For a few special weeks every fall, Alberta hikers go crazy with larch tree fever. Parking lots for the best larch hikes in Alberta fill before dawn and social media feeds fill up with images of these beautiful trees and their brilliant golden needles.
Larch trees are a special kind of conifer tree. Unlike most of the other conifer species, they are not evergreens and the needles on larch trees turn a beautiful golden color in the fall before eventually falling to the ground.
From mid-September to early October, the race is on to see the golden larches of Alberta. Larch trees can be found in all of Alberta’s mountain parks, including Banff, Kananaskis and Waterton.
There are a few opportunities to see larches without much effort, but the best experiences come from larch tree hikes. A few larch hikes get the majority of the attention (we’re looking at you Larch Valley), but there are plenty of excellent larch hikes to choose from.
We are Canmore locals who love hiking in Banff and Kananaskis, so you can trust our list of the best larch hikes in Alberta. Check back every year as we add more larch hikes to the list!
Best Larch Hikes in Alberta
- Best Larch Hikes in Lake Louise
- Best Golden Larch Tree Hikes in Banff National Park
- Best Larch Tree Hikes in Kananaskis
- Excellent Hikes with a Few Golden Larches
- How to See Larch Trees Without Hiking
- 5 Tips for Seeing Larch Trees in Alberta
- Best Hotels for Alberta Larch Tree Viewing
- Learn About Alberta Larch Trees
- More Banff Hiking Trails We Recommend
- More Kananaskis Hiking Trails We Recommend
- You May Also Enjoy
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Best Larch Hikes in Lake Louise
If you are looking for one of the best locations in Alberta to see larch trees, Lake Louise is a great option. There are several stands of golden larches on the mountains surrounding Lake Louise, giving hikers many options to choose from.
Here are our favorite larch tree hikes in Lake Louise:
Saddleback Pass Larch Hike
Saddleback Pass may not be the most famous Lake Louise larch hike, but it is a particularly good alternative to Larch Valley.
The Saddleback Pass hike begins near the shoreline of Lake Louise (near Chateau Lake Louise), making it one of the most beautiful trailheads you’ll find anywhere in the world. You’ll hike uphill through a beautiful conifer forest for 2km along the northern slopes of Fairview Mountain (2,744m) before you encounter the first of the golden larches.
For the next 2km, you’ll be awestruck as you walk through a beautiful forest of golden larches all the way to Saddleback Pass. The density of larch trees on this Lake Louise hike is very impressive and chances are good that you won’t put your camera down the entire 2km!
Saddleback Pass Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 7.4km
- Elevation gain: 595m
- Difficulty: moderate (note: Parks Canada rates this hike as ‘difficult’, but it’s not that bad)
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this Lake Louise larch hike should take 90 minutes round-trip.
If you’d like more information, we have a full post on the Saddleback Pass Larch Hike in Lake Louise.
Sheol Valley Larch Hike
As great as the Saddleback Pass hike is for larch tree viewing, the one knock on it is the crowds. Saddleback Pass is a very popular alternative to Larch Valley, making it difficult to get great images of larches with all the other hikers around.
The solution to your larch tree crowding problem is to keep on hiking! Once you reach Saddleback Pass, you don’t need to turn back… you can continue your hike beyond Saddleback Pass into the Sheol Valley to enjoy larch trees without the crowds.
Of course, nothing in life is free… you’ll enjoy lots of beautiful larch trees in the Sheol Valley without any crowds, but it will take you an additional 11km to circumnavigate Saddle Mountain to get back to Chateau Lake Louise. The scenery along Sheol Valley is epic and it’s mostly downhill or flat hiking, so it’s not as bad as it may sound.
Saddleback Pass to Sheol Valley to Paradise Valley Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 14.7km
- Elevation gain: 884m
- Difficulty: moderate (it’s long, but not that difficult)
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this epic Lake Louise larch hike should take around 4 hours round-trip.
If you’d like more information on this secluded Lake Louise larch hike, we have a full post on the Sheol Valley to Paradise Valley Hike.
Best Golden Larch Tree Hikes in Banff National Park
Lake Louise may be home to all the mega-popular larch tree hikes in Banff, but it doesn’t have a complete monopoly on them. There are several excellent Banff larch tree hikes elsewhere in the park.
Here are our favorite larch tree hikes in Banff National Park:
Taylor Lake Larch Hike
Not much beats the sight of a larch forest in the fall, but if one thing could, it’s the sight of golden larches reflecting on the still water of a mountain lake high up in the Rocky Mountains.
