She runs toward us crying and shaking, dressed only in a sweatshirt and sneakers. It is fall in Banff National Park. Under drizzly skies, in late afternoon, even the golden larch trees appear to huddle for warmth.

Between sobs she weeps, “I don’t know where I am!”

Our hiking guide Kristi gently asks, “Are you hurt?” More sobbing and shaking of her head.

“Do you need food? Do you have water?”

Clutching her eyeglasses, tears stream down her face. She insists that her cloth bag has supplies.

“My cell phone is dead!” She is wailing now.

“There is no cell service out here,” our guide calmly replies. “It’s all right though. I have a radio if we need help.”

“I thought I was going to die out here!”

We, dressed in rainproof layers, with our guide at our side, gaze back at her.

Silently we nod and agree she was in grave danger.

Fall in Banff larch trees

Fall in Banff Paradise Valley with larch trees in their golden explosion of colour

Experiencing Fall in Banff – Finding Larch Trees

In blazes of autumn glory, come mid-September, the larch trees take the Alberta Rockies main stage. Hiding in green forests, with conifer cousins, the fir, pine and spruce, the show-off larch waits patiently.

Fall in Banff National Park, brings a flurry of larch tree seekers. Banff hiking trails fill with those searching for the vibrant extravaganza. Thriving in cooler, temperate climates, the larch trees in Banff National Park are seen at high mountain elevations.

Larch tree reflections Banff National Park

Larch tree reflections Lake Annette

For three weeks, a larch hike is the ultimate of Banff attractions. Destinations such as Larch Valley see a substantial amount of Banff hiking traffic. The excitement is understandable, as fall days in Banff National Park create a unique natural beauty.

The forest splashes of gold, set against backdrops of the towering Canadian Rockies, will soon vanish. The larch trees drop their soft needles as suddenly as they appear.

Our previous exploring of hiking trails in Banff National Park, have been without a guide. Now invited to do a larch mountain hike in Paradise Valley with White Mountain Adventures, I wonder if we need a Canadian Rockies trail guide? After all we have been hiking Alberta for 40 years.

Wildflowers Fall Banff National Park

Wildflowers still blooming high in the Alberta Rockies

Who would benefit from guided hiking trips?

There may be no better example of who should book a guide for a Larch Valley hike, than our tearful, lost companion. She began her day at Moraine Lake, with hundreds of other hikers.

Although she could not recall how, she crossed the mountain over Sentinel Pass into Paradise Valley. A random stranger told her it would be easy to find her way from there.

That is very bad advice.

Sentinel Pass from Paradise Valley

Looking at Sentinel Pass from Paradise Valley

Where are the best places to see larch trees during fall in Banff?

Once the needles take on their fall golden hue, they pop out like spotlights in the green forest. The trick is in finding a safe location to view the larch, without a thousand or so others hiking in Banff, Canada.

Do an internet search for best Banff fall hikes and you, plus scads of hiking Alberta enthusiasts, will find the Larch Valley hike.

Banff hiking trails larch trees

Autumn in Banff National Park creates larch hiking trails

Uncovering the best hikes in Banff to see the larch, is a well known, local treasure hunt. I confess this is how we have chosen previous larch mountain trail adventures.

Hiking in the Rockies with a guide, lesser known larch locations, with fewer people, is a huge benefit. Our Banff hiking guide takes us to Paradise Valley, where other hikers are a rare sight, but the beauty just as spectacular. 

Are there bears on Banff hikes?

larch tree at waterfall

Giant Steps – Can you see the lone larch tree?

If you are unfamiliar with grizzly bears or black bears, Banff National Park hiking is best done with a guide. Carrying bear spray is important. Knowing how to use it, and keeping calm enough to do so, is a vital skill on Banff trails.  

Kristi tells us she has never had a bear encounter in over two decades of guiding hikes. This she attributes to knowing how to avoid surprising bears.

