The Larch Valley hike near Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful hikes in Banff National Park, even outside of larch season. The Larch Valley hike rises from the shores of Moraine Lake to an extensive forest of larch trees. From this forest of larch trees, Banff hikers will enjoy panoramic views of the mountains which make up the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
For many, the Larch Valley hike ends when they reach the Minnestimma Lakes, but if you still have the time and energy, the Sentinel Pass trail is an extremely fun and rewarding extension to the Larch Valley hike.
From the end of the Larch Valley trail, the Sentinel Pass trail winds its way up a steep mountain pass in-between Pinnacle Mountain (3,070 m) and Mount Temple (3,544 m). Standing at the Minnestimma Lakes at the bottom of Sentinel Pass, the hiking trail looks like a bolt of lightning – zigging and zagging up the side of these two majestic Lake Louise mountains. The ability to see the entire path of the dramatic Sentinel Pass trail is very exciting and enticing sight indeed!
Hikers who make it to the top of the Sentinel Pass hike will see why we feel it is one of the best hikes in Moraine Lake. Looking south over the Larch Valley hike, you’ll enjoy an amazing aerial view of the Minnestimma Lakes, the massive larch tree forest you just finished hiking through and almost all of the 3,000 m peaks of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Looking north, hikers will soak in incredible views of Paradise Valley, along with the rugged Rocky Mountains which line the opposite side of the valley. Perhaps the most exciting view from Sentinel Pass is the Grand Sentinel, a massive quartzite pinnacle on the northern slopes of Pinnacle Mountain.
Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass Trail – Quick Details
Trailhead: Larch Valley Trailhead
Distance: 11.6 km out and back
Elevation: 817 m elevation gain
The above stats are for the combined Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass hike.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Sentinel Pass Hike in Banff:
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Larch Valley Sentinel Pass Hike Highlights
In order to enjoy the Sentinel Pass trail, hikers must first complete the famous Larch Valley hike from Moraine Lake.
Larch Valley Hike Highlights
The Larch Valley trail begins just past the Moraine Lake Lodge. The first 2.3km of the Larch Valley trail is all uphill through a mossy, evergreen forest with several bridges over charming little mountain streams.
A decent portion of the uphill section of the Larch Valley trail is a slog through a series of switchbacks, but you’ll be rewarded with views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, including the Fay Glacier. Especially rewarding are the occasional views of Moraine Lake, which seems to glow an electric turquoise colour on sunny days.
When you reach the trail junction for the Eiffel Lake trail, you’ll know that the hardest part of the Larch Valley trail is over. The Eiffel Lake trailhead also marks the spot where the stand of larch trees begins, marking the beginning of the Larch Valley that Lake Louise is so famous for!
For the next 2 km, you’ll enjoy a beautiful hike through one of the largest larch forests anywhere in Banff National Park. Larch trees are literally everywhere as you continue your hike towards Sentinel Pass. Around mid- September is when the larch tree needles will change color to a golden yellow, making this larch forest one of the most scenic spots in Banff and one of the best larch hikes in Alberta.
As you meander through Larch Valley, take note of the beautiful mountains looming close overhead in front of you. Mount Temple is on your right, with Mount Eiffel and Pinnacle Mountain on your left. The Sentinel Pass trail is right in the middle of these beautiful Rocky Mountains.
You’ll find a series of benches at the 4 km mark of the Larch Valley trail. If you sit and look back from where you came, you may never want to leave. The ten notable peaks that crown the Valley of the Ten Peaks provide some breathtaking Banff scenery.
The larch trees thin out considerably after the benches as you hike towards the Minnestimma Lakes. The 360-degree views of Larch Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks continue to be awe-inspiring. The dramatic zig-zag shaped hiking trail in front of you is the Sentinel Pass trail.
The Larch Valley hike ends after 4.7 km of hiking when you reach the stream flowing from the furthest Minnestimma Lake. The many boulders strewn around this meadow are a perfect spot to have a snack and a rest, while you soak in the incredible Larch Valley scenery. This is also a wonderful spot to look up at the dramatic Sentinel Pass trail and get excited for the adventure still to come!
Sentinel Pass Hike Highlights
The Larch Valley hike ends at the banks of a stream flowing from the Minnestimma Lake. The Sentinel Pass trail begins after crossing the stream on a fun, little rock bridge.
The Sentinel Pass hike continues alongside the shores of the Minnestimma Lake for a few hundred metres. The last larch trees of the valley are widely scattered below the Sentinel Pass trail.
With Pinnacle Mountain looming high overhead on the left and the majestic peak of Mount Temple on the right, the setting for the Sentinel Pass hike is magnificent.
The uphill portion of the Sentinel Pass hike begins 200m after the creek crossing. The Sentinel Pass hiking trail is mostly gravel with a few large rocks to contend with.
Before long, you’ll reach the first of several switchbacks on the Sentinel Pass trail. Take a moment to look to your left for an amazing aerial view of the Larch Valley forest and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
The majority of the Sentinel Pass trail is wide enough for a single person. Given the popularity of Larch Valley, the Sentinel Pass hike is often quite busy, so you’ll need to stop every now and then to let other hikers safely pass.
