Larch Valley

Banff National Park

The best hike in Banff for golden larches and snowy peaks in autumn.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
8.8 km
Ascent
554 m
Descent
554 m
Duration
2-3 hrs
Low Point
1.9 km
High Point
2.4 km
Gradient
10˚
Larch Valley Map

Larch Valley is just what it sounds like–a basin forested by lovely deciduous conifers. It is far from the only valley of its kind in Banff National Park, but it may be the most spectacular. Larches resemble their evergreen relatives during the warm months, but in autumn, their needles turn gold before going brown and dropping to the ground. Mid to late September is the peak of their color, and Larch Valley is one of the best places to witness it.

Description

In summer, this trail remains popular for elevated views of the Ten Peaks and Moraine Lake, and for the wild setting of Minnestimma Lake beyond the larch forest. At any time of year, it’s a fairly committing hike that departs the crowded and relatively tame lakeshore for high and rugged backcountry. You should be prepared for quickly changing weather and always hike in groups of four or more for safety.

From the Moraine Lakeshore area, Larch Valley Trail heads immediately uphill through thick subalpine forest. Soon the hillside becomes quite steep, and the trail takes to switchbacks that are rocky in places. Eventually, the gradient lessens, and you’ll find yourself in a dense grove of larch trees. The scenery becomes a patchwork of forest and grassy clearings, with the Ten Peaks defining a dramatic skyline.

The trail proceeds gradually uphill, soon leaving the trees behind for alpine meadows, then arrives at Minnestimma Lake, tucked beneath two towering peaks. The route mapped here only goes to the lake, which is a fine spot to have a picnic lunch before hiking back down. However, the trail continues over Sentinel Pass, which is visible ahead. It’s 1.5 km farther and 200 m higher to reach the pass, but well worth it if the weather remains clear. From there, you’ll gaze over the other side into Paradise Valley and across to another horizon of peaks.

Sources: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/randonee-hiking/lakelouise http://www.albertawow.com/hikes/SentinelPass/SentinelPass.htm

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area