'It really does draw you in': What you need to know as larch season approaches

·2 min read
Larch trees line the path to Mummy Lake in Banff National Park. (Submitted by Andrew Nugara - image credit)
Larch trees line the path to Mummy Lake in Banff National Park. (Submitted by Andrew Nugara - image credit)

You know it's fall in Alberta when residents head to the mountains in droves to take in the golden hue of larch trees.

The trees blend into the landscape of the Rockies throughout the summer, but by late September, they transform from green to bright yellow.

It's something Andrew Nugara, author of Family Walks and Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, insists people see in-person.

"It's almost a surreal experience," he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"There's just this connection that we have with nature. When those larches change that golden colour and you see them with the green trees and with the blue sky and some fresh snow, it's just one of the most captivating things you can see."

But hold onto your cameras. Nugara said you might be disappointed if you head out on a larch hunt this weekend, although some trees may be just starting to change.

The season varies each year, but he said late September and early October are the best times to catch the trees in all their golden glory.

Submitted by Andrew Nugara
Submitted by Andrew Nugara

Debbie Olsen, author of 200 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta, said you'll find lots of larch hike options in both the Kananaskis and Banff areas.

"The granddaddy of larch hikes would be the Larch Valley hike, which is in Banff National Park, and that one's pretty crowded," she said in an interview on The Homestretch.

"If you want to hike that hike, you'll have to go very early in the morning to get a parking spot, or you take the Parks Canada shuttle bus."

She also enjoys the Ptarmigan Cirque, Arethusa Cirque and Chester Lake hikes, but you only have a few weeks to enjoy golden larch trees scattered along them.

"They lose their needles and then they regrow them every year. So in that two week time frame when those needles turn golden, it's just glorious."

Submitted by Andrew Nugara
Submitted by Andrew Nugara

For Nugara, Pocaterra Tarn and Pocaterra Ridge are great spots to see the trees, although he said parking is an issue at most of these spots at this time of year.

It's most busy on weekends with people arriving very early in the morning to guarantee a spot.

"I've seen cars parked for a kilometre down the highway because the parking lot fills up and then people park along the highway," he said.

"That's why I would avoid these areas on the weekends."

Submitted by Andrew Nugara
Submitted by Andrew Nugara

Healy Pass by Sunshine Village, Gibbons Pass just past Banff and Upper Rowe Lake in Waterton are other hidden gems on his list.

With a little research, you can get around the crowd issues, he said.

And when you see the larches firsthand, it's understandable why so many Albertans flock to the mountains this time of year.

"It really does draw you in … You can look at pictures online, but seeing them live is fantastic."

Andrew Nugara
Andrew Nugara