And just like that summer has melted into fall. Where I live in Alberta, we don’t get any of that dramatic orange and red foliage, but we do have larch trees and they are pretty spectacular. Larches love high altitude and one of the most famous spots in Canada for viewing them is Larch Valley near Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Here’s a look at what to expect on this super popular trail, plus some relevant hiking tips to make your trek more pleasant. Tip: A less crowded spot near Banff to see the larches is at Sunshine Meadows at Sunshine Village Ski Resort and Heart Mountain near Canmore is another lovely hike. 

Everything you need to know before hiking Larch Valley

I spy hikers through the needles of a larch tree! (Photo credit: Paul Zizka)

Larch Valley Hike

For many outdoorsy types, autumn is the very best time of year to hike – Larch Valley or anywhere else. The crowds have dispersed (errr, except on this hike), the temperature isn’t too hot and for photography buffs, the light is intoxicating. For regular joes, you’ll be wowed by the colours. There is a brief two week period when larch needles morph from the deepest green to lime to golden yellow, and that change is going on right now.

What you need to know before doing the Larch Valley hike

Is your balance good enough to cross this natural bridge?

During this time of year a stillness descends over the forests and meadows. Nature has stopped producing and is taking a quiet moment of reflection before getting ready for winter’s deep sleep. It can be hard to tap into this quiet yet powerful energy, but it’s possible if you know how to become still enough. Unfortunately, I don’t. Because I had such a transformative experience forest bathing last year, I knew I’d be better off connecting to nature on this hike if I did it with Walk with Ronna, a certified guide and naturalist operating out of Canmore.

When is the best time to the view the larches at Lake Louise?

As far as seasons go, we’re about two weeks ahead of where we typically are, so the larches are changing colour right now. They’ll be at their prime this coming weekend and early next week. It’s worth taking a day off work and hiking on a weekday because weekends are a mother.

colourful canoes

Take in these views from the parking lot before beginning your hike

Last Saturday, we arrived at the Moraine Lake parking lot at 8:45 a.m., and there were only five parking spaces left! If you’re from Calgary, you’ll want to leave the city by 6:30 a.m. at the latest on weekends. Because this hike is so popular (up to 800 hikers a day!), complimentary shuttles operate from the main parking lot in Lake Louise village.

Tips for Lake Louise hikes

On any of the Lake Louise hikes, you ought to know bears are on the prowl for a few billion calories before bedding down in their dens. We spotted several places right next to the trail where a grizzly had been digging for ground squirrels, one of their favourite little snacks. If you don’t hike in groups of four you’ll be fined. For real. The signs are up and we spotted a Parks Canada dude issuing tickets. (The only wildlife we saw was a grouse foraging for berries.)

taking selfies in nature

Yes, we took selfies along the trail, but we weren’t the only ones!

Sentinnel Pass

Starting from the Lake Moraine parking lot, you’ll scoot around the right side of the lake for a few minutes, before quickly ascending a series of switchbacks. The trick is to slow your pace down. It should be easy enough to carry on a conversation. If you’re hiking all the way up the Sentinel Pass, you’ll want to conserve your energy.

innukshuk mountain

We were rewarded with sublime views of Mount Temple and the Sentinel Pass

The switchbacks aren’t all bad. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to look down onto turquoise Moraine Lake. Scratch that. The lake is such an eerie shade of blue. Blue raspberry Kool-Aid is a more accurate description.

view of moraine lake from larch valley trail

Side note: Once a tourist asked a staff member at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise how Lake Louise was such a brilliant blue. The employee said every night they drained the lake at 7 p.m. and then quickly painted the base before filling it up again. Rumour has it a crowd descended upon the lakeshore at 7 p.m. that evening and was gutted this wasn’t the case. The employee was fired. Is this true? No idea, but it’s a funny story.

painting lake bottom

(Photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Fun fact: The reason the lakes in Banff National Park are so brilliantly blue (or green) is because of a silt-like rock flour that’s constantly being carried into the lake by melt-water from the surrounding glaciers.

valley of ten peaks

Once you hit this meadow, the colours begin to appear

After all the switchbacks, you’ll come upon meadows with stunning views of Valley of the Ten Peaks. This is where the larches start to appear. Go ahead and touch their needles. You’ll find they’re soft like feathers and not at all pokey.

woman autumn hiking

For best pictures, wear contrasting colours. Black and white looks good or try blue, orange or red.

Surprisingly, in autumn you’ll likely to find wildflowers still anchoring the trail. We saw loads of yellow arnica and even some purple fleabane on its last legs.

high alpine flowers

And still there’s wildflowers!

Because I went with Ronna of Forest Fix, we veered of the main trail and took a secret path through the larches. Bye bye packed trail, hello sense of quietude. Away from the crowds, we were able to tap into the magic of this place. At times I felt overwhelmed, I mean look at these views!

mountain yoga

What I saw during downward dog. Sure beats the yoga studio.

Except the pic below wasn’t taken in Larch Valley. (Close by though…) Still, you get my drift..

larch hike

Fall hiking around Lake Louise (Photo credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka Photography)

hiking larch valley in banff national park

Have you ever been hiking in Larch Valley or around Lake Louise? I’d love to know how your experience went.