The Saddleback Pass Trail is an excellent alternative to Larch Valley in Lake Louise Canada

Saddleback Mountain Hike – Banff National Park

With so many famous hiking trails around Lake Louise, the Saddleback Mountain hike is often overlooked, which is a shame as it’s a very enjoyable Lake Louise hike.

The Saddleback Pass hike winds its way from the turquoise shores of Lake Louise, up the forested northern slopes of Fairview Mountain to a beautiful open meadow with spectacular views.

Larches grow on Fairview Mountain near Lake Louise

If you time it right, the Saddleback Mountain hike is also an excellent opportunity to walk through golden larch trees.

Many people hiking saddleback pass trail to enjoy the larch trees in September

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Saddleback Mountain Hike Highlights

The Saddleback Pass trail begins to the left of the Lake Louise photography platform. A lush evergreen forest with a carpet green moss quickly engulfs you. Enjoy a well-groomed hiking trail for the first half-kilometer until you come to a large trail sign and bench.

This is a junction for the short, scenic Fairview Lookout hike (a nice detour on your way back to the car if you have time).

The Saddleback Mountain trailhead is paved for the first little bit, but turns into a real hiking trail shortly

Beyond the junction the forest becomes denser and the trail becomes less groomed. Look up on your right for up-close views of the majestic Fairview Mountain looming overhead.

During occasional breaks in the trees, you’ll also enjoy elevated views of the Bow Valley, Chateau Lake Louise and the Lake Louise ski resort.

A golden larch tree hugs the Chateau Lake Louise

Halfway up the Saddleback Pass hike you’ll enter a large forest of larch trees. More on this in the next section…

As you near the Saddleback Pass, you’ll enjoy views of a small glacier nestled in-between the massive peaks of Haddo Peak and Sheol Mountain right front of you and a huge glacier on Mount Temple to the left.

A forest of Lake Louise larch trees sit in front of Haddo Peak and Sheol Mountain

The Saddleback Pass is a great place to soak in the Lake Louise mountain scenery. Pull up a flat rock and enjoy views of Fairview Mountain and Saddle Mountain.

Add-on Hikes to the Saddleback Mountain Hike

If you’re up to it, you can extend your Lake Louise hike beyond the Saddleback Pass.

We chose to hike the Sheol Valley to Paradise Valley Loop. This 11km extension circumnavigates Saddle Mountain, taking you back to the Chateau Lake Louise.

Descend into the beautiful Sheol Valley between Saddle Mountain and Sheol Mountain until you reach the Paradise Valley Trail.

Follow the scenic shores of Paradise Creek until you cut back to the Chateau along an old horse track.

A hiker enjoys larch trees and looming views of Mount Haddo whike hiking Sheol Valley in Lake Louise
Sheol Valley

Alternately, you could hike to the summit of Saddle Mountain (a short, and relatively flat 0.5km walk) or to the summit of Fairview Mountain (a grueling 1.1km slog with 400m elevation gain).

Saddleback Mountain Larch Trees

The world-famous Lake Louise Lake Larch Valley hike is a spectacular opportunity to enjoy golden larch trees in fall. But if you find the Larch Valley parking lot full (as is often the case), or you are looking for less crowds, the Saddleback Mountain hike is an excellent alternative to the Larch Valley hike.

What are the best alternative hikes to Larch Valley in Lake Louise?

You will start encountering larch trees on the Saddleback Pass trail halfway through the hike. At this stage, the larch trees are occasional, but you’ll see a large forest of larches ahead on the northern slopes of Saddle Mountain.

There are lots of larch trees growing on Saddle Mountain near Lake Louise

By the 3km mark of the Saddleback Pass trail, you will be surrounded by a true, dense larch forest. The trail winds through the larch trees and their famous golden needles until you reach the end of the hike.

As you near the Saddleback Pass, you are able to look back and see the extent of the larch tree forest below.

