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Lured by Larches: A Hike to Taylor & O’Brien Lakes, Banff NP

It’s larch season in the Rocky Mountains.

That means two things – horrific weekend crowds in the Banff and Lake Louise areas – especially the Moraine Lake area – and scenes that are so outrageous in their beauty that words can’t possibly convey the sense of awe you feel.

Despite hearing about how bad the crowds could get our group of six was keen to go hiking. Two of the group had scouted out Taylor Lake a few weeks before and figured it would make a great destination come larch season.

And it most certainly did.

"Looking through to Taylor Lake"

Looking through to Taylor Lake

The Taylor Lake trailhead is close to Lake Louise but because you must hike 6.5 kilometres one way just to get the views – versus driving for a larch filled view in parts of Banff National Park – there isn’t too much in the way of crowds. And that suited all of us just fine. Although the parking lot was quite full we only saw six or seven groups of people over the course of a day.

"Creek flowing out of Taylor Lake"

Creek flowing out of Taylor Lake

"Taylor Lake"

Taylor Lake

Have you heard of larch trees? I never had before moving to Calgary. Their glorious needle like, yellow fall foliage is to the Rocky Mountains what the maple tree’s red foliage is to eastern Canada – a feast for the eyes.

Larches are coniferous – but deciduous so they lose their needles every autumn. You’ll find larches in mountainous parts of the world with cold temperatures – parts of Canada, Russia and Bavaria as examples. And interestingly the wood of the larch is so hard that it can resist forest fires in some cases.

"Larches alongside Taylor Lake"

Larches alongside Taylor Lake

"Part of our hiking group"

Part of our hiking group

"Beautiful coloured vegetation and larch"

Beautiful coloured vegetation and larch in all its’ glory

"Looking across Taylor Lake to larch covered Panorama Ridge"

Looking across Taylor Lake to Panorama Ridge

"Hiking towards O'Brien Lake"

Hiking towards O’Brien Lake

"O'Brien Lake with Mt. Bell in the background"

O’Brien Lake with Mt. Bell in the background

"O'Brien Lake"

O’Brien Lake

"Miniature island in Lake O'Brien"

Miniature island in Lake O’Brien

The hike to Taylor Lake climbs 595 meters (1,952 feet) over 6.3 kilometres. It’s not that interesting until you get to the lake but at this time of year I’d call it an extremely worthwhile hike – less so in the summer months. If you’ve made it as far as Taylor Lakes and you’re not in a rush, add in the side trip to O’Brien Lake. The signed junction is 200 metres east of Taylor Lake. From there it’s another 1.8 kilometres one way to reach the lake. The trail is less well maintained and quite soggy in places but its’ setting is spectacular – in a cirque formed by the east wall of Mt. Bell.

To return, retrace your steps to the parking lot. It took us 6½ hours to hike to both lakes – but that includes a significant amount of time for lunch, exploring and photography breaks.

Getting to the Taylor Lakes

The trailhead to Taylor Lakes is accessed from the Trans Canada Highway, eight kilometres west of  Castle Junction (get in the left hand lane but exercise caution crossing the east bound Trans Canada Highway) or 17 kilometres from Lake Louise Village.

Do you have a favourite place to see the colours every fall?

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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