As you ascend the Sentinel Pass trail, look up to the shoulder of Mount Temple to see a beautiful rock spire pointing towards the sky.
There’s a discreet little waterfall on some cliff rocks on the right-hand side of the Sentinel Pass trail at around the 700m mark. Chances are you’ll hear the sounds of the waterfall before you see it.
By the 900m mark of the Sentinel Pass trail, you can see both Minnestimma Lakes below. It’s nice to have a good excuse to stop and have a little break from the steady uphill climb.
After a long, straight stretch of hiking trail, you’ll reach the next switchback at the 1km mark of the Sentinel Pass hike. The landscape surrounding the Sentinel Pass trail has changed here – it is no longer rocky rubble, but instead delicate alpine plants trying to eke out a living in this challenging subarctic mountain environment.
The remaining 300m of hiking to the top of the Sentinel Pass trail consists of a series of five, short & tight switchbacks.
After 1.3km of steady, uphill hiking from the Minnestimma Lakes you’ll reach the top of Sentinel Pass. The 360-degree views from the Sentinel Pass provide some of the most breathtaking scenery in Banff National Park.
Looking north from the Sentinel Pass (with Larch Valley at your back), you’ll enjoy an incredible view of Paradise Valley. The majestic peaks of Mt. Lefroy (3,423 m), The Mitre (2,886 m), Mount Aberdeen (3,152 m), Haddo Peak (3,070 m) and Sheol Mountain (2,776 m) stand guard over the far side of Paradise Valley, with a small patch of larch trees at the bottom.
As if this view from Sentinel Pass wasn’t enough, you’ll get an incredible, up-close view of the Grand Sentinel, a massive quartzite pinnacle thrusting dramatically into the sky from Pinnacle Mountain.
Looking south from Sentinel Pass (back from where you came), you’ll see an incredible vista of the Minnestimma Lakes, Larch Valley and almost all of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (I counted 8 peaks).
With 360-degree scenery and the peaks of Mount Temple and Pinnacle Mountain looming far overhead, the top of Sentinel Pass is one of the most scenic spots in all of Banff National Park. With some of the best views in Banff, it can get pretty crowded at top of Sentinel Pass, but luckily there are lots of rock outcrops to sit on. Take a moment to just sit and soak in the incredible views you’ve earned from hiking through Larch Valley to the Sentinel Pass.
Larch Valley Sentinel Pass Trailhead
In order to hike the Sentinel Pass trail, you must first hike the Larch Valley trail. The Larch Valley trailhead is found along the Moraine Lakeshore trail (one of the best easy hikes in Banff) near the Moraine Lake Lodge on the west side of Moraine Lake. The Sentinel Pass trailhead is just past a creek at the end of the Larch Valley trail.
Moraine Lake from Banff is approximately 45 minutes and 2 hours from Calgary.
Parks Canada has closed the Moraine Lake Road to private vehicles. To visit Moraine Lake in 2024, plan ahead by booking a shuttle so you aren’t disappointed.
How to Get to Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake can no longer be reached by private vehicle, so there’s no longer concerns about Moraine Lake Parking.
There are several ways to get to Moraine Lake, but all involve booking a shuttle or a tour. We highly recommend you read our post on Getting to Moraine Lake, but if you are short on time this is a summary of the best options.
- Best Budget Option – The Parks Canada Moraine Lake shuttles operate every 20 minutes throughout the day and cost only $8 for an adult.
- Best Sunrise Option – The Moraine Lake Bus company offers shuttle rides that will get you to Moraine Lake 45 minutes before sunrise. The cost of this is only $35 per adult.
- Best Lake Louise Option – While the Moraine Lake Bus company offers sunrise shuttles to Moraine Lake, they also offer the shuttle throughout the day and have some time slots that make a stop at Lake Louise. All their shuttles leave from either the Lake Louise Village (sunrise) or the Lake Louise Ski Resort Park and Ride.
- Best Hotel Option – While expensive, staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge will give you all the time you want at this spectacular Banff lake.
- Best Option to Get to Moraine Lake from Banff – With access to a car, the Parks Canada shuttle is still one of the best options. Without a car, the Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle and Explore Banff Tours & Transfers are the two best options. In September only, we recommend the Roam Bus Route 10 for visitors without a car as it goes direct from Banff to Moraine Lake.
- Best Option to Get to Moraine Lake from Canmore – With access to a car, the Parks Canada shuttle is still one of the best options to see Moraine Lake. Without a car, getting to Moraine Lake from Canmore is easiest with the Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle or Explore Banff Tours & Transfers.
- Best Tour to Moraine Lake – Radventures offers a tour with stops at both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Visits to Moraine Lake will be at sunrise and you’ll still see Lake Louise before the crowds. It’s a 7 hour tour that also includes time for breakfast.
In addition, the Moraine Lake Road is only open between late May/early June until mid-October. The exact dates can vary but typically it’s around Victoria Day in May and after Canadian Thanksgiving in October.
Larch Valley Sentinel Pass Hike Stats
It’s impossible to hike the Sentinel Pass trail without first hiking the Larch Valley trail, so we’ll give the combined statistics here.