Beautiful Alberta blue sky and golden larch trees found in Lake Louise on the Saddle Mountain trail

I was very impressed by the extent of the larch trees on Saddleback Pass – they were way better than expected. The Saddleback Mountain hike is a really good alternative to the Larch Valley hike.

Golden larches in September on saddleback trail lake louise

For additional ideas, check out our list of great larch tree hikes in Alberta.

Saddleback Pass Hike Stats

Distance: The round-trip distance of the Saddleback hiking trail is 7.4km (one-way distance of 3.7km).

Elevation Gain: The total elevation gain you’ll encounter on your way to the Saddleback Pass is 595m (for an average of 161m elevation gain per 1km). The Saddleback Mountain hike starts at 1,740m above sea level and the elevation of the Saddleback Pass is 2,321m.

Banff weather in September is highly variable

Difficulty: The incline of the Saddleback Pass hike is reasonably steady from the shores of Lake Louise to the Saddleback Pass. At an average 16% grade, it’s a good workout, but it’s definitely manageable for most hikers.

Parks Canada rates the Saddleback Mountain hike as “difficult”, but we don’t think it’s that hard. We rate the Saddleback hike as “moderate”.

Duration: It should take a typical adult about 1.5 hours to hike the full round-trip distance of the Saddleback Mountain hike.

Saddleback Pass Trail Location

How to Get from Banff to the Saddleback Mountain hike trailhead: The nearest parking lot to the Saddleback Mountain hike trailhead is the main Lake Louise parking lot near the Chateau Lake Louise.  

Most trails have great signage, so you likely don't need a lake louise trail map

The fastest way to get to the Lake Louise parking lot from Banff is to drive west along the TransCanada Highway to the Lake Louise interchange. This very scenic drive should take you approximately 45 minutes from the Town of Banff.

Note that parking is very competitive at Lake Louise and access to the entire area is often completely shut down. If you are planning on visiting Lake Louise on a weekend or during the September larch tree season, get there as early as possible.

September fall colors in Lake Louise on the Saddle Mountain hike

The Chateau Lake Louise is also home to several of the best Lake Louise hikes:

  • Lake Agnes Trail: A short, steep, and very popular hike to the beautiful Lake Agnes. Be sure to stop at the Lake Agnes Teahouse to reward yourself! Extend your hike with challenging add-ons such as Devils Thumb, the Big Beehive and/or the Little Beehive.

  • Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail: Hike the full length of Lake Louise, then continue into the heart of an incredible mountain amphitheater for an up-close look at some huge Lake Louise glaciers. Soak in the majesty of the Victoria Glacier while enjoying chocolate cake and coffee at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
The hiking trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers lookout in Banff National Park
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Chateau Lake Louise parking lot

Saddleback Mountain Trailhead

Saddleback Pass Hiking Map

The Saddleback Pass hike is really easy to follow; once you find the trailhead (right by the Lake Louise photography platform) simply follow the signs all the way to the Saddleback Pass.

A carved wooden trail sign found on Saddle Mountain trail

We used the AllTrails app while hiking Saddleback Mountain, but to be honest, we didn’t need it for navigation purposes. We use AllTrails for all our hiking and biking in the Canadian Rockies and around the world. In addition to helping stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.).

To find the Saddleback Mountain hiking trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Saddle Mountain Via Paradise Valley Trail”. You are close enough to Lake Louise village that you should get intermittent cell service on your Saddleback Mountain hike, but just to be safe, download your hiking maps prior to leaving.

The Saddleback Mountain - Sheol Valley - Paradise Valley loop is a great 15km loop around Saddle mountain

A paper map isn’t required for this Lake Louise hiking trail, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration.

The Saddleback Trail map is found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Hiking Saddleback Pass Trail with Kids

Our kids have grown up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and at age 5 & 7 are pretty normal kids, but are capable little hikers. They have successfully hiked Wind Ridge (my favorite Kananaskis hike) and the Lost City in Colombia. We haven’t attempted hiking Saddleback Mountain with our kids yet, but given they accomplished Wind Ridge, I expect they could easily do Saddleback Mountain as well (with enough time and patience, of course).

