The Larch Valley trail in Lake Moraine has been my favourite hike so far! If you embark on the Larch Valley hike in September you will be blown away with the feeling of Autumn and Christmas wrapped up together in one amazing hike.
This hike is truly magical and I can not express enough how much you need to do this trail!
The Larch Valley is the most famous trail to see Larch trees in Banff National Park. Travellers come from all over the world to see the beautiful golden yellow trees contrasting with the mountains of the ten peaks.
If you do not manage to come in the Fall season, I still highly recommend this hike on your visit to Moraine Lake.
Larch Valley Trail Report
Duration: 3 to 4 and a half hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (depending on your fitness level)
How to prepare for Moraine Lake and the Larch Valley hike
The Larch Valley trail can be done quite easily in any kind of footwear, but I always suggest a sturdy trail runner trainer that works on all terrains.
The terrain changes over the course of the hike from uneven ground switchbacks (zigzagging) to well sanded paths.
As Lake Moraine is in the Rocky Mountain Bear Country, I do suggest carrying bear spray. However, the hike is very touristy and there will be a nice amount of noise along the way to deter the bears.
Moraine Lake is surrounded by mountains, which means the temperatures are going to be a lot cooler than other parts of Banff National Park.
Be sure to pack:
- Bear spray
- Mini first aid kit
- Waterproof Jacket
- Hoodie/warm layers
- Lunch and Snacks
- Hiking poles if you prefer hiking with them
How to get to the Larch Valley Trail in Lake Moraine
Moraine Lake is only open to the public between the months of June and October. The rest of the year the road is closed due to avalanche risks.
A decision was made by Parks Canada for the wellbeing of the environment to shut the road to personal vehicles. This was to stop the ever growing tourist traffic of this breath-taking lake. Now only commercial vehicles running shuttle services are allowed to frequent there.
However, exceptions are made for those with a parking placard, for people with disabilities and guests of Moraine Lake Lodge.
Unfortunately, getting to Moraine Lake isn’t an easy task and does require some planning!
Here are your options:
One of the only options going directly from Banff is the Roam Transit Number 10 Moraine Lake Bus. This bus is only available between 18th September – 9th October 2023, it is important to book ahead of schedule to avoid disappointment.
I have been living in Banff since the beginning of July and patiently waiting for them to release the dates so I could go.
Tickets are $10 each way with a $3 booking fee and you can pick your arrival and departure time. The tickets are released every week for the week after.
I suggest going as early as possible to avoid the crowds.
You can also get the 8X Roam bus from Banff to Lake Louise and then get the Moraine Lake/Parks Canada shuttle if you are outside the number 10 schedule.
Departing from the Lake Louise summer gondola and Samson Mall is the Moraine Lake bus company.
From the Samson Mall, you can get the shuttle bus as early as 4am to catch the sunrise.
If you have a car, you can park at Samson Mall before 6am. However, if you choose to go after this time, there is only parking available at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Parking is free at both locations.
Tickets cost $35 for a return and certain times allow a 1 hour stop at Lake Louise before heading to Moraine Lake, meaning you can admire them both on the same day.
Similar to the bus company, Parks Canada has a shuttle service that starts at Lake Louise Ski Resort and takes you to Moraine Lake.
Parks Canada shuttle only allows bookings two days in advance, which means you will need to set an alarm for the release time to get in early and book your slot.
Tickets cost $8 (or $6 if you book over the phone) one way and there is a $3 booking fee.
Guided Tours of Lake Moraine
If you would rather see the lakes without hiking too far, or you would like to hike with a group. Then one of these guided tour companies might be for you. On these tours you will get a local expert and learn about the history, landmarks and wildlife of these incredible lakes.
Lake plus hiking tours:
Lake only tours:
Larch Valley Hike, best time to visit
The larch season in Banff National Park is from the middle of September to early October. The best time to see the larch trees in full yellow is the end of September. I went on 19th September and had the majority of golden trees with a nice smattering of green and orange to break them up.
I personally loved the different shades and got a proper Autumnal feel from this hike.
Before you start in the Larch Valley, walk the Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail (0.8km, 800m)
As you are at Lake Moraine, it would be rude not to go and see this breath-taking lake.
The Rockpile walk is a quick 10 minute (round trip) 800m out and back. It is considered easy with a few steps up to the “20 dollar look out” and then continuing right to the Rockpile.
The trail is the most popular walk and for good reason. You will be looking down on the incredible blue lake that is surrounded by the 10 peaks.
This walk is a lovely addition to the Larch Valley Trail as you get to see two beautiful spots of Moraine Lake National Park.
What to expect when you walk the Larch Tree Valley Hike
How the Larch Valley Trail in Lake Moraine Starts
The Larch Valley hike starts at Moraine Lake Canoe club on the shorefront.
You will see the trail map outlining all the hikes you can do in Moraine Lake National Park. Familiarise yourself with the map before you start your route. The trail is well signposted and is easy to follow.
Just ahead of the map board you will see the Canoe club to your left and the gift shop/cafe to your right. Follow the path to see the first trail sign and start your journey.
The trek starts off as crushed gravel and continues that way the majority of the hike. With the switch backs giving you a little more uneven ground. A sturdy shoe is advised but not essential as the rocks and tree roots on the trail are those of a standard hike. Straight away you will be in the forest with the foliage starting to turn yellow.
You will walk in dense forest and the further up you go the more of the mountains will peep through the trees.
The hike is a steady incline with some parts being a little narrow due to rocks protruding off the path.
