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The Real Banff Blog / Published: Thu, 08/27/2015 - 20:53

Best Backcountry Larch Hikes in Banff National Park

Add to my moments

August 28, 2015

By Meghan J. Ward

Fall is becoming a famous time of year in Banff and Lake Louise, and it’s all thanks to an oddly coniferous tree that sheds its needles before winter: the larch. Before the needles fall off the larch, this tree turns a vibrant shade of yellow that is so striking it takes your breath away. People come to Banff National Park from far and wide to see the golden phenomenon, venturing mainly to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake to capture its beauty on a hike. If you’re keen to see these wonders of nature outside the popular locations, the backcountry hosts prime larch ‘hotspots’ where you’ll likely be experiencing them in peace, quiet and solitude. You just have to put in the work to get there, and you can make it an overnight or multi-day journey. Here are my best recommendations for Backcountry Larch Hikes:

1. Taylor Lake

6.3 km one-way from the TransCanada Highway

Taylor Larch Zizka

Photo - Paul Zizka Photography

A straightforward hike up switchbacks brings you to Taylor Lake, where the north face of Mt. Bell stands proudly at the lake’s southern shore. Summertime flowers give way to fall larches here, making it a great destination hike for a day out or an overnight trip. Just over 2 km away, O’Brien Lake can be accessed from the junction located 0.2 km below Taylor Lake.

2. Gibbon Pass

3.1 km one-way from Shadow Lake Lodge

Gibbon Larch Zizka

Photo - Paul Zizka Photography

A fairly short and steep climb brings you up from Shadow Lake Lodge to Gibbon Pass, which provides beautiful views of the surrounding peaks along the Great Divide, and some of the most extensive patches of larches in these parts of the Canadian Rockies. The pass can also be reached from the Twin Lakes area. Stay the Night: Shadow Lake Lodge, Shadow Lake Campground (Re14), Ball Pass campground (code) or Twin Lakes campground (Tw7).

3. Healy Pass

9.2 km one-way from the Sunshine Village Parking Lot

Healy Larch Zizka

Photo - Paul Zizka Photography

Healy Pass is one of the more famous regions of Banff National Park, and for good reason! As if the views along the Great Divide weren’t enough, the wildflowers here in the summer will knock your socks off, and the larches do the same in autumn. It’s well-worth descending into Egypt Lake region and making it a multi-day adventure. Stay the Night: Healy Creek campground (E5), Egypt Lake campground (E13)

4. Pharaoh Lake/Black Rock Lake

2.4 km one-way from Egypt Lake Campground

Egypt Larch Zizka

Photo - Paul Zizka Photography

Certainly accessed on an overnight, perhaps multi-day trip, these small lakes aren’t particularly striking in summertime, but in the fall they light up with larches. To access them, you’ll first need to make your way to the Egypt Lake Campground, whether you approach through Whistling Pass, Pharaoh Creek or Healy Pass. Shortly after leaving the campground you climb steeply to Pharaoh Lake, then again for another 1.1 km to reach Black Rock Lake. Stay the Night: Egypt Lake Campground (E13)

5. Skoki Lakes (Myosotis and Zigadenus )

8 km one-way from Hidden Lake, via Deception Pass

Skoki Larch Zizka

 Photo - Paul Zizka Photography

Cornered by the Wall of Jericho on one side and Ptarmigan Peak on the other, these lakes are some of the most beautiful in all of Banff National Park. There is an obvious junction between Deception Pass and Skoki Lodge that would first take you to Myosotis Lake and then to Zigadenus. The trail between the lakes is rather adventurous in parts, but well-marked. The more scenic route is through “Packer’s Pass” (ask a knowledgeable local for directions).

Stay the Night:

Skoki Lodge

 Hidden Lake campground (Sk5) 

Book your backcountry campgrounds with Parks Canada at the Visitor Information Centre.

Campers will also require a Wilderness Pass.

References: Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, by Graeme Pole; Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson.