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Fall Hiking in Castle Provincial Park

Discover some of the best places to see the fall colours in Alberta's new and underrated provincial park: Castle Provincial Park.
October 17, 2018

Last winter I moved to from Calgary to Pincher Creek for my job. Although I miss the easy access to climbing gyms and diversity of restaurants, one of the major perks to living in Pincher Creek is the easy access to some of Alberta's most beautiful provincial parks including: Beauvais Lake, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Castle.

Late September and early October have been especially scenic with the larches turning goldenat high elevations. Larches are primarily responsible for the fall colours seen in the Canadian Rockies. And of the parks listed above, larches are found exclusively in Castle Provincial Park.

Unlike almost all other conifers, larix lyalli or alpine larches have soft pines that turn yellow in the fall and fall off before the winter. Bears and elk are known to cause traffic jams when they appear beside the road, but larches are probably the only plant that's notorious for causing traffic jams during the all too momentary alpine fall (typically the end of September and very beginning of October).

Castle Provincial Park is a prime destination to see the larches, and unlike the other parks in Alberta, it's relatively unknown to tourists and everyday Albertans.

So where are the best places to see larches in Castle?

Since alpine larches only grow at high elevations, scrambling is the best way to get close and personal with these elusive golden trees.

If you're serious about scrambling in Alberta, two must have books include "Scrambling in the Canadian Rockies" and "More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies". Both books have a ton of recommendations "More Scrambles" is especially good for recommendations and route description in the Castle. You can pick these up at MEC or Campers Village.

Since Castle Provincial Park is relatively new and unknown it is difficult to find a good guidebook for hikes in the Castle.

Safety Advisory!

If you've never scrambled before, please keep in mind that scrambling can be dangerous. If you're new, start with scrambles rated "easy" in these guidebooks and read the introductory chapters that tell you how to stay safe and what gear you need reach your objective. There's an almost infinite number of scrambles in Alberta and I have never felt the need to do a "difficult" scramble, so don't feel pressured to start over your head. There are hundreds of summits with non-life threatening ascents.

Additionally, although fall is one of the most beautiful times to be in the mountains, it can also be dangerous because of new snow accumulation, don't take on an objective unless you have the gear and experience to do it safely!

 

3. Table Mountain (Easy scrambling, 10.1 km and 753 m elevation)

Table Mountain is the classic Castle hike. Many iconic photos of summits in Alberta are of the ledge of Table Mountain.

As Castle Provincial Park is still being developed not all of the resources are in place, be prepared for a lack of signs and marked trails. . Table is an exception and is marked at the trailhead Basic route finding skills are still required if there is snow, as once you start scrambling there are no trail markers or visible cairns. Download an app like Maps Me as a backup in case you lose the trail.

On top of the plateau, you pass through a small larch forest before reaching the summit of Table Mountain. The scrambling is fun and this is a great beginner scramble and a great place to see goldenlarches in the fall!

Bob Spirko's Trip Report

Explo8ion's Trip Report

Matt Clay's Trip Report

2. Victoria Peak (moderate scrambling, 12.8 km and 1038 m elevation)

Victoria Peak is one of the best places to see larches in the Castle. The rocks are multi-coloured and varied so you will see a huge array of colours on this hike if it is clear. Andrew Nugara (author of "More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies") named this as his favourite scramble in all of the Canadian Rockies.

From the summit, Victoria Ridge is covered in larches and the rock on the ridge is pink and gold. Verne's photos on Explor8ion depict the many colours of this scramble beautifully.

Bob Spirko's Trip Report

Explo8ion's Trip Report

1. Rainy Ridge (moderate scrambling, ~24 km and 1000 m elevation)

Rainy Ridge is the ultimate larch scramble in the Castle. Although you have to work for it: there are no markings, GPS apps don't have tracks for this hike and you don't see very many larches until after the first 10 km.

After you reach the NW summit of Rainy Ridge, you're rewarded with a breathtaking view of Three Lakes Ridge, three azure lakes and a stunning larch forest.

The view of the lakes and forest remain constant along the ridge and culminate with views (and larches) in all directions. This one is highly recommended but is not for beginner scramblers (however you can visit the three lakes as hike).


Parks and Streams Trip Report

Conclusion

I hope that this post has convinced you to visit the beautiful and underrated Castle Provincial Park! The area is varied, extremely scenic and doesn't get anywhere near the number of visitors that it warrants. If you have any questions, please comment below.


Samantha H (Parks Ambassador)
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Castle Provincial Park Hiking Scrambling Autumn
Updated: Dec 6, 2018