The hike to Taylor Lake is a very enjoyable walk through a lush non-larch evergreen forest. Aside from the occasional mountain stream, there’s not much in the way of scenery along the way to Taylor Lake, but it’s a beautiful forest and the payoff at the end is excellent.
Taylor Lake rests in a beautiful mountain cirque nestled in-between Mount Bell (2,910m) and Panorama Peak (2,872m). With towering Rocky Mountains overhead, Taylor Lake is beautiful year-round, but it’s especially striking during larch season when the larch trees along its shores turn golden yellow. If you hike to Taylor Lake on a calm day, the mirror image of larch trees in the water are incredible.
But wait… it just gets better! Walk to the back of the Taylor Lake campground and you’ll find a sign for the Panorama Ridge hike. This short hike extension may be steep in spots, but it pays off big time. Before long, you’ll enter a huge forest of golden larches complete with a charming mountain stream running through. Don’t miss this short extension!!
Taylor Lake Larch Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 16km
- Elevation gain: 1,035m (which sounds like a lot, but it’s only an average of 130m of elevation per 1km hiked – a very manageable incline)
- Difficulty: moderate (it’s long, but not that difficult)
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this lengthy Lake Louise larch hike should take around 4 hours round-trip.
Our full post on Taylor Lake larch hike is coming soon. In the meantime, get all the details for the Taylor Lake trail on AllTrails.
Best Larch Tree Hikes in Kananaskis
Burstall Pass Larch Hike
Burstall Pass is considered by many to be the best larch hike in Kananaskis Country. It’s one of the hardest larch hikes in this post, but you’ll be rewarded with a walk through and eventually above a large larch forest.
The first 4.5km of the Burstall Pass trail is actually quite easy. Your hike starts with some excellent scenery, as you pass the Hogarth Lakes (one of our favorite easy Kananaskis snowshoe trails). Soon, the hiking trail enters a valley between Mount Burstall (2,760m) and Commonwealth Peak (2,774m),
The trail climbs slowly and eventually passes a series of beautiful lakes created by Burstall Creek. The reflections of the surrounding Rocky Mountain peaks glimmering in the water are amazing. Don’t forget to look up as you’ll start getting glimpses of larch trees ahead.
Beyond the lakes, you’ll enter a large, open meadow, where a series of mountain streams converge. The meadow is filled with small shrubs with golden yellow leaves. They aren’t larches, but the cumulative effect of all these golden bushes is pretty impressive.
Beyond this meadow, the trail gets much steeper and you’ll start to get your sweat on. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a walk through a large forest of golden larches.
They keep getting better and better the higher you go. Eventually you climb above the treeline, where you’ll enjoy sweeping views of jagged Rocky Mountains and the larches below. It’s one of the nicest vistas of larch trees you’ll find anywhere!
Burstall Pass Larch Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 16.4km
- Elevation gain: 667m
- Difficulty: moderate-to-hard
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this excellent Kananaskis larch hike should take around 4 hours to complete.
Our full post on the Burstall Pass larch hike is coming soon. In the meantime, get all the details on the Burstall Pass trail on AllTrails.
Ptarmigan Cirque Larch Hike
Ptarmigan Cirque is an easy, kid-friendly larch hike in Kananaskis Country near the Highwood Pass. Ptarmigan Cirque is a great option for people who want an easy hike to see larch trees.
This easy Kananaskis larch hike begins at 2,184m above sea level, the perfect altitude for Subalpine larch trees to grow. Accordingly, it doesn’t take much effort to start seeing larch trees. After carefully crossing Highway 40, the Ptarmigan Cirque larch hike enters a 1.3km hike through an evergreen forest.
A large forest of larch trees hugs the line where the forest meets the alpine layer of the mountain. The Ptarmigan Cirque hiking trail leads you through these golden larches, allowing an up-close experience. As a bonus, you’ll be able to see large stands of larch trees across the highway on Highwood Ridge.
There is more to the Ptarmigan Cirque hike than larch trees; the section of trail which winds through the rocky, treeless cirque is very beautiful. The slopes of Mount Rae (3,218m) and Mount Arethusa (2,912m) wrap around you to create an intimate, rocky amphitheater.
Ptarmigan Cirque Larch Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 4.2km
- Elevation gain: 271m
- Difficulty: easy
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this easy larch hike should take around 1 hour to complete.
Our full post on the Ptarmigan Cirque larch hike is coming soon. In the meantime, get all the details for the Ptarmigan Cirque trail on AllTrails.
