A version of this post was originally published on the Travel Alberta website.
Late September is a special time for hikers on the iconic Larch Valley trail near the famous Moraine Lake. The forest of delicate larch trees that give Larch Valley its name turn a surreal shade of burnished copper. It’s as if the meadowland is ablaze with color. Along the trail you can also see aspen leaves fluttering a pale yellow and buffalo berry shrubs turned a brilliant shade of marmalade. But it’s the enigmatic larch that’s the annual showstopper.
There’s a short window of fall color that separates the Canadian Rocky Mountains’ green alpine summer from its white winter, when the feathery needles fly away, spraying the towering rock walls of Alberta’s Rockies with the last golden threads of summer. The best way to experience its colorful performance is to hike or horseback ride the mountain trails between late-August and early October.
Fall Comes Early to Jasper
Horseback ride or hike to Shovel Pass Lodge in Jasper National Park. This historic lodge, located high on the famed Skyline Trail, is open until the first weekend in September. Come to see the larch needles begin their metamorphosis during the last two weeks of August, when the 3000-foot climb to the lodge is spackled with color. Whether you opt for the three-day horse-packing trip with Skyline Trail Rides or the classic 28-mile hike, your alpine journey will be replete with stunning stands of larch.
Trails Blaze with Color in Banff
Saddle up and ride into the high country in Banff National Park to slumber in a beautiful lodge. Banff Trail Riders leads horse-packing trips to Sundance and Halfway lodges in September and early October. As your steed climbs higher you’ll see a changing palette of beauty. From the velvety greens of the valley floor dotted with late-blooming flowers, to the crimson carpets of high alpine meadows with their stands of yolky larch trees. Bonus: the colors look even better from the back of a horse!
Prairie Meets the Peaks in Waterton
Hit the trails on foot to experience fall glory in Waterton Lakes National Park. Though the views here are always dramatic – green carpeted mountains seem to erupt from golden grasslands on the prairie’s edge – the splendor doubles when the fall foliage turns umber. Hike the 7.8-mile Rowe Lakes trail to Upper Rowe Lake and marvel as the landscape changes from verdant green forest to apricot-hued alpine meadow. If you’re feeling adventurous, scramble up to Avion Ridge to see the golden larch trees.