The Larch Valley hike in Banff National park is a must-do. One of the best reasons to visit Banff and Lake Louise in the fall season are the truly spectacular larch trees. One of the most famous locations for viewing golden larch trees is Larch Valley near Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This is an incredible autumn hiking choice in the Canadian Rockies and a bucket-list must!
To be completely honest, I’ve lived within a 2-hour drive of this amazing hike for over 15 years and have only hiked it for the very first time this season! Why, you ask? I’ve heard countless times from numerous people that this is a busy, busy, busy hike packed full of tourists, and that the sheer amount of people frequenting this trail can ruin the beauty of the experience. However, I’m here to report back that, while busy, this hike is indeed worth it. And there are, of course, ways to experience the trail with as little traffic as possible.
Read on to discover what to expect on this stunning trail, and some insight to make your adventure as enjoyable as possible.
- How do you get to Larch Valley?
- When is the best time to hike Larch Valley?
- How do you avoid the crowds at Larch Valley?
- Larch Valley Trail hiking details: distance and elevation gain
- How long does the Larch Valley trail take to hike?
- How hard is the Larch Valley? Can anyone hike it?
- What exactly are these famous larch trees and why are they such a big deal?
- What are other hikes in the area that I can add on to Larch Valley Trail?
- What are some of your best tips for visiting Moraine Lake?
- What are the best hotels that are close to Moraine Lake and Larch Valley Trail?
How do you get to Larch Valley?
Larch Valley is located up above Moraine Lake in the hamlet of Lake Louise, located in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The trailhead of this hike begins at the very busy, very popular Moraine Lake parking lot, just a short wander up the path from the lodge. You’ll see trailhead signs on your right-hand side and a path that branches off to the right.
PARKING YOUR OWN CAR: Due to a surge in tourism, you’ll need to get there early to get a parking spot – sometimes as early as 5 am on weekends. Read my blog all about visiting Moraine Lake to learn more
SHUTTLE BUS: (Updated 2021) However, if you’re still looking to hike on a weekend and don’t want to start that early, or were turned away from the road to Moraine Lake due to the parking lot being full, you still have an option! You can take a shuttle from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake that runs every 20 minutes between 8:10 AM and 5:30 PM from the Park and Ride (also known as the Lake Louise Overflow parking lot on the highway). Departures from Moraine Lake back to the Park and Ride/Overflow will also run every 20 minutes, with the final shuttle departing Moraine Lake at at 5:30 PM.
There is also an early bird shuttle running from 6 AM to 8 AM. You must then return on one of the regular scheduled instead.
Return rate shuttle prices:
Adult (18 – 64 years): $8
Senior (65+ years): $4
Youth (6 – 17 years): $2
Child (under 6 years): FREE
FROM BANFF: If you’re staying in Banff and wanting to get to Moraine Lake to do this hike, Roam Transit offers seasonal bus service (Route 10) to Moraine Lake from September 20 to October 14, 2021 from 6:30am-5:30pm. Buses depart from the Banff High School Transit Hub and take you to Moraine Lake. Reservations recommended.
When is the best time to hike Larch Valley?
Autumn can be the best time of the year to hike for many outdoors lovers – the crowds have (mostly) dispersed, the temperatures have cooled down and are often enjoyable for outdoor cardio, and the scenery is at its most spectacular as the autumn colors come alive.
Larches thrive in high altitudes and turn a bright golden yellow color for a few weeks each year, usually in mid-September to early October. However, that is a general guide, and it can change from year to year.
How do you avoid the crowds at Larch Valley?
This is a fantastic question! The answer is pretty much the same answer as how you can avoid crowds at most other popular tourist destinations. Here is my advice:
Go early, or go late. The majority of the heavy traffic is during the day, between 9 am to 4pm or so. The road to Moraine Lake is often closed (because the parking lot is full) by 5 am on weekends during prime larch season, but many people take the shuttle buses up and then back down for a day of hiking. If you want to avoid the crowds at a hike that is this popular, you’ll need to start very early in the day, or later in the day.
Bonus Tip: add on a sunrise or sunset viewing session, particularly at Minnestimma Lakes, a series of small and shallow lakes near the end of the trail.
Larch Valley Trail hiking details: distance and elevation gain
The Larch Valley Trail is 4.3 km (2.67 mi) one-way, with a total of 535 m (1,755 ft) of elevation gain.
How long does the Larch Valley trail take to hike?
Parks Canada recommends between 3.5 to 4 hours to hike the trail round-trip. However, I recommend allowing yourself longer, as you’re definitely going to be stopping plenty of times to capture photos of the amazing larches! Also give yourself some extra time if you plan to stop and have lunch or dinner on your hike.