Arethusa Cirque Larch Hike
One minute down the road from Ptarmigan Cirque, Arethusa Cirque is another kid-friendly larch hike in Kananaskis Country near the Highwood Pass. Arethusa Cirque is less popular than Ptarmigan Cirque, likely because a few short, but very steep sections may prevent some from enjoying this fall larch hike.
The Arethusa Cirque hike begins at 2,144m, so it doesn’t take much time or effort to start seeing larch trees. After 0.5km of hiking through a typical conifer forest, you’ll start encountering larch trees.
Shortly after, you’ll find yourself in a scenic open meadow, standing on the edge of a babbling brook surrounded by larches. The towering peaks of Storm Mountain (3,095m), Mount Arethusa (2,912m) and Little Arethusa (2,767m) loom above in the background, completing the magical mountain scene.
From here, you’ll continue hiking along a 3.2km loop. Going counterclockwise, you’ll follow the babbling brook through the larch forest onto the lower slopes of Storm Mountain. A sharp left turn onto a short scree field takes you above the tree line, where you’ll marvel at the golden larches in the forest below.
The aerial views of the large larch forest continue as you leave the scree and transition to a beautiful grass meadow on the slopes of Mount Arethusa. This is a great spot to break for lunch and enjoy the views of the Kananaskis larch trees. The descent back to the beginning of the loop is short, but very steep – bring trekking poles if you need help with your knees or balance.
Arethusa Cirque Larch Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 4.6km
- Elevation gain: 337m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this kid-friendly larch hike should take around 75 minutes to complete.
Our full post on the Arethusa Cirque larch hike is coming soon. In the meantime, get all the details for the Arethusa Cirque trail on AllTrails.
Rummel Lake Larch Hike
Rummel Lake has been one of our family’s favorite all-season hikes for years. Located just north of the Burstall Pass larch hike in the Spray Valley Provincial Park, Rummel Lake offers hikers a chance to see bright-yellow larch trees in a beautiful mountain lake setting.
The first 2km of the Rummel Lake larch hike is along a wide, well-groomed hiking trail with an easy incline slope. You’ll be surrounded by boring old evergreen trees, but the wide trail allows enough sunlight for a wide variety of bushes to grow. In the fall, these bushes will reward you with a surprising variety of fall colors, ranging from golden yellow to purple to red.
At the end of this section, you’ll enter an open meadow with excellent views of the Spray Lakes. You’ll see patches of larch trees on the upper slopes of the surrounding mountains.
Continuing on, you’ll cross over the High Rockies Trail and will re-enter the deep evergreen forest. The hiking trail is no longer groomed, and you’ll need to negotiate protruding tree roots the rest of the way to Rummel Lake. With proper hiking shoes, it won’t be an issue.
Our kids started singing “The forest that never ends” along this 3.5km stretch of forest. Admittedly, there isn’t much to see besides trees, but if you keep your eyes open, you’ll start noticing larch trees off to the left. There are a lot of larches along the Rummel lake trail, but most of them are 25-50 feet off to the left of the trail.
After 6km of hiking, you’ll leave the forest and arrive at Rummel Lake, resting at the foot of Mount Galatea (3,185m). You’ll be rewarded with a ring of golden larches surrounding the shores of Rummel Lake.
Rummel Lake Larch Hike Stats:
- Round-trip distance: 11.7km
- Elevation gain: 449m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Expected time: This Kananaskis larch hike should take around 2.5 – 3 hours to complete.
Our full post on the Rummel Lake larch hike is coming soon. In the meantime, get all the details for the Rummel Lake trail on AllTrails.
Excellent Hikes with a Few Golden Larches
Plain of the Six Glaciers Hike
Lake Louise is blessed with some of the best larch hikes in Alberta, but the Plain of Six Glaciers hike is not one of them. Once we forgive the Plain of Six Glaciers for not having a dense larch forest, we can focus on the fact this is one of the best hikes in Banff. It’s an incredibly scenic hike, home to the famous Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. There is a modest patch of larch trees just beyond the Six Glaciers Teahouse.
If you’d like more information on this spectacular Lake Louise hike, we have a full post on the Plain of the 6 Glaciers Hike.
Chester Lake Hike
Chester Lake is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis. In fact, it’s our favorite all-season hiking / snowshoeing trail in Kananaskis Country. 3km of hard work up the lower slopes of Mount Chester (3,054m) pays off with an easy 2km walk through a grassy alpine meadow, complete with a beautiful stream and jagged mountain peaks all around.
It’s easy to see why Chester Lake is one of the most popular hikes in Kananaskis. The Chester Lake hike shows up on most lists of larch tree hikes, but to be honest, there’s not that many. You’ll pass through a few larches on the way to the lake, and there’s a few more along the shores of Chester Lake.
