This time of year, hikers are flocking to Banff and Kananaskis in search of vibrant yellow larches. Unlike most evergreens, larch trees (or tamaracks) turn golden in autumn, creating spectacular scenery for visitors in the Rocky Mountains. If you’re looking for a “larch hike,” Healy Pass Trail is a great option!

Healy Pass Trail in Banff
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Healy Pass Trail is an unmissable hike in autumn.

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About Healy Pass Trail

Healy Pass Trail mountain views
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Rocky Mountains tower above golden alpine meadow.

Location: Banff National Park
Distance: 19.5 km out and back
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to length)
Elevation: 700-metre elevation gain
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, dogs are permitted but should remain on leash.
Features: Healy Pass makes most lists as one of the best larch hikes around. If you want to see vibrant-yellow tamaracks, Healy Pass is a great option in Banff National Park. The reward-to-effort ratio is fantastic!

Healy Pass Trail in autumn
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Healy Pass views are worth the long trek.

Finding the Trailhead

Healy Pass Trail sign
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Cross the bridge to start Healy Pass Trail.

The Healy Pass trailhead is located at Sunshine Ski Resort, approximately 135 km from downtown Calgary. Sunshine Village is located in Banff National Park, about 20 minutes from the town of Banff. From Calgary, take the Trans Canada Hwy to Banff and then follow signs to Sunshine Village Ski Resort (about 10 km beyond Banff). Continue along Sunshine Road to reach the parking area. No fee for parking but visitors need a Banff Park Pass.

Healy Pass Hike

Tamaracks on Healy Pass Trail
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Autumn views on Healy Pass Trail.

If you like forest hikes with gradual elevation gain, then you’ll likely enjoy Healy Pass. From Sunshine Village, cross the bridge and follow the nicely groomed trail through the shaded forest. You’ll cross a bridge over Healy Creek, pass through a couple of small clearings, and hike past a backcountry campground. The trail can become muddy in the rain, but keep on the trail to minimize human impact on the environment.

After 7 km, the forest gives way to beautiful alpine meadow. At this point, you’ll start to understand why Healy Pass is a popular autumn hike. If you arrive at the right time, the golden larches will brighten your view. Continue up the pristine meadow for even more expansive views! Overall, Healy Pass is about 19.5 km out and back and typically takes between 5 to 7 hours to complete.

In early summer, hikers are greeted by a sea of wildflowers instead of bright yellow tamaracks. For those wanting more of a challenge, consider hiking to Egypt Lake or even summiting Pharaoh Peak.

Read more: The Breathtaking Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Alberta

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Long approach through the forest.
Healy Pass Trail views
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End of September is a safe bet for golden larches.
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Alpine meadow after a long forest trek.
Healy Pass Trail larches
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Have you ever seen so many tamaracks?
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One of the best larch hikes in Banff National Park.
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Looking toward Egypt Lake.

When To Go for Larches

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Beautiful tamaracks in Banff.

It’s hard to know exactly when larch trees will turn golden. Though I’d say the end of September is typically a safe bet. This year, I was very impressed to find many yellow larch trees during this hike. If you want more larch hike options, consider Pocaterra Ridge or the easier Ptarmigan Cirque — both in Kananaskis Country.

Read next: The Ptarmigan Cirque Trail in Kananaskis

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Plan to visit Healy Pass at the end of September.

What To Bring

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Selfie with the golden larches.

Park Pass: Remember to bring your Parks Canada Discovery Pass or purchase a day pass at the visitor centre.

Day Pack: For this longer day hike, carry hiking essentials to make sure you have what you need. I’ve been using my Osprey Hikelite 18 for years. It’s my go-to day pack!

Water: Bring enough drinking water for at least 5 hours of hiking. I had plenty of water for the day in my 2-litre Osprey water reservoir.

Food: Bring some snacks or even a picnic lunch. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after I eat on the trail.

Rain Shell: Healy Pass Trail was wet and rainy when I visited. Bring a rain jacket along (I use this one) to stay warm and dry.

Read next: 10 Day Hiking Essentials: What to Bring on a Hike

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Healy Pass Route Map

Have you hiked Healy Pass in the summer or fall? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!

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