Larch Valley Hike in Banff National Park

Who else out there loves everything about fall? The cool crisp mornings, the smells of apple and cinnamon, the occasional pumpkin spice latte, and of course we can’t forget the beautiful red and brown foliage that is so representative of the season. Here in my part of the world, fall can be short-lived. We can enjoy fall weather for two days before going through a crazy snowstorm! So for a fall lover like me, it’s important to get out there and enjoy the season during the narrow window of fall that we get.

Cue the Larch Valley hike in Banff National Park. In the fall, the larch trees turn golden brown and the Larch Valley trail takes you right to a larch meadow where you can enjoy the fall foliage against a backdrop of grand mountains. The best time to hike Larch Valley is generally around the 3rd week of September.

Larch Valley trail begins at the stunning Moraine Lake. The trail is very popular at this time of year, so parking at the lake can be quite limited. It is recommended that you take the free shuttle bus that leaves from the Lake Louise overflow parking so that you don’t have to worry about looking for parking. Click here for more information on the shuttle. I would also recommend an earlier start so that you can enjoy the views with less people around.

After taking the time to enjoy Moraine Lake, walk by the Moraine Lake Lodge to find the trailhead for Larch Valley trail. You’ll quickly find yourself tackling some switchbacks uphill, as the trail takes you up 535m in elevation. I’ll be the first to say that hiking the incline isn’t fun, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded. When you reach the trail junction for Larch Valley and the Eiffel Lakes, you’ll know that you’re close to the larches.

Continue down Larch Valley trail, and you’ll see the scenery around you start to change. The occasional speckle of gold amongst the rich green of the trees around you will turn into larger patches of gold. And before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by gold. If you’re hiking on a sunny day, the sunlight shining through the larch needles makes the colours even more vibrant.

Cross a small wooden bridge, and you’ll find yourself at the golden valley. Take as long as you need here to enjoy the views. If you packed a snack for your hike, this is a great spot to perch on a rock to eat it. You might even make a bird friend while you’re here!

If all you came for was the views of the larches, you can turn around and head back down the trail, back to Moraine Lake. But if you decide to keep following the trail, you’ll come across some lakes on your way towards Sentinel Pass. If there is snow on the ground, you may want to make sure you have the proper gear (poles and ice cleats) before you tackle Sentinel Pass as there is a bit of elevation to get up there.

Tips for hiking Larch Valley:

  • Check the weather at Moraine Lake before your visit.

  • Although the ideal time to see Larch Valley can change (because nature can have a mind of its own) generally the best time is around the 3rd week of September.

  • To make sure you visit when the larches are a beautiful gold, check the recent photos at the Larch Valley location tag on Instagram, to see what views others got to see there recently!

  • It can get a little chilly and windy during your hike so bring a wind jacket, a toque (which is Canadian for a beanie!), and suitable footwear.

  • The trail is around 4.3 km one way, so it can take about 3.5 to 4 hours to hike there and back.

  • Moraine Lake is closed in the winter (November - late April) due to risk of avalanche, which means you won’t be able to access the trail either during these months.

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This post is linked up on Our World Tuesday, and…