When the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler, I know golden larches season is finally here. Larches blend into their environments during the summer months as their needles are green just like the pine trees and fur trees around them. During autumn though, their needles turn to gold and they turn into stunning subject matter.
Where to Find Golden Larches
Golden larches live high in the mountains, generally much higher than the valleys or foothills. Many hikes in Lake Louise or Highwood Pass in Kananaskis are a great place to start. When you’re on your summer hikes, try to take note of the larches when you’re in the higher mountains. Many people might think there are only a few hikes that boast these beautiful trees in Alberta, but there are in fact many.
Golden Larches at Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country
Chester Lake is a very popular destination for photographing larches in Alberta. The trailhead is an hour and forty-seven minutes from Calgary. Take Spray Lakes road from the 40 for about 18km. The hike is only 8.4km roundtrip with about 350m elevation. The lake loop is another kilometre or so and it well worth the time. Try to avoid on weekends during the larch rush. The crowds are manageable but it will be difficult to isolate your photos without strangers in the background.
Saddle Back Pass in Lake Louise
Saddle Back Pass is a great hike where generally less crowds will gather than some of the other hikes listed here. During the week, you might even find yourself alone on this trail. It’s often overshadowed by neighbouring larch valley – as you can imagine.
Saddle Back Pass is one of may favourite places for photographing larches in Alberta. There are so many epic views with glaciated mountains in the background and larches in the foreground. Mount Temple always looks stunning, but even more so with golden larches in the valley beneath it.
Healy Pass in Banff National Park
Healey Pass is an extraordinary area full of larches in every direction. Because you can drive up all the way up to Sunshine Village, you don’t have to work too hard for the elevation to get up to the larches. The hike into the pass is very gradual pleasant. The steepest section is closest to the trailhead. Most of the hike is spent in the trees and the views don’t open up until you get near the end of the hike, but once you do, it’s well worth the time spent without the views.
There is endless creative potential here in Healey pass for photographing golden larches. The are lakes in the valley below that provide some great subject matter. There is also the view towards Egypt lakes on the other-side of the pass. Be prepared to spend a lot of time at the end of this hike before you turn back around. The total distance is 18km with 800m elevation. The elevation feels very gradual though.
Pocaterra Ridge in Highwood Pass
Pocaterra ridge is generally quiet during the summer months but when autumn hits, this trail is busy! Avoid on weekend if possible. It does not take long for the meadow to open up with golden larches. The first 2km are beautiful as you walk through the many larches all around. You’ll quickly begin to climb elevation up the ridge and then see views of the valley behind you. They higher you get, the more extraordinary the views.
This hike is best down from south to north to avoid unnecessary elevation. Having two cars, one parked at the trailhead and the other at the end of the hike is preferable. If you only have one vehicle, I would start at the south side and hike to the summit of the ridge and return the same way. Some people do the full ridge and then walk back on the road. If you choose to do that, I still recommend starting on the south side and then walking back south along the road after you complete the ridge.
This hike is almost 10km long with an elevation of 730m.
Eiffel Lake in Lake Louise
Eifel Lake is a beautiful hike at the worst of times, but during larch season, it’s even more beautiful. Near the end of the hike there are gorgeous views of larches in the foreground of the valley of ten peaks. It’s without a doubt one of the most incredible larch views in all the Rockies.
The hike to Eiffel Lake is 12km with an elevation of 600m.
Tips for Photographing Golden Larches
Photographing golden larches is actually more difficult than you might expect. The reason for that is because it’s very difficult to isolate. Try to be intentional about your subject matter, do your best to isolate your subject. A lot of photos of golden larches can feel very busy.
Get a variety of focal lengths involved. Big landscapes are great if you can find clean compositions that aren’t overly complicated. If the landscape is too complicated and difficult to isolate, try shooting really tight. Using this technique will afford you the opportunity of making stunning golden larches images with only a few larches. You don’t need an entire forrest of larches to make great golden larches photographs.
Don’t be afraid to shoot in the middle of the day. Typically landscape photos during the day is best to avoid if at all possible. However, the sun is less harsh in autumn and the light really makes the golden larches glow.