Before attempting the Saddleback Pass hike with kids, we recommend looking at the Saddleback Pass hike stats above and making sure your kids are capable of the physical exertion.

You’ll be gaining 161m of elevation for every 1km hiked towards the top of the Saddleback Pass hiking trail. This is an average 16% incline – it’s not easy, but most kids in reasonable shape should be ok…

The Saddleback Mountain Pass trail is very beautiful

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The best place to stop along this excellent Lake Louise hike is at the top when you reach Saddleback Pass. The Saddleback Pass is a large, open rocky meadow with plenty of rocks to plop down on for a well deserved rest.

From here, you will enjoy excellent views of Fairview Mountain and Saddle Mountain. And yes, in the fall, you can enjoy the surrounding larch trees as well!.

Lake Louise Larch hikes in September

The Saddleback Mountain hike is very close to Lake Louise village, so be sure to reward yourself after this difficult hike at one of the excellent restaurants in Lake Louise.

Saddleback Pass Hiking Safety

  • Banff National Park is prime bear habitat, with black bears and grizzly bears calling the Lake Louise area home. Please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park.

  • Cougars also live around Lake Louise. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.

  • Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.

  • We recommend you check the latest Saddleback trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Chateau Lake Louise rests in a beautiful Bow Valley setting

For recommendations on what to bring on the Saddleback Mountain hike to improve your safety, see below.

Saddleback Pass Hike Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Saddleback trail.

  • Mountain biking is not allowed.

  • There are several washrooms in the Lake Louise parking lot. There are no toilets on the Saddleback Mountain trail, but there are lots of trees to duck into if you need to. On weekends and during larch tree season, the crowds will make it harder to go. It’s best if everyone goes before they begin the hike.

  • There are no drinking water facilities on Saddleback Mountain, so fill your refillable water bottles or hydration packs before you leave.

  • Lake Louise is a world-famous destination known for its stunning natural beauty and excellent hiking opportunities. Accordingly, the Lake Louise parking lot fills up very early, even on weekdays. When Lake Louise gets too full, Parks Canada will actually put up roadblocks to prevent additional cars from entering. No matter when you come to Lake Louise, get here as early as possible.

  • You should get intermittent cell service from Lake Louise Village for most of the hike, but never count on it for your safety.
A shrub with red leaves and berries in the fall on Saddle Mountain Lake Louise

What to Bring on the Saddleback Mountain Hike

Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear for Lake Louise hiking trails. We have shared our a list of Banff hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff National Park weather and trail conditions.

Beautiful fall colors and larch trees in September on Saddleback Trail in Lake Louise

The Saddleback Pass trail is a moderately difficult Lake Louise day-hike, so we would like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff.

  • Water – the Saddleback Mountain hike is all uphill, so you’ll get a good sweat on.  A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking around Lake Louise, no matter the season. For hiking in Lake Louise, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a hiking pack as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • We don’t use trekking poles, but you will see many people using them hiking around Lake Louise to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the steep descent.
The Saddleback Pass Trail is a great moderate difficulty hike to see larch trees in Lake Louise

Saddleback Mountain Footwear Recommendation

The first 1km of the Saddleback Pass hike is on a nicely groomed hiking trail, with most of the rocks and tree roots removed. But beyond this, the Saddleback hiking trail becomes a more traditional hiking trail with plenty of protruding rocks and tree roots to deal with.

Regular city walking shoes are not sufficient for this hike, and we recommend you wear a good quality pair of hiking shoes or boots to deal with the challenging footing.

Golden larch trees glow in the warm September sun in Lake Louise

Shop hiking shoes and boots on MEC and REI.

Don’t let all the pictures of larch trees fool you – the Saddleback Mountain hike is beautiful any time of the year. Whenever you go, we hope you enjoy your day hiking in Lake Louise!

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