Alberta is sweeping prairies, rising mountain peaks, rocky terrain, and boreal forests. It’s breathtaking at any time of year, but autumn is when Alberta really comes alive with vibrant colours, crisp mountain air, and stunning sunsets across fields of wheat. Satisfy your wanderlust with any one of these classic hikes and multi-day treks.
1. Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass TrailThere’s nothing like the vivid yellow colour of larch trees in the autumn before their needles fall. You’ll get all that and more on Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass Trail. Climb above Moraine Lake into a forest of larches to see views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and the colours reflected back into the still water of the lake. It’s considered a moderate trail, so novice hikers may wish to practice a little before heading out. Strong hikers can continue further up steep switchbacks on a scree to Sentinel Pass, an airy alpine col with views of not only Larch Valley, but also Paradise Valley.
2. Buller Pass
The strenuous hike up Buller Pass gives impressive views of the Ribbon Creek Valley that you won’t find elsewhere. You’ll need to be comfortable negotiating steep, rocky slopes, but it’s totally worth it. Bridged creeks, traces of an ancient forest fire, a beautiful waterfall carving out a circular pool, and numerous caves just some of the highlights. From your perch at the top of Buller Pass, further off-trail rambling is possible. Consistently called one of the top hikes in Kananaskis Country, it is especially breathtaking in late September, when it’s famous for its fabulous display of golden larch.
3. Glenbow Ranch
In the short time that Glenbow Ranch has been a provincial park, it has swiftly become a favourite for hikers. Located between Calgary and Chochrane on the north shore of the Bow River, the foothills parkland offers sweeping views of golden prairie grasses and bright red and purple shrubs along the river. Explore any – or all – of the nine trails looping and weaving through coolees, along the river and over the hills. The seasonal colours are breathtaking, but keep in mind that they can be fleeting, so don’t put your hike off too long. Make sure to see them before a strong wind sweeps through and the leaves end up on the ground.
4. Mount Stearn
North of Grande Cache, Mount Stearn is a moderate hike with magnificent views of Alberta in autumn. Start in the Smoky River Valley and climb up through two forest zones to see a variety of trees and wildlife. There are some parts of the trail that are fairly steep, but each section does level out again, so don’t get discouraged over the 6-7 hours it takes to hike the 15.2 km. You’ll be rewarded at the summit with views of Grande Cache, Lightning Ridge, and the Smoky River Valley, leading into Willmore Park.
5. Crypt Lake
Getting to the trailhead of Crypt Lake is an experience in itself on this hike: you have to take the cruise boat across Waterton Lake in Waterton Lake National Park. The trail offers something for everyone – several waterfalls, a 25 m cave, and plenty of scenery along the way. It’s one of the most unique hikes you’ll ever encounter, and is often called one of Canada’s best hikes. In 2014, National Geographic rated it as one of the World’s 20 Most Thrilling Trails. A highlight for many is the steel ladder and 60 foot tunnel through the mountain. After a short maneuver around a cliff (with a cable for added security), hikers arrive at Crypt Lake. Make sure you leave in time to catch the boat back across the lake!
6. Wood Bison TrailNo list of Alberta’s autumn wonders would be complete with Elk Island National Park. The Wood Bison Trail is fairly flat and will take you on a loop around Flying Shot Lake on the south side of the Park. This hike is something of an Albertan safari – instead of elephants, keep an eye out for two different kind of bison, as well as moose, elk, deer, and birds. The bison are plentiful – and ahrd to miss! The fall colours surrounding the lake, especially during the glow of sunset, will take your breath away.
7. Trans-Canada Trail at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
The Trans-Canada Trail cuts through Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in the southern tip of the province on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. It is comprised of the Battle Creek Road, Spruce Coulee, Sunset Trail, Soggy Bottom Trail, and Shoreline Trail. On the trail, you’ll enter a world of high-forested hills, panoramic views, quiet valleys, and cool, clean air. When the seasons turn, the hills come alive in colour and the leaves fall to create a blanket on the trail floor. The stillness you’ll find there ensures you’ll leave your worries at the trailhead and get back to nature.
8. Siksika Trail
Within the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area is Siksika Trail. Active wildlife management programs have created a haven for animals, including endangered trumpeter swans. There are many trails in the area, but Siksika Trail connects most of them together, so meandering off the beaten path is easy to do if you want to explore. Siksika is 4.6 km of hilly terrain around numerous beaver ponds. In the autumn, keep an eye out for Canada’s national animal as they put the finishing touches on their lodges before winter hits. You may even hear the crash of a tree falling due to their hard work.
