Eager crowds are venturing to Alberta’s mountainous regions as the annual larch season takes hold. With its arrival only once a year, larch season never fails to captivate with its vibrant display of golden hues. The Alpine larches, remarkable and unique coniferous pine trees that grow in the Rocky Mountains and Kananaskis area, blaze a trail of gold before discarding their needle-like leaves.
As David Bird, a seasoned biology professor at Mount Royal University, elegantly explains, these trees are deciduous, sacrificing their leaves every fall. The leaves are drained of their nutrients, the remainder being a pigment that’s shed and discarded by the tree. This magnificent and vivid seasonal transformation often starts around mid to late September, continuing into mid-October. Though, some outdoor enthusiasts have been murmuring about an earlier onset this year.
The reasons behind this early start remain ambiguous, with some speculating that Alberta’s record-breaking, smoky and searing summer might have played a part. There’s empirical evidence that points to climate change and wildfires impacting larch populations. Bird suggests that escalating summer conditions – extended, warner and drier summers to be specific – are causing larches to retreat from the southern hemisphere and climb to higher altitudes and more northern climes. If this trend maintains, Bird warns, it could result in fewer larches at lower altitudes in our region.
To fully appreciate the larches in their golden glory, it behooves one to plan ahead. Gooutdoor.ca’s writer Annalise Klingbeil advises larch enthusiasts to prepare for the bustle. “Embrace the thrill of the hunt,” she advises. She also suggests venturing on less-traveled paths to avoid the crowds that could hinder one’s experience.
Klingbeil further recommends Larch Valley, Sentinel Pass, and Paradise Valley trail in Banff National Park as prime larch-viewing locations. Chester Lake, Healy Pass, Taylor Lake, and Burstall Pass in Kananaskis are also ripe territories for larch exploration during this season.
With increasing interest, Banff National Park is expected to note a record high number of visitors in 2023, according to Parks Canada. The demand for shuttle service to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is soaring, fully utilized since May and facilitating up to 2,800 rides each day.
This year does mark the first where Moraine Lake has been closed to personal vehicles, a policy that will extend through the Thanksgiving weekend. However, Roam Public Transit is generously offering its Route 10 direct service from Banff to Moraine Lake this fall.