Monday, 16 September 2013

2013's Top 3 Places to Watch the Larches Turn Gold in the Canadian Rockies

Ah, September in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. When the larches turn golden and the parking at Moraine Lake overflows for kilometers down the road, giving you and your kids the opportunity to get in a good hike before you even reach the trailhead for Larch Valley.

Personally, I'd rather poke my eye with a larch needle than fight the crowds that descend on Larch Valley this time of year. Luckily, there are other great places to see larches turn gold. Some are arguably better for experiencing larches, and all are less crowded. Here are my top 3 larch viewing hikes for families and kids this year.

1. It's all about the larches: Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge in Kananaskis

Although Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge in Kananaskis are gaining in popularity for larch viewing, the trail is nowhere near as crowded as Larch Valley. And because Highway 40 between the winter gates and Highwood Meadows only opened on September 9 after being closed all summer due to flood damage, a lot of people think it's still closed.

The real reason to go to Pocaterra Cirque this fall are the larches, though. In my opinion, they're at least as good as Larch Valley. If your kids are a little older (maybe 12 and up) and your family is fit, you can do the Pocaterra Ridge walk, where
you'll find larches on the north end that are decidedly better than Larch Valley.

Last September when we did Pocaterra Cirque, we even walked past a herd of big horn sheep on the way back to the cars.

For details and my full post about Pocaterra Cirque and how to get there, click here.

2. You want to see golden larches, but the setting is just as important: Tryst Lake

That yellow stuff on the edge of the lake is fallen larch needles.

Note: Since I wrote this post last week, the Tryst Lake area has been closed and reopened due to bear activity. Check it's status in the "Notes" section at the bottom of the Peter Lougheed and Spray Valley Provincial Parks trail report.

A week too late. All the larches have lost their needles.

Tryst Lake isn't known for its larches. It's known for being a beautiful alpine lake in a beautiful alpine setting. Its larches don't rival those of Larch Valley or Pocaterra Cirque, but its lack of people--you may have the trail and lake to yourself--and setting more than make up for any lack of golden needles. As with Pocaterra Cirque, many people think the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail is still closed due to flood damage, so there may be even fewer people at Tryst Lake, if that's possible. An added bonus is the high likelihood that you'll see one of the area's resident moose at the parking lot or the old road that the trail starts out as.

For details and my full post about Tryst Lake and how to get there, click here.

3. You'd like to see a golden larch, but the rest of the scenery is the main attraction: Burstall Pass

Looking down at Burstall Pass, the unnamed glaciers, alpine meadows, Mt. Sir Douglas...

The landscape of Burstall Pass is amazing, fantastic, sublime. There are also some larch trees mixed in with the other trees.
Nearing the pass. The larches are the lighter green
trees, some starting to turn gold.

So if you're looking for a good September hike and like to see a few larches turning gold, but that's not the first priority, Burstall Pass is a good choice. That's not to say the larches aren't impressive, just not as impressive as Pocaterra Cirque or Tryst Lake. The emphasis of Burstall Pass is definitely on the views of unnamed glaciers, alpine meadows and the surrounding mountains, Snow Peak, Mt. Birdwood, Commonwealth Peak, Mt. Sir Douglas....We hiked up and over the pass on September 14, 2013, on the way to Snow Peak, and the larches were just starting to turn, so the next couple of weekends they should be prime larch viewing time at the pass.

Having said all that, this is a trail for older kids, maybe 10 or 12 and up. If you top short of the top of Burstall Pass, you can see the larches and the rest of the scenery, but it's still around 14 km (roundtrip) and a couple hundred meters of elevation gain.

A lone larch on top of the pass
Starting from the Burstall Pass day use area, follow the trail (it starts as on old logging road before narrowing to a true trail) for about 4 km. At that point you'll come out of the trees and find yourself in an alluvial plain covered with low bushes and braided creeks that you'll have to find your way across. Roughly follow the trail signs, which can be easily seen above the brush thanks to orange reflectors on top. Before re-entering the trees on the other side, make sure you look left to see the Robertson Glacier. Once in the trees, another 3 or so kilometers will take you to the pass. From the parking lot, the top of the pass is an elevation gain of about 450 m.

Distance: About 15 km return
Elevation gain: About 450 meters
Hiking/Exploring Time: 4 to 6 hours
Driving Directions: Trans-Canada west to Highway 40. Follow the 40 south to Kananaskis Lakes Trail and turn right. In a couple of kilometers, turn right again on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail. In 22 kilometers turn left into the Burstall day use area.

Click here to see a driving map.

Larch needles in spring on the Wedge


  1. Trying something different is in human nature, but to make effective proper plan is necessary with getting such popular places, regarding traveling such blogs are very helpful that guides the all required things.


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