As soon as September hits, it is all the buzz around hiking groups: “Where and when can we see the famous golden larches near Vancouver?!”
What are larches, you might wonder? Per Wikipedia, “Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, of the family Pinaceae (subfamily Laricoideae). Growing from 20 to 45 metres (65 to 150 feet) tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south. Larches are among the dominant plants in the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada. Although they are conifers, larches are deciduous trees that lose their needles in the autumn.”
Basically, they’re pine trees that instead of staying green all year (aka evergreen), the needles become a golden yellow colour as they die and fall to the ground for the winter. This transforms our typically year-round evergreen mountainous landscape into a brilliant display of Autumn colours. Alpine Larches (Larix Lyallii) grow in high, dry, rocky terrain, which is why they’re only found quite aways from the mostly sea level and wet Lower Mainland.
If larches aren’t your thing, be sure to scroll to the bottom of this article for trails to see other autumn colours.
When you can see the larches, you also might ponder? There is not an exact date or time period because it changes every year depending on the conditions. Typically, however, they are golden for a few weeks in the Fall, between summer and winter. Depending on the elevation and weather for the year, this can be anytime between September and November. Here around Vancouver at lower elevation with more temperate weather, it’s typically mid October, whereas the higher elevation and earlier winter often found in the Rockies, larches are visible as early as September.
Where can you see them is why most are reading this, so without further ado, here we go. By now, most people know the most popular larch-viewing hike near Vancouver: Frosty Mountain in Manning Park. But it is not a short or easy hike, nor is it the only option! So read on for some more ideas about where you can see the golden larches near Vancouver if you want to avoid the droves of people descending on Frosty.
COVID-19: typically people will view the larches at the many hikes in Washington State as the Northern Cascades are home to many a trail lined with larches, but alas with the border being closed due to the coronavirus, this article currently focuses on trails in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada only.
The western-most grove of larches in BC, and also one of the most well-known and popular hikes near Vancouver to see them is Frosty Mountain in E. C. Manning Park near Hope, BC. Because of this, it is quite a busy spot come October. For good reason, though. It’s a spectacular hike, and the larches abound.
27.5 km from Similkameen/Windy Joe/PCT Trail head to Frosty Summit to Lightning Lake day-use to Similkameen/Windy Joe/PCT
22.2 km from Lightning Lake to summit and return
29 km from Similkameen/Windy Joe/PCT to summit return
1150 m from Lightning Lake
1200 m from Similkameen/Windy Joe/PCT
I’ve also heard you can see them from the northern slope of the First Brother (Heather Trail) in Manning Park, but I’ve never been there in the Fall myself to know for sure.
Cathedral Provincial Park
photos from BC Parks
Just a bit farther east of Manning Park is a much less known and less explored park called Cathedral Provincial Park. If you recall from my Instagram, I visited this gorgeous spot last summer. I recently learned it’s a great spot to see the larches, and honestly probably the best time of year to visit there, so I’m definitely going back! It’s too far for a daytrip, but if you’re not keen on camping, you can rent a cabin or get a room up there at Cathedral Lake Lodge.
Larches are a fantastic goal for a hiking getaway road trip. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are the prime environment for larches to grow. Thus, you will find many, many trails around Jasper, Banff, Lake Louise, the Kananaskis and beyond full of larch-filled trails.
Lake Agnes Tea House/Devil’s Thumb
On my most recent trip to the Rockies in September 2020, I saw these beautiful larches on my way up to Devil’s Thumb via the Lake Agnes Tea House/Beehive trail that begins at Lake Louise. The hike was 15km with 860m gain.
Other famous hikes to see the larches in the Rocky Mountains include:
- Larch Valley, Banff National Park
- Pocaterra Cirque/Ridge, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
- Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
- Chester Lake, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
- Floe Lake, Kootenay National Park
- Gibbon Pass, Banff National Park
- Healy Pass, Banff National Park
- Tamarack Trail, Waterton Lakes National Park
Lesser known and visited areas would be my go-to spot as the spots above, while beautiful, are very busy. You can see some of the rarer Western Larches (Larix Occidentalis) in the Kootenays and surrounding parks like Kokanee Glacier Park and in the Purcells (Brewer Lakes is a particularly larch-filled beautiful hike).
OTHER AUTUMN COLOUR HIKES
Larches aren’t the only autumn nature spectacles to see. See the beautiful fall colours in the leaves changing to bright yellow, orange and red on these hikes and park areas right in or near Vancouver:
- Maplewood Flats Conservation Area in North Vancouver
- Pacific Spirit Regional Park in Vancouver
- Velodrome Trail in Burnaby
- Mt Strachan in Cypress Provincial Park
- Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park
- Elk Thurston Trail in Chilliwack