It's (Almost) Time for a Larch March!
Six hikes to try this September, aka the most magical time to hike in Alberta
Our favourite time to hike in Alberta is almost here! Every year in September, the needles on larch trees briefly turn from green to golden.
It makes for a magical scene on many mountain trails, albeit a brief one. The colourful transformation doesn’t last long; there’s typically about two to three weeks to see these vibrant colours.
Last year, our very first edition of Go Outside detailed our trip to Banff National Park’s famous Larch Valley (pictured below), over Sentinel Pass, and down into Paradise Valley (pictured above). Larch Valley is the most well-known larch hike in the Rockies, meaning the trail is very busy and it’s tricky to get a parking spot at the Insta-famous Moraine Lake, where the trail starts.
But fret not — there are many of other hikes full of lovely larches in the Rockies! We love to get out every September in search of golden goodness, and have hiked many different trails that are still stunning and far less crowded than Larch Valley.
Below are six trails in Banff National Park and Kananaskis that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years. We’ve noted when we’ve hiked them, as timing is crucial when it comes to larches. While it varies year by year, we’ve found mid- to late- September is typically the best time to catch larches in their prime. (That being said, all of these hikes are also outstanding outstide larch season!)
Annalise hiked Arethusa Cirque (see photo below) on Sunday (Sept. 12) and a handful of larches were just starting to change colours — meaning the coming weeks should be prime larch time. This trail is a fairly moderate 4.5 kilometre loop, with 378 m of elevation gain.
If you’re looking for even more ideas for larch hikes, check out Parks Canada’s list of 8 golden larch day hikes in Banff National Park or Friends of Kananaskis Country’s list of where to see larches aside from Highwood Pass.
Happy hiking during this most magical time of year! We’d love to see your photos!
Taylor Lake, Banff National Park
This hike is 6.3 kilometres one way, with 585 metres elevation gain. While the trail to this glacial lake is mostly in thick forest, the views once you get there are sublime. A glassy mountain lake AND larches… what more could you need?! Here’s a photo from a dreary day last year, on September 26.
Rockbound Lake, Banff National Park
Fresh snow and golden larches make for an extra special scene. That’s what we discovered on the trail to Rockbound Lake back on September 24, 2017. The hike is 8.4 kilometres one way to Rockbound Lake, with 760 metres elevation gain. While we can’t guarantee you’ll see the charming snow-larch combo we saw, you will for sure see iconic Castle Mountain and Rockbound Lake.
Healy Pass, Banff National Park
Healy Pass is one of our favourite larch hikes, and a trail we return to year after year. It’s lengthy — 9.0 kilometres one way, with 655 metres elevation gain — but that just means more time with the larches. As you can tell from the above photo, we timed things perfectly back on September 24, 2016. This trail is full of views, with many opportunities to see expansive larch forests complemented by a backdrop of scenic mountains.
Burstall Pass, Kananaskis
This hike is one of our favourites in the summer, but it’s also especially great during larch season. It’s a moderate 7.4 kilometres to the pass, with 470 metres elevation gain. The varied route winds through a forest, then willow flats, then climbs up to alpine meadows and the pass. As you can see from this photo taken on September 30, 2018, you’ll see pops of colour sprinkled throughout the forest as you climb up.
Galatea Lakes, Kananaskis
When Cailynn hiked this trail on a hazy day last year, on September 14, the larch trees were just starting to turn from green to gold. Had she hiked it about a week later, it would have been that much more brilliant. This trail is neat because you’ll hit pretty Lillian Lake first, at 6.3 kilometres. Continue on for 1.5 kilometres to reach Upper Galatea Lake, a much different looking lake set in a scenic alpine cirque. There’s about 611 metres elevation gain to Upper Galatea Lake.
Northover Ridge Loop, Kananaskis
For experienced hikers/backpackers looking for an unbelievable overnight trip involving countless larches, Cailynn recommends Northover Ridge Loop in Kananaskis. She hiked it on September 20-22, 2019, travelling from North Interlakes Day Use Area to Forks Campground, then the next night at Aster Lake Campground, and back out to the North Interlakes Day Use Area. Both the above and below photos are from this incredible trip.