Canadians weren’t the first tea drinkers, nor do they have the right climate to grow their own tea. That being said, they have certainly come up with an imaginative way to enjoy it – and some Rocky Mountain scenery – as part of an eco-friendly travel adventure. I was able to experience a hiking/tea drinking tour from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise much like Canadian hikers did over 100 years ago.
Tea House History
Like the majority of the original buildings in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was responsible for the creation of the Lake Agnes Tea House. After developing a railway system connecting the country from Pacific to Atlantic coasts, the railway company realized passengers were in need of places to stop and rest during their long journey. As a result of this revelation, the Chateau Lake Louise hotel was constructed in 1890. The Lake Agnes Tea House came 11 years later as a rest stop for guests and hikers around the area. While the building was replaced in 1981, a selection of tables, chairs and windows were kept in order to preserve the Tea House’s authenticity and rustic charm.
Loose tea. Photo courtesy of A Girl With Tea.
Combining Modern Flavors with Rustic Charm
Today, the Tea House offers a modern selection of over 100 loose-leaf teas from across the globe, featuring flavors like Ontario Ice-wine, Phoenix #1 Iron Goddess of Mercy (a light orchid blend), Mocha Rocha Rooibos and classics like English Breakfast. In addition to tea, they also serve sections of freshly made soups, sandwiches and pastries.
Despite the contemporary selection, the Tea House — along with its staff accommodations — function entirely without electricity, with the exception of a single emergency-use-only cell. As a result, food is prepared and tea is boiled over a wood-burning stove on a daily basis. While the trail leading to the Tea House is well-kept by hiking standards, it’s not accessible by any motorized vehicle, so heavy supplies like flour and other dry goods are delivered once at the beginning of the season via helicopter. In order to re-stock perishable goods and dispose of waste, staff must make the 4.5-mile (7-kilometer) return hike to the town of Lake Louise.
Lake Agnes. Photo courtesy of JonoMueller.
Making The Trek
While a stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers emerald green lake views from its rooms and four-star dining at the Walliser Stube restaurant, the region’s main attraction in my mind is the Lake Agnes Tea House. I couldn’t visit the Rocky Mountains without hiking its trails, and a tea break seemed like the perfect reward at the end of the excursion.
The Tea House trail starts at the iconic Chateau Lake Louise, one of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts three historic Rocky Mountain properties (along with The Fairmont Banff Springs and The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge). While Lake Louise is the most isolated of the properties, it provides a great starting point to access several scenic hiking routes to Moraine Lake and the Big and Small Beehive rock formations, as well as to the Lake Agnes Tea House. While my hike was only supposed to take between an hour to an hour and a half, the first leg was by far the most grueling.
The hike begins almost immediately with a steep incline for about half an hour. By this point, I doubted whether I’d be able to make even this “moderately difficult” trek. Fortunately, before giving up, I was rewarded with a brilliant view of the Chateau from across Lake Louise and a (comparatively) flat horizon.
Waterfall en route to the tea house. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk.
Feeling recharged, I continued on my way with a new-found spring in my step, taking the time to explore a small waterfall on my way to the Tea House. With this abounding energy, I was taken off guard with how quickly I seemed to have reached the crystalline Lake Agnes, named after Canada’s original First Lady, Agnes MacDonald, and the picturesque wood Tea House.
Approaching the building, I saw I was far from the only proud hiker to have made the trek. Upon reaching the small Tea House, I found it to be quite crowded and my hiking partner and I ended up joining another couple at some spare seats at their table. Upon being presented with the large tea menu, I was thankful for this fact, as they were able to help me choose a Hermes Orange Green sencha tea. The sweet orange provided an uplifting citrus twist to a classic sencha green tea. The loose leafs were also clearly of high quality, releasing heavenly aromas and flavors.
While sipping my tea and a thickly-sliced homemade hummus sandwich from the shade of the wooden patio, time seemed to slow down. It became easy to see why early CPR executives chose this remote lakeside location to build a Tea House. The crystal clear waters surrounded by a mountainous panorama created a sense of serenity, reinforced by the simple, rustic nature of the Tea House.
During my descent, I reflected on not only my own personal journey to the Tea House, but those of everyone who made the trek over the past century. Lake Agnes’ first explorers would not have had the luxury of a well marked trail to reach their destination. Moreover, building the house in such a remote location must have initially appeared to be a distant pipe dream. However, hard work and perseverance paid off and the Lake Agnes Tea House still stands 7,005 feet (2,135 meters) tall against its glacial lake home. Its unique twist of providing a luxury drink selection with a historical and sustainable travel operation has stood the test of time and is poised to continue to do so for years to come.
Lake Agnes Tea House
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (403) 763-7242
Hour of Operation: June 4 – Labor Day Weekend: 9am-6pm
September – October: 10am – 5:30pm
(Closed from Canadian Thanksgiving (mid October) – June)
*Note: As the Tea House itself does not have electricity, email and phone queries may take up to 2 weeks to receive a response.
Top photo credit: Chateau Lake Louise. Photo courtesy of Judi Zienchuk.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Email: [email protected]
Contributed by guest author Judi Zienchuk who has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Northwestern Canada.