Fall larches on Fairview Mtn

September was not off to a great start.  After picking up some eastern bug while in Ottawa for a wedding, I spent a the first week of fall going to bed early and feeling generally miserable.  Come the weekend, I could not convince my other half to climb anything other than a mountain of kleenex and frankly I wasn’t doing much better.  I opted for a girls afternoon of climbing at Grassi Lakes and cleaned most of my friend’s routes as she sent some of the her hardest routes!

Not sure what these are called but they remind me of troll hair. Remember those little troll dolls that used to be popular?

Come this past weekend, I was just dying to get out and hike. Fall is one of my favourite times for hiking; the air is cool and crisp, the weather is more settled than in the summer and best of all the larches are changing colour.  Fairview has been on my list of “to-do hikes” for a while and I’ve been waiting for just the right time to do it.  I’d already done some of the other popular Lake Louise/Moraine Lake hikes (Plain of Six Glaciers, Sentinel Pass, Mt St Piran, Tower of Babel) so it seemed like a good time to do Fairview.


For those not familiar with the larches, we don’t have a huge variety of colour changing trees in the mountains.  Other than aspens at lower elevations, most trees at higher up are evergreens.  Enter the alpine larch aka larix lyallii.  Evolutionary advantage? Thrives at high altitudes.  Why do I love them? Their needles are soft as feathers and turn bright yellow before they fall.  When I walk through a grove I just can’t help but touch all the branches to feel the needles.  Sentinel Pass (which is accessed from Moraine Lake) seems to be the most popular hike to see the larches but there are many hikes in Banff and Kananaskis with larches.  On an average year, the larches are best seen in their finest shades of yellow during the third week in September.  They start turning a week before and will be done dropping their needles by the end of September.  We hiked Sentinel Pass to see them last year but it’s a real production as you have to be there by 8am to get a parking spot at Moraine Lake that’s not 1-2km down the road.

A rather scraggly and small larch with Lake Louise ski hill in the background

The hike up to Fairview Mountain starts off from either the Chateau or the west side of the upper parking lot.  The first 3ish km are on a wide dirt trail up to Saddleback (the saddle between Fairview and Saddle Mountains).  The trail is straightforward with only one turnoff on the way to Saddleback which is a steep shortcut.  Once Saddleback is in view, the larches start popping up.  At the top of Saddleback, in the middle of the larches, are the junctions to Saddle Mtn, Fairview Mtn & Sheol Valley.  We weren’t looking forward to the “scree slog” we had heard about to the top but it turned out to be a well cleared trail with very few sections of scree (yay!).  Soon we were at the top with views of Mt. Aberdeen, Mt Victoria and Lake Louise.  We both agreed this was one of the most well-maintained/easiest 1000m trails we’d been on (thanks Parks Canada!).  Being a numbers person, I always mentally file away how far/high each hike is and how long it took so I was impressed that after several weeks off from hiking I did it in 4.5hrs at a reasonable pace.

Heading towards the junction for Fairview Moutain.

Saddle Mountain in the background

From Saddleback you can see the path up to Fairview

Lake Louise from the top of Fairview (Chateau is out of sight to the right). You can see some of the hiking trails and climbing cliffs on the far shore.

Mt Victoria in the background with Mt Aberdeen & Lefroy just peeking out on the left

Mt Haddo (left) and Mt Aberdeen (right)