The Best Time to See the Larches in the Bow Valley

Written by
Staff Writer
August 31, 2023
Last Update
First Published on

In the Rockies, the landscape undergoes a mesmerizing transformation each fall as the larch trees show off their vibrant yellow hues. Weather changes fast in the mountains and the larch season is nearly impossible to predict but Mid to late September tends to be the best window. Fall in Banff explodes with color in the blink of an eye – a fleeting season that arrives swiftly and departs just as quickly.

Know Before You Go

Park Passes

A park pass is mandatory to enter these national parks. Buy a Park Pass to Banff National Park or Kananaskis Conservation Pass before you head out.

Respecting the Wildlife

To protect our wildlife, all visitors are asked to keep a safe distance. Keep food stored securely to prevent attracting wildlife, and never feed them. Stay on marked trails to help protect our precious ecosystems.

What to Pack

Early fall weather can be unpredictable, particularly during the larch season. Layer up and bring a waterproof jacket to handle windy summit conditions and sudden weather changes. Opt for hiking boots on challenging trails, or comfortable waterproof shoes/sneakers with good grip for a smoother trek.

Best Larch Hikes near Banff and Kananaskis

Larch Valley via Sentinel Pass

Larch Valley is one of the top spots to witness the larches' beauty. This trail starts at Moraine Lake, past the canoes. You'll follow the Sentinel Pass trail, a 4.5 km route with a 553-meter elevation gain, making it a moderately uphill hike. Most of the trail consists of forest switchbacks until you emerge. From there, you'll hike uphill through the larches to a flat valley with two small lakes. You can finish your hike here or continue to Sentinel Pass.

If you’re still keen to see what all the fuss is about, book a shuttle to Moraine Lake with Parks Canada or privately via the Moraine Lake Bus Company.

Photo Credit: Paul Zizka / Banff and Lake Louise Tourism

Arnica Lake

Check out the hidden gem of Arnica Lake on Storm Mountain's slopes. Begin at Vista Lake and keep going to Twin Lakes for extra exploration. Park at Vista Lake Viewpoint lot, a quick drive south of Castle Junction. Descend to Vista Lake and prepare for a challenging 500-meter ascent. It's rated moderate to hard due to this steep climb and the return journey uphill. Yet, the allure of the lakes and diverse trails makes it all worthwhile. Arnica Lake lies embraced by Storm Mountain's rock walls, its subalpine larches painting the landscape. Arrive early for parking, as spots fill quickly.

Photo Credit: Dan and Celine Brewer

Healy Pass (+ Egypt Lake Trail)

This trail begins at Sunshine Village Ski Area, with the trailhead located behind the lodge. While not too steep, the challenge lies in its length, spanning 18 kilometers and a gradual elevation gain of 890-meters. Much of the hike takes place in the forest until you reach a point where you'll be greeted by the striking golden larches – a truly breathtaking sight! The trail continues uphill, leading to a viewpoint that offers a stunning mountain panorama with Egypt Lake in the distance. For those looking for more adventure, you can opt to continue to Egypt Pass or retrace your steps back to the start.

Photo Credit: The Banff Blog

Pocaterra Ridge

The usual way to tackle Pocaterra Ridge is as a point-to-point hike, making having two cars a good option. If there's only one car, the alternative is an out-and-back hike known as South Pocaterra Ridge, which still offers impressive views, especially during larch season.

To start, follow the signs for Ptarmigan Cirque from the car park. Soon, you'll notice the trail veering left, indicating Pocaterra Ridge.

The hike's endpoint is the summit of Pocaterra Ridge. Going the out-and-back route covers 9.3 kilometers and a 745-meter elevation gain. Stick to the right path, and you'll find yourself in a vast valley enveloped by larch trees. Trek about 1 kilometer through this picturesque forest.

Photo Credit: The Banff Blog

Arethusa Cirque

Arethusa Cirque in Alberta offers a serene hike near Highwood Pass. The trailhead, about 1.4 km southeast of Highwood Meadows Day Use Area, is unmarked. The round-trip trail covers 4.5 km, with a 250-meter elevation gain and suits all skill levels. Expect alpine views and a tranquil path. The cirque is a natural amphitheater formed by ancient glaciers, with surrounding peaks and larches.

Photo Credit: The Banff Blog

Discover the Larches with a Guide

Looking for an alternative way to see the larches? There’s tons of opportunities to see them in unique ways throughout the Canadian Rockies.

You also have the option to make your reservations through Discover Banff Tours or White Mountain Adventures. They offer guided excursions to incredible places like Moraine Lake, Plain of Six Glaciers, Stanley Glacier, and Larch Valley. These trips include a knowledgeable guide and a delightful picnic lunch. And if you're up for a unique experience, why not explore these spots on horseback?

Where to Stay During Larch Season

We highly recommend MTN House in Canmore, offering convenient access to both Banff National Park and Kananaskis Improvement Area, home to numerous hiking trails. A scenic drive along this route will treat you to the vivid colors of fall foliage, adding an extra layer of enchantment to your journey. Elevate your experience with a touch of luxury at MTN House, where the in-house restaurant, Rhythm & Howl is set to open on September 17th, ensuring your comfort and culinary satisfaction.

If you're seeking budget-friendly options, Northwinds Hotel Canmore is a fantastic choice. This accommodation provides cozy beds and a superb location, granting you easy access to the finest parts of the Canadian Rockies.

Alternatively, consider Baker Creek, nestled just outside Lake Louise, in the heart of Banff National Park. Here, you'll witness the mesmerizing transformation of larches on the property, as they transform into a golden wonderland, come late September. Complete with creekside fire pits, this secluded haven embodies the very essence of fall magic.

Last but not least, there is also Basecamp Suites Banff, located right in downtown Banff, where you can witness breathtaking views from the comfort of our rooftop hot tub.

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