Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – Moraine Lake

Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – Moraine Lake

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

Distance: 11km
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
Bear spray
Plenty of layers – It’s cold at the pass when the wind bites!
Facilities:
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.

Larch Valley

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.

Eiffel Peak

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!?

Pinnacle Mountain

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.

Mountain Squirrels

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!

59 thoughts on “Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – Moraine Lake

  1. Gorgeous country. You must be part mountain goat. I love the photos and am so glad you and your hubby have found something you both enjoy so much that you can do together. Keep it up.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Thanks Patricia! Yeah, I am really glad we can spend time hiking together (and get stronger together)

      Although this walk would be possible even for occasional hikers. The trail was so, so well built! No mountain goat-ness needed. 😀

  2. WOW! As much as I love our west coast, the hikes in the Canadian Rockies are really over the top. Seeing this kind of scenery on a non-technical day-hike is incredible. I’m behind in reading all your posts but I assume this was part of a longer trip where you visited Yoho (pre-larch season)? I’ve only ever gone to this area on short trips. It really deserves an extended stay.

    1. Yes! We were in the Rockies for 10 days, so we managed to get a whole bunch of hikes in. (It is just taking me a really long time to choose photos and write about them all.)

      I think you’re a more experienced camper than me, so I bet you’d looove a longer trip there.

  3. Beautiful photos of a stunning place. Loved Lake Moraine but you are so right about having to get up early. We were there around 7.30am. Your hike looked amazing.

    1. Oooh that is pretty late! You got lucky Jonno!

      When we spoke to the folks at the tourism office, they said be sure to arrive before 6am to have a chance. Although that might be a recent phenomenon…

  4. Oh Josie, you always make we want to return to the Rockies! Beautiful pics, not often we see one of you and Marc together ❤️

    1. Thanks Em!

      I can’t remember, did you guys make it to this area near Moraine Lake on your epic Canada trip?

      p.s. I hope you’re doing okay in the new lockdown.

    1. It’s pretty loopy how gorgeous the Rockies are! This is still pretty far from us (that is why I tend to post about a bunch of them all at once)

      I am really sure that you’d love it though.

    1. Yay! Glad you like the look of it too! To be fair, there are sooo many good places near Banff, it is normal to miss some. I feel like I add more to my list each time we visit!

  5. Wow, this hike looks unreal! The colour of the blue is incredible and the deer is so lovely. My partner and I have begun walking as a hobby together too. It really is lovely to hear your story!

    1. Woot woot! You might have to add a few of those lakes – they are always soooo cool to see! And even cooler if you dip your toes in!

    1. Squee, I love meeting giant doggos on the trail, they are always so happy to be out in that scenery and sniffing out the squirrels!

  6. What an amazing hike, Josy!! And I love that photo of the two of you. This doesn’t look as hard as I thought it would be – I’d never really considered doing this one! Ahhhh I’ll have to come back to Canada and do some more hikes with you! Meet you in Banff, yeah? 😉

    1. Haha – Yeees we’ll tempt you back eventually!

      I totally think you could do this one. It was much easier than the trails we went on together (mostly because the paths never get very steep like the trails closer to Vancouver!)

  7. Two things… 1) These photos are incredible – can’t imagine when the larches are bright yellow! 2) How cute is the mountain squirrel?! Lovely hike – would definitely give this one a try (with my spikes in tow).

    1. I know right!? I can sort of see why they get so chubby because it is really hard to resist their cute fuzzy faces to not feed them!

  8. This is truly a spectacular hike. Your photos are fantastic. I, as someone who loves turquoise water, cannot get enough of the color of Moraine Lake.

    1. Oooh I never really considered how similar the blue is to the tropical places that you love Rudy! I’m not sure you can swim quite as comfortably, but you are right, it is pretty similar!

  9. WOW this hike looks absolutely incredible! Literally stunning! An amazing mix of great views, incredible wildlife and perfect length to hike it seems. I absolutely would love to do this. I’m pinning so I can come back to it one day 🙂

    1. Yay! I hope you can Tam! If you need other ideas for similar length hikes near here, just let me know. There are sooo many good’uns!

  10. Wow, this area of the world sure is gorgeous. I love larch trees too (there’s just something so cool about deciduous evergreens) and I bet it would be absolutely stunning in the fall. I have to say, it definitely looks like a challenging hike, but well worth the views.

  11. I can’t thank you enough for sharing all these awesome hikes in the Rocky Mountains. I am saving them all for the future! Generally, we stay away from really busy areas, but it does seem like most people congregate at viewpoints and don’t make it very far on the trails. So excited to try this one!

    1. I am not sure if it was just less busy than normal due to covid-19 and the lack of shuttles, but all the hikes we did in the Rockies were quieter than I expected (once you leave the most famous viewpoints)

      The only exceptions are really short hikes (like Johnston Canyon/ Marble Canyon. Those always seem to really busy… so you have to go early in the morning, or late in the afternoon if you fancy them.

  12. This looks like a great hike with many beautiful views! Lake Moraine is just stunning, that alone would be worth the trip. I love the photo of the mountain squirrel and am glad you mentioned not feeding that. I think its almost an instinct to do so, but it is important to remember it most likely does more harm for them than good. Beautiful photos!

    1. Thanks Melissa. I guess it depends where you are from too. If you are not used to hiking in areas with bears, it seems a bit more normal to feed animals.

      However in the end, I think it does more harm than good in most places.

    1. Lol yep, I had to add the bear spray for all the posts in the Rockies…but it’s not as scary as it sounds. If you hike in a larger group then you are very unlikely to meet a bear.

  13. Wow, another amazing hike! I love the views especially in the Valley of the Ten Peaks! Love that backdrop for sure. It isnt too bad for a 7 mile hike especially since most of Sentinel Pass seems clear and a bit more level then most trails! Not a fan of waking up so early but it does lead to seeing more of the animals and less traffic hopefully. I may be able to convince my wife to do this cause she loves Lake Moraine!

    1. Oooh Eric, if you need an easy one (still with fab views) you might be able to get her to hike to Eiffel Lake or Consolation Lakes. I’m writing about them for my next two posts. They both also start at Moraine Lake…but they are even easier and less busy!

  14. Love the wildflowers and the ground squirrels, and , of course, the views of that Lake Moraine blue. Spectacular photography. This one is definitely going on my list.

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