Taylor Lake Hike, Banff National Park

Gorgeous Taylor Lake in larch season
Taylor Lake in all its fall glory

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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On the Taylor Lake hike you are treated to spectacular larch tree reflections in Taylor Lake in mid-late September
On the Taylor Lake hike you are treated to spectacular larch tree reflections in Taylor Lake in mid-late September

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.

Map needed:Gem Trek Banff & Mt Assiniboine

Good to know: You need a National Parks pass.

Trail reports: Check out the trail conditions in Banff National Park before you go.

Bears: Take bear spray with you, even if the likelihood of seeing one is low – and know how to use it. Keep it accessible. I’d recommend abear spray holster

Don’t forget: Let someone know where you’re hiking. Always carry the 10 hiking essentials.

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. Carrygaitersand think about takinghiking poles-helpful if the snow is deep in June.

Hiking towards Taylor Lake in Banff National Park
Hiking towards Taylor Lake in Banff National Park
Taylor Lake in all its fall glory
Taylor Lake in all its fall glory

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.

Creek flowing out of Taylor Lake
Creek flowing out of Taylor Lake

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.

Taylor Lake in all its fall glory
People who like a tough scramble can go to Consolation Lake over Taylor Pass but its reportedly gnarly

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.

On the way to O'Brien Lake
On the way to O’Brien Lake
O'Brien Lake enjoys a spectacular setting
O’Brien Lake enjoys a spectacular setting
O'Brien Lake is equally spectacular - and even quieter than Taylor Lake
O’Brien Lake is equally spectacular – and even quieter than Taylor Lake
Miniature island with larch in Lake O'Brien
Miniature island with larch in O’Brien Lake

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.

Our group enjoying a long lunch and the beauty of larch season
Our group enjoying a long lunch and the beauty of larch season
Awe inspiring show of colour
Awe inspiring show of colour

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 awarm coatas the weather can change in an instant. And a blow upseat cushionfor lunch time, especially if it’s damp can be a game-changer. 

If you’re campingcompression sacksfor your bulky items are hugely helpful. I always use them for my sleeping bag.

Compeed for blistersis way better for fast healing than anything else I’ve used.

Pack a lightweightcamp pillowto make your night out more comfortable.

You’ll be happy to have somegear-aid patcheswith you if any of your gear breaks.

Where to stay near the Taylor Lake trailhead

Lake Louise area

If you want to stay near Lake Louise, check outBaker Creek by Basecampalong the Bow River Parkway,The Mountaineer Lodgein Lake Louise Village, and theLake Louise Hostel.

If it’s luxury you’re after, check out thePost Hotel & Spaor theFairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Banff area

Some of my favourite hotels in Banff include theMoose Hotel && Suiteson the strip close to downtown,Buffalo Mountain Lodge– with its wonderful outdoor hot tub, and theFox Hotel and Suiteswith its pet-friendly suites.

Beautiful backdrop of Cascade Mountain from Buffalo Mountain Lodge
Beautiful backdrop of Cascade Mountain from Buffalo Mountain Lodge (note the hot tub between the buildings)

More reading on larch hikes in Alberta

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The Taylor Lake hike in Banff National Park

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