The Larch Valley hike is one of the most beautiful hikes in Banff National Park. Especially during the fall, Larch Valley becomes a magical destination to hike. The breathtaking golden autumn colors of the larch trees are such a beautiful contrast with the white snow-capped mountains. It feels as if you’re walking in a real-life fairytale! With only 8.6 kilometers in total and a little over 500 meters incline, the Larch Valley hike is also not the most strenuous one, but with a huge reward! Find in our complete guide all you need to know about hiking Larch Valley. Especially in autumn like we did to time it well with the golden Larch trees!
Where is the Larch Valley?
Larch Valley is located in Banff National Park near Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada. It’s a stunning alpine meadow full of Larch trees and surrounded by the majestic Valley of the Ten Peaks.
To get to the Larch Valley, you’ll have to hike 4.3 kilometers from the shores of Moraine Lake along the well-marked and moderately Larch Valley Trail. This hike takes you along scenic landscapes, through a beautiful spruce tree forest until the hiking trail opens up to the picturesque Larch Valley with some of the best views of the Ten peaks surrounding Moraine Lake.
The Larch Valley hike is especially popular during the fall when the larch trees turn a vibrant golden color, creating a breathtaking spectacle. It is the best fall hike in Banff and besides that also one of the best things to do around Moraine Lake.
How to get to Moraine Lake to hike Larch Valley
Since 2023 Parks Canada made a big change to get to the Moraine Lake parking lot. The reason is because of Moraine Lake’s popularity, it became impossible to find a parking spot for visitors, and long traffic lanes occurred. So since 2023 the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot have been closed to all personal vehicles. This means you can only get to Moraine Lake, where the Larch Valley trailhead is, by shuttle.
It does result in planning your Larch Valley hike ahead, as you will now need to make reservations for your Moraine Lake shuttle days before. But because it’s one of the best hikes in Banff, and Moraine Lake is a must-visit of course, it will be totally worth it! Just make sure to plan an early start, as this is the best way to experience Moraine Lake in a serene way.
There are several shuttle services available, either with or without a guide. The tours with a guide are more expensive but also offer more value.
This full-day hassle-free guided Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass hike includes transport from your hotel in Banff and a delicious hiking lunch provided by a local Banff bakery. Your experienced local hiking guide takes you on an unforgettable day hike through the stunning Larch Valley and up to the Sentinel Pass.
If you’re only looking for a shuttle service, then we recommend one of the following options.
The great thing about the hop on hop off shuttle is that you have the flexibility to stay as long as you want at either Moraine Lake or Lake Louise. In contrast to the other shuttle options, you have to select a departure time from the lakes upfront. It means you always have to watch the time, which is not the case with this hop-on hop-off shuttle. So if you want to spend the whole day at Moraine Lake it’s possible. Or if you suddenly decide to leave earlier, then that’s also possible!
The hop-on-hop-hop-off buses depart every hour from the Lake Louise Ski Resort between 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. You can find the departure time from both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake here.
Moraine Lake Shuttle Bus
The company we went with and recommend the most is Moraine Lake Shuttle. They depart from Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot and Samsom Mall for people who don’t have their own transport.
Because they only provide the shuttle and no tour guide, the price for the shuttle is affordable at $35 CAD per person for a round trip.
Another great thing about Moraine Lake Shuttle is that they provide sunrise departures at 4 AM and 5 AM. This means you can be one of the first visitors of the day at Moraine Lake.
Parks Canada Shuttle
The shuttle service provided by Parks Canada is called the ‘Park and Ride shuttle’ and departs from Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot. The shuttles start running at 6.30 AM and you can make reservations at the Parks Canada website by clicking the tab ‘day use’.
The great thing is that one ticket of $8 CAD gives you the flexibility to see both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Their free shuttle called the Lake Louise Connector shuttle runs every 15 minutes between 8 AM and 6 PM and is for reservation holders only after they have checked in at the Park and Ride, (boarding pass required) or those who have purchased a Roam Superpass.
How long is Larch Valley hike?
The total distance of the Larch Valley hike is 8.6 kilometers / 5.4 miles. However, this is not the end of the hiking trail! If you want to, you can add the Sentinel Pass hike to the Larch Valley hike, which is basically an extension of the trail. This adds an extra 1.5-kilometer (0.9 miles) each way with an extra 300 meters (about 984 feet) elevation gain. From Sentinel Pass, you will overlook Larch Valley, and on the other side of the mountain pass Paradise Valley.
How hard is Larch Valley hike?
With 4.3 kilometers / 2.7 miles one way and 535 meters / 1755 foot incline, the Larch Valley trail is a moderate hike along a very well-maintained path. If you have quite some experience with hiking, you will rank this as an easy hike, because there is nothing too difficult or technical about this trail.
The series of switchbacks in the beginning are just a bit tiring, and there is not much view because you’re walking through dense forest. But as soon as you’ve finished this part, the trail flattens out through Larch Valley toward Minnestimma Lakes and becomes really easy and pleasant with some of the best views of the ten peaks.
