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Where to Find Golden Larches in British Columbia, Canada

The mountains of British Columbia become even more breathtaking in autumn, when a golden glow appears in the alpine meadows.

This magical display of colour is provided by larch trees, which turn a vibrant yellow before shedding their needles for the winter.

Back view of JR standing on hill looking back at golden larch forest
Checking out the larch meadows from a viewpoint on the Frosty Mountain Trail

While finding information on larch season on the Alberta side of the Rockies is easy, there are far less sourches regarding where to see golden larches in British Columbia.

This post covers everything you need to know about larch season in British Columbia, including the best hikes to see golden larch trees, what to bring and when to plan a trip.

Here’s what to expect:

Larch season is fleeting – it disappears almost as quickly as it arrives. So be sure not to miss out! And always remember to Leave No Trace when exploring BC’s beautiful backcountry.

Last updated September 2023. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Close up of golden larch needles in British Columbia
Larch needles turn golden every autumn, before being shed for winter

What is a larch?

Larches are a type of conifer tree. They feature soft, light green needle-like leaves dotted with seed cones. Larch are deciduous, meaning that they lose their needles each year (unlike evergreen trees).

British Columbia is home to several types of larch tree, with the alpine larch, or Larix lyallii, being the focus of this post.

Alpine larch grow best at elevation (above 2000m) in cold, dry and rocky terrain. For this reason, alpine larch forests are pretty rare. The biggest concentration in British Columbia is found in and around the Rockies.

Due to slow growth, alpine larch trees may look small but are actually some of British Columbia’s oldest trees! Some sources claim that the larches in Manning Park as up to 2,000 years old.

Looking across rocky alpine scenery, which is covered in golden larch trees, backdropped by mountains
Golden alpine larches on Opabin Plateau, Lake O’Hara. Photo credit: Ute L

The western larch, or Larix Occidentalis, is a taller version of the alpine larch. It prefers to live at lower elevations. The average Western larch is 500 to 1,000 years old.

Western larch are best spotted in the Okanagan Valley and East Kootenay regions, specifically around Cranbrook and Kimberley in the latter.

British Columbia is home to a third type of larch as well – the Larix laricina, also known as the tamarack. These thrive in poorly drained, boggy soil and are found in most areas across Canada, from Yukon to Newfoundland (but not in southern BC!)

Looking across canyon to huge wooden trestle surrounded by autumn foliage, including golden larch trees
Myra Canyon in autumn

Why are larch trees so special?

Alpine, western and tamarack larch trees are some of the only coniferous, deciduous trees.

Despite having cones like evergreen trees, larch trees drop their needles every autumn. Before doing so, the needles turn from verdant green to a gorgeous golden colour for a short time.

With alpine larch trees being located in mountainous areas, the dramatic yellow colour of the needles provides a spectacular contrast against the snow capped peaks.

Of course, the high alpine location also means that some hiking is usually required to see them.

When is the best time to see larch trees in BC?

The best time to see the golden glory of British Columbia’s alpine larch is in early fall. There usually a two week window for the best colours.

Rocky hiking path leading through golden larch forest
Frosty Mountain larches

Here are my recommendations as per location:

  • Mid to late September for the Rockies and surrounding mountain ranges (Selkirks, Purcells etc)
  • Mid to late September for Cathedral Provincial Park
  • Late September to early October for Frosty Mountain

The exact timing of this golden peak varies from year to year and is highly dependent on weather conditions (specifically temperature).

Western larch turn golden a little later in autumn. In the Okanagan Valley, the peak is usually from mid October to late October. The timing is similar in the Kootenays, but can run until mid November.

Looking down the Frosty Mountain Trail from high point with golden larch trees below and mountain views
Golden larch trees in British Columbia

Alpine larch tree locations in British Columbia

The presence of many larch trees in the following locations guarantees a dazzling display of golden colours in fall.

We have personally visited each of the following seven destinations (and hiked the featured trails), although not always during golden larch season. Of course, I hope to rectify that shortly!

