Hiking the Larch Valley from Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Text and Photography by Mike Potter
The hike to Larch Valley ranks as one of the more popular outings in Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies, especially in autumn when the sub-alpine larches display a radiant golden glow.
Gordon Stermann, owner of White Mountain Adventures and a long time resident of Banff calls this one of the park’s best hikes.
“I would rate this as one of the top 5 hikes in the Canadian Rockies,” he says. “It is spectacular, has lots of elevation gain and lots of variety.”
Stermann also adds this tip, “By having a vehicle at both ends it is one continuous walk without retracing your steps.”
Arrival at Larch Valley is a reward well-earned, since you climb 550 meters in just 4.2 km. After the series of steady switchbacks up from Moraine Lake, you might enjoy a pause on the rest bench at the junction with the Eiffel Lake trail.
Keeping right for Larch Valley, the first stands of larch soon appear, then you come to a fair-sized meadow. Mt. Temple rises loftily to the north, while ahead stand Pinnacle Mt. and Eiffel Peak–named for a rock tower on its north side (not visible from this trail) that resembles the famous landmark in Paris.
After a level section through the meadow, the path leads up steadily–although more gently than the trail up from Moraine Lake–to pass the last trees at approximately km 3.7. Five hundred meters further, you reach the shore of the largest of the Minnestimma Lakes nestled in the bowl between Mt. Temple and Pinnacle Mtn. The name of these small tarns has the evocative meaning “sleeping water.” Early explorer/mountaineer Samuel Allen, bestowed the name with the assistance of Stoney Indian William Twin in choosing the many names from their language that he conferred on features.
Of Allen’s original Stoney-numeral names for the summits on the south south of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, only those for Neptuak (nine) and Wenkchemna (ten) survive. The others have been renamed for non-Natives; one of them, Peak Six, honors Allen himself.
Distance: 4.2 km (2.6 mi) – Moraine Lake to Larch Valley
Day Hike: 1.5 – 2 hours one way
Elevation Gain: 550 m (1800 ft)
Maximum Elevation: 2435 m (7990 ft)
Trailhead: South end of Moraine Lake parking lot.
0.0 – South end of Moraine Lake parking area (elevation 1885 m). Continue straight on service road, passing in front of Moraine Lake Lodge.
0.2 – Junction with Moraine Lake Lakeshore trail. Keep right and climb steadily on a series of switchbacks.
2.6 – Junction (2260 m) with Eiffel Lake trail. Turn right; climb less steeply. Pass through an open meadow flanked by larches.
3.7 – Treeline (2385 m)
4.2 – Largest of the Minnestimma Lakes (2435 m)
For further information on guided tours in the Canadian Rockies, fill out the blue form on the right side of this page.