Valley of the Ten Peaks: Larch Valley Hike and Sentinel Pass

Valley of the Ten Peaks: Larch Valley Hike and Sentinel Pass

Larch Valley and Valley of the Ten Peaks: The Most Beautiful Hiking Trail in Autumn

The Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park, Alberta, is a picturesque landscape that has inspired many painters and artists.  So spectacular, that it graced the backside of the 1969, and 1979 twenty dollar bill. All ten peaks are over 10,000 ft high, aligned together creating a massive mountain presence, surrounding an enormous valley. At the Lake Moraine shoreline, you can see the iconic view of Lake Moraine, along with these ten peaks behind it. On clear sunny days, in the early morning, you can see the stunning reflection of these peaks in the emerald water of Moraine Lake.

However, to get the best views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, you will need to enter Larch Valley, stroll pass Minnestimma Lakes, and hike the Sentinel Pass trail. The Sentinel Pass trail is one of the highest trails in the Lake Louise area with an elevation gain of 2,378 ft. Larch Valley hike and Minnestimma Lakes is relatively moderate throughout, however, there are steeper sections as you enter the initial Sentinel Pass trail, and the final switchback at the end of Sentinel Pass, which takes you to the lookout. Ranging from east to west, the mountain peaks that can be seen on Sentinel Pass are Mount Fay, Mount Little, Mount Bowlen Mount Tonsa, Mount Perrern, Mount Allen, Mount Tuzo, Deltaform Mountain, Neptuak Mountain, and Wenkchemna Peak. Sentinel Pass trail is rated as moderate to difficult, but being able to view not one, but over 10 profound peaks on Sentinel Pass is a great motivator to get past the steeper sections of the switchbacks.

Due to high levels of bear activity in the vicinity, this trail usually has a hiking restriction requiring a group of 4 or more. Masses of tourists come to the mountains at the beginning of September to see alpine larch trees, the deciduous conifers that are found at high elevation, so finding a large group of people to join is never a problem. Every autumn, their luscious green needles melt into brilliant gold, prompting thousands of tourists into hiking Larch Valley in order to walk into their magical golden forest.

Larch Valley golden larch trees can be seen through tall trees

Directions to Sentinel Pass Trailhead

Park your car in the parking area for Lake Moraine. The parking area can get full depending on the time of day, or if you are arriving on a weekend. If so, you might be forced to park way-way-way back on Moraine Lake Road. So plan on walking an extra distance just to get to the trail-head. As you follow the west lakeshore of Lake Moraine, you will see the typical signs marking the way to Larch Valley, and Sentinel Pass.

Larch Valley Hike Best Time

Historically, the best time to hike Larch Valley is the third and fourth weekend of September —the golden colours usually lasting two or three weeks.

Valley of the Ten Peaks: Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass

valley of the ten peaks can be seen beyond a swath of larch trees at larch valley alberta canada

The first 2 km is a steady ascent through thick forest. Through the forest, you can see a few glimpses of the beautiful Moraine Lake and the Ten Peaks. And as you make your way onward and upward through the forest, you will encounter switchbacks, switchbacks, and more switchbacks. Finally, after a very long trek through the forest, you come to a fork in the road at about 2.7km. We noticed a nice size bench right away and took our much-needed snack break. We then took the right to continue to Larch Valley, Valley of the Ten Peaks and Sentinel Pass.

The road gradually increased in elevation, and shortly, green spruce trees gave way to incredible golden larches, surrounded by majestic snow-capped, glaciated mountain peaks. Once you reach Larch Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks, all a sudden, miles of forests you laboured through is forgotten in seconds as you marveled at the beautiful and vast valley opened up before you. If our goal was Larch Valley, we have made our destination, but for the best view of the Valley of Ten Peaks, we still have a bit of work ahead of us. So for a long while, we sat down on one of the many available seating areas and took in the grandeur of our surroundings.

Sitting on a long log that crosses a river at valley of the ten peaks alberta canada

girl standing at valley of the ten peaks surrounded by glacial capped mountains
Found a lost panda at Larch Valley =)
puppy enjoying the view of larch valley with valley of the ten peaks in the distance at valley of the ten peaks hike in alberta canada
Jose and Cookie entranced by golden larches and ice-capped mountain peaks.