Please note that most of these locations are wilderness areas so you must be completely self sufficient to visit (bring the 10 essentials!) and prepare for all weather conditions.

Be sure to Leave No Trace to ensure that other people, and generations to come, can enjoy the golden larch too.

If you’re not much of a hiker but still want to see the golden larches, I’d recommend scrolling down and reading more about Myra Canyon. In my opinion, it’s the most accessible place to see larches in BC.

Frosty Mountain, E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Frosty Mountain in Manning Park is, by far, the most popular place to see alpine larch trees in British Columbia.

The reason is simple – Manning Park is the western limit for alpine larch trees in BC, making Frosty Mountain the closest larch destination to Vancouver (about three hours drive).

Convenience aside, Frosty Mountain is a spectacular larch viewing destination. The trail winds right through an expansive larch meadow, providing many different vantage points and photo opportunities.

The trail to access the meadow is, however, uphill all the way from the Lightning Lake Day Use Parking Lot. The climb is pretty steady but don’t underestimate it.

Adventurous hikers may want to continue past the meadow to Frosty’s panoramic summit via a rocky ridge ascent. The additional distance makes for a long day in the alpine, but the rewards are plentiful.

As well as the out and back hike as described below, it’s possible to hike this trail as a 27km loop via Windy Joe Mountain.

Mount Frosty Trail
Distance: 21km (8km one way to alpine larches)
Elevation gain: 1150m (800m to the alpine larches)
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 6-9 hours to summit and back (less to alpine larches)
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Camping: Frosty Creek Wilderness Camp at 7km
Fees: $5/per person/per night for backcountry camping
More details: Frosty Mountain Larches Hiking Guide

JR walking on dirt hiking path through golden larch forest with Frosty Mountain in background
Hiking through the Frosty Mountain larches at the end of September

Cathedral Provincial Park

Despite being the second closest larch destination to Vancouver, Cathedral Provincial Park still remains a little under the radar.

Situated at 2100m, the core area of this rocky park is the perfect growing environment for alpine larch.

Some golden hues can be seen around the lake campgrounds, but venturing further into the alpine will reveal even more impressive views.

The Rim Trail loop travels through several large strands of larch as it heads towards a number of unique geological formations, all backdropped by incredible mountain views.

There are two ways to access the core area of Cathedral Park – hike one of three strenuous trails (17km+) or take the Cathedral Lakes shuttle bus. To save energy, most hikers do the latter and camp for 1-3 nights.

September 2023 update – Cathedral Provincial Park is currently closed due to wildfire

Rim Trail
Distance: 11km (12km with side trail to geological formations)
Elevation gain: 650m
Hike type: Loop
Time: 6 to 7 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Camping: Quiniscoe Lake and Lake of the Woods 
Fees: $10/per person/per night for camping
Dogs: Not permitted
More info: Rim Trail Hiking Guide

Side view of huge rock formations in Cathedral, with sheer drop on right and left and a singular hiker standing at the top
Amazing rock formations on the Rim Trail, Cathedral Provincial Park

Monica Meadows near Kaslo

Monica Meadows is a relatively short hike with a huge payoff. It’s one of my favourite trails anywhere in British Columbia.

Although I haven’t yet visited Monica Meadows during larch season (we’ve always been a little too early!), I have heard that it hosts one of the most magnificent displays in all of British Columbia.

I can believe it too; the larch forest is extensive and backdropped by towering snow capped mountains and immense glaciers. There are a number of pretty alpine lakes too.

The hike up to the meadows includes seven grueling switchbacks, which climb 300m over the first 1.4km. The first larch trees are seen within the next kilometre.

The only ‘catch’ to this trail? The access. Prepare for 42km of gravel (high clearance recommended), with the final section being both steep and rocky.

Monica Meadows
Distance: 10km
Elevation gain: 650m
Hike type: Out and back with optional loop
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Camping: Established campsite 2.6km from trailhead
Fees: None
Dogs: Permitted
More info: Monica Meadows Hiking Guide

A hiker on a ridge above Monica Meadows trail in the Purcell Mountains near Meadow Creek, BC
Monica Meadows in fall. Photo credit: Destination BC/Kari Medig

Jumbo Pass near Kaslo

Heading to Monica Meadows this larch season? Put aside another day and hike up to Jumbo Pass as well. The trailhead is accessed via the same unpaved road north of Kaslo.

