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Finding Gold in the Rockies

While cooler temperatures at night have most people thinking of curling up with a good book and cozy sweaters, true outdoors enthusiasts know that these cooler temperatures bring about the perfect conditions for fall hiking and photo-worthy views: light dusting of snow on the mountain tops, lingering twilights, and best of all? Changing leaves on mountain slopes.

While Alberta doesn’t have the autumnal reds that you can find in Eastern Canada, we are pretty fond of the colours that we do have: the flaming orange/reds of fireweed, living up to their name; yellow aspen leaves that tremble in the fall winds and, our favorite, the feathery gold of larch trees, the only conifer tree to shed its needles!

Larix Lyallii, or more commonly, the Alpine Larch, can be found at elevations of 5900 feet to 7900 feet in the Rocky Mountains. These trees look like your average needled conifer for the spring and summer, but when fall rolls around, the tree turns golden and drops its needles, sitting bare all winter long.

While only found at higher altitudes, these golden trees are well worth the hiking that it takes to see them in person. They are usually dispersed throughout a mixed conifer forest, lighting it up with chunks of gold.

So where does one go to witness this miracle of nature? Here in Kananaskis, we are lucky to have easy access to many trails with fantastic larch views. Here are some of our favourites:

Rawson Lake

Distance: 7.8km, Out and Back

Elevation: 320m

Location: This trail starts at the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Day Use area and climbs above the lake.

Highlights: Aside from the larch trees, this trail takes you to a scenic alpine lake.

Chester Lake

Distance: 9.2, Out and Back

Elevation: 300m

Location: This trail starts at the Chester Lake trailhead, on highway 742.

Highlights: This hike meanders and climbs through a spectacular forest before taking you across an open alpine meadow and to Chester Lake, beneath a towering Mt Chester.

Our absolute favourite hike for viewing the larches is Ptarmigan Cirque. The trail is our favourite for several reasons: its located at the top of Canada’s highest paved road, so the hike starts at 7000+ feet above sea level, there is a series of beautiful waterfalls and rock features that make the hike down breathtaking; we also love exploring the cirque feature at the top of the trail. Since this hike is one of our absolute favourites, we offer it daily, with a shuttle ride from the Kananaskis Village and a certified interpretive guide to make the most of every moment along the trail. 

Ptarmigan Cirque

Distance: 4.5km loop

Elevation: 210m

Location: This trail starts at the Highwood Meadows trailhead, crosses highway 40, and climbs between Mt Rae and Mt Arethusa

Highlights: Diverse and scenic forest, wildlife viewing opportunities, waterfalls, rock features, and a beautiful mountain Cirque.

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