Do you fancy a beautiful non-technical hike that will allow you to see some of the best views in the Canadian Rockies, wildflowers, larches aaaand plenty of wildlife? If so, you will love the hike to Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley. The route is one of those premiere hikes near Moraine Lake that is very popular, but still completely worth it; Even if it means you’ll be sharing the trail with plenty of other hikers. We visited on a cloudy, chilly day and I still enjoyed every second of this adventure. If you are lucky to be hiking on a sunny day, or when the larches have turned golden, you will be in for a treat!
The down side to hiking in this area is that you will need to wake up at ridiculous o’clock to nab a spot in the car park.
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – Map
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – the basics
Cumulative Elevation gain: 792m
Highest Point: 2610m
Time: 3.5-4 hours
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials
Hiking poles were useful, especially during the descent
Plenty of layers – It’s cold at the pass when the wind bites!
There are loos at Moraine Lake, but none along the trail
Dogs: Yes (on a leash)
How hard is it? Hard. But not technical – if you are a strong hiker, you can do it easily.
Visiting Moraine Lake – Get up early
The down side to hiking in this area is, to nab a parking spot at Lake Moraine in the summertime, you will need to be heading up there before 6am. We got to the car park at 5:45 in a conga line of drivers who all arrived before sunrise. We noticed that although the car park filled up fast, lots of people left quite soon after seeing the view – so you might still get a parking spot later… it is just much less likely.
Before we started the main walk, we climbed the rockpile at the edge of Moraine Lake to see this view. Even on cloudy mornings Lake Moraine is ridiculously beautiful.
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – getting started
The rockpile at the edge of Moraine Lake at sunrise was the busiest place we visited on our entire trip to the Rockies. However as soon as we started hiking up the trail towards Larch Valley, it was super quiet! The trail is easy to find; Just turn right just after the Moraine Lake Lodge and follow the switchbacks up the mountain.
We met a pretty deer in the trees when the trail flattened out. We heard from other hikers that a few minutes later, her fawn came out to munch flowers as well.
You’ll gain 340m in the first steep section of the hike. This will get your heart pumping, but it does not feel very hard because the path is so well built with zig-zagging switchbacks. Keep right at the first turning (unless you want to hike to Eiffel Lake) and you’ll notice the trees start to change as you walk into Larch Valley. Larch trees have bright green, soft needles that look tufty with clumps of needles. They look sort of messy and spindly but I love them.
As you can guess by the name, Larch Valley is one of the most famous spots in the Canadian Rockies for people to hike to see these ancient deciduous trees. In Autumn, they turn an incredible golden colour before dropping their needles for the winter. (You can see some golden versions in my previous hike to Lake Agnes.)
As the trees start to thin out, you’ll get your first peek at Eiffel Peak, Pinnacle Mountain and Mount Temple. We’d seen Mount Temple’s North Face on our previous walk to Lake Annette, but it looks completely different from this side! There is a fun-sounding trail to Eiffel Peak (the towering mountain on the left). We might have to try that another day if I’m feeling brave.
If you’re just coming to see the Larches, you could stop here, for an 8km hike with fantastic views back to the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
This is the view from just above Larch Valley, looking back where you just hiked. Those giant mountains are some of the Ten Peaks.
Wildflowers on the trail to Sentinel Pass
Although this trail is a superstar in the autumn, it was also spectacular in the summer as the plateau is carpeted with wild flowers.
It was especially cool to see the Dr Seuss poofs. Otherwise known as western anemone or pasqueflowers; These start off as delicate white flowers that transform into poofs that look messier and more windswept later in the summer. The temperature on this trail varied so much that we found both versions. The poofs were in areas that get plenty of sun, while the flowers were in patches where snow had melted more recently.
As you get closer to the steep section up to Sentinel Pass, the surrounding mountains start to shine under the rising sun. There is a trail up along that terrifying-looking ridge. It made me wonder how many people take croissants to munch on top of that Eiffel Tower!?