9. Waskahegan Trail
Waskahegan Trail is often described as “hidden in plain sight.” The entire length wraps in a roughly circular route and varies from an urban environment near Edmonton to wilderness near Elk Island National Park. It’s a network of 40 routes, ranging from 5-15 km. Hikers are just as likely to discover domesticated animals and livestock as they are wildlife, but no matter what you come across, you’ll want to keep your camera handy. There are public campsites en route, so you can take several days to hike the loop. The serene landscapes showcase some of the best of Alberta’s autumn scenes as it moves through the rolling parkland.
10. Skyline Trail
The Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park is considered to be one of the most popular backcountry hikes in the Canadian Rockies. More than half of the trail is above the tree line, allowing you to see far beyond the mountain peaks for spectacular views. Most hikers choose to start from the Maligne Lake trailhead and head north to the base of Signal Mountain, across three mountain passes. To complete this trail in its 44 km entirety, give yourself between two and six days. There are campsites available along the trail, but depending on the time of year they can fill up quickly, so book in advance. Also remember that it will be cold at night during Fall and pack accordingly!
11. Horseshoe Canyon
A glacier-carved “U” surrounded by golden prairie, Horseshoe Canyon is a dramatic introduction to the badlands. Just 17 km west of Drumheller, right off Highway 9, the Canyon is an eye-popping sight. The maroon-striped canyon walls reveal layers of time down to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs roamed the area. Follow in their footsteps through the trails and stop at the numerous viewing platforms for photo ops. For the more adventurous hikers, lace up the boots and hike to the bottom of the bottom, surrounding yourself with the historic canyon walls. Make sure to stay hydrated under the hot badlands sun!
12. Grassi Lakes TrailOne of Canmore’s most popular hikes, Grassi Lakes Trail is a short, picturesque trail great for families. At a fork 100 m from the trailhead, choose from the easy trail up a gentle include to the spectacular turquoise lake or the more challenging trail climbing through the forest, passing a waterfall and offering views of Canmore and Bow Valley. Located in the Wildlife Corridor, your chances of seeing animals is pretty good, so have the camera ready (and be bear aware, just in case!). Depending on which trail your group chooses, plan for around one to two hours for the hike.
13. Parker Ridge
Designated as an easy trail, Parker Trail is great for novice hikers and families. After a series of switchbacks setting out from 9 km south of the Icefield Centre on the Icefields Parkway, you’ll be rewarded at the top with dramatic and sweeping views of the Saskatchewan Glacier, headwaters of the Saskatchewan River. The alpine ecosystem is fragile in the area, so help to maintain the natural beauty by staying on the trail. The round trip time for this trail is around two and a half hours. It can get cool in the autumn, so wearing layers can help you to prepare for any weather.
14. River Valley Trail System
You don’t need to head out of the city for great autumn hiking. Edmonton’s River Valley Trail System, along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River cutting through the city, has more than 160 km of trails. There are trails for every skill level, and paved trails within the system allow for exploration for people of all accessibility. Watch the leaves on the trees change colour with the changing seasons and become a riot of yellows, oranges, and reds. The River Valley is teeming with wildlife and the falling leaves increases your changes of seeing animals.
15. Siffleur Falls
Ready for backcountry beauty like no other? Siffleur Falls near Rocky Mountain House is about as remote as you can get. The most popular access to these trails is off Highway 11, about 65 km west of Nordegg. It’s a hiker’s paradise – access in these areas is by foot only; horses and mountain bikes are not permitted. The silence will ensure you’re one-on-one with nature and the autumn beauty. High mountain peaks, picturesque valleys, and calm meadows await, and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of mountain sheep, mountain goats, or caribou.
16. Salt River Trail System
Up in the northeast corner of Alberta, straddling the border into the Northwest Territories, is Wood Buffalo National Park. And nestled within the park is the Salt Plains. There are seven trails of varying difficulty within the Salt River Trail System. The easiest option is Karstland Loop, a short interpretive trail cutting through terrain dotted with active sinkholes and the Salt River Meadows. The moderate 6 km hike to Rainbow Lakes is great for keeping an eye out for bison, moose, and foxes. Looking for something more challenging? The 12 km trek to Sweetgrass Station lets you take in the trees in their fall glory as you get some backcountry camping in.
