Skip to Content

COMPLETE Guide to the Larch Valley Hike (2024 Updated Info!)

COMPLETE Guide to the Larch Valley Hike (2024 Updated Info!)

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

The most famous hiking trail during fall in Banff is the stunning Larch Valley hike. This moderately difficult trail is truly magnificent, and I’ve had it on my bucket list for a long time. Recently, I finally got to enjoy the Larch Valley Trail and the best part? I did it during Larch season!

However, hiking the Larch Valley trail wasn’t without its difficulties. In fact, if you want to enjoy the Larch Valley hike during fall or even any other time of the year, you need to be prepared for an early morning. The reason?

The Larch Valley hike starts from Moraine Lake (arguably the busiest lake in Canada). So, if you want to enjoy the Larch Valley as I did, then read on. In this blog, I’ll explain everything you need to know before you go, including how to get to Moraine Lake since you can’t drive or park there any longer!

Larch Valley Hike Overview

Distance: 4.3 kilometers/2.7 miles (each way)
Elevation gain: 535 meters/1755 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Time needed: 5 – 6 hours
Type of Trail: Out and back

The Larch Valley hike is a moderately difficult trail that begins with a steep climb up to the Larch Valley. This climb gains roughly 450 meters (1,476 feet) in elevation and takes around 1.5 hours.

Once in the Larch Valley, the trail flattens out to a slight incline until you reach the end of the trail, where you’ll find Minnestimma Lakes (small alpine tarns).

Along the trail, you can enjoy stunning mountain views as well as wildflowers in the summer and the beautiful colors of Larch trees in the fall. There is also the option to hike on a little further to Sentinel Pass.

This extra 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mi) trail (each way) takes you to a viewpoint overlooking Paradise Valley on the other side of the mountain pass. In good weather, it’s well worth checking out!

Overall, I think the Larch Valley hike is one of the best hikes in Banff at any time of the year. However, the Larch season (in autumn) does prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime time to visit! If you’re looking for other epic hikes, check out our guide to hiking in Banff – we’ve got the inside scoop!

Related Read: Another great hike near the Larch Valley is the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail. The hike to Lake Agnes is slightly easier but just as beautiful, especially during fall.

Getting to Moraine Lake to Hike the Larch Valley

The Larch Valley Trail starts from the Moraine Lake parking lot. The only problem is that getting to Moraine Lake can be way more challenging than the hike itself!

Parking at Moraine Lake has always been a nightmare, and getting a spot here meant arriving by 4:30 am in some cases. Parks Canada made a change in 2023 and closed the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot to all personal vehicles – only commercial traffic like guided tours to Moraine Lake, buses, and shuttles are allowed.

The only exception is if you have a disability parking pass, you will be permitted to park at the lake.

So, this means that most of us will need an alternative to parking at Moraine Lake. My top recommendations are the Parks Canada Park and Ride shuttles, ROAM public transit, taking this hop-on hop-off bus from Banff, or the new privately operated shuttle.

For more detailed info, read our blog about parking alternatives at Moraine Lake and shuttle options!

Book the (new!) privately-operated shuttle

the Moraine Lake Bus Company shuttle
This privately-operated shuttle is a great option!

The Moraine Lake Bus Company offers these shuttles to Moraine Lake from Lake Louise. This option is for transport only – so no tour guide. That does make it a lot more affordable than regular tours, as this shuttle starts at only $49 CAD per adult for a round-trip.

After our experience using this shuttle last year (read our review here!), we love that they also offer early morning departures at both 4 am and 5 am, which means seeing the sunrise at Moraine Lake!

But even if you aren’t an early riser, this shuttle is super convenient because your spot on the shuttle is booked, meaning no waiting around in long lines like you would with the Parks Canada shuttles (more on these below).

We walked past the HUGE lines on our way back to the Moraine Lake Bus Company shuttle, and it was so nice to know we had a guaranteed seat and time to leave and avoid standing around.

When you book the shuttle, you can also choose to add on a quick hour-long stop at Lake Louise Lakefront. This is the perfect choice for anybody who also wants to check out Lake Louise for a few photo ops without the stress of trying to get parking.

One thing to note about this shuttle is that it departs from Lake Louise (either Lake Louise Village or the Lake Louise Gondola, depending on the departure time that you book). So, you will have to get yourself to the meeting point at Samson Mall or the Lake Louise Gondola.

Public Park and Ride shuttle

People on the Moraine Lake Bus Company Shuttle canada
Hopping aboard the Park and Ride!

Another option you have is to use the public Park and Ride shuttle, which operates between May and October, and departs from the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot.

