With the leaves turning, temperatures cooling and the crowds dispersing, Fall is arguably the best time of year to hit the hiking trails before the deep freeze of a full on Canadian winter arrives. There is no more spectacular place to appreciate “WonderFall” hiking than in Banff National Park. Here are my 5 best day hikes and top tips to help you make the most of the last few weeks of the hiking season before the snow settles!
1. Larch Valley (535m elevation gain, 12km return)
The Larch Valley hike is without doubt the most popular Fall hike in Banff National Park. During September the larches turn yellow, and are illuminated by the first sprinkling of snow on the famous Ten Peaks surrounding the majestic Moraine Lake. Arrive early and jump on the free Parks Canada shuttle just south of Lake Louise to avoid any parking challenges at Moraine Lake. You can also extend your trip by hiking up to the Sentinel Pass.
2. Sunshine Meadows (150m, 3-10km depending on route)
Before the snow settles on the ground to the delight of the Sunshine Village ski crowd, the Meadows come alive with fall colours and larches all surrounding three pristine alpine lakes. With an average elevation of 2200m the Meadows are situated on the Continental Divide separating British Columbia and Alberta. The hiking is relatively easy with minimal elevation gains. Watch out for ground squirrels who might look cute but will steal your lunch as soon as you turn your back to find your camera!
3. Sundance Canyon Trail and Marsh Loop (150m, 11km return)
This easy hike allows you to explore the steep-sided Sundance Canyon and enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Bow River reflecting the surrounding mountain peaks. Starting at the Cave and Basin parking lot, take the paved trail for 4km, after which you get the chance to climb up into the Canyon and enjoy the waterfalls. Complete the Canyon loop and on your return journey add on the Marsh Loop to take in a stroll along the magical Bow River.
4. Johnson Lake (minimal, 3km)
A beautiful 1 hour circular hike that gives you 360 degree views of the Rockies including the famous Cascade and Rundle mountains. You can make this hike a little more interesting by hunting for the Hermit of Inglismaldie’s cabin. Billy Carver built the cabin in 1910, living as a recluse for 27 years! There are no signs so it is a true treasure hunt! Hint: it’s on the south side of the lake!
5. Emerald Lake (100m, 5.5km)
Ok, so I cheated here as Emerald Lake is technically located in Yoho National Park, but you will forgive this indiscretion if you take a visit on a sunny Fall day! Just a 20 minute drive off Highway 1 close to Field on the BC /Alberta border, Emerald Lake is hidden from the outside world by a cauldron of huge peaks. The most popular hiking route is a 5.5km circular hike around the lake which has less than 100m in elevation gain. Afterwards you can grab a hot chocolate and a cookie at the Emerald Lake Lodge and recover in a comfy chair next to the open fire!
Top Fall Hiking Tips
- Set off earlier or make sure your bring a head lamp as the day light hours shorten
- Bring plenty of layers as summer temperatures can be replaced by cool breezes and even some snow. Check out our blog post on “How To Layer” for more info!
- Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture those spectacular Fall colours. And check out this cool “Camera Cooler Bag” we just got in from Pohttps://blog.liveoutthere.com/current/how-to-layer/ler!
- For some hikes including the Larch Valley you need a minimum of 4 as the Grizzly Bears are also looking for a final feed before their winter nap
- Always worth having some yak-tracks or micro spikes in your bag just in case you do discover snow / ice on your hike as the seasons change
Have a “WonderFall” time enjoying the last few weeks of the hiking season in the beautiful Canadian Rockies!