How much elevation gain is the Larch Valley hike?
The total elevation gain for Larch Valley hike is 535 meters / 1755 feet.
When is the best time to hike Larch Valley?
If you’re hiking Larch Valley to see the beautiful golden Larch trees, then you have to plan your trip around the peak season of the golden Larches. This is usually in the last week of September and the first week of October. Because Larch Valley is one of the best Alberta Larch hikes, you can expect the trail to be busy. So if you’re hiking Larch Valley in autumn, make sure to arrive early on the trail.
Larch Valley is of course also stunning in summer. However, the landscape is then much greener without the contrast of the golden Larch trees.
The best time in the summer season to hike Larch Valley is in late July. While it’s much warmer then with less snow on the mountain peaks, the wildflower season is in full bloom creating a stunning display of colors.
When is Larch season in Banff?
While the exact dates of the Larch season always slightly differ per year because it is dependent on several factors, the Larch season in Banff typically occurs from mid-late September to early October. The needles of the larch trees first turn yellow in early autumn and then get a vibrant golden color before they eventually drop.
To see the Larch trees at their peak, I suggest planning a trip to Banff between September 20th and October 10th. This is the ‘sweet spot’ to see the Larch trees a their peak, but again, it’s always depended on the weather forecast.
We hiked the Larch Valley trail on October 2nd and there was already a lot of snow in Larch Valley. This made it a winter wonderland, but it also resulted in the needles falling off a bit sooner.
Where is Larch Valley trailhead?
Larch Valley trail head is located along Moraine Lakeshore trail. From Moraine Lake car park where you will be dropped off from the shuttle, you have to walk passed the Moraine Lake Lodge.
Shortly after you will see the sign that marks the start of the Larch Valley hike. Here, you’ll turn into a dense forest where the trail gradually goes up.
Larch Valley hike trail description
To get to the Larch Valley trailhead, you have to follow the Moraine Lakeshore trail and walk passed the Moraine Lake Lodge until you see the sign that marks the start of the Larch Valley hike. Here, you’ll turn right into a dense forest where the trail gradually goes up.
After this short warm-up, you will soon get to the series of switchbacks. This is a consistent climb of in total 10 large switchbacks that wind their way through the forest.
If you’re hiking the Larch Valley trail at the end of September, or the beginning of October, and there has been snowfall in the days before, it’s important to know that the path can be slippery because of the snow that freezes overnight. We have seen many people slipping and sliding away because they didn’t wear the right shoes with enough grip. Those people were not only a danger for themselves, but also for other hikers along the way. We saw one person falling on the trail because she slipped away and she almost took another hiker with her down who was hiking behind her.
If you want to come very prepared in autumn, you should bring spikes so it’s an easy breeze going up along the steep switchbacks. We didn’t have spikes, but with our hiking poles and hiking shoes we got enough grip on the slippery parts.
Approaching Larch Valley
After the series of switchbacks, it doesn’t take long anymore until you see the sign ‘Larch Valley’ in one direction and Eiffel Lake in another. This is where you’ll enter Larch Valley!
The trail opens up and a beautiful open valley full of Larch trees appears. It was breathtaking to see the snowy mountains and golden larches with a dust of snow. We had a beautiful day with blue skies, it felt like a winter wonderland! Without a doubt the Larch Valley is one of the most beautiful alpine meadows you will ever see, surrounded by the majestic Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Once you’ve crossed the small wooden bridge, continue along the beautiful trail full of Larch trees. The views of the surrounding mountain peaks are something else, they almost look like castles!
Once you’ve made it out of the Larch tree forest, you will get to a wide-open area. Here you will see the small alpine lakes with stunning peaks in the background.
Continue a bit further until you get to the second lake which is a great place to have a rest. We found a large rock for a picnic lunch at the Minnestima Lakes and enjoyed the breathtaking views of Mount Temple, Pinnacle Mountain and Eiffel Peak, some of the most iconic mountains in Banff. In combination with the golden larches and snow-covered landscape, we completely understood why this is one of the best Larch hikes in Alberta.
From the Minnestimma Lakes, you can continue along the Sentinel Pass trail to get to higher elevations. Because we were short in time due to the shuttle we had to take back, and the trail was completely covered in snow, we decided to (unfortunately) not continue to the Sentinel Pass. But it is definitely a great hike we’d like to do in the future.
Is continuing to the top of Sentinel Pass worth it?
If the weather allows it, and you have the time and energy left, then continuing from Larch Valley along the Sentinel Pass trail is definitely worth it. From the top of Sentinel Pass, you get a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque Larch Valley and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. And if you visit during the fall, you’ll be treated to a sea of golden larch trees.
The elevation gain from Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass is approximately 300 meters (about 984 feet). So if you’re hiking the Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley trail, then you will cover a round trip distance of 11.1km/6.9 miles, with an elevation gain of 749m/2,457ft. The duration of the full Larch Valley including Sentinel Pass hike typically ranges from 3.5 to 5.5 hours if you choose to go all the way to the top of Sentinel Pass.