The biggest benefit of choosing these shuttles is that they are cheap, at just $8 CAD per adult! These start running as early as 6:30 am, which unfortunately is a little late to be there in time for sunrise. You can find all the info on how to book over on the Banff Lake Louise website or the Parks Canada website.

This shuttle should be booked in advance to guarantee your space, and unfortunately, this means that it often fully books out. Even then, as we mentioned earlier, there are often huge lines and a fair bit of waiting around for the shuttles.

Our insider tip: 60% of the spaces on the shuttle are saved for “last-minute bookings.” These spaces open exactly two days before at 8 am. For example, if you want to visit Moraine Lake on Thursday, be online on the reservation system at 8 am on the Tuesday before. This way, you might still have a chance at getting a reservation.

Another thing to note is that even if you want to only visit Moraine Lake, book the shuttle to Lake Louise if that’s all that is available. The reason is that with your reservation, you’ll get free access to the Lake Louise Connector Shuttle.

The Lake Louise Connector shuttle runs between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake all day between June 1 to October 14 and is available to people who have a Park and Ride reservation or ROAM Superpass.

ROAM Transit (Public Bus)

the Roam bus parking on the road to Lake Louise
The ROAM bus is a great way to get to Moraine Lake. Photo Credit: Shawn.ccf on Deposit Photos

ROAM Transit is the public bus system. You can actually buy a bus pass with ROAM that will get you to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake from either Banff or Canmore.

We’ve bought this “Superpass”, also known as a day pass, before, with this pass being $25 CAD and including our roundtrip transport from Canmore or Banff to Lake Louise Lakefront.

Once we arrived, we got off the ROAM bus and changed onto the Parks Canada Lake Connector Shuttle. All we had to do was show our day pass to the driver, and we got a free ride to Moraine Lake! The connector shuttle leaves every 20 minutes, so it’s very easy to use.

This is great because it means that for $25 CAD we got to visit Lake Louise AND Moraine Lake in one day!

We highly recommend that you book your ROAM Superpass in advance during the summer months, which means less time queuing and more time enjoying the gorgeous Moraine Lake.

Hop-on hop-off bus

One of the easiest ways to visit some of the most iconic spots in Banff National Park is by joining this hop-on-hop-off bus from Banff.

With multiple departure times, the shuttle visits Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, and the Lake Louse Gondola – now that’s a day packed with adventure!

The stops are very well organized, so you will be able to plan out how much time you want to spend at Consolation Lakes based on what times the bus will come back around to the Moraine Lake parking lot before heading back to Banff.

What we love about hop-on hop-off tours is that you can spend as much time as you like at each location – just don’t miss the final bus back!

Tickets for the entire day are $85 CAD and even though it seems like a big upfront cost, we recommend starting early so you can make use of hopping on and off at several other locations too.

Larch Valley Trailhead and Climb

Photo of the stars taken on the trail to the Larch Valley
I took this on the trail as we hiked through the dark.

Once you’ve arrived at Moraine Lake, or you’re one of the lucky ones staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge, it’s time to finally start the hike!

The Larch Valley hike starts along the Moraine Lake Lakeshore trail. This is the same side of the lake as the hotel so just walk towards the hotel along the lakeshore. Eventually, you’ll come to a sign that marks the start of the Larch Valley hike. Here, turn right and you are officially on the trail.

At the start, the Larch Valley hike is nice. It begins with an incline, however, it’s not that steep and there are flat areas to give your legs a rest. But shortly after this, you’ll hit the switchbacks.

This section consists of 10 large switchbacks (yes, I counted them) where the path goes nowhere but up. It’s tiring!

Thankfully, it does end, and you’ll know it has (if you didn’t count the switchbacks) once you get to a sign that points to the Larch Valley in one direction and Eiffel Lake in another. This is the official start of the Larch Valley.

Exploring the Larch Valley

Bailey on the Larch Valley Trail checking out the larch trees up close during sunrise
A lady hiking on the Larch Valley Trail

The hard part is over! Yes!

Honestly, one reason the Larch Valley is so amazing is that the hard part of the hike is over once you get there. Now it’s time to take a slow stroll along the Larch Valley and enjoy the magnificent views around you!

The hike to the end of the trail takes around 45 minutes from here and at the end be sure to stop at Minnestimma Lakes. On a calm day, the reflections of the larch trees are out of this world. I’ve only seen photos though, the day I went it felt like a tropical cyclone was on its way! Let’s hope you have more luck with the weather than I did!