Along the trail in the beginning and towards the end of the valley, we heard the sound of thundering water. Curious, we explore some of the smaller, more hidden trails that deviated from the path, and found a magnificent waterfall and ravine, perfect for picnicking. Surrounded by lush alpine larch, and magnificent waterfalls and ravines, it was sensory overload for me. However, we couldn’t stay long since our final destination, Sentinel Pass is still ways to go.

Valley of the Ten Peaks and Larch Valley is enormous. You can spend the entire day just walking around the valley, taking in the beautiful views, and exploring the meadows to Minnestimma Lakes. As we look around, we noticed that this area, Larch Valley –at the moment the forest gives way to an enormous meadow, is where almost everyone stops. However, we continued on past the many satisfied tourists, further into the openness, and up Sentinel Pass. Here, the larger meadow is wide, the ground is soft with patches of snow and speckled with large boulders perfect for napping, snacking, or gazing at golden trees and glaciated mountain peaks. The creeks and lakes are emerald-green, larches are above, below, left and right of us, as we explored and continued our hike northward.­

Golden larch trees surrounded by ice-capped mountain peaks at valley of the ten peaks hike

Streams rocks larch trees and mountain peaks at larch valley and valley of the ten peaks

Many larch trees on a rolling hill with an ice capped mountain in the background at larch valley and valley of the ten peaks hike in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Minnestimma Lake at Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Minnestimma lake surrounded by golden larch trees with mountains in the background at valley of the ten peaks hike

As you follow the trail northward leaving the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the trail starts turning towards and ascend the very base of Mount Temple. From the valley, it’s another 2.5 km, and close to 656 ft elevation gain as the trail traverse towards Pinnacle Mountain, making another two switchbacks before reaching the summit of Sentinel Pass. This area is full of loose rocks, so be watchful of falling rocks and debris. A large rolling rock came crashing down towards me around this area and had I not been warned, I wouldn’t have been here to write about this adventure. In the far distance, you can hear the echoing of avalanches. This pass is also very windy, so it’s a smart idea to pack a light, windproof jacket in your backpack.

Climbing up the switchback that leads to the viewpoint of Sentinel Pass Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Steep switchback that leads to the viewpoint of sentinel pass and paradise valley

view of valley of the ten peaks from the top - minnestimma lake is surrounded by snow capped mountains

As you reach Sentinel Pass, you can finally see over into the next valley called Paradise Valley. The view from here is spectacular. On one side is the panorama of Larch Valley with its magnificent mountain backdrop, and on the north side, a picturesque view of Paradise Valley can be seen with Mount Aberdeen towering over. The pinnacles that got Pinnacle Mountain its name are clearly visible from here. For the more adventurous, and physically fit, the scramble toward Mount Temple starts at this pass as well. Not to be attempted unless you have arranged a shuttle or dropped off a second vehicle to complete the circuit between the Paradise and Moraine parking lot.

Mount Temple is a major peak at 3543 m. This particular hiking route is considered a very difficult upward scramble and rock fall from hikers above is a major concern. Helmet, mountaineering and route finding experience is an absolute must if to be attempted as several people have lost their lives underestimating this scramble. As for us, the thought of challenging the next trailhead did not occur to us. It was 10 degree Celsius in Larch Valley, but as we stood there on Sentinel Pass lookout, it felt like and was probably minus 30 degree Celsius. Icicles were making shops on my nose, and taking more than 2 pictures at a time was painful. It was time to reverse our hike, before the path ice over completely.

Sentinel Pass lookout at the very top with views of Paradise Valley and Mt Pinnacle

Paradise Valley and Mt. Pinnacle from the top of Sentinel Pass Hike

Turquoise lake surrounded by ice-capped mountains can be seen from sentinel pass lookout point at the very top of sentinel pass hike banff national park alberta

Note: Valley of the Ten Peaks, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass may be a  bit strenuous. If you are not an avid hiker and prefer a less adventurous option, you might prefer the hiking at Jasper National Park. It is just as beautiful but much less physically challenging.

How to Prepare for a Hike:

Tips for Safe Hiking at Valley of the Ten Peaks, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass

Being well-prepared is essential for any long day hike. However, hiking in Banff carries with it a few little extra you should keep in mind —if you want to challenge their trails.

Always let someone know what route you’re taking, and what time you expect to return.

