How-To, Parking, and What to Bring
Posted: September 9th, 2022
UPDATED: October 23, 2022: Moraine Lake road now closed for the season. The road will re-open Spring 2023
UPDATED: February 28, 2023: Parks Canada has announced that Moraine Lake road will not reopen to personal vehicles for the 2023 season. Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, commercial buses and taxis will be permitted road access from June-October 2023. Please see our blog post with further details.
Larch Valley Trail Stats:
Round-Trip: 8.6 kilometres
Elevation Gain: 535 metres
Expected Hiking Time: 3 Hours Round-trip
Autumn is just around the corner here in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and we are about to enter one of the most stunning seasons in the Bow Valley. As the influx of summer tourists slowly starts to dissipate, this might be the best time to book your mountain getaway and head to the Canadian Rockies to enjoy the stunning autumn colours, as well as the many fun outdoor activities that accompany the season of bright gold and orange larch trees!
Autumn in the Canadian Rockies typically falls between the last two weeks of September to mid-October and may be the last opportunity to complete some of your favourite hikes and outdoor activities before heading into the long winter season. With that being said -- if you're lucky -- you might get a nice dusting of white snow on the mountain peaks while still enjoying the more moderate temperatures and outdoor adventures!
Known as the most beautiful lake in Canada, Moraine Lake is a must-see if you're staying in Banff National Park or Canmore. With bright turquoise glacial water, stunning waterfalls, and towering mountain peaks, this is the perfect place to experience the magic of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. But there's a reason this lake is listed as number 1 in this guide -- the road to Moraine Lake is closed every year following the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend due to avalanche danger. After this date, it is only accessible by bike or -- later on in the season -- cross-country skis or snowshoes, so you will want to cross it off your bucket list first!
While there are many trails in the Moraine Lake area, the most popular hike at this time of year is the Larch Valley trail. This hike takes you up above Moraine Lake to a sea of spectacular bright gold and orange larch trees. This is definitely one you will not want to miss! The hike starts from the Moraine Lake lakeshore trail and winds up through a dense forest before leveling off in the alpine and opening up to a meadow of larches, backdropped by the towering 10 Peaks. You will eventually reach the stunning Minnestimma Lake, perfect for autumn photos. When doing this hike with hopes of catching the sunrise, you may even be lucky enough to see a reflection of the peaks in the water; a photographer's dream!
Optional Hike: Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass
From Larch Valley, you can continue on your hike an additional 2.5 km to reach Sentinel Pass. From Sentinel Pass, you will have stunning views down into Paradise Valley where you will be able to catch a glimpse of many mountain ranges stretching for miles. Continuing to Sentinel Pass from Larch Valley is worthwhile for the stunning mountain views -- and it is only an additional 200m elevation climb!
What to Bring
Bring Lots of Layers - A windbreaker, hand-warmers, and a hat/toque and gloves! If you are hiking this trail in the autumn, there is likely already snow on some of the peaks, making for some brisk mountain air! Once you reach Larch Valley, you will want to take your time wandering through the larches and snapping photos, so you will want to be prepared for any weather conditions instead of heading back to your vehicle as fast as you arrived!
Bear Spray - It is not uncommon to see bears up in Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass -- especially during the wildflower season and in autumn. It is recommended that hikers travel in groups of 4, which you will see posted on signs throughout the trail.
Hiking Poles - Since some segments of this hike are rather steep, having hiking poles will make for a much safer descent!
Snacks & Water - Due to the length of this hike, you will want to bring some snacks or lunch to enjoy while you wander among the larches!
Things to Note
Wind - It is safe to say that this is one of the windier hikes in Banff National Parks. Once you exit the trees and ascend into the larch meadows, you will want to take note of the conditions before committing to proceeding up Sentinel Pass. This can be dangerous especially when you are hiking on an exposed rock face with steep cliffs! You may have a better chance of calm conditions if you do this hike for sunrise!
Is this hike kid/dog friendly?
Absolutely! Although labeled as a 'moderate' hike, it leans towards the easier side of hikes and does not require any scrambling. If you have any hiking experience, this hike is for you!
Parking & Access
One of the most challenging parts of this hike will be finding an available parking spot at Moraine Lake. Since this is one of the most-visited scenic locations in Canada, the parking lot can sometimes fill up as early as 2AM!
But, not to worry, Parks Canada and regional bus services offer shuttles to the lake at an affordable price.
You have four options for commuting to the lake:
Option 1: Moraine Lake Parking Lot
The road to Moraine Lake is often barricaded once the parking lot has filled up; however, if you want to take a chance trying to find an available parking spot mid-day, you might get lucky! For better odds of finding an available spot, it is best to arrive at Moraine Lake before sunrise (the lot sometimes fills up as early as 2AM during the peak summer season). Alternatively, arriving at Moraine Lake later in the day after 5PM also provides a decent opportunity to find an available parking spot!
Option 2: The Park and Ride Shuttle
Located approximately 10 minutes away from Moraine Lake/Lake Louise is a parking lot where you can park your vehicle and hop on a shuttle that has direct service to both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Reservations are required in advance.
2022 Prices are as Follows:
Adult (18 - 64 years) $8.00
Senior (65+ years) $4.00
Youth (6 - 17 years) $2.00
Child (under 6 years) Free
Park and Ride Reservation Service: https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/Banff-LakeLouise?Type=7&language=en&_ga=2.42795173.1462152336.1666561397-2035993870.1666561397&gccf=true
Option 3: Roam Transit
Roam Transit is the regional bus service that provides access to many of the most popular sights in Banff National Park including Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. In order to guarantee your seat on the bus, reservations can be made for the popular routes in advance online through their website by purchasing a $25 Super Pass.
Roam Transit: https://roamtransit.com/
Option 4: Hop-on/Hop-off Bus
The HopOnBanff bus service is one of the best ways to see all of Banff's best sites that are only accessible by vehicle. At $61.90/person (as of Sept. 2022), the bus travels between the Banff townsite, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Samson Mall, and the Lake Louise gondola. Simply head to a designated meeting point, and jump on the bus to head to whichever destination you wish to visit that day! Included in the fee are unlimited sightseeing destinations.