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Is It Larch Season Yet?
Advice for hiking during this magical time
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Northover Ridge Loop in Kananaskis, September 20-22, 2019
Our favourite time to hike in Alberta is almost here! In fact, Cailynn is en route to see if it is here — she’s camping at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park tonight and tomorrow night, and really hoping she has timed things right to catch golden larch trees in this iconic destination. (And yes, she’ll be following Annalise’s Lake O’Hara advice.)
For the uninitiated, larch season happens when the needles on larch trees in the Rockies turn from green to golden. It makes for a striking scene on many mountain trails, albeit a brief one. This colourful transformation typically happens from about mid-September to early October, though experts are saying heat-stressed larches are turning golden earlier than usual.
We’ve previously dubbed this season of golden larch-y goodness “the most magical time to hike in Alberta,” and it’s a distinction we stand by. Many others seem to agree as larch hunting is becoming increasingly popular. To that end, we’ve compiled some advice if you’re heading out in search of larches this year.
Saddleback Pass in Banff National Park, September 21, 2021
Embrace the thrill of the hunt
Not every larch hike is successful. You may find fluorescent green needles at your destination, not the golden colour you had hoped for. Luckily, these are scenic trails to begin with — so even sans yellow larches, you’ll find stunning mountain views.
Rockbound Lake in Banff National Park, September 24, 2017
Popular larch hikes get busy, including parking lots and trails! Have alternate destinations in mind (read on for lots of ideas), so if you show up at one spot and the parking lot is full you can easily head elsewhere. If you’re visiting trails around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, booking shuttles in advance is required. And if it’s at all possible for you, try heading out on a weekday rather than a weekend.
Paradise Valley in Banff National Park, September 19, 2020
Try a new trail
If you want to brave the very popular Larch Valley + Sentinel Pass + Paradise Valley trail in Banff National Park (pictured above), we wrote about our experience there in 2020. The TLDR version is that there’s good reason why it’s the most well-known larch hike in the Rockies, but expect extra planning and logistics to make it happen (especially now that Moraine Lake is closed to vehicles).
There are MANY other places you can go to experience larch season. We’ve been larch hiking for close to ten years, and are still exploring new-to-us trails every year.
Healy Pass in Banff National Park, September 24, 2016
Check out the photos and captions throughout this post for some ideas, and head here for our post detailing some of these trails. Last year, we each tried new routes — Cailynn did a guided hike to Hidden Lake in Banff National and Annalise went to Running Rain Lake in Kananaskis — and we wrote about both here.
Burstall Pass in Kananaskis, September 30, 2018
We also love this list from Banff National Park on golden larch day-hikes other than Larch Valley. We’ve tried many of them and our favourites so far have been Taylor Lake, Arnica Lake, Healy Pass, Rockbound Lake and Saddleback Pass.
Friends of Kananaskis also has a lengthy list of larch hikes. Note they recommend avoiding the busy Highwood Pass area, including Arethusa Cirque and Pocaterra Cirque. In Kananaskis, we have enjoyed both Burstall Pass and Chester Lake immensely.
Chester Lake, September 30, 2022