While the Rocky Mountains are beautiful any time of year, fall is when they really shine, thanks to the bright and brilliant larch trees. Larches are coniferous, with needles much like those of a pine tree — but unlike pines, larches turn yellow and lose their needles each fall.
The bright dots of gold and yellow among the mountains’ green vistas are a sight not to be missed, but you can only see it for a few weeks each year, typically from mid-September to mid-October. These three hikes are great options if you want to take in the autumnal spectacle for yourself.
Distance: 2.1 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 50 metres
The Bow River Loop is an easy trail located in the heart of Canmore, making it an ideal choice for families with children or for those who just want to snap a quick photo among the larches. The trail circles around the Bow River, and while the larches may be less abundant than in other areas, the contrast between the yellow trees and blue water still makes this one of the best spots for viewing the fall colours.
Distance: 4.5 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 378 metres
Located just off Highway 40 in Kananaskis, this in-and-out trail is an excellent moderate-level hike that’s an easy drive for a quick day trip. From the trailhead, the hike heads upwards along a well-marked route until reaching a relatively flat clearing below Mount Arethusa and circling through the larches. For an added challenge and a better view, the hike to Little Arethusa’s summit adds two kilometres to the distance and 300 metres of elevation up scree and loose rocks, but it’s worth it to see the sea of yellow in the valley below.
Distance: 11.1 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 749 metres
As the name suggests, this hike is one of the best in the Rocky Mountains for seeing the larches in their full glory. The trailhead is located at Moraine Lake, which is now closed to public vehicles due to overcrowding, so some extra planning is required to visit this incredible larch hike. There are now plenty of public options to get there from Lake Louise and Banff, such as the Parks Canada Shuttle or via Roam Transit. Shuttles to Moraine Lake run until October 9.
Larch Valley Trail runs along the edge of Moraine Lake then ascends for a difficult 2.5 kilometres up a series of steep switchbacks (this section offers some unique views of Moraine Lake). From there, the trail winds on a steady incline through the larch forests until reaching Sentinel Pass, with an unbeatable view of the larch trees below, as well as the 10 peaks Moraine Lake is famous for.