How Long is the Sentinel Pass Hike?
The round-trip distance of the Larch Valley Sentinel Pass trail is 11.4 km (for a one-way distance of 5.7 km). This distance is measured from the Moraine Lakeshore trail to the top of Sentinel Pass.
If you are unsure of whether you want to hike up Sentinel Pass from the end of the Larch Valley hike, you’ll be happy to know the the round-trip Sentinel Pass hike is only 2.6 km.
How Hard is the Hike to Sentinel Pass?
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass hike as “moderate”.
At 11.4 km and 817 m elevation gain, the hike through Larch Valley and up Sentinel pass is a moderate Banff day hike.
Don’t let this scare you, many people will consider this a relatively easy hike to the famous Lake Louise larch forest and mountain pass, but there are a few uphill sections that will get your heart pumping. The hiking trail starts out quite smooth but it also gets to get more rocky the higher up you climb, requiring you to watch your footing more closely.
It is a consistent climb on the way up, but you can always find a spot to take a break. Once at Larch Valley, you can choose a large rock or bench to take a break and enjoy the mountain views.
After taking a break at the Minnestimma Lakes, the 1.3 km (one-way) hike up Sentinel Pass is all uphill, but it’s never overly steep. It’s a slow and steady uphill climb to the top of Sentinel Pass.
How Long Does the Sentinel Pass Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult 3 – 4 hours to hike through Larch Valley to the Sentinel Pass.
We did the Larch Valley Sentinel Pass hike with our two kids (8 and 6 years old) during the height of larch season (it was VERY busy) and it took us around 6 hours. This included a lunch break at the top of Sentinel Pass.
Sentinel Pass Trail Map
The Larch Valley trail is easy to follow the entire way to Minnestimma Lakes and from there you can easily see where the trail continues up Sentinel Pass. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the AllTrails app while hiking to Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass, but you likely won’t need it as both hiking trails are popular and well signed.
To find the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley Trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps onto your phone prior to leaving.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, 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 we love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass trail map is found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” Gem Trek map.
Hiking Sentinel Pass Trail with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, this is an excellent Lake Louise hike for the entire family. It may be challenging for some kids, with the consistent climb and rocky sections, but it’s well worth it to make it to the top. Even kids can appreciate a view like the one you get at Larch Valley.
Take some time at the Minnestimma Lakes to see if the kids can spot a pika! You’ll hear them as you stop there for lunch.
Our kids, who are 8 and 6 years old, are decent hikers and they really enjoyed this hike. They love that they can spot a larch tree, look for pikas and take a break on benches on the way up.
They loved the exciting hike from the end of Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass. Our kids called it the Harry Potter trail as the shape of the Sentinel Pass trail reminded them of the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Due to the steep downslope along the Sentinel Pass trail, we had to watch our kids closely, but the other hikers were always very careful when passing them to reduce the danger of slipping.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are two excellent spots to stop for a break or lunch along the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass trail:
The first opportunity is to stop for lunch is at the larger of the Minnestimma Lakes or at one of the benches you’ll find along the way to Larch Valley. It’s well worth it to stop here for a break to take in this incredible scenery.
Like most, we prefer to reach the end of our hikes before we have lunch. In this case, the top of the Sentinel Pass is an incredibly scenic spot to enjoy your lunch. The 360-degree views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Paradise Valley from the top of Sentinel Pass is some of the best views in all of Banff National Park.
Larch Valley – Sentinel Pass Hiking Safety
Aside from a few sections with rocks and roots that you’ll need to hike over, there are relatively few hiking hazards along the Larch Valley hiking trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the Larch Valley.
The single-file trail from Larch Valley up Sentinel Pass presents some safety risks. The Sentinel Pass hike snakes its way up the steep mountain pass, with precarious drop offs present at all times. The Sentinel Pass trail is often busy, requiring you to allow other hikers to pass. Be mindful of everyone’s safety and you’ll be ok.
The areas around Lake Louise are prime grizzly bear habitat, so it’s important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up. At times you may find that there is a restriction for this area that requires hikers to hike in groups of 4 or more.
Cougars also live in Banff National Park. 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 Larch Valley trail report (under Moraine Lake Area) for the Larch Valley trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Larch Valley Sentinel Pass Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass hike.
- Mountain biking is not allowed on the Larch Valley trail.
- There are plenty of toilets in the Moraine Lake parking lot.
- Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Sentinel Pass Trail
Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions. Here are a few items we recommend bringing:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.
- Water – there are two extended uphill climbs on the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass trail is a consistent uphill climb and you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. 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 in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day. For fall hiking, a toque, mitts, and jacket may be necessary.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Sentinel Pass Footwear Recommendation
The Larch Valley trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but with the sections covered in roots we recommend hiking shoes or boots. This recommendation is especially true if you continue past the lakes up Sentinel Pass, where the trail surface becomes more rocky and slippery.
The Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass trail rewards hikers with some of the best views in Banff National Park. As a bonus, in fall it is also one of the best larch hikes in Banff!
Other Alberta Larch Hikes
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.