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10 Great Larch Hikes in Alberta

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.  

Best hikes in Banff to see larch trees
Taylor Lake in Fall

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.

What are the best hikes in Alberta to see larches without a crowd?
Sheol Valley in Autumn

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!

This post contains compensated links.

3 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:

1. Larch Valley Hike

The Larch Valley hike that leaves from Moraine Lake is by far the most well-known larch hike in Alberta. Turns out it’s not just a clever name!

golden larches on Larch Valley hike at Moraine Lake
Golden larches along the Larch Valley hike (September 21, 2021)!

It’s popular for good reason, as the Larch Valley trail levels off and you enter the golden larch forest you’ll understand why people flock here in September every year. It’s nothing short of spectacular.

hiking amongst larch trees in Larch Valley - Banff National Park
By September 21, 2021 the golden needles appear!

Larch Valley Hike Stats:

  • Round-trip distance: 8.6km
  • Elevation gain: 535m
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this Lake Louise larch tree hike should take around 3 hours round-trip.

Due to the popularity of the Larch Valley hike, your biggest challenge will be getting to Moraine Lake. The Moraine Lake parking lot is routinely full to capacity before sunrise – seriously! Don’t despair – we’ve written a full post on how to get to Moraine Lake to enjoy the Larch Valley hike.

arches & Ten Peaks on Larch Valley hike in Banff

If you’d like more information on this iconic Lake Louise larch tree hike, we have a full post on the Larch Valley hike in Banff National Park and you have the time, continue on the Sentinel Pass trail to see some incredible views.

2. 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.

Images of Larch trees in Lake Louise, Banff National Park Canada

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.

A hiker admires the golden larches of Lake Louise on the Saddleback Pass hike

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 tree hike should take 90 minutes round-trip.
Images of larch trees - Fairview Mountain - Banff National Park

If you’d like more information, we have a full post on the Saddleback Pass Larch Hike in Lake Louise.

3. 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.

Lake Louise hiking trail sign in front of a stand of golden larches

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.

Hiking towards a larch forest on the Sheol Valley hike in Lake Louise Canada

 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.
Where can I see fall colours in Lake Louise?

If you’d like more information on this secluded Lake Louise larch tree 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.

Reflection images of larch trees - Taylor Lake - Banff, Canada

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!!

Hiking through golden larches in the shadow of Panorama Peak

Taylor Lake Larch Hike Stats:

  • Round-trip distance (including hiking to the meadow): 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.
If you hike to Taylor Lake for the larch trees, don't miss the short extension to Panorama Ridge

Arnica Lake Hike

The hike to Arnica Lake gives hikers not one, but two Banff lakes to stop at along their journey. Starting from the Vista Lake parking lot, the Arnica Lake hike begins with a descent down to the beautiful Vista Lake. With the emerald green Vista Lake sparkling in the sunlight and the golden larches on the shoulder of Storm Mountain, this is one beautiful fall hike in Banff!

Vista Lake in Banff National Park

While the trail starts as a descent and is well groomed until you reach the shores of Vista Lake, it quickly changes. From Vista Lake the Arnica Lake trail begins to climb. With plenty of roots and rocks to trip you up, it gets to be a much harder hike. While the trail gets more challenging, the views get better and better as you look over the Bow Valley. You also get closer to the glowing golden larches on Storm Mountain.

Golden larches on Storm Mountain - Best Banff Larch Hikes

This view alone would be enough to recommend the the Arnica Lake trail as a larch hike, but there are two more spots on this hike to enjoy the golden larch trees while hiking in Banff in fall. The next spot for fall colors along the trail is the beautiful Arnica Lake with the far shores surrounded with larch trees at the base of Storm Mountain.

Arnica Lake with golden larches - best Banff Larch hikes

The second is past Arnica Lake on the hiking trail to the Twin Lakes. Even if you just climb to the top of the meadow, you’ll find yourself surrounded with larches with views of more in the distance. While this larch forest may not be as dense as the one you walk through at Larch Valley, it’s well worth the effort!

golden larches near Arnica Lake Banff

Arnica Lake Hike Stats:

  • Round-trip distance: 9.3km
  • Elevation gain: 758m
  • Difficulty: moderate (it’s long, but not that difficult)
  • Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this lengthy Banff larch hike should take around 3 hours round-trip.

5 Best Larch Tree Hikes in Kananaskis

1. 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.

Hike through a large stand of larch trees on the Burstall Pass trail

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.

Golden larches along the Burstall Pass hike

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 Kananaskis 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.
Amazing views of golden larches at the top of the Burstall Pass trail in the Spray Valley Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country

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.

2. Pocaterra Ridge Larch Hike

If Burstall Pass has a rival for the best larch hike in Kananaskis, it’ll be the Pocaterra Ridge hike. Located near the Highwood Pass (Canada’s highest paved road), the Pocaterra Ridge hike goes by several names including Pocaterra Cirque trail and the South Pocaterra Ridge trail. Regardless of the name, you’ll be treated to an outstanding hike through a very large larch tree forest surrounded by jagged rocky peaks in all directions.

The Pocaterra Ridge hike in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

It takes less than a kilometer of hiking to see the first stand of larch trees on Mount Pocaterra. As exciting as this sight will be, don’t linger for long as the Pocaterra Ridge larch trees get much better further down the trail.

