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Larch Valley | Parker Ridge
Larch Valley Trail
The wonderful world of alpine larch
2.4 km (1.5 mi) one way
Larch Valley is one of the most heavily visited hiking destinations in the Canadian Rockies. And no wonder. This meadowland above Moraine Lake, with its dense stands of alpine larch and panoramic overview of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, is exquisite. Although the valley can be reached in an hour (which is why we’ve classed it as a Short Hike), it’s easy to spend a full day exploring the surrounding area.
From the canoe dock at Moraine Lake, the trail passes the trailhead kiosk and climbs through a forest of Engelmann spruce and alpine fir, steadily ascending switchbacks much of the way. Stay right at the km 2.4 (mi 1.5) junction and immediately enter the lower meadows of Larch Valley. This high valley is the main focus for most hikers, and in late September, when alpine larch needles have turned to gold, it is especially popular. In mid-summer, however, the larch needles are pale green and the meadows are carpeted with wildflowers.
The trail continues to climb through larch groves and meadows, and by the time it emerges above the last trees, there are fine views back to the rugged Ten Peaks—the glacier-capped summit of Mount Fay being the most prominent and striking. Small lakes that dot the upper meadows of the valley are called Minnestimma, a native word meaning “sleeping water.”
Options: Sentinel Pass is an obvious but strenuous extension from the upper Larch Valley and the last of the Minnestimma Lakes. The trail begins a switchbacking climb of the steep, open slope leading to the pass—a vertical rise of nearly 200 metres (660 feet). At 2,611 metres (8,560 feet), Sentinel is one of the highest trail-accessible passes in the Rockies. Distinctive rock towers give the pass its name and views back over Larch Valley to the Ten Peaks are breathtaking. Total one way distance to the pass from Moraine Lake is 5.8 kilometres (3.6 miles).
Eiffel Lake is an easier option than the climb to Sentinel Pass. Beginning where the Larch Valley trail first enters the meadows, it runs along the north side of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and soon emerges onto open slopes where all of the ten summits are revealed across the valley. At km 5.6 (mi 3.5) the trail passes across a scree slope above Eiffel Lake, which was aptly described by Walter Wilcox over a century ago: “It would be difficult to find another lake of small size in a wilder setting, the shores being of great angular stones, perfectly in harmony with the wild range of mountains beyond. Except in one place where a green and inviting slope comes down to the water, this rough ground is utterly unsuitable for vegetation and nearly devoid of trees.” If you don’t want to labour down broken rock to reach Eiffel Lake, enjoy an overview of both lake and the Ten Peaks by continuing west along the trail to a sheltering grove of larch trees—Wilcox’s “green and inviting slope.”
You can hike beyond Eiffel Lake for another four kilometres (2.5 miles) to 2,600-metre-high (8,530-foot) Wenkchemna Pass, another one of the highest trail accessible passes in the Canadian Rockies and yet another outstanding viewpoint for the Valley of the Ten Peaks. This trail continues west from the Eiffel Lake viewpoint across rolling alpine meadows, then climbs over a moraine and along the rocky south ridge of Wenkchemna Peak before descending to the windswept gap between Wenkchemna Peak and Neptuak Mountain. The pass is 9.7 kilometres (6.2 miles) from Moraine Lake; you should allow three to four hours one way.
Note: Travel in Larch Valley and to Eiffel Lake may require a group of four people hiking in close proximity to one another if restrictions concerning grizzly bears are in place.
Content from 50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park
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