Like Monica Meadows, the hiking trail to Jumbo Pass is relatively short. With 800m elevation gain, it’s a bit of a workout but the scenery is well worth the effort.

The plateau at the top of the pass features a delicate meadow bordered by mountain peaks and larch trees. A steep path leads up to the top of a ridge, providing even better views of the surrounding summits and glaciers.

Already spectacular in summer, I can’t even imagine how incredible Jumbo Pass must look during larch season!

Jumbo Pass can be approached both from the east (near Invermere) and also from the west (near Kaslo). The details below cover the western approach only.

Jumbo Pass
Distance: 10km return
Elevation gain: 800m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 4 to 6 hours
Difficulty: Moderate, long ascent
Camping: At pass plus cabin rental
Fees: None
Dogs: Permitted
More info: Jumbo Pass Hiking Guide

A hiker at Jumbo Pass, traversing down a rocky slope towards a small alpine lake
Jumbo Pass in fall. Photo credit: Destination BC/Kari Medig

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

The pyramidal-shaped peak of Mount Assiniboine is iconic at any time of the year, but looks even better with a foreground of golden larch.

There are a number of beautiful viewpoints to view the golden larch in this 390.5 km² sized park.

The trail to Wonder Pass is lined with larch trees on the BC side, causing the landscape to light up in fall. It can be visited on the hike into Mount Assiniboine from Mount Shark or as a day trip from Magog Lake (campground, huts or lodge).

The Niblet, Nublet and Nub summits all provide excellent viewpoints as well, with alpine larch trees lining the turquoise lakes in front of Mount Assiniboine itself.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is accessible only via foot, horse or helicopter. If you’d like to visit during the larch season, a little planning is required. Click the linked guide below for more info.

Magog Lake to Wonder Pass*
Distance: 6.5km
Elevation gain: 220m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Camping: Magog Lake, Og Lake, Mitchell Meadows, Naiset cabins
Fees: $10/per person/per night for camping, $20/pp/pn for cabins
Dogs: Permitted on leash
More info: Mount Assiniboine Hiking Guide

*As part of a Mount Assiniboine backpacking (or lodge) trip, not a vehicle-accessible day hike

Looking across running stream to expansive green larch forest, backdropped by large rugged mountains
The path to Wonder Pass in August – all these green trees are larch!

Floe Lake and the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park

The Rockwall is a 54km long backpacking trail in Kootenay National Park, named as such for its proximity to a towering limestone cliff.

In fall, the trail becomes even more impressive as the larch forests surrounding significant parts of the route turn golden.

Backpacking the Rockwall Trail in mid to late September is undoubtedly beautiful but can be challenging. Expect snow, accompanied with freezing temperatures.

If hiking the entire Rockwall Trail isn’t an option, consider a long day trip or quick overnighter to Floe Lake (details below). A short hike beyond the waterfront campground reveals gorgeous views of the turquoise lake, framed by golden larch in the foreground and backdropped by massive mountains.

Reservations can be hard to secure for Floe Lake and the Rockwall in general, but cancellations are relatively common at this time of year (regularly check the Parks Canada Reservation System or use CampNab).

Floe Lake Trail
Distance: 24km return (21km to lake)
Elevation gain: 1300m (1110m to lake)
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 7 to 10 hours
Difficulty: Challenging
Camping: Floe Lake (reservation required)
Fees: $10.50/per adult admission fee plus $10.50/per person/per night for camping
Dogs: Permitted on leash
More info: Floe Lake Hiking Guide

Floe Lake, backdropped by huge snow capped mountains with golden larch trees in foreground
Floe Lake, Courtesy of Destination BC and Kristi Nicholson

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park

Lake O’Hara is a hiker’s paradise and this is especially true during larch season. Access is pretty strictly controlled to this area, so you’ll need to plan ahead or prepare for a long 22km+ day hike just to the lake.