If you continue another 0.5km past Chester Lake to the Elephant Rocks, you’ll find a bigger patch of larch trees, but it’s still pretty modest compared to some of the amazing larch hikes listed above.
How to See Larch Trees Without Hiking
If hiking is not your cup of tea, don’t worry – there are still a few options to view larch trees without a hike.
Highwood Pass Larches
The Kananaskis Trail Highway (AB40) starts at the TransCanada Highway near the Stoney Nakoda Casino. From here, it’s a stunning 80km drive south through Kananaskis Country to the Highwood Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in Canada.
Along the Highwood Pass, you won’t need to leave your car to enjoy seeing golden aspens and Subalpine larch trees in their natural environment. There’s not a ton of larch trees growing next to the highway in the Highwood Pass, but it’s the best opportunity you’ll get to see natural larch trees without hiking.
If you’re not fussed about seeing larch trees in their natural environment, you can see a lot of human planted larch trees growing throughout the Three Sisters Mountain Village in Canmore. The TSMV is filled with condo developments for locals and weekenders alike. Many of these developments have landscaped their gardens with larch trees.
With regular water and human love, these Canmore larch trees grow very large and healthy. If you can forgive them their non-natural beginnings and environment, they are stunning in fall!
5 Tips for Seeing Larch Trees in Alberta
1. Get there early
Every fall, parking lots through the Alberta Rocky Mountains fill up early every morning with eager hikers wanting to see golden larches in all their glory. It does not matter what day of the week you go, parking lots for larch tree hikes will fill up quickly.
If you want a coveted parking spot for the Moraine Lake Larch Valley hike, you’ll need to arrive before 6am. Yup – that’s right… 6am! Once the Moraine Lake parking lot fills up, Parks Canada officials barricade the Moraine Lake Road and will only let new cars in as cars leave.
For all other Alberta larch hikes, we recommend arriving at the parking lot by 9am if possible.
2. Take a shuttle or Roam Public Transit
To get around the crazy parking situation, Parks Canada runs a shuttle service to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise during larch season every fall.
Alternately, you could take a Roam public bus from Banff to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.
3. Cheat and get a hotel room
A fun and easy way to enjoy golden larches without the super-early wake-up call is to eliminate the long drive and stay at a hotel close to the larch trees. See below for the best places to stay for larch trees.
4. Dress appropriately
Dressing for a day of hiking in the Alberta Rockies can be tricky, even in the heart of summer. Given larch tree season is between mid-September and early October, dressing appropriately is even harder.
Chances are that you will be starting your day early enough to get a parking spot. The sun is lower in the sky this time of year and will often be hiding behind mountain peaks. You may not get direct sunshine until mid-morning (if at all). No sunshine equals significantly colder temperatures.
Also, keep in mind that the temperature drops 1C for every 150m of altitude gain. Given the high-altitude larch trees grow in, the temperature on your larch tree hike will be several degrees colder than the forecasted temperature for Calgary, Banff or Canmore.
5. Bring appropriate hiking gear
In addition to bringing multiple layers of warm clothing, make sure you have all the appropriate hiking gear with you. In fall, bears are in their final push to fatten up, so bear spray is an absolute must. You may also need micro spikes and trekking poles if your larch hike recently received a snowfall.
Check out our post on Banff hiking essentials for our recommended fall hiking gear in Banff.
Best Hotels for Alberta Larch Tree Viewing
Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. The valleys are filled with golden aspen groves, the upper alpine forest glows with golden larches and the mountain peaks start to get a beautiful coat of snow.
The fall larch season is a great time of year to treat yourself to a stay at one of Banff’s best hotels. Not only will you enjoy a visit to one of Canada’s most beautiful regions, you’ll get a healthy head start on those who are leaving from Calgary, Canmore or Banff.
Best Hotel for the Larch Valley Hike
The Larch Valley parking lot often reaches capacity by 6am, requiring eager Calgary hikers to set their alarms for 4am. Ugh – do you want to get up at 4am?? I don’t…
If you are lucky enough to get a reservation during larch season, treat yourself to a stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge. Not only is this one of the most scenic hotels in the world, you’ll get a guaranteed Moraine Lake parking spot. You can wake up at your leisure as the Larch Valley trailhead is just steps away from the Lodge.
Best Hotels for Lake Louise Larches
Larch season is a special time at Lake Louise, so why not make it a special getaway and stay at the world-famous Chateau Lake Louise? When you are not enjoying the many larch hikes which depart at the doorstep of the Chateau, you can pamper yourself with renowned Fairmont luxury.
