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!
This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
About Healy Pass Trail
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!
Finding the Trailhead
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
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.
When To Go for Larches
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
What To Bring
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.
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!
Save this for later? Hover over the image to add to Pinterest!