Three Fall Hiking Alternatives to Larch Valley

Trek these trails to take in the famous fall larches without the crowds



Photograph by Fabian Mayer

 

Fall is arguably the best time of year to hike in the Rockies. The crisp air makes for clear views while bright yellow larches dotting the mountain slopes complete postcard worthy vistas.

The larches have already started to change colour and will be in their full golden glory this weekend. Larch Valley near Lake Louise is an obvious option for seeing the trees, but it tends to get crowded and parking can be a nightmare. 

For those looking to avoid the masses here are three alternatives that still offer great views of the fabled foliage. 

 

Burstall Pass

This Kananaskis Country favourite is particularly beautiful in the fall. Starting out on a small logging road the trail leads to wide gravel flats that already offer decent views of the surrounding peaks. After re-entering the forest the trail quickly gains elevation eventually coming out to beautiful alpine meadow. The final ascent begins after the meadow, the trees begin to thin yielding ever more impressive views of the broad valley encircled by imposing walls of rock and filled with golden larches. Mount Assiniboine, along with countless other peaks, can be seen from the top. 

Tip: The first three kilometres or so can be biked to cut down on walking time. 

Distance: 15 km
Elevation gain: 470 m
Driving time from Calgary: 1 hour and 45 minutes

 

Taylor Lake

Fall is by far the best time to do this this Banff National Park alternative to Larch Valley. The trailhead is just off Highway 1, roughly eight kilometres west of Castle Junction. The wide trail steadily switchbacks through forest until eventually opening up to a creek-divided meadow shortly before the lake. Mount Bell towers over the alpine amphitheatre while the plentiful larches that surround the lake reflect beautifully in the blue-green water.

Tip: Those with something left in the legs can continue 1.8 km to O’Brien Lake for more larch and lake scenery.

Distance: 12.5 km
Elevation: 585 m
Driving time from Calgary: 1 hour and 45 minutes

 

Pocaterra Ridge

This challenging Kananaskis ridgewalk is best tackled with two vehicles. Leave one at the Little Highwood Pass parking lot and continue on to the top of Highwood Pass. Follow the gravel path from the north end of the parking lot until a trail branches off to your left. The challenging hike ascends gradually through forest at first then steeply to get up to the ridge. The first peak is the most difficult but the views along the ridge and of the large swathes of bright yellow larches hugging the hillside are worth it. After passing three smaller summits and descending the ridge the trail meanders through magically dense pockets of the striking trees. Take your time on the steep descent back to the highway. 

Tip: If you’re using a single car hitch a ride from a fellow hiker after you’ve finished. Or, stash a bike at Highwood Pass, do the trail in reverse and enjoy the white-knuckle ride down to your car. 

Distance: 11 km
Elevation: 500 m
Driving time from Calgary: 1 hour and 30 minutes


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