How hard is the Larch Valley? Can anyone hike it?
The Larch Valley Trail is rated as a “moderate” hike by Parks Canada.
We definitely saw an assortment of people hiking this trail, of MANY different age groups and fitness levels!
There are a series of steep switchbacks that begin near the base of Moraine Lake and take you up through a dense forest. Yes, they’re a bit boring as they award no views and will be tiring to most fitness levels, but just go at your own pace and it will be over before you know it.
Once you finish the switchbacks, you’re provided with amazing views of the larch trees almost immediately, and the hard work is done! The rest of the trail is full of views and mostly flat, or with soft ups and downs.
What exactly are these famous larch trees and why are they such a big deal?
Larch (Larix spp.) trees are a member of the pine family (Pinaceae) that have soft, green needles most of the year. However, in autumn, the needles turn a vibrant golden yellow before they eventually fall. A conifer that is not evergreen is a novel concept, as there are not many other trees (besides the dawn redwood or bald cypress) that can say the same.
In North America, there are several different types of larch trees that are native, including the alpine larch (Larix lyalli), which are the larches here in Banff’s Larch Valley. These trees are very well suited for their snowy and cold environment, and they are usually found at high elevations where they can help to control slope erosion.
What are other hikes in the area that I can add on to Larch Valley Trail?
Glad you asked this question, as the area above and surrounding Moraine Lake (the starting point for Larch Valley Trail) is chalk-full of incredible scenery and other hiking trails just begging to be explored!
This is an obvious extension to the Larch Valley Trail, as it begins literally right where the Larch Valley Trail ends. Once you arrive at the last of the Minnestima Lakes at the end of this trail, you’ll notice a very obvious and steep series of switchbacks that climb up a steep, open slope leading to the pass. This has a vertical rise of about 200 m (660 ft). Sentinal Pass is one of the highest passes accessible by hiking trail and sits at 2,611 m (8,560 ft). Distinctive towers of rocks give the pass its namesame. From the trail and the pass, the views looking back towards Larch Valley and the Ten Peaks are absolutely stunning.
Distance: 5.8 km / 3.6 mi one-way
Difficulty Rating: Difficult / strenuous
Eiffel Lake / Wenkchemna Pass:
Once you ascend the switchbacks on your way to Larch Valley, you will come to a sign. Instead of going right for Larch Valley Trail, you will head straight for Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass. After you reach the junction to towards Eiffel Lake, you will find that the crowds dissipate considerably.
This can be a great hike to add onto your day on your way back down the switchbacks from Larch Valley.
After you reach Eiffel Lake, you can continue on another 4.1 km (2.6 mi) towards Wenkchemna Pass. You’ll get to pass into Yoho National Park on this trail. The scenery, of course, is spectacular.
Distance: 3.3 km / 2 mi one-way to Eiffel Lake; an additional 4.1 km / 2.6 mi one-way to Wenkchemna Pass
Difficulty Rating: Moderate to Eiffel Lake; difficult / strenuous to Wenkchemna Pass
If you decide to head back to Moraine Lake after Larch Valley to enjoy the lake, there is a trail that begins on the walk up to the Moraine Lake rockpile, very close to the parking lot. This trail takes you to Consolation Lakes, a short and easy hike with only 65m of elevation gain. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of alpine meadows, massive talus slopes and the Quadra Glacier.
Distance: 2.9 km / 1.8 mi one-way
Difficulty Rating: Easy
What are some of your best tips for visiting Moraine Lake?
If you’re looking for other tips and tricks for visiting Moraine Lake, check out my blog post: 11 Important Tips for Visiting Moraine Lake
What are the best hotels that are close to Moraine Lake and Larch Valley Trail?
Getting an early start or a late start at Larch Valley is made a LOT easier by staying in accommodation that is close to the trailhead to begin with – especially with how frequently the road is made inaccessible during busy visiting hours with high traffic.
HERE ARE A FEW HOTEL OPTIONS I RECOMMEND THAT ARE CLOSE TO MORAINE LAKE TO CHECK OUT:
- Deer Lodge – starting at $109
- Lake Louise Inn – starting at $124
- Mountaineer Lodge – starting at $145
- Baker Creek Mountain Resort – starting at $255
- Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise (LUXURY) – starting at $305
LOVE IT? PIN IT!
Questions or questions about Larch Valley Trail, Moraine Lake or the entire Lake Louise area? I’d love to hear from you – just leave me a comment below!