Those not familiar with the Northwest may not know about the magical displays of yellow and gold put on by two kinds of trees. I’m referring to the Lyall’s or Subalpine Larch and the Western Larch. The needles of these two unusual coniferous trees turn a brilliant gold every fall before they are shed. Both varieties are grown in very specific areas.
The Lyall’s Larch resides in subalpine and alpine areas, generally above 5500′ on colder northeast facing slopes, in a narrow band from the eastern slopes of the North Cascades to the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. They can also be seen in the Canadian Rockies, with Lake Louise roughly being their northern limits.
In the North Cascades, you’ll have to do some hiking to get to see the best displays. Some spots, like the Enchantments of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, demand a strenuous multi-day trek gaining over 5000′ feet of elevation along the way. Although there are some more accessible areas, such as hikes around Rainy Pass and Washington Pass on North Cascades Highway.
Hiking and photographing during the peak larch season on a calm sunny day is an experience you won’t soon forget. The sky at this altitude can be an intense blue contrasting beautifully against the vibrant gold of the trees. Tolkien fans will easily associate this experience with the Lord Of The Rings chapter on Lothlorien.
Aside from finding and hiking to the desired location timing and weather is crucial. The Lyall’s Larch generally turns color in the last week of September. The colors peak in the first week of October and are gone by the middle of the month. The peak of the season can last anywhere from two days to a week, depending on the weather.
Since the needles of this tree are very soft and delicate, once they start changing color they can easily fall off in a wind rain or snowstorm. Of course, this is also the time of year when the weather can be very unpredictable.
And now for a short lecture. Larches grow insensitive easily damaged alpine environments. With an ever growing crush of people seeking them out these areas can soon show signs of overuse. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting a wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). All wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. So please do your part to tread lightly and help preserve these precious areas for future generations!
To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!
Seven Leave No Trace Principles