When it’s larch season in the Rocky Mountains, its time to do the Taylor Lake hike in Banff National Park.
You’ll miss the horrific weekend crowds in the Banff and Lake Louise areas – especially around Moraine Lake. What you get instead with a little effort mind you, are outrageous scenes of beauty that words can’t possibly describe. And I guarantee you will feel a sense of awe.
The Taylor Lake hike can certainly be done in summer – and it makes for a great snowshoeing trip in winter, but it’s fall when this hike shines.
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Taylor Lake hike summary
Location: Banff National Park, 8 km northwest of Castle Junction off of Highway 1
Distance: 12.6 km (7.8 miles) return to Taylor Lake plus 3.6 km (2.2 miles) return to O’Brien Lake
Elevation gain: 595 metres or 1,952 feet to Taylor Lake as an out and back hike.
Time needed: 5 – 7 hours if you go to O’Brien Lake.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on how much you hike.
Camping: There are picnic tables and a pit toilet at Taylor Lake by the backcountry campground.
Dogs: Allowed, but they must be leashed.
Parking: The parking lot fills quickly no matter if it’s a weekday or weekend. Go early for your best chances of nabbing a spot. Have a back up hike in Banff in case the lot is full.
Best time to hike: The best time to do the Taylor Lake hike – as opposed to the Taylor Lake snowshoe – is from June until October. Go the third week of September for the larches. Be prepared for snow at elevation early in the season. Carry gaiters and think about taking hiking poles, helpful if the snow is deep in June.
Taylor Lake hike description
The Taylor Lake trailhead is between Banff and Lake Louise but because you must hike 6.5 km one way just to get the views, there isn’t too much in the way of crowds – at least compared to other Banff hikes with easy access.
It’s an incredible place to visit during larch season and after living in Calgary for 10 plus years and hiking a lot, I’d still call the Taylor Lake hike one of the best larch hikes in Alberta.
The Taylor Lake hike climbs 595 m (1,952 feet) over 6.3 km, but the 1.8 km hike to O’Brien Lake doesn’t involve much elevation gain.
Look for a kiosk with a trail map in the parking lot. Nearby is a wildlife gate that you must pass through. Then turn right.
The Taylor Lake hike starts with a flat section – but it’s short. As soon as it’s over, be prepared to climb continually to Taylor Lake. It’s not that interesting until you get to the lake as its primarily in the trees with only peek a boo views.
Around the 6 km mark, you’ll reach a couple of footbridges over Taylor Creek. The second one leaves you in a meadow that can be very wet – even in September. Look for a signed intersection after the second footbridge that leads to O’Brien Lake. I definitely recommend the side trip.
Continue a few hundred metres more to reach the end of the Taylor Lake hike. Pull up a cushion to sit on or nab a picnic table and enjoy the views. Across the lake is Mount Bell rising up from the lake. If you look closely, you’ll also see a waterfall at the west end of the lake.
To return to the parking lot, simply retrace your steps. It took us 6.5 hours to hike to both lakes – but that includes a significant amount of time for lunch, exploring, and photography breaks.
The hike to O’Brien Lake from Taylor Lake
If you’ve hiked as far as Taylor Lake and you’re not in a rush, add the hike to O’Brien Lake. The signed junction is 200 metres east of Taylor Lake. From there it’s another 1.8 km one way to reach the lake.
The trail is less well maintained and quite soggy in places but the setting is spectacular – in a cirque formed by the east wall of Mt. Bell.
Ultimately the trail continues to Boom Lake but it’s reportedly a rough trail and not recommended.
There is also a 10 km trail that curves around Panorama Ridge and ultimately connects with the Consolation Lake trail. But again it’s not recommended. You’re better off doing Consolation Lakes from the Moraine Lake trailhead.
Camping at Taylor Lake
There is a backcountry campground at Taylor Lake on the northeast shore. To reserve a site visit the Banff National Park reservations page. Reservations open January 29, 2024 at 8 AM MT. Be flexible with your dates and try to avoid weekends.
Have you heard of larch trees?
I never heard of larch trees 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. The hike to Taylor Lake is a fine example of larches.
Getting to the Taylor Lake hike (and O’Brien Lake)
The trailhead to Taylor Lake is accessed from the Trans-Canada Highway, 8 km west of Castle Junction (get in the left hand lane but exercise caution crossing the east bound Trans-Canada Highway) or 17 km east of Lake Louise Village.
Don’t forget these items
If you’re hiking in fall I’d also recommend a warm coat as the weather can change in an instant. And a blow up seat cushion for lunch time, especially if it’s damp can be a game-changer.
If you’re camping compression sacksfor your bulky items are hugely helpful. I always use them for my sleeping bag.