Home Destinations Fantastic Fall Larch Hikes In Kananaskis

Fantastic Fall Larch Hikes In Kananaskis

by Karen Ung

Where to see golden larches in Kananaskis this fall.

Pocaterra Cirque Trail in 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 and steep hike has larches in fall, wildflowers in summer, small waterfalls, and a dramatic cirque. Unlike nearby Pocaterra or Arethusa Cirques, Ptarmigan Cirque 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 about it here: Ptarmigan Cirque – The Best Short Hike in Kananaskis.

4. Tryst Lake

Tryst Lake in autumn

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.

See 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.

6. Tent Ridge

With tons of time above treeline, Tent Ridge offers awesome panoramic views of the Spray Valley. Hike the ridge clockwise to do the more difficult scrambling on the way up. 10 km round trip, 800 metres elevation gain.

Read the route description for this unofficial trail here: Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis.

7. Piggy Plus Col

Definitely the weirdest named hike on the list, Piggy Plus Col is worth a visit. An unofficial trail near Burstall Pass leads to a narrow valley of larches and awesome views of the French and Robertson glaciers. 13.1 km round trip, 614 metres elevation gain. (It’s possible to bike the first 3.3 kilometres to save some time.)

Read our writeup: Hike Piggy Plus Col for Larches and Glacier Views

More Larch Hikes

Larch Fun Facts

According to Urban Dictionary, “take a larch” means to do a number two! And then there’s “wet larch”… gross! 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.

Know Before You Go

What to Bring

Disclosure: This section includes affiliate links through which I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our website!

Good hiking boots and a windproof/waterproof shell are must-haves. Trekking poles are recommended for the descent, especially if you have a heavy pack.

You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a headlamp, a GPS/compass and map of the area, bug spray (this one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), sunscreen (this one is safe for babies), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Frontiersman Bear Spray Holster (attaches to your backpack or belt) or Scat Belt.

In winter conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon or MEC), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon and Sport Chek) are recommended. 

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Unknown September 5, 2019 - 12:39 PM

Let's do it!I will pack my hiking poles.

Karen Ung November 10, 2019 - 4:22 PM

Did you get out on many larch hikes? Which was your favorite?

Comments are closed.

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