A lady walking on a trail in the Larch Valley
A trail leads to the mountains

As you get closer to the end, you’ll want to turn around. These amazing views show a sea of yellow (if you’re here during Larch season) with the famous 10 Peaks in the background.

It’s truly one of Earth’s greatest views!

Bonus Trail: Hiking to Sentinel Pass

view looking down from Sentinel Pass in Banff National Park
That view!

Distance: 1.5 kilometers/0.9 miles (each way) from the end of Larch Valley
Elevation gain: 170 meters/558 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Time needed: 2 hours
Type of Trail: Out and back

After exploring the Larch Valley, there is a short add-on to the trail to Sentinel Pass. The day I went it was so windy it would not have been safe to explore the mountain pass, so we didn’t. However, if you get better weather, then it’s definitely something you should consider doing!

We started to hike the trail, and it’s pretty much a large switchback that climbs up the pass. It’s not very steep and only takes around 30 minutes to complete. Once at the top, you can then explore the pass and enjoy the views. We turned back halfway up as the gusts of wind were simply too strong!

Related Read: If you’re trail-hungry like we are, you’ll also LOVE the Ha Ling Peak hike in Canmore.

Larch Valley Hike FAQs

An empty path on the Larch Valley Hike in Banff
Not a bad trail to walk!

What to Pack to Hike the Larch Valley Trail

A lady in all her hiking gear on the Larch Valley Trail
It sure was cold up there!

Bear spray – As I mentioned above, this is bear country, and grizzly bears frequent the area. You should always carry bear spray with you on the Larch Valley Hike.

Flashlight – If you plan on hiking early in the morning, a flashlight is a great idea. We personally hiked through the dark to reach the Larch Valley for sunrise.

Snacks – It’s a long enough hike that snacks and even lunch would be a great idea.

Hiking poles – If you have bad knees, then hiking poles would be helpful on the Larch Valley trail. The trail is wide and free from rocks a shale, so hiking poles work great.

Warm clothes – It may be warmer at Moraine Lake, but in the Larch Valley, you are exposed to high winds that come over Sentinel Pass. It gets cold!

Related Read: While you’re in the neighborhood, check out other fun things to do in Lake Louise in the summer!

Best Time to Hike the Larch Valley

A glacier in the Ten Peaks as seen from the Larch Valley Hike

The best time to explore the Larch Valley is during the Larch season in the fall. Larch season runs from the middle of September to the beginning of October, with the best time usually (it changes every year) around the 25th of September.

The season can happen earlier or later, however, after experiencing two Larch seasons in Banff (one later and one earlier) traveling around September 25th is a safe bet as it falls right in the middle of peak Larch season. Plus, there are plenty of other gorgeous hikes and things to do in Banff National Park in September.

The second-best time (preferred by many) is in late July when the wildflower season is in full bloom. During this time of year the crowds are nowhere near the size they are during Larch season and the wildflowers are stunning. Oh, and it’s also warmer!

Personally though, nothing beats Larch season. The colors of the Larch trees are nothing short of amazing!

Related Read: If you’re looking for a hike to really test your fitness, consider doing the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Loop. We loved this challenging hike, and it’s actually on our list of the best things to do in Canmore.

Essential Things to Know about the Larch Valley Hike

One of the lakes on the Larch Valley Trail

Canada Parks Pass

The Larch Valley is in Banff National Park, so you do need a valid Canada Parks Pass to do the hike and visit Moraine Lake. This can be purchased at the gates coming into Banff National Park or online.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

This is Bear Country

The Larch Valley trail is not just a great place for humans to visit. In fact, it’s frequented by grizzly bears. For this reason, there is either a recommendation to hike in groups of 4 or more, or it will be a requirement (depending on bear sightings in the area in that particular year).

If it is required, and you aren’t in a group, then just wait for other hikers at the trailhead and join them! If you get caught in a smaller group, you can be fined!

Also, carry bear spray and make lots of noise. When we hiked up in the dark, I will admit that we were a little scared!

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

lower waterfall at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Just look at those waterfalls in Johnston Canyon!
fours cars some up the cable of the Banff Gondola with mountain views
The Banff Gondola is in the most beautiful of locations!

Seeing the incredible lakes around Banff is just one of the many awesome things you can do in Alberta! To give you an idea of more places to explore, here are some of the other things you can do while you’re in Banff:

  • Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
  • Ride on a gondola – If you want the best vantage points around, try one of the four gondolas around Banff. You’ll climb up high above the ground and have so many epic photo opportunities – guaranteed that your friends and family with be super jealous!
  • Look for wildlife – Banff is home to some pretty incredible wildlife. You might just spot elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more! The best chance you have of seeing the most critters is on a wildlife tour in Banff. We really liked this small group tour where the guides tailor the itinerary to recent wildlife spottings, and you get to see highlights of the national park along the way.
  • Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.

