Larch needles turn golden for only a couple weeks each fall. Here are some of the best larch hikes in Banff National Park!
Larch Valley (near Moraine Lake) is the most famous larch hike in Banff by far, but it isn’t the only one! Find larches above 2,000 metres at Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village, around Lake Louise, and near Castle Junction. The needles of these unique deciduous conifers turn golden for a few weeks each year (typically late September in the Canadian Rockies) before falling off like leaves, so you have a short window in which to enjoy them. Here are some of Banff’s best larch hikes. Enjoy!
Lake Louise Larch Hikes
During larch season, parking at Lake Louise fills up by 6:30/7 am (and costs $21/day from 7 am to 7 pm until October 9, 2023), so the Parks Canada shuttle is recommended. See our Getting Around Banff National Park guide for transportation options.
Kicking Horse Viewpoint, Lake Louise Gondola
Kicking Horse Viewpoint is a short but sweet larch hike from the top of the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola with stellar views of Mount Temple, Lake Louise, and Victoria Glacier. No shuttle is required, there’s tons of free parking at the ski hill, and there is fantastic dining at Whitehorn Bistro (temporarily closed but will reopen in 2024). The gondola runs until October 9, 2023. 1.7 km round trip, 175 m elevation gain.
Saddleback Pass and Mount Fairview, Lake Louise
It’s a steep grind to the Saddleback Pass, where Mount Temple rises above an expanse of larches, and an even steeper climb to Mount Fairview’s summit, but the fall colors, and mountain and glacier views are superb. Hike to the pass for larches, and Mount Fairview for epic panoramic views.
- Saddleback Pass: 3.7 km one way, 595 m elevation gain to the pass
- Mount Fairview: 5.1 km one way, 1013 m elevation gain to the summit
Little Beehive & Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise
Hike to the Little Beehive Viewpoint in only an hour for lovely views of Lake Louise, Mount Fairview, the Beehive, and Lake Agnes. Where the crowds go left for Lake Agnes, you go right! Larches dot the mountainside adding pops of color and lakes glitter like jewels below. If time allows, head up to the top of Mount St. Piran for even loftier views!
- Little Beehive: 9.2 km round trip, 540 m elevation gain
- Mount St. Piran: 12 km round trip, 900 m elevation gain to the summit
Lake Agnes Teahouse & Big Beehive, Lake Louise
Lake Agnes Teahouse is a classic Lake Louise hike with lake views, larches, a small waterfall, and backcountry teahouse. Start at Lake Louise, and visit Mirror Lake on the way to Lake Agnes. 6.8 km round trip, 385 m elevation gain.
Going Further: Take switchbacks from Lake Agnes to the top of the Big Beehive for a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise (see photo below). 1.6 km one way from Lake Agnes; 135 m elevation gain.
Moraine Lake Larch Hikes
As of 2023, personal vehicles are no longer permitted on Moraine Lake Road. See our Moraine Lake Transportation Guide for all the ways you can get to the lake.
Paradise Valley and the Giant Steps, Lake Louise
Get your steps in at Paradise Valley and the Giant Steps. This trail takes you past Lake Annette and through larches to a stunning waterfall that cascades over natural stone steps. The crux is getting the golden bus ticket to the trailhead. 20 km round trip, 700 m elevation gain.
Larch Valley and Minnestima Lakes
Larch Valley is a breathtaking hiking trail renowned for its stunning alpine scenery and vibrant larches. This moderately challenging trail offers hikers a switchback-y ascent through Engelmann spruce and alpine fir trees, leading to a magnificent larch forest backdropped by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Capture mountain and larch reflections in Minnestima Lakes before you head back to Moraine Lake. 9 km round trip, 550 m elevation gain.
Going Further: It’s a steep 1 kilometre hike with 200 metres of elevation gain from the end of Larch Valley to scenic Sentinel Pass. Peer down into Paradise Valley on the other side and up at the pinnacles.
Hike from Moraine Lake to Eiffel Lake for fantastic views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Wenkchemna Glacier. This trail tends to be less busy than nearby Larch Valley, but still has lots of larches! 5.6 km one way, 370 m one way.
Going Further: At the end of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Wenkchemna Pass sits on the Continental Divide. The pass is 4.1 km with 350 m elevation gain past Eiffel Lake.
Sunshine Village & Castle Junction Area Larch Hikes
No shuttle is required for Healy Pass or trails near Castle Junction! Note that Arnica Lake has a very small parking lot (about 12 spots), but Taylor Lake has a big parking lot, and Sunshine Village Ski Resort has tons of parking for Healy Pass hikers. For everyone’s safety, do NOT park on the side of the highway! Have a backup plan (or two) if parking isn’t available.
Healy Pass has TONS of larches and sweeping mountain views, so it’s well worth the distance. While the majority of the hike is in the trees, the good news is that the elevation gain is gradual and there is ample free parking at Sunshine Village Ski Resort (Google Maps pin). The trail is marked and easy to follow too! Allow 5-6 hours to complete the hike. Find the trailhead behind the lodge. 19 km round trip, 750 m elevation gain.
Taylor Lake & O’Brien Lake
A steep, forested trail leads to Taylor Lake, a pretty alpine lake surrounded by larches. Park at Taylor Creek Day Use (Google Maps pin). 6.3 km one way, 585 m elevation gain.
Going Further: You’ll find even more larches at O’Brien Lake, a picturesque tarn 2.1 km + 55 m elevation gain past Taylor Lake.
Arnica Lake and Arnica Ridge
Arnica Lake Trail boasts lakes, larches and panoramic views from the ridge. Pass emerald green Vista Lake en route to Arnica Lake, a crystal clear lake ringed with larches. Park at Vista Lake Day Use (Google Maps pin) on Highway 93S. 4.7 km one way, 700 m elevation gain.
Going Further: Hike up to Arnica Ridge overlooking Arnica Lake as well as Upper and Lower Twin Lakes (add on 1.7 km, 160 m elevation gain), or hike down to the lakes. It’s 3 km from Arnica Lake to the Twin Lakes.
Larch Hikes Near Banff
See our Fantastic Fall Larch Hikes in Kananaskis story for more great larch hikes! None of these trails require a shuttle or paid parking, however a Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to park in the park (one pass per vehicle).
Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park is amazing in autumn, but there’s no vehicle access. You must walk 11 km down a gravel road to the lake if you don’t have Parks Canada bus tickets. We recommend taking the bus if possible so you can enjoy hiking in the area. Opabin Prospect and Lake Oesa are two lovely hikes that aren’t too long. McArthur Lake and the Alpine Circuit are fantastic longer hikes if you have time.
It’s a long but rewarding hike to gorgeous Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park. If you’re lucky enough to score a campsite at the lake, you can enjoy sunset and sunrise there!
Know Before You Go
- A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to stop in Banff National Park.
- Parking is limited in downtown Banff and at the Banff Gondola, and Parks Canada Shuttles are recommended for visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. See our Getting Around Banff Guide for info re: free parking, public transit, and shuttles.
- You are in bear territory. Review our Bear Safety Tips and keep bear spray accessible (NOT in your backpack). Every adult in your party should have their own bear spray, and know how to use it.
- Dogs must be kept on a leash. For bear safety, Parks Canada and bear safety experts recommend leaving your dog at home.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.