Larch hunting: Trails in Banff, Kananaskis and Calgary lined with the golden trees

The mountains have been sprinkled with gold as larch season arrives in Alberta.

Already the trails are busy with hikers making their fall pilgrimage to see the fall colours, but some trails may be too crowded to ensure physical distancing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, Larch Valley is such a popular trail that hikers can’t get a parking spot after 6:15 a.m.

However, there are plenty of trails not as well known that might be less busy, so Friends of Kananaskis Country lists 33 hikes that include larch sightings.

Arnica Lake Trail, a 9.2-km hike in Banff National Park, provides a perfect view of larches and mountains. (Andrea Fraser)

Derek Ryder, co-chair of the Friends of Kananaskis Country, told the Calgary Eyeopener. some of his favourite spots. The list also includes some recommendations from Calgarians.

“Larches are all over. They literally can be found all the way from Bow path to all the way down into Waterton, if you know where to look,” said Ryder.

Kananaskis Country

For the most part, Ryder says, anywhere near Highwood Pass has a great view of larches.

  • Buller Pass: 20.4-km hike, in Kananaskis Country.
  • Burstall Pass Trail: 16.4-km hike, in Kananaskis Country.
  • Chester Lake up to Three Lakes Valley: 15.3 -km hike, in Kananaskis Country.
  • Mount Allan via Centennial Ridge: 15.6-km hike, in Kananaskis Country, visible from Highway 40.
  • Rummel Lake Trail: 12.4-km hike, located near Canmore.
  • Sparrowhawk Tarns: 11.6-km hike, in Kananaskis Country, one of Ryder’s personal favourites.

Banff National Park

Smoke from the wildfires in the United States created an eerily beautiful setting for larch season on Egypt Lake Trail in Banff National Park. (Dan Borslein)

  • Arnica Lake Trail: 9.2-km hike, located near Banff.
  • Boom Lake: 10.6-km hike, located near Lake Louise.
  • Egypt Lake Trail: 24.3-km hike, located near Banff.
  • Taylor Lake: 14-km hike, located near Lake Louise.

Other favourite spots in Alberta

  • David Thompson Country: located in West Central Alberta, just north of Calgary.
  • Lower Rowe Lake: 12.9-km hike, located in Waterton Lakes National Park. 

Larches in your community

Larches needles turn yellow in autumn, which creates an especially striking contrast against the backdrop of an otherwise green forest. (Dan Borslein)

One thing about larches is that after they turn gold, their needles fall off only a few weeks later.

Ryder says they should all be gone by Oct. 5, so if you can’t escape to the mountains, check out these spots in Calgary.

To help you along, here’s an interactive map of every larch on public property in the city:

(Tree location data via the City of Calgary’s open data catalogue.)

As you can see, some spots in the city are more heavily treed than others.

But there are plenty to explore.

If you’d prefer to know what you’re getting into before you go, here are a few of our recommendations.

Taken in 2018, this photo shows Calgary’s Coventry Hills with a cluster of yellow larches along a walking path. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

  • Baker Park: Along the Bow River in northwest Calgary are several rows of mature larches. You’ll find another dozen or so if you wander slightly to the west, and then a few more if you loop back to the main lot via the Bow River Pathway.
  • Crowfoot Park: If you’re visiting the Crowfoot Library or Robert Thirsk High School, look just to the north and you’ll see a few stands of larches.
  • Coventry Hills: The kilometre-long pathway that runs between Coventry Hills Way N.E. and Coventry Drive N.E. is flanked on the west side by a long row of larches.
  • North Glenmore Park: Numerous larches are spread throughout this green space on the north shore of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Have you been out larch hunting? Share your photos in the comments below!

With files from Robson Fletcher and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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