This guide tours you through the best spots to take in vibrant fall colours at some of the most scenic locations the Rockies have to offer. Starting in Kananaskis, you’ll make stops to see the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, the Spray Lakes Trail before heading into Banff National Park to see the iconic Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and fall hotspot Larch Valley. You’ll cap it off with perfect timing for fall colours as you drive through the Icefields Parkway to get to Abraham Lake, an unforgettable spot with perfect teal water and fall leaves everywhere you look.
Upper Kananaskis Lakes
About two hours from Calgary, after a beautiful drive through Kananaskis and into Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, you’ll find the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. These two lakes each offer beautiful views of surrounding peaks and valleys at the edge of the glacier water. We’d definitely recommend taking an hour to canoe, kayak, or paddleboard the Upper Kananaskis Lake for sunrise or sunset for 360 degree alpine glow filled views of Mount Sarrail, Mount Fox and more. You can even visit Hawke island in the centre of the lake for a unique perspective of the shoreline. If you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard of your own, the most cost-friendly rentals can be made in Calgary before heading out on your road trip. We love using Sports Rent for the best prices and quickest service before our trips into the mountains.
For experienced hikers in small groups, making your way up the Sarrail Ridge Trail offers an unforgettable experience and rewarding view of the Upper and Lower lakes from the summit, especially as the leaves turn yellow and orange in the fall. If you want a less demanding hike, there are several trails around the lake for varying skillsets. Take your time with the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Trail if you really want views around the entire lake! Regardless of the hike, just make sure you’re prepared with the proper equipment, knowledge and bear spray.
There are several campgrounds within 5-10 minute driving distances from the lakes. The Lower Lake Campground
offers waterfront spots on the lake, but closes a little earlier in the season around September 25th. The Boulton Creek Campground
nearby is open later in the season through October, and offers both water and electrical hookups in a secluded forest setting. Just make sure to go online and book your spot ahead of your arrival time. The nearest sani-dump station is located in the Mount Kidd RV Park that you’ll pass on the way in through Kananaskis, or at the Canmore Visitor Information Centre, so make sure to plan to dump before or after your stay near the Upper lakes.
Spray Lakes Reservoir
After saying goodbye to the Kananaskis Lakes, head up the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail for endless fall mountain activities. You can make stops at several pull off locations along the reservoir itself, or at Goat Pond before you hit Canmore. There’s plenty of room for kayaking, canoeing, hiking and sightseeing all along the water. If you look up into the peaks, you’ll be able to spot patches of in season Larch trees, a tree famous for its orange colour change in the fall season.
The Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes trail is a non-paved loose gravel road, so the drive can be louder when in an RV or camper unit. If you’re looking to go for a more smooth scenic route, head back out the Kananaskis Park entrance back to Highway 1, and make your way West towards the Canmore and Banff areas. After arriving in Canmore, feel free to grab a meal at one of the popular local spots such as Tank 310 or grab a famous mountain bagel at Rocky Mountain Bagel Co.
If you need access to water or a sani-dump, make a quick stop at the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre for a pit stop before heading off to Lake Louise!
Lake Louise Campground
After a quick stop through Canmore and a drive into Banff National Park, it’s finally time to arrive at the world famous Lake Louise. In the fall, Lake Louise’s even more famous sister lake, Moraine Lake, is the ultimate destination for golden larch tree season. To the right of Moraine’s shoreline is the beginning of the Minnestimma Lake/Larch Valley Trail, that heads up behind the soaring Mount Temple to reveal a beautiful valley covered in turning larch trees. Minnestimma Lake sits at the back of the valley, offering a gorgeous spot to stop and take in the views. With perfect reflections, towering peaks, and golden fall colours, this hike is a must do when visiting the Rockies in the fall. The trail is moderate and fit for all age groups, but if you’d like a challenge you can continue from Minnestimma up into the Sentinel Pass section of the trail for a bird’s eye view of the valley. The Moraine Lake parking lot fills up very quickly as its popularity continues to increase, so one of the best ways to secure your visit to Larch Valley is by booking a ticket aboard one of the shuttles that run every 20 minutes from the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot. You can park your RV or camper for free in the lot and shuttle to and from Moraine Lake between 8:10am and 5:30pm. Make sure to book your departure time slot on the Parks Canada website and enjoy the lake!