Wildlife along the Larch Valley hike
Banff National Park is prime bear territory, with black bears and grizzly bears calling this park their home. Don’t let this scare you away from exploring this beautiful National Park. But make sure to educate yourself on bear safety by reading or watching videos about this.
You should always be bear aware and always carry bear spray with you on hikes in BC and Alberta. Educate yourself on how to use bear spray and of course do your own research on what to do in case of a bear encounter.
While bears are mostly in a calm state of mind, they will feel easier threatened by humans if they have cubs around. Or when a human comes too close, either to their food source or accidentally startles them. Therefore you should always be aware of your surroundings. Make noise so bears, and any other animal can hear you coming.
Other wildlife you might encounter along the Larch Valley trail are innocent animals such as mountain goats, marmots, squirrels and the occasional porcupine.
What is a larch tree?
As non-Canadians, we had never heard of Larch trees before visiting Canada. But once we learned more about them, and especially how they look in the autumn months, we became obsessed with them and planned our complete Canadian Rockies road trip around the golden Larch tree season.
So, if you’re like us and you have no idea what a Larch tree is, here is a little explanation.
Larch trees are deciduous conifers, belonging to the genus Larix. Unlike most conifers, larches lose their needles in the fall, creating a stunning display of golden foliage. These trees are well-adapted to cold climates and are often found in northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
In Banff National Park, the most common larch species is the subalpine larch (Larix lyallii). The needles of larch trees are soft and grow in clusters, similar to other conifers, but they change color to a vibrant gold or yellow in the autumn before they shed. This unique feature makes the yellow larches particularly striking during the fall season. This is the main reason why Larch Valley hike is so popular during the autumn months.
Other things to do around Moraine Lake
If you still have time left, there are other things you can do at Moraine Lake. Exploring the beautiful Moraine Lakeshore is definitely one of them. This magical landscape is something else, and has to be fully taking in.
Another hike you can consider at Moraine Lake is the trail to the Consolation Lakes. This relatively easy hike is a 5.5 km (3.4 miles) round-trip. The Eiffel Lake Trail is a longer hike of 10 km (6.2 miles) round-trip.
Do you need a National Park Pass for the Larch Valley hike?
Because Larch Valley Trail is located inside Banff National Park, you’ll need a Parks Canada Pass to enter. Depending on the number of days you plan to visit the Canadian National Parks, you can either buy single daily admission tickets or the Parks Canada Discovery Pass which is a multi-park entry pass for 365 days. You can purchase the different Parks Canada Passes online at the Parks Canada website, at the National Park Visitor Centres or at booths upon entering the many national parks. See all the options and prices below.
Single daily admission pass
This entrance fee ticket is sold per person, per day, per National Park. It is only the best option if you are solo traveling and just visiting one or two national parks for a couple of days.
- $10.50 CAD for an adult (from 18-64 years)
- $9.00 CAD for Senior (65+)
- FREE entrance for kids younger than 17 years
Group daily admission pass
For the ones traveling with 2 or more people in one car, you can buy a single day group admission pass. This pass gives entrance for up to 7 people in one vehicle.
- $21.00 CAD for one vehicle entry for one full day (maximum 7 people)
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is the best option for travelers who plan to visit multiple National Parks. Basically, if you’re spending more than 7 days in the Canadian National Parks, you’ll have a much better deal buying the Discovery Pass. This multi-park entry pass is valid for 365 days to access all participating national parks in Canada. These include Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and much more.
- $72.25 CAD for one Adult (age 18-64)
- $61.75 CAD for one Senior (64+)
- $145.25 CAD for a couple or group/family up to 7 people in one vehicle
Where to stay near Larch Valley Trail
With Lake Louise village being the closest town to Larch Valley Trail, it is most advisable to stay here if you want to explore more of Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise area.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the only hotel along Lake Louise Lakeshore, which makes it a very special experience to have Lake Louise all for yourself as soon as the day visitors leave. If you want to stay at Moraine Lake, then the Moraine Lake Lodge is the only option.
Lake Louise Village has many more options for accommodations for every budget. From luxury lodges to hostels, and everything in between. You can browse all the options below.
Where to camp with an RV near Larch Valley
The closest camp spot for RV’s near Moraine Lake is the Lake Louise Hardsided Campground where we have camped as well. The big downside of this camping is that you will hear the loud horn of the train throughout the day and night. It affected our sleep, so if you’re a light sleeper, I would advise camping somewhere else, further away from the train rails.
Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed our complete Larch Valley hiking guide and hope you will have an amazing day exploring this magical part of Banff National Park.
Find our other Canada guides below.
More Canada travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Larch Valley hike in Banff National Park. For more travel inspiration about British Columbia and Alberta, head over to our other Canada travel guides. See below our Canada guides per National Park and area for more travel inspiration.