Where to see golden larches in Kananaskis this fall.
You’ve gotta get high to find larches – they grow above 1,800 metres (5906 feet) – but it’s worth it in autumn when the needles turn from green to gold. This stunning display of color happens in late September and if you blink, you’ll miss it. There’s a small window of time from when the needles turn and fall off. Alpine larch trees (Larix lyallii) are unusual deciduous conifers that drop their needles each fall, usually by mid-October.
Where can you see larches? Head to Highwood Pass, the highest paved pass in Canada, or Smith-Dorrien Trail for the best larch hikes in Kananaskis Country. There are a few larches near Kananaskis Village too if you hike high enough (try Mount Kidd Fire Lookout or Centennial Ridge). Here are some of our favorite fall larch hikes.
1. Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge
Hike to a pretty tarn ringed by larches, or to a ridgetop with spectacular, panoramic views. If you choose to do the whole 10.3 km (one way) ridge walk, go with a friend and leave a car (or bike) at Little Highwood Pass. To the tarn: 2.1 km, 200 m elevation gain; to the cirque: 2.5 km to the cirque, 225 m; to the ridge: 4 km, 450 m
Get the scoop on this trail at: Amazing Larches at Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge.
2. Arethusa Cirque
Arethusa Cirque is a must-do in autumn. Hike through golden foliage, past a little waterfall and fossils, to the cirque with Storm Mountain dominating the skyline. If you’re feeling energetic, summit Little Arethusa (scramble with exposure). There’s nothing little about the views from the top! 4.5 km loop, 275 m elevation gain. Add 1 km and 330 m elevation gain for Little Arethusa.
For details on this hike, read: Awesome Arethusa Cirque and Little Arethusa.
3. Ptarmigan Cirque
You can’t go wrong with Ptarmigan Cirque! This short hike has larches in fall, wildflowers in summer, small waterfalls, and a dramatic cirque. Although Ptarmigan has fewer larch trees than nearby Pocaterra or Arethusa Cirques, it is an official trail with signage so you don’t need to worry about route-finding. 4.5 km loop, 200 m elevation gain.
Read more here: Ptarmigan Cirque – The Best Short Hike in Kananaskis.
4. Tryst Lake
It’s a short, steep hike to Tryst Lake, a little lake (more of a pond in fall) nestled between The Fist and Tent Ridge. For a better view of the larches, go to the east end of the lake and hike up the ridge (on the left in this photo)! 6.6 km round trip, 260 m elevation gain to lake. 9.5 km return, 600 m gain to ridge.
Read our trail report here: Tryst Lake Trail, Kananaskis.
5. Chester Lake
Chester Lake trail is a great year-round destination, but is prettiest in fall, when the larches turn. For the best view, continue on to the Elephant Rocks and an upper viewpoint looking down on the lake. 9.2 km round trip, 275 m elevation gain to the lake. 10.3 km, 374 m elevation gain to Elephant Rocks.
For more information, see our story: Year Round Fun at Chester Lake.
Larch Fun Facts
According to Urban Dictionary, “take a larch” means to do a number two! And then there’s wet larch… What?! I had no idea! Have you heard of any of these different uses of the word larch?
Larches are extremely hardy and long-lived. One specimen in Kananaskis is estimated to be around 2,000 years old! Source: Wikipedia.
More Larch Hikes in Kananaskis & Banff National Park
- Mount Kidd Fire Lookout, Kananaskis Village: 3.5 kilometres, 350 metres of elevation to the lookout
- Centennial Ridge, Kananaskis: look for larches past the false summit
- Black Prince Cirque (Warspite Lake): 5 km round trip (look for larches on the right side of the lake), 90 metres elevation gain
- Kicking Horse Viewpoint, Lake Louise Gondola: 1.7 km return
- Saddleback Pass, Lake Louise: 3.7 km, 595 m elevation gain to the pass
- Mount Fairview, Lake Louise: 5.1 km, 1013 m elevation gain to the summit
- Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise: 6 km, 900 m elevation gain to the summit
Know Before You Go
Kananaskis is prime grizzly bear territory:
- Hike in a group, make noise frequently (especially near streams or where/when visibility is poor), and keep bear spray accessible. For more tips, please read our bear safety tips for hikers.
- Check Alberta Parks Advisories before heading out and avoid trails with bear closures or bear warnings
- Carry The Ten Essentials on every hike!