5 Best Golden Larch Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are one of the best places to experience Fall in Canada. When the trees start to change colour, you’ll notice the popular larch trees begin to glow a bright, golden yellow colour for about 1-2 weeks. When this happens, they are very delicate and won’t last very long. This is why hikers and photographers alike go crazy over larch season!

After our first larch season, I’ve come up with a list to share with you from our adventures while larch hunting. Although we didn’t tackle every single hike on my list, I’ve included a bonus section of hikes that we want to do next year. However, we did some of the best hikes in the Rockies and saw some of the best larches of my life! If this sounds like what you’re looking for to plan next years trip, this blog is for you!

Hiking in Alberta & What to Expect

Coming from Vancouver, I noticed that hiking in Alberta & the Canadian Rockies is much different. The first thing to note is elevation changes and higher altitudes when hiking. This is something I noticed immediately, and it caused me to have a more difficult time catching my breath on the trails. After a few days and a few hikes I felt better, but it is recommended to acclimatize yourself for a few days before hiking.

Another difference I noticed is the terrain that you’re hiking on. We’ve never hiked such loose rock & shale than in Alberta, and it can be slippery. That’s why I recommend picking up a pair of hiking poles! Finally, these trails are well-maintained and you need to purchase both your Parks Canada pass and Kananaskis Pass if you’re doing these hikes. Remember to leave no trace and respect the trails!

Preparing for your Hike

You should be prepared to be at the trailhead early so that you can secure your parking spot. Most of these trails are popular for a good reason, and you should expect the trails to be busy on weekends or during the day. Most of these trailheads provide paid-parking and have washrooms available at the trailhead.

Not sure what to pack for your day-hike? Check out my day-hike packing list. All of the gear I reference here can be found on our guide. I truly think that it’s important to be prepared while you’re hiking and the initial investment will last you for years. Plus, it makes hiking so much more enjoyable with proper gear!

Best Time to Visit & Chase the Larches

Our first season of larch hiking was done in 2022, and it was a later season than usual. The typical advice given for larch hiking is that the last 2 weeks of September and the 1st week of October are the best for changing colours. However, since we had a later season the last week of September and first week of October were the best. We arrived early, but it was amazing to see the Fall colours change in front of our eyes.

A good way to watch if the larches are ready are by going out and looking at the mountains. The mountains near Lake Louise are visible by the road and you can see them filled with golden yellow. We also check AllTrails reviews for updates on larches, and we watch stories from other hikers on IG & TikTok.

Best Larch Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

Larch Valley

Distance: 4.5 KM, Elevation: 553 M, Difficulty: Moderate, Location: Lake Moraine

One of the best places to see the larches is appropriately named Larch Valley. This hike begins at Moraine Lake and the trailhead is past the canoes. You’ll be hiking the Sentinal Pass trail, which leads you through Larch Valley. This trail is 4.5 KM with 553 M elevation gain and is a pretty moderate uphill hike. Most of the hike consists of switchbacks through the forest until you break out of the forest. Then you’ll hike uphill through the larches until you reach the flat valley overlooking 2 small lakes. You can end your hike here, or continue to Sentinal Pass.

Healy Pass

Distance: 18.3 KM, Elevation: 890 M, Difficulty: Moderate, Location: Sunshine Village Banff

Our personal favourite larch hike is Healy Pass. This hike begins at Sunshine Village Ski Area and you’ll find the trailhead behind the lodge. This hike is only difficult because it’s a very long one, but the elevation gain is spread out over the 18 KM trail reaching 890 M elevation gain. You’ll be hiking in the forest for most of the time, but once you break out and start to see the golden larches you’ll be mind-blown! The hike continues uphill to a view overlooking the mountains and Egypt Lake in the distance. If you want to extend your hike, you can continue to Egypt Pass or go back the way you came. 

Kananaskis Hikes

Tent Ridge, Distance: 10 KM, Elevation: 827 M, Difficulty: Hard, Scramble, Location: Kananaskis Country

Instead of naming a specific hike on this one, I wanted to dedicate a section to all of the Kananaskis hikes because they have some of the best larches and views in the Rockies. Pocaterra Ridge is one of the most popular for larches, along with Tent Ridge and Sarrail Ridge. We hiked Tent Ridge and were surprised with the amount of larches on the trail! I definitely recommend hiking in Kananskis if you’re in the area, and don’t forget to buy your Kananaskis pass.

Floe Lake

Distance: 19 KM, Elevation: 958 M, Difficulty: Hard, Location: Kootenay National Park

While still considered the Canadian Rockies, Floe Lake is in Kootenay National Park in BC. This is a part of the multi-day Rockwall trail but the 19 KM with 958 M elevation gain will bring you to Floe Lake. This spot is also a campground if you want to stay overnight. In front of one of the most in-your-face mountains I’ve ever seen lies Floe Lake with a perfect reflection. You’ll find larches surrounding the lake and if you want to climb 2KM further you’ll find the best larches at Numa Pass. It was a bit early in the season when we visited, but still a must-see!

Lake O’Hara

Distance: 11KM to the lake, up to 30KM or more round-trip, Location: Yoho National Park

One of the most difficult larch trails for us was hiking 11KM into Lake O’Hara to begin the Alpine Circuit hike and the Obapin Plateau hike. Typically, you would purchase bus tickets when they go on sale at the beginning of the year but know that they are a hot-ticket item that sell out quickly. If you’re like us and don’t have a bus pass, consider hiking 11KM in and another 11KM out on the road. You’ll find some of the best larches here, and another suggestion is to add Lake McArthur to your Lake O’Hara hiking itinerary. 

Additional Hikes & hikes we didn’t do:

  • Skokie Valley (Boulder Pass)
  • Arnica Lake
  • Big Beehive
  • Mount St Piran
  • Smutwood Peak
  • Chester Lake

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