The setting for the Pocaterra Cirque trail is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This moderate Kananaskis larch hike leads hikers into a mountain amphitheatre where the towering peaks of Highwood Ridge, Mt. Tyrwhitt and Mount Pocaterra wrap around you on all sides. From the first larch tree to the last, the larch forest on this popular Kananaskis hike extends nearly 2km, making it one of the most extensive stands of larch trees in Alberta.

Hikers can choose between Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge to see the golden larch trees in Kananaskis

As if this hike wasn’t already good enough, you have the chance to hike beyond the larch trees to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge. From this perch, you’ll enjoy one of the best Kananaskis mountain vistas you will find anywhere. From up top, it’s a 360-degree view which extends as far north as Mt. Kidd!

Pocaterra Ridge Larch Hike Stats:

  • Round-trip distance: 6km to the end of the larch forest. 8.4km to the summit
  • Elevation gain: ~300m to the end of the larch forest. 659m to the summit
  • Difficulty: “easy” to the end of the larch forest. “Moderate” to the summit
  • Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this Kananaskis larch hike should take around 3-4 hours to complete.
Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge are two of the best larch hikes in alberta

If you’d like more information, we have a full post on the Pocaterra Ridge larch hike in Kananaskis Country.

3. Ptarmigan Cirque Larch Hike

Ptarmigan Cirque is an easy, kid-friendly larch hike in Kananaskis Country near the Highwood Pass. The Ptarmigan Cirque hike is a great option for people who want an easy hike to see larch trees.

You'll see lots of kids on Ptarmigan Cirque trail - a family-friendly larch hike in Kananaskis

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.

Ptarmigan Cirque is on of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis to see golden larches

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: 3.6km
  • Elevation gain: 267m
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Expected time: Excluding time for pictures, this easy larch hike should take around 1 hour to complete.

4. 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 Kananaskis larch hike.

A September forest of golden larches below Storm Mountain and Mount Arethusa in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

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.

Are there easy hikes to see larches in Alberta?

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.
It's surprisingly easy to earn this view of golden larches along the kid-friendly Arethusa Cirque trail

If you’d like more information, we have a full post on the Arethusa Cirque larch hike in Kananaskis Country.

5. 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.

Fall colours in Kananaskis

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.

A mountain stream and golden larches along the Rummel Lake hiking trail in Kananaskis

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.
Bright yellow larches line the shores of Rummel Lake, Alberta

If you’d like more information, we have a full post on the Rummel Lake larch hike in Kananaskis Country.

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.

Beautiful larch trees are seen below the Victoria Glacier on the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail

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 Alberta larch hikes listed above.

Chester Lake Hike Kananaskis

You’ll never regret a hike to Chester Lake, but don’t do it just for larch trees. If you’d like more information on this rewarding Kananaskis hike, we have a full post on hiking Chester Lake Trail.  

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 Alberta 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.  

Golden larches and brilliant aspens line the roadside at the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country
Alberta Highway 40 in fall

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.

Canmore Larches

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!

Can I see larch trees in Alberta without hiking?

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.

What time should I arrive for a larch hike in Alberta?

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 before 9am if possible, especially on weekends.

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. Note, that starting in 2021 reservations are required for the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake shuttle.

Alternately, you could take a Roam public bus from Banff to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.

A Roam Transit bus passes Two Jack Lake in Banff National Parknnewanka

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.

Dress in layers when hiking among Alberta larch trees
Sept 23 – Burstall Pass

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.

Even if the forecast is for 20C+, bring a warm jacket, gloves and a toque. Trust us – you’ll be glad you did.

What should I wear on Alberta larch tree hikes?
Sept 29 – Arethusa Cirque

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.

Multiple layers, hiking poles and a daybag are among the recommended hiking gear for hiking larch trees in Alberta

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.

Get a guaranteed Moraine Lake parking spot by staying at the Moraine Lake 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 Lake Louise larch hikes which depart at the doorstep of the Chateau, you can pamper yourself with renowned Fairmont luxury.

A golden larch tree hugs the Chateau Lake Louise

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, soothe your sore muscles at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.

The Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a great way to relax after a day of hiking to larch trees

Mount Engadine Lodge is an excellent hotel near the Smith-Dorrien Kananaskis 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.

Beat the crowds by staying at a hotel for a larch tree getaway

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.

Images of larch trees in Alberta
Sheol Valley hike in September

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.

1-40 needles protrude from each nipple on a Subapline larch tree
Arethusa Cirque in Autumn

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 forest of larch trees in Kananaskis Country Alberta
Burstall Pass Larches in September

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.

Larch trees start losing their needles in early October
Taylor Lake, Banff – October 1

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.

The best stands of larch trees in Lake Louise can be found on hikes around Larch Valley, Saddleback Pass and the hikes around Lake Agnes.

Larch trees are pretty easy to find around Lake Louise
Saddleback Pass in Autumn

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.

Easy larch tree hikes in Kananaskis
Arethusa Cirque in Fall

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.

Chester Lake is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis but it doesn't have a ton of larches
Chester Lake, Kananaskis – Sept 20

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.

Some good alternatives to Lake Louise larch tree hikes are Taylor Lake, Arnica Lake and Healy Pass.

Lake Louise may have the famous larch hikes, but there are many other larch hikes elsewhere in Banff
Golden larches in Taylor Lake Meadow

Where is Larch Valley?

The extremely popular Larch Valley hike is located at Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Larch Valley trailhead is near Moraine Lake

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.

Subalpine larch trees are the most common larch in Banff and Kananaskis

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

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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.

Arnica Lake in Banff National Park - Banff Hikes
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Arnica Lake Trail in Banff National Park
mountain reflections on Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
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