the parking lot at 4 a.m. and started hiking shortly after. While the parking lot was mostly empty, it fills up quickly and Parks Canada recommends booking a shuttle to ensure you can get to the lake.
The Hike Itself
The trail to Devil’s Thumb begins to the right of the lakeshore of Lake Louise on a paved pathway. This pathway goes around a bend before starting the gradual incline into the trees. There are many signs indicating a path to Lake Agnes, which you’ll want to follow. The hike through the trees to Lake Agnes is a moderate four-kilometre steady rise, following some switchbacks to the lake. Once at Lake Agnes, there is a teahouse which has snacks and refreshments for purchase (cash preferred!) if you’d like to stop when passing through.
The next two-and-a-half-kilometres to Devil’s Thumb starts along the right side of Lake Agnes, following the well-beaten path. You cross a rocky river, but there are spots to step without getting your feet too wet. From the backside of the lake, you start your ascent where you gain some of the remaining elevation for the hike. The switchbacks up to the fork for Big Beehive and Devil’s Thumb are mostly family friendly. Once at the plateau, the unmarked trail to Devil’s Thumb is on your right. The path is “blocked” by a fallen tree because that indicates the start of the scrambling and scree section to the summit. Note: proper footwear and hiking poles are needed to continue to Devil’s Thumb.
The remainder of the hike is considered the most difficult part. Past the fallen tree, you follow a couple of pink ribbon markers in the trees to a mostly vertical wall, where hands-on scrambling is required. After the scramble, walk along the side of the mountain, until a dirt scree incline. The scree and dirt, and occasional hands-on scrambling, continues until you reach the summit. Following a downloaded map will help ensure you haven’t gone off trail.
Once at the top, you’re rewarded with the most picturesque views of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes, in addition to the tea house and the chateau. The valley stretches out in front of you until the mountain range in the distance rises. Behind you, there are some views of the glaciers (Victoria, Aberdeen, Lefroy, Mitre and Horseshoe) that feed into Lake Louise. Any direction you look, you will be in awe of the magnificent views that Devil’s Thumb has to offer.
We sat and admired the view of the sun peeking out over the mountains in the distance, while golden hour spread across the sky. We didn’t stay too long after sunrise because the bugs were vicious (bug spray is also highly recommended). We took one last look at the landscape in front of us, listening to the thundering calving of the glaciers behind us, before starting our descent down.
Before You Go:
- A Parks Canada Discovery Pass is required if you are driving in the park and parking at the Lake Louise lakeshore pay parking lot
- While the lakeshore is accessible year-round, the Devil’s Thumb hike is a use-at-your-own-risk trail and weather conditions should be considered before attempting to summit
- Dogs are allowed in the national park but are required to be on leash
- Download a map to ensure ease of finding the trail
- Practice leave-no-trace principles and always pack out what you pack in