One of the best places to view the alpine larches at Lake O’Hara is from the Opabin Prospect viewpoint.

The vibrant turquoise colours of Lake O’Hara and neighbouring Mary Lake provide an excellent contrast with the golden trees. The entire Opabin Plateau is scattered with larch too.

Unsurprisingly, the Big Larch Trail (on the way to Lake McArthur) is another great spot to see alpine larch.

Securing a campsite at Lake O’Hara is fiercely competitive. Reservations open in January for the entire camping season (late June to early October). Keep an eye out for cancellations on the Parks Canada Reservation System or set up a CampNab scan.

It is possible to visit Lake O’Hara as a day trip as well. Every spring, there is a lottery ticket system for the shuttle. If you don’t manage to secure a seat, it is feasible to hike 11km in and either bus or hike out.

Opabin Plateau Circuit via the Opabin Prospect*
Distance: 5.9km
Elevation gain: 250m
Hike type: Loop
Time: 2 to 4 hours
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Camping: Lake O’Hara Campground (reservation required)
Fees: $10.50/per adult admission fee plus $10.50/per person/per night for camping
Dogs: Permitted on leash (but not in the campground or on the bus)
More info: Lake O’Hara Hiking and Camping Guide

*Please note that the trailhead is not accessible by vehicle. See details above

Elevated viewpoint looking down on collection of turquoise lakes (including Lake O'Hara) backdropped by mountains. On the left hand side, golden larch trees are visible
Opabin Prospect viewpoint, Lake O’Hara – note the golden larches on the left. Photo credit: Ute L

Other places to see alpine larch in British Columbia

While the above locations provide excellent opportunities to see alpine larch in fall, here are some other destinations to consider:

  • Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park near Nelson
  • Carpenter Pass near Kaslo
  • Saint Mary’s Alpine Provincial Park near Kimberley
  • Tanglefoot Lake near Cranbrook
  • Brewer Lakes near Fairmont Hot Springs
  • Welsh Lake Trails near Radium Hot Springs
  • Bugaboo Provincial Park near Radium Hot Springs
  • Diana Lake near Radium Hot Springs

Please note that some of these locations are very remote and require a 4X4 to access.

Close up of larch branch in Myra Canyon, turning from green to yellow
Larch needles turning from green to yellow

Western larch tree locations in British Columbia

Missed the window for the alpine larch season in British Columbia? Or just can’t get enough of the golden larches? Head to the Okanagan Valley or the East Kootenays!

Myra Canyon near Kelowna

In addition to being one of the lowest elevation locations to view larches close to Vancouver, Myra Canyon is also one of the most accessible.

The Kettle Valley Rail (KVR) Trail runs right through the canyon, providing a completely flat path for hikers and cyclists.

This section of the KVR features 18 wooden trestle bridges, some up to up to 220m in length. It’s all backdropped by far reaching views of Kelowna and Okanagan Lake.

Western larch trees line several sections of the trail, complimenting the historic trestles with a pop of colour in autumn. Plan your trip for mid to late October to see them at their best.

I recommend hikers to start at the Myra Station parking lot as there are more trestles close to this trailhead. The best larch forest is close to Trestle 7, at the 5km mark (see details below).

Myra Canyon Trestles
Distance: 10km return (recommended)
Elevation gain: None
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 2.5 to 3 hours
Difficulty: Very easy, wheelchair accessible
Camping: None
Fees: None
Dogs: Permitted on leash
More info: Myra Canyon Trestles Guide

Elevated view looking down on large wood railway trestle at Myra Canyon, surrounded by mixture of green and golden (larch) trees
Walking the historic trestles at Myra Canyon in autumn

Other places to see western larch in British Columbia

Check out these other beautiful western larch tree locations from mid October to mid November:

  • Gray Creek Pass near Crawford Bay
  • Moyie Lake Provincial Park near Cranbrook
  • South Star Recreation Area near Cranbrook
  • Cranbrook Community Forest
  • Kimberley Nature Park
  • Silver Spring Lakes near Elko
  • Tamarack Trail (Island Lake Lodge) near Fernie
  • Valley View Lookout, Radium Hot Springs

Western Larch trees are taller than their Alpine cousins, and also more triangular. This type of larch grows at lower elevations, so they are generally easier to find as well.

