Every autumn, social feeds fill up with fall hiking photos, including Alberta’s famous golden larches. The yellow alpine trees make for stunning photographs, contrasting against grey mountain peaks. When searching for larches in Alberta, you can easily find lists of hiking trails in Canmore, Kananaskis and Banff. Hiking recaps, photographs and trail reviews abound. But there are more larch hikes farther south, with less crowds.
Castle Provincial Park is a unique mountain park located about 130 kilometres west of Lethbridge, Alberta. This park is split into two sections: a wildland area and a provincial park.
If you want to enjoy fall larch hikes and not deal with crowds, head to Castle Provincial Park and check out a few of these hikes.
What’s So Special About Larch Trees?
Larch trees are rare deciduous conifers with needles that turn yellow in the fall. They are most often found in the higher alpine, so hikers have to put in some leg work to get a glimpse. Even more interesting is that the needles are soft and fluffy to the touch. Because a snowfall will take off the needles, larch season typically lasts from late September into early October—so seeing these trees is the ultimate fall hiking experience.
If you want to wander through a forest of larches, Haig Ridge is your hike. It’s a difficult 8.4-kilometre out-and-back with 775 metres of elevation gain.
This hike starts at the base of Castle Mountain Ski Resort. Follow signage and a catski trail all the way to the top. The path starts off wide and relatively easy until you hit the top of the Huckleberry ski lift. From there you will hang a left and it’s up, up, up you go. You will reach larches at about the four-kilometre mark.
Yellow with pops of red and orange emerge beautifully from the brush. Wander around, feel the needles and enjoy the view of Mt. Haig in the background.
To make it a longer hike, continue on the ridge up to the summit of Mt. Haig and loop around to Gravenstafel Ridge and back down.
Credit: Alecia Williams
The Barnaby Ridge/Southfork Lakes hike is a steep but short and rewarding out and back hike. It’s approximately 5.6 kilometres one-way with a 700-metre elevation gain. Local resident Alecia Williams, who owns WILDR, shared where to spot larches on this hike:
“Larches can be spotted on the eastern shoulders of Southfork Mountain, across the valley on Syncline Mountain and behind both Barnaby and Southfork lakes, [lighting] up gold with the afternoon sun. Black bears and grizzlies are easily spotted with a keen eye on the surrounding slopes, gorging on bearberries before winter.”
Credit: Alecia Williams
Start your hike at the Syncline Brook/Barnaby Staging Area and cross Hwy 774 to the new bridge over the Castle River. From there, stay left immediately after the bridge and follow the signage for the lakes up a very steep ridge and into the upper valley.
The first lake is 4.6 kilometres from the trailhead. An additional kilometre will get you to the upper lakes, known as Southfork Lakes. Don’t forget to pack bear spray!
Credit: Vern Dewit
Rainy Ridge is a moderate hike of about 10 kilometres one-way with 697 metres of elevation gain.
Park at Castle Mountain Ski Resort and take the Middle Kootenay Pass trail. It starts where the main highway to Castle ends. Cross a pedestrian bridge and follow the road. You might want to bring a mountain bike as the first two kilometres are fairly flat. You can ride until the ascent gets too steep for you and stash your bike off the trail.
Hike towards Middle Lakes Pass and once at the lake, you can choose one of the two paths to complete the loop of the ridge. Enjoy the fall larches when you hit the lake!