Wear proper hiking shoes with good treads. During hiking, the tread on your shoe allows it to grip uneven surfaces, thus preventing slippage on downhill slopes. Most walking shoes or tennis shoes have light tread that isn’t suitable for uneven terrain, although they work quite well for flat trails. However, most hiking trails in Banff and Jasper have uneven terrains with random steep switchbacks, so it is much safer, and easier (on your feet) to wear proper hiking shoes. Here are some suggestions:

Weather in the mountains can change rapidly, so wear light layers, and make sure they’re waterproof. For this hike, I started with short sleeves and ended up wearing a North Face vest, and a light down jacket.

Pack high protein snacks for long hikes, and at least one liter of water. This one should be the first priority of every hiker —keeping yourself hydrated. The amount of water you need will change from person to person, and also depends on the climate —more water on hot days, lesser on cooler days. Generally, one liter is good for every three to four hours that you’ll be hiking, but it’s generally best to err on the side of caution and bring more. However, when doing longer trips it is impossible to bring all of your water with you.

When I first started hiking, I brought water bottles with me that took up a lot of space in my bag. As I started hiking more and more, I found that drinking water out of bottles seems very inefficient —crushed up water bottles take up space in your bag, not to mention rummaging through your pack to take it out, and then putting it back in. So, I do what most people do to solve this problem, I bought a 3L CamelBak, and brought it to all our hikes. You can buy the reservoir to put into your current pack, or you can buy a pack with the reservoir built-in. I love having options.

If you are doing a hike or backpacking trip that is long enough to justify not bringing all the required amount of water with you, then make sure to pack a filter to ensure that it is safe to consume stream or lake water, as even the cleanest of creeks may have bacteria in it. There are a variety of ways to filter water, ranging from pumps to UV pens to iodine tablets. It is best to filter water using a traditional filter, and then use a UV pen to kill any leftover bacteria.

Check for trail closures before you head off and make sure to pack a map, an essential item. Some areas are enormous, and you will get lost.

You might encounter elk, deer, and mountain goats —rarely since they’re usually shy. It’s best to keep well clear of them. Black bears and grizzly bears sightings are a regular event in Banff– carry bear spray with you at all times, talk loudly among yourselves as you walk, and alert park staff to any sightings.

Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Put any garbage into a garbage compartment in your backpack.

Check Out These Other Hikes in Canada

Jasper Hiking Guide: How to Spend 2 Days in Jasper National Park
Canada’s Best Badland: Horseshoe Canyon in Drumheller
Crypt Lake Hike: The Best Thing to Do While in Waterton National Park

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  5. Adding this to my travel list! Stunning! Thank you for all of this information.

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  8. your photographs are STUNNING! you should enter them into photo contests. i really love the panda onsie hehe. why not? 😀

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  9. This looks simply incredible! I'm adding it to my bucket list for when I move back home to Alberta 🙂

  10. What a stunning looking place. I'm not much of a hiker but honestly if I was visiting somewhere like this I would make the effort just to see these stunning views

  11. Hello! I could have sworn I've been to this website before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it's new to me. Anyhow, I'm definitely happy I found it and I'll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  12. Love love love the photos!

  13. Absolutely gorgeous pictures! Love the panda 🙂

  14. Wow! What a beautiful scenery. If I could have time and be physically fit to trek, I would definitely do this!

  15. Wow! We have visited Lake Moraine once, however we didn’t have time to hike, and now reading your text I am really sorry. Beauty of those mountains is unimaginable. I hope one day i can go back and hike Ten Peaks. Thank you for sharing

  16. Wow – beautiful photos and post. This makes me want to go here!

  17. Wow the pictures!!!!!!!! Oh my gosh I can’t get over those mountains, they’re so beautiful. I never have been hiking but this really makes me want to go

  18. Such a beautiful place! Your photos are amazing! I’m going to have to add this to my list. Thanks for sharing

  19. My best friend moved to Alberta and I’m always so taken away by her photo’s of the mountains. I plan on traveling there in the summer to see it for myself! I loved this, thanks for sharing!

  20. Wow, your photos are amazing! Canada has so many beautiful places (I may be a bit biased because I’m Canadian! haha)

  21. The is truly a beautiful place. I am not one for outdoor activities but these pictures are seriously winning me over.

  22. What a fabulous place to visit. I have been to Canada and would love to return and hike.

  23. What beautiful photos! We were in Banff for a few days last year, but did not make it to this area. It is truly spectacular.