The impressive cliffs of Pinnacle Mountain are spectacular as well. This mountain links up with one side of Sentinel Pass, so the views of those rocks get more and more impressive as you climb higher.
Views of Sentinel Pass
The trail continues to the base of Pinnacle Mountain and Mount Temple where the snow melts into a pretty mountain tarn, Minnestimma Lake. This is the view up to Sentinel Pass.
We stopped for a bit of a rest at the base of the last steep section. The views back towards the Valley of the Ten Peaks are truly fantastic from here. Larch Valley suddenly looks far below. I was starting to get a little cold at this point, so popped on my stupidly bright orange toque. (Touque is Canadian for beenie.)
You need to cross a teeny stream, then get ready for the last little push.
Once you’ve made it up to the lake, you only need to gain 200m more elevation to climb up to the pass. You can see the path zig-zagging up the rocky slopes of Mount Temple.
Snow on Mount Temple
We did this hike on August 10th, after several sunny days. There was still a little snow on the trail; Although not quite enough for us to bother getting our microspikes out from our bags. However I chatted to some ladies who had attempted (and failed) this hike the previous week because there was still too much snow. If there is still snow on the trail and you do not have the appropriate equipment (microspikes or hiking crampons) it’s best to stop here.
For that reason this hike is best in later summer or early autumn.
Once you’re on the trail up to Sentinel Pass, it climbs pretty quickly. Still, like all the trails we attempted in Canadian National Parks, it is never too steep. The route has been built by mountain experts, so it is easy to follow and a pleasure to hike.
Views from Sentinel Pass
This is the view back to Minnestimma Lake, Larch Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. If you are a regular reader, you can probably imagine the constant chorus of “squee” each time I turned around to look at these views!
Then, once we reached Sentinel Pass, this is the view over the top. You can keep hiking down the other side into Paradise Valley (where we hiked the previous day to Lake Annette.)
Of course I needed to attempt a jump shot! It was reeeally windy and cold up here. We did sometimes need to shelter behind rocks to avoid the wind while we admired the views.
I loved seeing all the spiky pinnacles. Pinnacle Mountain seems more aptly named from this direction. We also had a fantastic view looking up to Mount Temple. There is a scrambling route where some hikers clutching helmets and ice axes were heading next.
We also met some very cute (and pretty chubby) ground squirrels. This little fella popped over to say hello each time we brought out snacks. This is from the leave no trace website as I want to share the best advice: “Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.” If you hike here, please resist their fuzzy charms and don’t feed the critters.
We climbed up onto a lump of rocks to get better views. A kind hiker took this lovely awkward photo of us. I was in hiking heaven, but I still manage to pull off a truly awkward pose/grin. Marc looks more normal/sexy as always.
Aaaah. One more look back down to Larch valley before we had to head back down…
Heading back to Moraine Lake
To return to Moraine Lake, you just need to retrace your steps back down via Minnestimma Lake to Larch Valley and then follow the switchbacks back to the parking area.
Or, if you have extra energy because you started early in the morning and there is still plenty of sunlight; You can add on an extra hike on your way back. We loved the look of those Ten Peaks so much that we could not resist making a side trip to Eiffel Lake next. For that trail, you head back to Larch Valley, then turn right to hike along the edge of those mountains in the distance. I’ll write about that in my next post.
Panoramas on the trail to Sentinel Pass
Yes, I know this post has way too many photos (again.) But I couldn’t help it! We took hundreds and hundreds along the route to Sentinel Pass. So, I’ll finish with a few of the panoramas I managed to stitch together so you can get an idea about how these landscapes fit together.
We had visited Moraine Lake in the snow previously (which is also spectacular if you fancy a gander). But I have to admit, lacing up our hiking boots and properly going for a hike near Moraine Lake was so, so much more impressive. I was blown away both literally and figuratively. Let me know what you think, or, if you have done this hike when the larches were golden, I’d love to see your photos!