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 km
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 km
Elevation Gain: 378 m
This in-and-out trail, located just off Highway 40 in Kananaskis, 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 km and 300 m 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 km
Elevation Gain: 799 km
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, so getting there early is a must if you plan on finding a parking spot. Otherwise, grab the shuttle from Lake Louise Ski Resort, which will take you there.
Larch Valley Trail runs along the edge of Moraine Lake then ascends for a difficult 2.5 km 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.