If the Chateau Lake Louise is not for you, there’s a great selection of great Lake Louise hotels to choose from.
Best Hotel for Kananaskis larches
One of the best things about Kananaskis Country is that it is less commercial than Banff National Park. There are very few places to stay in Kananaskis, but here are two great choices for your larch tree getaway:
The 4-star Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is in Kananaskis Village, home to the alpine skiing events for the 1988 Olympic winter games. The Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is a mere 35-minute drive to the excellent Highwood Pass larch hikes. After a day of hiking among golden larches, sooth your sore muscles at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.
Mount Engadine Lodge is an excellent Kananaskis hotel near the Smith-Dorrien larch hikes. You’ll love the remote location of the Mount Engadine Lodge, but you’ll really love that the Burstall Pass trailhead is a mere 13 minutes away! Treat yourself to a sauna or massage apres-larches.
Learn About Alberta Larch Trees
What do larch trees look like?
In the summer Alberta larch trees are full of green needles, making them difficult for a casual observer to distinguish a larch tree from other conifer trees. Starting in mid-September, Alberta larch trees become much easier to identify as the needles on a larch trees turn a beautiful golden color, while the other boring conifers stay green.
How do you identify a larch tree?
The easiest way to identify a larch tree is to wait until fall and watch for their needles to change to their famous golden color.
If you’d like to identify an Alberta larch tree when their needles are not golden, the easiest way is to look at their needles. Larch trees in Alberta have little nipple-like bases protruding from their branches. From each of these nipples, a larch tree will grow up to 40 needles.
When can I see golden larches in Alberta?
The needles on larch trees start to change color every year in mid-September. When they first change, the larch trees look lime-green, but before long they are ablaze with a full body of bright golden needles.
A great way to monitor when the larches start changing color in Alberta is to check out the hashtag #larchvalley on Instagram.
How long do larches stay yellow?
The answer to this question varies every year, but typically they start dropping their needles in early October. You can still enjoy Alberta larch hikes well into October, but the golden needles become more sparse as the month progresses.
Where do larch trees grow in Alberta?
Subalpine larch trees grow at elevations of 1,800 to 2,400m above sea level (5,900 to 7,900 ft). This is a significantly higher than the elevation of Banff (1,383m), Canmore (1,309m) and Calgary (1,045),
Where are larches in Lake Louise?
Lake Louise is one of the best spots in Alberta to see golden larches in fall. The elevation of Lake Louise is 1,600m, with surrounding mountain peaks ranging in elevation from 2,500m to 3,400m. These are ideal conditions for the Subapline larch tree to thrive.
Where are larches in Kananaskis?
There are two primary clusters of larch trees in Kananaskis Country:
1. Reaching an elevation of 2,206m, the Highwood Pass is the highest paved mountain pass in Canada. Several of the best larch hikes in Kananaskis are within easy driving distance of Highwood Pass, such as Pocaterra Ridge, Ptarmigan Cirque and Arethusa Cirque.
2. The other hot spot for larch trees in Kananaskis Country is along the Smith-Dorrien Highway (AB742). Burstall Pass is one of the best larch hikes in Kananaskis, but you can also enjoy larch viewing around Rummel Lake and Chester Lake.
Where are larches in Banff?
The best area to view larch trees in Banff is the Lake Louise / Moraine Lake area. But the popularity of viewing larch trees around Lake Louise means that getting a parking spot is often difficult.
Where is Larch Valley?
The extremely popular Larch Valley hike is located in Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
What species of Larch trees grow in Alberta?
There are three species of Larch trees in Alberta.
1. The most common larch tree you will see in the larch hikes listed above is the Subalpine larch tree (also known as Lyall’s larch). Its Latin name is Larix lyallii.
2. The Western Larch (Larix occidentalis) grows to 30mm making it the tallest of the Alberta larch trees. The Western Larch can primarily be found in Waterton and the Crowsnest Pass.
3. The third species of Alberta larch tree is the Tamarack (also known as the Eastern Larch). It’s most common north of the Red Deer River.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of favorite larch hikes in Alberta! We’ve listed a few more of our best posts for you to enjoy below.
More Banff Hiking Trails We Recommend
More Kananaskis Hiking Trails We Recommend
- East End of Rundle (EEOR)
- Ha Ling Peak Trail
- Miners Peak Trail
- Karst Spring Hike
- Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike
- 9 Best Kananaskis Hikes for Social Distancing
- Wind Ridge Hike
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