17. Lake Agnes Tea House
Do you work up an appetite when you hike? Then the perfect hike for you is up to the Lake Agnes Tea House! The Tea House is just a few kilometres from Lake Louise. After a forested 3.5 km hike, the terrain opens up to reveal the spectacular Lake Agnes. Built as a refuge for hikers in 1905, the Tea House still serves loose leaf tea and light meals while you sit at the original wooden chairs and tables. Supplies are flown in by helicopter, so make sure you leave enough time after you eat to walk back into town!
18. Chester LakeWalking through the forest to Chester Lake feels like coming across an emerald oasis surrounded by towering pines and brush coloured by autumn leaves. The four-hour hike is easy to do year round. Most of the elevation change is near the beginning of the hike before the trail levels off through beautiful meadows. On the way up, you’ll make your way past the elephant rocks – a unique formation left behind from the Ice Age that you’ll definitely want pictures of. To find the trailhead, follow the Smith Dorrien Highway/Spray Lakes Road 37 km past the Canmore Nordic Centre.
19. Hoodoo Trail
The seasonal changes of autumn just add to the wonder of the Hoodoo Trail in Writing On Stone Provincial Park. You’ll come across a variety of landscapes, including sandstone cliffs with rock art, prairie grassland, the Milk River valley, and of course, hoodoos. This isn’t a trail for novice hikers, but others will enjoy the views of the best the badlands has to offer while they navigate the stairs and steep sections they’ll come across on the 4.4 km trek. The landscape is unlike anything you’ll ever see and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another place entirely as you wander.
20. Alexander Wilderness Park
Alexander Wilderness Park, in Lethbridge, is a 255 hectare park that is a tranquil preservation area full of wildlife, sheltered on one side by coulee cliffs and the Oldman River on the other. It’s a hiker’s dream as the park is only accessible by a 2.5 km walking trail leading through the coulees. Explore the park’s trails and discover the way the fall has transformed the park into a sea of yellows and oranges. Keep in mind that dogs are not allowed in the park, so the pooch will have to stay at home for this adventure.
21. Legacy Trail
Banff’s Legacy Trail was built to honour Banff National Park’s 125 anniversary. It is a 22 km multi-use trail amongst the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies and linking the Town of Banff and Canmore. With the slopes of the mountains awash in warm colours, the brisk hiking done in fall is an excellent time to experience the trail and the wildlife it is home to. There are multiple rest spots and picnic areas along the way with informative interpretive panels, so pack a lunch and plenty of snacks for the way (but be bear aware!).
22. Sunwapta Falls
Along the Icefield Parkway, Sunwapta Falls consists of upper and lower waterfalls fed by the Athabasca Glacier. The upper falls, with an impressive drop off of about 18 m, are easily accessed by the parking lot. The lower falls, though, are accessed by a 1.3 km hike down through a lodgepole pine forest. Here, you’ll get an incredible view of three waterfalls spread over the Sunwapta River. The crisp fall air and the mist rising from the falls make it a refreshing hike for all ages. Don’t forget to walk across the bridge for an even better view!
23. Botterill Bottom Park
Lethbridge’s Botterill Bottom Park is perfect for nature enthusiasts who are not up for an extreme hike but who still like to hit the trails. The mature cottonwood forest and rich understory become a riot of colours in the fall – a perfect backdrop to different wildlife and birds. Beavers are a common sight along the river, so keep an eye on the water to spot one. A 3.5 km trail system links the park to Indian Battle Park, creating a larger trail system for those who aren’t ready to head back home just yet. The paved path is easy to navigate, but you won’t feel like you’re in the middle of a city with all the nature surrounding you.
24. Ink Pots
Beyond Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is Ink Pots. The trail is a lightly-travelled, moderately difficult trek up and over a forested ridge that emerges in an open meadow. Here, you’ll find the unique sight of warm water bubbling up from deep below the Earth’s surface into shallow pools. It’s a four hour round trip from the parking lot, 5.4 km one way. The brilliantly-coloured pools are striking against the backdrop of fall colours – you won’t find a better place for photos! If you manage to go on a sunny day, the colours in the pools will be even more vibrant.
25. Horsethief Canyon
Munson’s Horsethief Canyon is a must see in the badlands. Located on the Dinosaur Trail, it’s an exciting hike full of history. Stand on the edge of the canyon for spectacular views of the valley below. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike down the steep trail to explore below. The Canyon is named after the outlaws who hid their stolen livestock within more than 100 years ago, rebranding stolen mares out of the sight of the ranchers they stole from. Spend the day admiring the coloured rock and hide away within the canyon where escape is the name of the game when it comes to everyday life.
How to get to Horsethief Canyon?
Lace up your hiking boots and experience Alberta’s autumn season in full force throughout the province!