The Lake Louise Hard-Sided Campground nestled at the base of the mountain offers electrical hookup sites fit with fire pits, as well as sites for tenting and walk up camping. There is a sani-dump station right inside the campground, along with both potable and non-potable water hookups and showers. The campground fills up more quickly in the fall season due to the larches, so be sure to book this one in advance.
Bow Lake & the Icefields Parkway
Now that you’ve seen larch season at Lake Louise, it’s time to head down one of the most scenic highways on the globe, the Icefields Parkway. Acting as the connection between Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Icefields Parkway boasts unmatched views of rocky peaks, glacier lakes, golden larches and of course, icefields. Since you’ll be headed through to Abraham Lake, we recommend making a stop off at Bow or Peyto Lake on the way to the Saskatchewan River crossing where you’ll be exiting the parkway. There are so many lakes, campgrounds and sightseeing spots to pull off on the drive, you could stop almost anywhere and have an incredible adventure experience, but both Bow and Peyto are famous for their views. If you hike around Bow Lake, you can head towards Mount Thompson to get a view of Bow Glacier Falls, or paddle down the lake itself for a closer look at Crowfoot Glacier. The end of the lake opens up into a gorgeous orange meadow, and is lined with yellow fall leaves for a truly scenic autumn adventure.
The Icefields Parkway is a 230km stretch of highway with little to no access to cell service and gas, so be sure to have a full tank and your full trip itinerary downloaded before entering through the parkway gate.
Abraham Lake & David Thompson Country
After exiting through the Saskatchewan River Crossing gate onto the David Thompson Highway, you’ll be headed down to the gem of the trip; Abraham Lake. Located 20 minutes from the small town of Nordegg, Abraham Lake is Alberta’s largest man made lake, and it is the most unforgettable spot to experience fall. Lined with partially submerged birch trees due to annual flooding, Abraham Lake is surrounded by mountain peaks, the cline river valley, and gorgeous orange and yellow hues. The lake sits entirely on crown land, so you’re free to camp almost anywhere you choose. As you drive down the highway, you’ll notice RVs and campers parked in several pull off spots set up for camping, usually equipped with an outhouse style washroom. Although you can pull off in many places, our favorite spot sits at the tip of the lake at Preacher’s Point Campground. With fire pits built right at the water’s edge, you can park your RV with beautiful views of the Ram Mountain Range right outside your door. Feel free to drop your kayak or paddleboard in anywhere along the water and paddle into the submerged treeline just past the campground. You’ll enter a world of gorgeous colours and have an incredibly serene experience. If you’re looking for great hiking in the area, there are plenty of trails for all skillsets, some favourites being the Vision Quest Ridge, Crescent Falls and Bighorn Canyon, and Tershishner Falls trails.
If you’re in need of gas, water, or a sani-dump station, make a quick trip out to Nordegg, or stop in on your way back to the RV dealership after your trip. There is a water and sani-dump station located just behind the Nordegg Lodge, they just ask for a small $5 donation for use!
Rockies Heli Canada
If you really want to upgrade your trip to a once in a lifetime, bucket-list fall experience, you need to book a flight with Rockies Heli Canada during your stay along Abraham Lake. Located right along Highway 11 at the Cline River Junction, you’ll be driving right by Rockies Heli on your way towards Nordegg. We booked a sunrise flight for spectacular views of Abraham Lake and the surrounding Cline River Valley, but we were also blown away by the views of the Columbia and Wilson Icefields as we flew back over the Icefields Parkway. A perfect way to wrap up the ultimate fall road trip, the Heli tour gave us 360 degree views of the peaks, valleys, larches and river valleys we’d spent our previous 5 days exploring and adventuring through. You can even fly with stops at nearby hiking spots, so you can see gorgeous spots like Lake of the Falls minus the 40km hike in. With flight times and prices varying, this is a stop that’s doable for anyone embarking on a Rockies road trip adventure.