View of Fisher Park and the Rocky Mountain trench from Sunflower Hill outside of Kimberley, BC
Western Larch near Kimberley. Photo credit: Kimberley Destination BC/Kari Medig

Larch viewing tips

  • Keep an eye on social media. Use Facebook and Instagram to check the status of the larch colours in your chosen destination
  • Plan to arrive early. Popular larch trails can get very busy. The earlier you go, the less crowded the trail (and the parking lot) will be
  • Visit on a weekday. Saturday is the most popular day to hike larch trails, followed by Sunday
  • Stay on the trail. Alpine areas are exceptionally vulnerable to damage
  • Camp in designated areas only. Do not camp in larch meadows
  • Never expect to have phone signal in alpine areas. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back
View across Myra Canyon to rugged slopes scattered with trees, ranging in colour from green to yellow
Myra Canyon near Kelowna

What to bring hiking in larch season

The weather can change quickly in the alpine so it’s crucial to bring appropriate clothing and gear.

Even if the conditions look favourable in the parking lot, the situation can be very different at higher elevations.

This is particularly true during larch season, when winter weather is possible. For this reason, bring clothing suitable for warm and cold weather.

This includes (but is not limited to):

Always bring the 10 essentials, to ensure that small inconveniences don’t develop into true emergencies.

Negative bear encounters are rare in BC, but having bear spray is the ideal ‘just in case’ measure. Carry it in an accessible place (a holster works well) and learn how to use it quickly.

The descents on some of these trails are long. Hiking poles help relieve pressure on the knees when descending. Incredibly light and foldable, Black Diamond’s Carbon Z poles are our tried and tested favourite pair.

Gemma is sat on a rock tying her shoes, wearing a warm wool hat, orange jacket and grey pants. A mountain is visible in the background
Hiking in the alpine in September can be freezing!

Golden larch FAQs

To finish, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about viewing golden larches in British Columbia.

Where are the closest larches to Vancouver?

Alpine larches prefer a cold, dry climate and therefore do not thrive in the Lower Mainland area.

The most accessible place close to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland to view golden larches is Manning Park, specifically on the Frosty Mountain hike.

Back view of Gemma hiking away from camera through forest of golden larch
Hiking through the golden larch at Frosty Mountain, Manning Park

When will the larches peak in colour?

That’s a hard question with no specific answer; Mother Nature works on her own schedule! The timing of the peak varies each year and depends on the weather.

The time frames given in this post are an average, but if temperatures are warm, the peak could be later. If the weather is cold, the peak could be slightly earlier. It’s super variable.

How will I know when the larches approach the peak?

Keep an eye on social media. Facebook groups such as Hiking British Columbia are a valuable resource. Trail reports on AllTrails are also useful. Likewise, Instagram, but keep in mind that not all users post recent photos.

Manning Park Resort usually posts some updates on Facebook regarding the status of the larches on Frosty Mountain and encourages hikers to use the hashtag #ManningParkLarches.

How long do the larches stay golden for?

Larch season is short in British Columbia, with most larches only staying golden for around two weeks.

But again, this depends on the weather. The larch trees may drop their needles sooner if temperatures are particularly cold.

Elevated view looking down on larch meadow with mountain peaks in background, Frosty Mountain
Golden larches at Frosty Mountain, Manning Park

Related posts you may find helpful:

13 of the Best Shoulder Season Backpacking Trips in BC

Backpacking 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Overnight Hiking

Where to Find Big Trees on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Great Divide Trail: Canada’s Most Epic Thru Hike

Backpacking Gear List: Packing Guide for Multi-Day Hikes

How to Reserve Backcountry Camping in BC: Essential Details and Dates

The Heather Trail, Manning Park: Complete Hiking Guide

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