LARCH HIKES – CANADIAN ROCKIES AND SELKIRKS
Larch trees have risen to celebrity status in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains of southern British Columbia, and there’s little wonder why. These coniferous trees shed their needles, but before tucking in for the winter they turn so vibrantly yellow that they light up the landscape.
Larch tend to be in the alpine and the color change starts in mid-September and continues on into early October.
For route descriptions and trail details see “Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies“, by Graeme Pole, “Canadian Rockies Trail Guide”, by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson; “Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1” by Gillean Daffern
1. Chester Lake, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
One of the shortest hikes on the list, this easy hike to Chester Lake follows a logging road initially, then a forested trail, open meadows and finally the lake itself, framed by larches and Mt Chester. Take the trail to the left of the lake and scramble up to Elephant Rocks for even better views.
Day hike. 318m elevation gain.
2. Floe Lake, Kootenay National Park
Doable in a day, but even better as part of the continuous Rockwall Trail, Floe Lake is one of Kootenay National Park’s most beautiful locations. You’ll find plenty of larches just beyond the shores of this gorgeous alpine lake. Hikers should consider continuing to Numa Pass to take in the expansive views and the brilliantly golden hues of the larches below.
Day hike, Overnight or Multi-day hike. 718m elevation gain.
3. Gibbon Pass, Banff National Park
More easily accessed on a side-trip from Shadow Lake campground, Shadow Lake Lodge or Twin Lakes campground, Gibbon Pass is a easily forgotten part of Banff National Park that is well worth visiting during larch season. On a clear day, the pass – flanked by forests of larches – offers impressive views of peaks along the Great Divide.
Overnight hike. 300-400m elevation gain.
4. Healy Pass, Banff National Park
From the far end of the Sunshine Village parking lot you will follow Healy Creek as it leads towards the continental divide. This classic hike provides expansive views, vast alpine meadows and larch trees
9.0 km one way; 655 m elevation gain, 6 – 7 hour round trip
Trailhead: Sunshine Village parking lot, 9 km from the Trans-Canada highway.
Day hike or overnight. 655m elevation gain.
5. Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
There are so many larch-laden hikes in the Lake O’Hara region it’s worth lumping them all together. Opabin Plateau, Big Larch Trail, Schaffer Lake, and Lake McArthur all offer fantastic larch viewing experiences along some of the Rockies’ premier hiking trails. If you can’t book the campground, Lake O’Hara Lodge orElizabeth Parker Hut, you can do this in a long day trip. Bus reservations for day-use can now be made online.
Day hike, over night or multi-day. Elevation gain varies with hike.
6. Larch Valley, Banff National Park.
No list of larch hikes would be complete without Larch Valley. Now very popular, especially on weekends, this trail begins from Banff’s famous Moraine Lake and switchbacks up to an area forested with larch trees. The Ten Peaks provide a panorama in the distance, making this one of the most scenic larch hikes on our list. Take the free shuttle bus on select days to avoid parking headaches.
Day hike. 724m elevation gain.
7. Pocaterra Cirque/Ridge, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country Hikers praise this as the best for larches during the autumn. The cirque (located below Mt. Tyrwhitt) and the ridge can be accessed via an unofficial trail beginning at Highwood Pass. The ridge walk provides some of the best views in Kananaskis Country – at its highest point reaching 8,750 feet. In autumn this vista includes far-reaching spreads of larch trees in the valley below.
Day hike. Elevation gain varies.
8. Tamarack Trail, Water Lakes National Park
Named after the Larix laricina, a species of larch commonly known as the tamarack, the Tamarack Trail is a backpacking trip in Waterton Lakes National Park that offers hikers a blend of scenic meadows, high ridges, small alpine lakes and clusters of larch trees, all the while cresting the Great Divide for a good part of its 36.4-kilometre trail.
Multi-day backpack. 2560m elevation gain.
In south-central BC, the West Kootenays are seldom visited. In the centre of the Columbia Mountain Range, they are bordered by the Monashees on the west and the Purcells on the east with the Selkirk Mountains between. With the Columbia and Kootenay rivers forming Kooteany Lake, Slocan Lake and Arrow Lakes, they offer everything from day hikes to canoeing. The beautiful town of Nelson, British Columbia is a good base to explore the area. s Besides the Lyalls Larch, common in the alpine of the West Kootenay, there is also a lot of tamarack, another kind of larch tree.
”Don’t Waste Your Time in the West Kootenay” or “Where the Locals Hike” both by the Copelands – though not popular books with the locals, they are the only hiking books on the area.
1. Silver Spray, Kokanee Provincial Park
2. Pontiac Peak, Kokanee Provincial Park
3. Monica Meadows, Purcell Wilderness Conservancy