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Finding Fall Colours

In the mountains, autumn starts in the alpine and slowly fades down to the valleys over the months, with winter snow following behind! Use this guide for where and when to find the best fall colour on West Kootenay hiking trails.

First Signs of Fall

Fall colours start to appear in the alpine in early September, with cooler nights and shorter days. At high elevation, the wildflowers have gone to seed, the huckleberries are ripe, and the alpine meadows start to loose their green. The firsts twinges of yellow appear on the larches.

Where to hike? Check out any of the alpine hikes and enjoy the start of autumn. Be prepared for shorter days and rainstorms, as September brings cool wet weather to the Kootenays.

Fall colours appearing at Kokanee Lake in early September

Golden Larches

In late September, golden larch season is underway! This is a special time in the alpine where the forests around Kootenay Lake glow with colour as the larches turn bright yellow and then start to fade to gold.

Where to hike? Check out the map below for our favourite alpine larch trails!

Be prepared for snow starting to appear in the alpine. It can obscure the trail and make route-finding difficult. Bring extra warm layers, and make sure your headlamp and navigation equipment are handy. The days are getting short!

Larches turning yellow at Monica Meadows

Alpine Snow

In early October, snow can really start filling in the alpine hiking trails. The snow-line varies year to year, but typically Thanksgiving weekend marks the end of alpine hiking. If you can get up to high elevation, the larches will turn a dull brown-gold before loosing their needles.

Snow on Kootenay Pass, early October

Meanwhile, fall has moved down to the valley and colours are starting to appear at low elevation.

Where to hike? Check out south-facing hiking trails with maintained access roads to minimize the snow and maximize the views.

Be prepared for snow on access roads at high elevation – you should have winter tires on! Bring gaiters if you’re planning to hike in the fresh snow.

Fall colours starting to appear in Kalso in early October. Note that Mount Loki is covered in snow above the lake.

Valley Colours

By the end of October, the valleys are full of fall colours! Low-elevation larches have gone gold, along with birch and mountain ash. The towns are also bursting with colourful maples and overlook hikes are a great way to view them!

Where to hike? Check out any of the shoulder-season hikes for good access. For fall colours, check out:

View from the Flagpole Trail in late October

Last Leaves

By early November, the days are short and crisp and the leaves are scattering fast. The last colour is disappearing in the valley and the hiking trails shine with fallen leaves.

Where to hike?

The days are getting dark and rainy. Watch for early sunset when Daylight Savings Time ends.

Merry Go Round trail in early November
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Tom Hamilton
4 years ago

Hi, I have never been to the area and will be in the Nelson area over the week of Halloween. Will there be any leaves left on the deciduous trees (at lower elevations around town/river/lake level)? Or will the larches be the only trees that still have colour? Also, I’ve been toying with the idea of going into alpine areas, like Meadow Mtn., but I’m afraid that they might be snow covered?

Thanks for your advice!

Trip Date
Access Road Vehicle
4WD High Clearance
Tom Hamilton
4 years ago
Reply to  Abby Wilson

Thanks Abby, I live in Virginia, so I appreciate the insight, as finding this kind of information on the web is difficult! I was reading your post about the Mel Deanna Trail and its definitely on my list. Seeing golden larches above the Columbia looks pretty awesome. I’m hoping to do some photography in the area and this looks like a great vista.

On another note, great website! Its been super helpful in showcasing all of the hidden gems the Kootenays have to offer. Keep up the great work!