The lost, lone woman has no idea about bears. Let alone the fact that bear spray is as necessary as water on a larch hike.

I need to get to the parking lot before sunrise?

Larch needles

The soft larch needles

An avid hiking friend explains she left Calgary at 3:30am to get a coveted parking spot for the Larch Valley hike. Parks Canada controls the entry and often the lot is full by 6:00am. 

However, guides in Banff National Park Canada, have special access and parking to Lake Louise and the Moraine Lake road, in the heart of the most popular larch mountain trails. Our hike began at the reasonable hour of 9:00 am.

Is that poisonous and other little known larch trail facts

White Mountain Adventures larch hike guide

Our guide Kristi describing the age and flexibility of a larch tree

“Should you ever be stuck in the woods, you can eat this hairy lichen clinging to branches. It is full of carbohydrates. But whatever you do, don’t eat that one.”  The guide points to a lime green growth whose pattern resembles a snowflake.

Our Banff fall day includes a culinary twist, sampling wild grouse berries and cranberries. I graciously decline any lichen. 

We learn that larch trees are yoga masters. So flexible they can withstand avalanches. That the nearby rock cliffs are from the Gog formation of the Cambrian period. My geology pal is enthralled.

“I’m cold! My feet hurt!”

Larch tree Mount Temple

The majestic larch trees against a Canadian Rockies backdrop

When the wayward hiker finds us, with teary, fear-filled eyes, it is her shaking that the guide notices first. At these higher elevations, hypothermia is always a concern.

“Do you need a hat or extra jacket?” Through our day, Kristi often pauses to have us layer up in cold windy sections. Not long after, to take a layer off, so as not to overheat while climbing a slope. 

I learn tricks about tying my hiking boots to prevent blisters and adjusting my hiking poles, depending on the angle of the hiking trail.

Did I mention I have been hiking for 40 years? It is all news to me.

Click below to take a larch hike with us and see the beauty for yourself.

Whether you are in search of the golden larch tree or exploring the Canadian Rockies in another season, a hiking guide can make your adventure far safer and more enjoyable.   

Examples of other guided outings with White Mountain Adventures include ATV assisted hike, Heli-hiking, Snowcat Snowshoe Adventure and Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Tour.

 

Fall in Banff? Important Banff National Park Information

Before you visit Banff National Park, we strongly suggest you read through the Banff Lake Louise Tourism guide. Planning ahead and exploring responsibly are vital to enjoying your time safely.

You will find re-opening information, how to purchase a Banff National Park pass online, accommodations, and which trails and services are open. 

Please click here before visiting Banff or hikes near Banff.

Hiking White Mountain Adventures Banff

Guide Kristi leading our larch hike Banff National Park

 

Where to Stay in Banff

Being our first hotel stay since the arrival of the pandemic, safety is high on my priority list. When Fox Hotel and Suites offered to host our stay, I admit to some concern about stepping out of the comfort of our home-bound bubble for the past half year.

I’m certain there are many safety conscious Banff hotels, however here are a few things that I found reassuring.

Fox Hotel and Suites Banff Alberta

Fox Hotel and Suites Banff Alberta

 

With outdoor stairways and halls to each room, we didn’t need to worry about being jammed inside a hallway with others. 

Each room has a kitchenette so we could bring our own food. The hotel restaurant has take out, an outdoor deck and indoor dining. At breakfast a grab an go option is available. 

If you would like to learn more about staying at Fox Hotel and Suites you can review their Safecation guidelines.

Have you seen larch trees?

Other Banff National Park articles you may enjoy

Johnston Canyon Hike – Bow Valley Closes and Becomes Cycling Paradise

Underwater Ghost Town – Lake Minnewanka Banff National Park

Banff Via Ferrata – Adventure On High

 

Thanks to Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, White Mountain Adventures and Fox Hotel and Suites for hosting our time in Banff National Park. As always the opinions shared are our own.