The switch backs start off small and frequent and then become longer and a little steeper.
At the 2.5km (1.5 miles) mark, you will be at the trail junction. If you continue ahead, you will go to Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Lake. And if you go up to the right, you will be on route for the Larch Valley trail to Sentinel pass.
Getting to the Larch Valley
The next part of this fall hike is where it starts to get exciting.
The trail becomes flatter and the ground becomes even again. As you weave through the Larch tree forest you will see all the colours of Autumn.
If you want to avoid the crowds and are happy to see a mixture of colours, then I recommend going at the start of the Larch Season. This is the 3rd week of September, where the trees are golden but not fully turned yet.
I personally can not see how it can get prettier. I was blown away!
As you walk deeper into the forest you will start to see the mountains and all of a sudden you will be in open space again.
This is where Autumn and Christmas marry each other. There is a little bridge to cross and then you will be wowed by the mixture of green conifere (Christmas) trees and Larch trees with hopefully a sprinkling of snow!
Ahead you will see Mount Temple and Mount Eiffel contrasting with the fall colours.
This part of the hike is nice and leisurely and I encourage you to take your time and soak it all in.
It is truly magical and probably my favourite view of the hike, but the Larch Valley just keeps giving!
At the Larch Valley Meadow
As you begin your walk into the meadow, you will go from large expanse to forest again. There is a little waterfall you can go and see.
You will hear the gushing water and know you are near. The path is easy to miss, so when you hear the waterfall, keep an eye on the left of the path for 2 steps and a narrow little opening. There you can walk 1 minute down and see the little stream going into the Larch Valley.
Then the meadow will open, with benches to sit and enjoy the view from.
Make sure to turn around and be wowed by a sea of yellow larch trees and the 10 peaks surrounding them.
At this point you will be looking in all directions because there is just beautiful view after beautiful view.
If you continue all the way to the end of the track, you will be greeted by one of the Minnestimma Lakes and the Sentinel Pass trail head.
Opportunity to hike up Sentinel Pass
If you are feeling up to a challenge and want to continue your hike, then I suggest going up Sentinel pass via the Larch valley hike.
The sentinel pass part of this trail is another 3km (round trip) and takes 45 minutes or so one way.
The Larch Valley hike elevation gain is 535m and Sentinel pass will add another 282m on top of that.
You will start the hike off by crossing the lake on a little “rock bridge” and then continue zigzagging up. From the bottom of the trail you can see the pathway up to the top.
Be sure to look to your left to see the Larch Valley and the 10 peaks from a higher perspective.
From the top, you will get 360 views of Banff National Park including: The Larch Valley, Paradise Valley, Grand Sentinel, Mount Temple, Pinnacle Mountain and more!
Way back down to Moraine Lake
The way back down is the same route as the way up. And it will be completed a lot faster!
Although saying that, the view is still incredibly stunning and you will still be taking it all in.
I found the switchbacks on the way down easy at the time, but later on in the day my knee really started to hurt. If you have knee issues, I would suggest taking hiking poles for this portion of the hike.
Other things to do at Moraine Lake
- Get a Moraine Lake canoe. Rentals are for 1 hour and cost $140. These canoes can sit upto 3 people and come with lifejackets, paddles and basic instructions. They are purchased on a first come first served basis. You can also hire an inflatable double kayak from Ski Big 3 in Banff for 24 hours for a similar price or a paddleboard. The only hard part is the logistics of getting it on the bus.
- Check out the gift shop and cafe. After a long hike, a piece of cake is well deserved!
Bear safety on the Larch Valley walk
Although this is a popular hike, it is always a good idea to carry bear spray.
Some basic bear tips whilst on the trail are:
- Make noise, chat to friends, have a podcast on. We do not want to startle the bear, so this is a good warning sign to let them know we are coming. I also clap before I go around corners.
- Check behind you every 5 minutes to see if a bear is coming up behind you.
- Always have the bear spray accessible, the bear won’t wait for you to get it out of your backpack.
- If you see a bear and it gets up on its hind legs, it is just curious. This isn’t a threatening move because it is exposing its internal organs to you. If the bear is pawing the ground, and growling then it’s time for the spray.
Frequently asked Questions
How far is Larch Valley from Moraine Lake?
From Moraine lake the walk to Larch Valley is around an hour and a half. And it consists of switchbacks (zigzagging) up a steady incline and flat terrain.
How long does the Larch Valley hike take?
Depending on your fitness level, the hike can take anywhere from 3 to 4 and a half hours. I stopped and took 1000 photos and had a little breakfast and completed it in 3 and a half hours. As the trail is an out and back, you do not stop as much on the way back to Moraine Lake.
Where do I start the Larch Valley hike?
You start the Larch Valley hike from the Canoe Hut. From the carpark you will walk straight ahead to the Lakefront and see the trail map and the canoes parked on the shoreline.
Where do you park for the Larch Valley trail?
Due to the popularity of Moraine Lake and the influx of vehicles visiting every year, they have closed the car park to tourists.
This means if you wish to visit Moraine Lake, you have to choose one of the many shuttle services. I have detailed the different companies and where they pick up from in the “How to get to the Larch Valley” section of this article.
In summary, the Larch Valley trail in Moraine Lake is a truly magical hike. With the mixture of Autumn and Christmas it creates excitement for the seasons to come. I can not express how beautiful Moraine Lake and the Larch Valley are. I highly recommend going early and taking your time in this incredible National Park.
As Always, Happy Exploring!