  24. I love this post. We have family that lived in Alberta for quite some time and I absolutely loved to see their beautiful pictures like yours and their hike. We live in Florida, but we’re going to Tennessee to hike the great smoky mountains in January and I’m book marking this page for reference because these are all tips I need to remember to follow. Thanks!

  25. Great use of bolding and the photography is gorgeous. The information is very helpful thank you 🙂

  26. Beautiful place I love being around nature and Yes comfortable clothes and shoes are a must!

  27. Nice writeup! I’m planning to do this hike in the fall. Thanks!

    1. Awesome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

  28. Wow! Absolutely stunning! Just thinking about it, it would be difficult to finish the trail because I’d be standing there just completely mesmerized by the beauty you’ve captured in your photos. I love trails like this. I miss hiking in a non-humid climate. Though I am sure it would be more challenging towards the higher altitudes. When you mentioned restrictions due to bears. I briefly imagined what it would be like to actually see one in the wild. I would probably faint. 🙂

    1. lol I carry a bear spray but if I did have a bear encounter up close, I don`t know if I`ll have the thought to actually pull it out and work it!

      It always takes me a long time to finish trails too since I`m either taking photos or just sitting there staring. Sometimes for hours. I can`t help it, nature has a way of calming you and making you think. It pulls out thoughts that you didnt know you had until that very moment.

      The higher altitude is definitely a challenge, but it`s a great way to build up your legs and stamina. Once you start hiking at higher altitude, other hikes seem so easy.

  29. woww this is nice place!…thanks for sharing this post

  30. Your descriptive writing is wonderful and photography is gorgeous! I’ve always wanted to visit Banff and I love hiking so this may have to go on my list for when i finally make it there! Also, your panda onesie is awesome (I have a unicorn one!) and your dog is adorable.

    1. Thank you. That’s actually my sister in her onesie. She actually have probably the same unicorn one as you. She wore it to the Ice Castle in Edmonton, because she wanted to pose as a union while sitting on the throne.

  31. Love all your photos. I am always looking for new outdoor adventures

  32. You lost me at bears! lol I have enjoyed hiking but I’m not quite sure I am ready to encounter such wildlife yet. I’m better at plants.

    1. It’s just a warning. I had a bear encounter outside of the hike while driving. He was just crossing with his family, and was very peaceful. But I do always carry a bear horn, and a bear spray just in case.

  33. Banff is so beautiful but you lost me at “high levels of bear activity”

  34. Stunning pictures! I love mountains and forests and hiking! Lucky you! So amazing!

  35. Wow this looks absolutely stunning I love hiking so this looks like the perfect trip for me. Really interesting about the notes too so thanks for that little fact! Tips are great too, I would always take at least 2 litres of water on any hike, would rather have too much than not enough 🙂

    1. Completely agree. Always stay hydrated. I like those lifestraws. They’re perfect for when you don’t wanna carry water, and is hiking in the mountain. Yum…fresh mountain water 🙂

  36. What a stunning place! Alberta is one of my ultimate destinations! I would LOVE to just live there forever. Your pictures are beautiful

  37. Coming from a tropical country, I could not quite imagine how the cold and the trail to the summit would come together. Must be very challenging!

  38. Your photographs are absolutely stunning! Sounds like a fantastic trip, great read.

  39. Oh my!!! How stunning is this hike. We are going to Canada next year, this has been added to my list of things to do.

    1. You will love it! Waterton is also another great option if you want to experience more wildlife, with less crowds. Dears just sleep/lays right beside your tent.

  40. Wow seriously stunning photos. Makes me want to go!

  41. Those are just amazing shots! I love your photos and your adventure. The last time I hiked was on 2015 and I miss those days! It was nice seeing your photos and reading about your hike. Such a beautiful view!

  42. I’ve heard soo many awesome things about Banff and wow, these photos make me want to go there even more. Planning a trip there to make the most of the free national parks end of August / September, so thanks very much for the tips! 🙂

    1. Yes. Me too. Those pass are perfect for Alberta…but in Ontario, there doesn’t seem to be much park options.

  43. Your photos are so beautiful they left me breathless! Such stunning views…
    I’ve been very interested in hiking lately and found your story & tips super helpful and inspiring.
    Can’t wait to read more about your adventures! x

  44. I love Banff. I am so jealous, I wish I spent more time there. I drove through a couple times and only got like a day each time. I am definitely remembering this for next time, if I ever get out that way again.

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