Experiencing Autumn in the Canadian Rockies
Beautiful places to soak up Canada’s fall scenery
We all know that Colorado has plenty to offer leaf-peepers every fall, with beautifully hued aspen groves dotting the mountainsides. But for even more fall splendor, a trip across the border to visit our Canadian friends just might be the great escape you’re looking for.
Every autumn, travelers and locals alike flock to the Canadian Rockies in search of something you might not even notice in summer: the larch tree. Native to Canada and the northern United States, the larches are deciduous and coniferous trees, which makes them unique. Unlike most pine trees, the soft green needles of the larch turn a golden copper hue before dropping to the forest floor every autumn.
Follow the Rocky Mountains north into British Columbia and Alberta to discover some of Canada’s most spectacular fall scenery, all thanks to the beauty of larches lighting up in a dazzling array of yellows and oranges that will capture anyone’s attention.
Visit Alberta’s National Parks
A trip to Alberta and its parks is one of the best ways to experience fall colors in Canada. Your journey begins in the heart of the Canadian Rockies at Banff National Park. As the most iconic and well-known national park in Alberta, Banff makes its transition into fall around mid-September into early October. The iconic Lake Louise is the focal point here, with its glacier-fed turquoise waters, distinct mountain backdrop and the stunning Fairmount Chateau, a 5-star hotel inside the park.
The best area for larch viewing in Alberta is Larch Valley. After getting your fill of the awe-inspiring beauty of Moraine Lake, look for the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass trail, which guide you through sweeping golden larch meadows and distinctive rocky spires. The summit of Sentinel Pass offers an incredible view of golden larches stretching throughout the valley below.
By way of a bike, hop on the 13-mile-long Banff Legacy Trail, a paved pathway that parallels the Trans-Canada Highway. The trail connects the towns of Canmore and Banff with an additional 2.7 miles outside the park boundaries. The entire trail is collectively referred to as the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail.
Healy Pass, Boulder Pass and Arnica Lake offer stunning, off-the-beaten-path larch views as well. Aside from hiking and biking, create unique memories with a trail ride and an overnight stay at Sundance Lodge with Banff Trail Riders.
Located southwest of Calgary, bordering the town of Canmore and Banff National Park, Kananaskis Country also offers some of the best views of the larches in Canada. For incredible views, hike the Pocaterra Ridge from the Highwood Pass parking lot to see a dense larch forest between towering mountain peaks.
If you’re looking for something less rigorous but truly stunning, Chester Lake is another great option. This multi-season area has something special for everyone. Located in Spray Valley Provincial Park, about 25 miles from Canmore via the Spray Lakes Road, Chester Lake is one of the easier hikes in the area and one of the best areas to view larches. Framed by the cliffs of Mount Chester, the lake is surrounded by larches accenting the rim of the lake in a golden glow during the fall.
Vancouver, British Columbia
For those who enjoy the cityscapes blended with green spaces, experience fall at its best with a day in Vancouver tracking down the sites for the best leaf-peeping view. A stroll or bike ride along the 5.5-mile Stanley Park Seawall reveals an array of fall colors on one side with ocean views on the other.
Other popular places to view the fall show of colors include Queen Elizabeth Park, the Sylvia Hotel and Burnaby Mountain Park, plus the Van Dusen and UBC Botanical Gardens.
Or head over to Vancouver Island to Beacon Hill Park. As Victoria’s premier 200-acre urban park, it transforms in the fall to reveal an array of colors alongside the ocean. Explore the landscaped gardens, visit the peacocks, and walk along the waterfront for a great afternoon activity.
Jessica Hughes is a writer and photographer based in Denver. When she is not working in the city, you can find her in the mountains, hiking, backpacking or biking. Connect with her on Instagram @small_town_stops or @jlhindesign.