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

Taylor Lake Hike in Banff National Park

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When it’s larch season in the Rocky Mountains, its time to do the Taylor Lake hike. You’ll  miss the horrific weekend crowds in the Banff and Lake Louise areas – especially around Moraine Lake area. What you get instead with a little effort – 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 area shines.

Hiking towards Taylor Lake in Banff National Park
Hiking towards Taylor Lake in Banff National Park

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The Taylor Lake hike is at its best in larch season

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. It most certainly did.

After living in Calgary for eight years and hiking a lot, I’d still call Taylor Lake one of the best larch hikes.

Taylor Lake in all its fall glory
Taylor Lake in all its fall glory

Taylor Lake hike details

Location: Banff National Park, 8 km northwest of Castle Junction off of Highway 1

Distance: 12.6 km return to Taylor Lake plus 3.6 km return to O’Brien Lake

Elevation gain: 595 metre or 1952 feet to Taylor Lake

Time needed: 4 – 6 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Map needed: Gem Trek Banff & Mt Assiniboine

Good to know: You need a National Parks pass.

What the Taylor Lake hike looks like

The Taylor Lake trailhead is close to Lake Louise but because you must hike 6.5 km one way just to get the views so there isn’t too much in the way of crowds. Compare that to driving for a larch-filled views in parts of Banff National Park. 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.

The hike to Taylor Lake climbs 595 m (1,952 feet) over 6.3 km. It’s not that interesting until you get to the lake as its primarily in the trees with peek a boo views. The trail starts off quite gently and then steepens around the 2.0 km mark. 

Just before you reach Taylor Lake look for the signed intersection that leads to O’Brien Lake. I definitely recommend the side trip.

To return, retrace your steps to the parking lot. 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.

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

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.

Spectacular larch tree reflection in Taylor Lake
On the Taylor Lake hike you are treated to spectacular larch tree reflections in Taylor Lake in mid-late September
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
On the way to Lake O'Brien
On the way to Lake O’Brien
Lake O'Brien enjoys a spectacular setting
Lake O’Brien 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

The side-trip to O’Brien Lake

If you’ve made it as far as Taylor Lakes and you’re not in a rush, add the side trip to O’Brien Lake. The signed junction is 200 m 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.

Miniature island with larch in Lake O'Brien
Miniature island with larch in Lake O’Brien

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.

Getting to Taylor Lake 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

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. 

Take bear spray with you, even if the likelihood of seeing one is low – and know how to use it. Keep it accessible.

Check out the Banff National Park website for current conditions.

Take the 10 hiking essentials.

More reading on larch hikes in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Taylor Lake hike in Banff National Park


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