Finding Golden Larch in British Columbia

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Hiking the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park in fall with golden larch trees | Kristi Nicholson

There’s so much to do and see in British Columbia that even something as brief, rare, and colourful as the fall larch can get overlooked. But each year, those in the know venture out into the alpine to see a truly remarkable sight: these deciduous conifers turning a delicious, buttery golden yellow. It’s a thrill that keeps nature lovers coming back year after year.

Yoho National Park | @dantracker via Instagram

What makes the larch so special?

From towering Douglas fir to grand Western red cedar to lush arbutus, BC residents are already surrounded by trees. But there are only a few places to see the larch, and a short period of time in which these deciduous conifers’ needles (technically leaves) turn their signature golden hue. This weeks-long window begins in mid-to-late September and ends with the first snowfall in the mountains sometime in October.

Seeing them requires investment and commitment, but the rewards are worth the trouble. While you have to hike into the alpine in the fall, when the weather is chilly, the alpine is at the height of its beauty at this time of year once the bugs have fled the scene and so have the summer crowds. Make the effort and you, too, may find yourself catching “larch fever.”

Golden larch | Iain Robert Reid
Golden larch in the Bugaboos | @reganjohnston_ via Instagram

Where to see larch in BC

If you’re thinking that the time has come to see the larch, you’re in luck; fall is coming, and the trees are a road-trip and a hike away. Here are a few of the best places to witness this phenomenon.

Kimberley Nature Park | Kari Medig

Kimberley Nature Park

Kimberley is a spectacle come fall, with mountains of larch easily accessible to the casual hiker. Visit Kimberley Nature Park, which offers two guided larch-viewing hikes this fall, both led by the Kimberley Nature Park Society. Choose from the easy 10-km (6-mi) or moderate 4-km (2.5-mi) Golden Larch Hike on October 20, and the 3-hour Chasing the Colours hike on October 13. The park is located in Kimberley itself, so nearby accommodations are plentiful. See the event listing for details.

Cranbrook | @janicehikephoto via Instagram

Cranbrook

In Cranbrook, the Cranbrook Community Forest has larch-viewing hikes for all skill levels. South of Cranbrook, in the Gold Creek area, South Star Recreation Trail will take you through stands of larch and lodgepole pine. These easy trails cover more than 30 km (18.5 mi) of forest and are used year-round for hiking or biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. You’ll also find larch in nearby Moyie Lake Provincial Park.

Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park | @boyd_cameron via Instagram

Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a rugged wilderness park north of Nelson and a prime fall hiking destination for those with high-clearance vehicles. The lower, more protected slopes are forested with Engelmann spruce, alpine, fir, lodgepole pine, hemlock, and western red cedar, with a few pure stands of alpine larch adding a flash of brilliant yellow in October. Note that Kokanee Glacier is a true wilderness area and visitors must be self-sufficient.

 

Kootenay National Park's Floe Lake | @dee_izzle via Instagram

Kootenay National Park

Fall is one of the best times to visit Kootenay National Park—one of the lesser-known but no less spectacular national parks in the Canadian Rockies. Explore one of the many short day hikes or interpretive walks. Be sure to keep an eye and ear out for the bighorn sheep, in the fall they put on quite a show during rutting season. After your hike, stay a few days at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and sooth your muscles in in the springs surrounded by nature.

Ladyslipper Lake, Cathedral Provincial Park | @jason.rutherford via Instagram

Cathedral Provincial Park

Cathedral Provincial Park and Protected Area is a beloved backcountry hiking destination between the Cascades and the Okanagan. Those who make their way to this remote mountainous terrain are rewarded with alpine larch reflections in its many lakes, and all along the Cathedral Rim Trail. Hikers will require at least a full day to get into the core area of the park. Campgrounds are available for overnight stays, or treat yourself to a cozy cabin stay at Cathedral Lakes Resort—Canada’s highest full service hiking and fishing wilderness lodge—and share stories around a roaring fire with your fellow hikers.

Brewer Lakes | Playwest Mountain Experiences

The Columbia Valley

Take a guided hike with Playwest Mountain Experiences to Brewer Lakes in the Purcells. The Brewer Lakes hike has a bit of everything—old growth Douglas fir and larch, incredible meadows filled with wildflowers, and several sub-alpine lakes. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask about the Mt. Brewer option. A great peak to accomplish with stunning views of the Rockies, the Fairmont range and the local favorite, Mt. Nelson.

Autumn hikers are urged to make sure they are familiar with safety precautions while traveling in bear country, and to be prepared for variable temperatures and rapidly changing weather conditions. But don’t let that stop you. One of the province’s most splendid natural wonders awaits.

Tip: Always check trail conditions before you head out, and no matter what outdoor activity you are planning, be prepared. Wildsafe BC is a great resource for making any bear experiences you may have in BC positive and conflict free. AdventureSmart and Leave No Trace are great resources to help you get informed before heading outdoors. Follow the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials.

Header image: Kootenay National Park | Kristi Nicholson

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