Where to Stay near the Larch Valley Trail

Lake Louise, Alberta
The stunning Lake Louise!

Lake Louise

When visiting the Larch Valley for Larch season, often people stay in Banff. I too have done this, however, on my last visit I decided to stay in Lake Louise Village. The main reason is that it’s closer. From Banff to Moraine Lake it takes around 45 minutes to an hour. From Lake Louise, about 10 minutes.

Besides the distance, there are plenty of delicious restaurants in Lake Louise as well as hotels to spend the night. It is a nice place to stay and more peaceful than Banff.

Some great options for places to stay in Lake Louise include:

Fairmont Château Lake Louise – $$$

The ultimate luxury stay in Lake Louise has to go to the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. This spectacular hotel overlooks Lake Louise and makes getting to Lake Moraine and Lake Louise super easy. If location and luxury are important to you, this is the best hotel by far!

Rooms here at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise are not cheap, costing anywhere from $1000 to $2000 CAD per night. With that said, you’ll enjoy a level of luxury unlike anywhere else in Lake Louise! You can see their available rooms here on Booking.com.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort – $$

If you have a bigger budget and want a place to stay a little more unique, the Baker Creek Mountain Resort stands out. Located in the wilderness around 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from Lake Louise, this cabin-style hotel is truly in paradise. This would be the perfect stay for wilderness lovers!

A one-night stay here at Baker Creek Mountain Resort starts from around $210 CAD per night, but can rise much higher during the summer period. You can save by booking in advance here on Booking.com.

Hi Lake Louise – $

For budget travelers coming to Lake Louise, the Hi Lake Louise is by far the best option. They have dorm beds and budget doubles, with an onsite kitchen and restaurant. I’ve stayed on multiple occasions and love this hostel!

A night in a dorm here starts at around $55 CAD per night, and you can check it out on Booking.com and HostelWorld.

Banff

Photo of Banff Ave in Banff Town howing how beautiful the street is wioth the surounding mountains
You don’t even have to leave the main street to get a great Instagram shot!

Obviously, if you’re here for more than just Moraine Lake and the Larch Valley trail, then it’s very tempting to stay in Banff. The reason? Banff is such a lively place and Lake Louise just doesn’t have that atmosphere nor the quality of restaurants and shops.

Below are a couple of top choices for places to stay in Banff, but if you want more recommendations and details, then be sure to read our blog about all of the best hotels in Banff!

Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$

Once again, for the most luxurious option, the Fairmont takes the cake. The Fairmont Banff Springs is actually out of this world and is more of a castle than a hotel. In fact, touring the grounds is actually a thing to do in Banff! Honestly, check it out!

Nights here certainly aren’t cheap, starting from around $700 CAD, but a stay here can easily transform a special occasion into a memory that will last a lifetime. You can check their rooms out and book in advance here on Booking.com.

Moose Hotel and Suites – $$

In the mid-range, there are so many great options in Banff. A place I’ve stayed at before and love is the Moose Hotel and Suites. The hotel has the most amazing hot tub on the roof, as well as a fitness center and a restaurant and bar.

Rooms here average around $300 CAD per night, and you can see their full availability here on Booking.com.

Samesun Banff – $

There aren’t many budget options in Banff, but Samesun Banff definitely is one of them and offers fantastic hospitality! Although cheap in price, the dorms and private rooms available here are clean and the hostel is in a great location too.

One night in a dorm room here costs around $57 CAD per night, and you can check their rooms out on Booking.com and HostelWorld.

Thanks for reading!

dan and bailey take a selfie in the larch valley, Canada
Thanks for checking out our blog!

The Larch Valley hike is truly one of the most breathtaking trails in Canada and should be part of every Banff itinerary. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it. Next time, I want to hike it in wildflower season and hopefully spot a grizzly bear!

If you found this guide helpful, be sure to read more of our Canada blogs. We have so much on the Rocky Mountains! Or keep reading from these below:

10 Absolute MUST-DO Day Hikes in Banff and Jasper!

ULTIMATE Guide to Christmas in Banff + Seasonal Events

6 BEST Lake Louise Tours from Banff

Guide to Planning the Most Romantic Honeymoon in Jasper

Micki

Monday 15th of August 2022

Wow, thank you so much for all the details and insights. The bus system is so exciting. I'm determined to catch the larches this year with my 2 y/o so this is all really helpful! Thanks again.