While there are certainly lots of Moraine Lake hikes, in this post, we’ll be writing about one of our favourite trails: the Larch Valley Hike. This is a moderately challenging trek, ideal for those with some hiking experience and those who want to push themselves further!
Read on to learn all about the Larch Valley Trail and why you should add experiencing the Larch Valley in Banff National Park to your list of ‘things to do at Moraine Lake!’
Why Is It Called the Larch Valley Trail?
That’s simple: the trail’s named for the larch trees that you’ll pass before you get to the top of the valley (the trail is widely considered to be one of the best places for viewing larch trees in the whole area).
These trees are uniquely special because they’re Canada’s only deciduous conifer. And in true showstopping fashion, the larches transform into a golden shade at the start of fall or approximately mid-September. These trees make this hike truly extraordinary. Seeing the valley flooded in a golden yellow is phenomenal and starkly contrasts the snow-capped peaks in the backdrop.
Now you know why the trail is a must-see, here’s a little more about how you can get there!
How Long is the Larch Valley Hike?
This is considered one of the more ‘moderate’ hikes by distance at Moraine Lake. As a round-trip, it comes in at just under nine kilometres.
The hike takes around four hours to complete — though this depends on your pace and if you stop for a picnic or a rest on the way. The hike climbs approximately 600 metres, though the lion’s share of the incline is at the start.
When Should I Do the Larch Valley Hike?
This is entirely up to you! If you ask us, viewing the sunrise at the Moraine Lake Rockpile Trail, then taking on a hike — like the Larch Valley Trail — is the perfect start to a day at Moraine Lake.
How Do I Know Where to Join the Larch Valley Hike?
The Larch Valley Hike starts out at the east end of the lake by the canoe dock, which is really easy to find; it’s the only structure on the water.
Let’s Get Started
If you follow along the start of the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail until you come across a fork with a trail sign, turn right at the sign. You’ll be officially at the start of the Larch Valley Hike — it’s that simple!
For many hikers, the beginning paces (once you’ve left the shoreline) are the toughest part of the trail. You’ll spend around one and a half hours following a switchback path through a thick evergreen forest that covers an incline of 450 metres.
Most hikers will find it’s not too tricky once you get going. Once you’ve finished the section of switchbacking, the trail evens out, and your calves will get a rest.
Throughout this part of the hike, you’ll get some glimpses of the lake below, and views of Mount Babel and Mount Bowlen — especially as the trees thin out the higher you get.
The Middle Section of the Larch Valley Hike
Following the 2.5 kilometres of demanding uphill trekking, you’ll find that it’s a gentler climb for the remainder of the journey.
You’ll soon see the larch trees up close, real close! Here, you’ll wind through a forest of larch trees, with patches of open space along the way where you’ll get fantastic views of the Ten Peaks. After another stint in dense woodland, you’ll reach the endpoint.
The End of the Larch Valley Hike
The Larch Valley Hike ends at the larger of the Minnestimma Lakes. Here, you can sit for a while and enjoy the views of the mountains, enjoy a well-deserved picnic breakfast or lunch.
It doesn’t have to end here, however. For the more adventurous, you can continue onwards — and upwards! — to the Sentinel Pass Trail, an extension of the Larch Valley Hike.
The Sentinel Pass Trail
The Larch Valley Hike extension, the Sentinel Pass Trail, is also moderately challenging, so only take it on if you feel you have the energy and if time permits.
It’s approximately one and a half kilometres each way, and it will take you up another 170 metres — which usually takes around 30 minutes to complete.
Much like the beginning of the Larch Valley Hike, you’ll follow some switchbacks along the Sentinel Pass Trail, only this time it’s on a path through a rock field.
It’s well worth the extra burst of energy if you can summon it. At the end, you’ll find a viewpoint with excellent views over Paradise Valley and the Grand Sentinel on clear days.
What You’ll See on the Larch Valley Hike
On this hike, expect to see larch trees, for one. As we mentioned, this is one of the best, if not the best, spots to view larch trees in the fall!
If you take this route in the spring and summer seasons, the trees will be a unique lime green colour, and the clearings will be filled with wildflowers. Regardless of the season, seeing alpine lakes up close and viewing the Ten Peaks from a different perspective are both well worth the effort.
What to Pack?
This isn’t an incredibly punishing route, so you don’t need any specialist gear. However, since it takes around four hours — longer if you do the extension — you’ll likely want to dress appropriately and bring some supplies for your comfort.
- Definitely wear appropriate footwear; the path is rocky in places and can be slippery on rainy days.
- Layers are our best tip for a day out at Moraine Lake. Bring a backpack with a fleece and raincoat.
- Water — don’t forget your reusable bottle.
- Snacks — bring along some trail mix or a full-blown picnic; the choice is yours!
We love the Larch Valley Hike and firmly believe that taking in the Moraine Lake sunrise and then hiking to the Minnestimma Lakes is an unforgettable way to spend a day at Moraine Lake. It’s a beautiful trail, whatever the season, but it really comes into its own in September.