For the Love of Larch: Hiking through Kimberley’s Gilded Forests
Each fall, the hillsides around Kimberley explode in fiery, yellow splendour as our larch trees undergo their annual transformation. These golden trees are a quintessential highlight to any autumn visit here, and are best enjoyed on foot. Enjoy the extensive swath of Western Larch from the comfort of Kimberley’s city limits, or head to the mountains to get amongst one of the largest Subalpine Larch strands in North America. Whether you opt to stick close to town, or choose to hike up high into the Purcell or Rocky Mountains, you’re sure to find plenty of yellow larch roads to follow along the way.
Did you know that all Larix species (Western and Alpine Larch included) are unique within the tree world for being both deciduous AND coniferous? Unlike other cone-bearing trees, Larch trees shed their needles each year before winter!
A little birdie told us that the Purcell Mountains surrounding Kimberley have one of the highest concentrations of larch trees in the world. A wander through the hillsides here quickly confirms that the rumours are true: this place is the epitome of larch madness! From easy saunters, to scenic drives and challenging alpine excursions, there are plenty of golden views to take in while exploring our Purcells.
- Easier: We love weaving our way through the Horse Barn Valley Interpretive Forest each fall, to take in the bold colours, talus slopes, and stunning viewpoints there. Try striking out towards the Halfway Cabin or Dipper Lake. Then, meander towards the Tora Bora Ridge trail to enjoy autumn views of Bootleg Mountain and the St. Mary River valley. These trails are also suitable for mountain biking, and can accomodate adventurers of all ages.
- More Difficult: For a more difficult day-hike in the Purcell Mountains, head up Meachan Creek FSR to tackle the fall-favourite Mt. Evans trail. While This 12km route is considered a challenging hike for most, the larch payoff is huge with yellow trees dotting the entire trail, and fall-soaked Purcell views to enjoy as far as the eye can see from up high.
- Scenic Drive: For a scenic drive that makes the most of the fall colours in the Purcells, head to St. Mary Lake Regional Park and enjoy the abundant golden larches right from the shoreline.
While Rocky Mountain larches are well-known and much-admired in Alberta’s Bow Valley, larch madness is very much alive and well in the Southern Rockies, too. Expect quiet paths and uncrowded trailheads here, and adventures that are equally as beautiful as the more infamous larch hikes to the East.
- Easier: For an easier Rocky Mountain outing that is suitable for all ages, head north out of town to Premier Lake Provincial Park and partake in the Turtle-Yankee-Canuck Loop once there. We love this loop for the variety of flora found here, as well as the picturesque lakes spread out along the path. Both deciduous and coniferous trees flank the 6km loop, and Subalpine Larch can be spotted in the towering mountains above.
Option: Consider adding the Saddleback Ridge hike into your Premier Lake outing for a longer and more challenging hike.There are plenty of beautiful Subalpine Larch to enjoy along the trail and up at the saddle.
- More Difficult: Head to the Mause Creek tarns and Tanglefoot Lake to make the most of fall’s splendour. While the hike into Tanglefoot Lake is beloved in the summer months too, something extra special happens when the colours here begin to shift come fall. Weave through picturesque tarns as you climb higher, and watch as the bright-yellow larch trees and colourful shrubbery get more striking as the trail goes on. The sparkling lake views are the cherry on top of an already great hike here.
- Scenic Drive: While in the Rockies, take a drive to Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park and soak up the fall colours that line the waters of Whiteswan and Alces Lakes, and the Lussier River.
Right in Town
Although the mountains surrounding Kimberley boast plenty of larch magic up high, there’s an abundance of golden wonder to be found within city-limits, too.
- The Centennial Trail at the Kimberley Nordic Club is a great option for all ages and fitness levels to enjoy. This 3km loop is also appropriate for mountain bikers, adaptive riders, and on-leash dogs. The Centennial loop guides you around the outer boundary of the Nordic Club and under towering larch trees that boast some of the best fall colours in town. We hear this is a favourite trail amongst locals and visitors alike!
- The Lois Creek Trail system is a great option to explore later in the fall, once the subalpine larch have already lost their needles. We love the tried-and-true Tea Spot Loop for a longer day-hike or cruisy bike ride.
Tip: visit this trail network at “golden hour” for maximum larch magic!
- Looking for an in-town hike with more of an uphill grind? Trek as the locals do up the old T-bar route at the Kimberley Alpine Resort and take in the bird’s-eye-view of Kimberley’s larches from the top of the ski hill. Make it an early morning, and bring a thermos full of coffee to sip on while watching the sun rise over the Rockies. Then, take the long way down through Musseur’s Plateau and Moe’s Canyon to enjoy more autumn colours along the way.
Before striking out on your chosen larch hike, be sure to familiarise yourself with all of our know-before-you-go suggestions, and stop by the Kimberley Visitor’s Centre for hard-copies of trail maps or detailed driving directions.
Bonus: Keep an eye on the annual Kimberley Larch Festival, which takes place in town each autumn. This is a local photography contest that celebrates the mighty larch and all of its golden splendour in a series of fun categories. This event is a community favourite and is not to be missed!