Difficulty:
Moderate
Round Trip (hrs):
5:32
Elevation:
2610 m
Height Gain:
761 m
Round Trip Distance:
13.5 km
Latest Date:
July 8 2012

The Valley of the Ten Peaks is a view that has become inspiration for many painters and artists. It was even was featured on the backside of the twenty dollar bill of the 1969 and 1979 issues and there is no better spot to view the valley than from way above on Sentinel Pass. The Sentinel Pass trail is one of the highest trail in the Lake Louise area that you can hike to and well worth the effort. Although the trail is relatively moderate throughout, there are steeper sections in the beginning as well as final switchbacks at the end taking you up to the pass. The popular range of 10 mountain peaks that can be seen on Sentinel Pass include the following (ranged east to west):

  • 1. Mount Fay
  • 2. Mount Little
  • 3. Mount Bowlen
  • 4. Tonsa
  • 5. Mount Perren
  • 6. Mounta Allen
  • 7. Mount Tuzo
  • 8. Deltaform Mountain
  • 9. Neptuak Mountain
  • 10. Wenkchemna Peak.

At the Lake Moraine shoreline, you can see the iconic view of Lake Moraine with these ten peaks behind it. In the early morning on a clear and sunny day, you can see the stunning reflection of these peaks in the water. It said that these ten peaks were named by an early explorer in the 1700's, Samuel Allen, who also happened to be a politician from Massachusetts. The Native Americans, who were his guides and helped him with his horses, may have been an influence on the young explorer as he named the peaks in the Stoney First Nations Language using the numbers one through ten. These guides were part of the Nakoda tribe (also known as the Stoney Indians) and the valley of the ten peaks is said to have been part of their original homeland. The tribesmen referred to themselves as friendly or ally in their language; Nakoda. Their name, the Stoney Indians, was given to them by the white explorers that came through. The Stoney name given to them because inspired because of the explorers' fascination with how the natives were able to boil broth and other foods in bowls made of rawhide, by the use of fire-heated rocks. Later, seven of the ten peaks were renamed to honour important and noteworthy individuals. One peak was even renamed after Samuel Allen himself.

Being able to view not 1 but over 10 profound peaks on Sentinel Pass can be quite the motivator to get your legs moving up any steeper sections. It is one of the highest passes in Banff National Park and extends your views to Paradise Valley towards Lake Louise and connects to Mount Temple. This trail usually has a hiking restriction requiring a group of 4 or more because of the high amount of grizzlies usually found in the area. You can see why when you reach the luscious Larch Valley where the trail opens up and the meadows are bountiful of the hardiest of trees, larches, amongst other landscapes. We were fortunate that when we went, there were no restrictions and we were able to enjoy the trail without having a large group.

Many hikers hike only to Larch Valley and with its exquisite view, it is not a surprise why Larch Valley is one of the most visited areas in Banff National Park. Described as "The Wonderful World of Alpine Larch", Larch Valley is a hidden gem on your way to Sentinel Pass. Along the trail in the beginning and towards the end of the valley, you can hear the sound of thundering water. If you explore some of the smaller more hidden trails that deviate off the path following the sound of rushing water, you can find yourself trekking through lush alpine larch and right to some magnificent waterfalls. Larch Valley is the most popular around September when the leaves and needles of the larch trees turn into an autumn gold. Many stop their hike at Larch Valley since the view from valley is outstanding as well. You have a beautiful view of the Ten Peaks and there are some benches where you can sit and take in the beauty surrounding you. Just make sure you keep an eye out for any bears; they seem to rather enjoy the area too! You can spend the entire day just walking around the valley, taking in the beautiful views and exploring the meadows to Minnestimma Lakes. When we went, the Upper Minnestimma Lake ("Minnestimma" is the Native word for sleeping water) found underneath Sentinel Pass, was covered entirely in snow but generally is melted towards the end of summer.

Excerpts from the The Canadian Rockies: Pinoeers, Legends and True Tales gives a better idea of early exploration of Paradise Valley, The Valley of the Ten Peaks, Sentinel Pass and onward to Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes of Lake Louise (Patillo). Walter Wilcox, an American student from Yale University who was the first to visit Lake Louise in the summer of 1893 and his four companions were the first to explore the area completely. The group of five included Samuel Allen who had discovered the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Sentinel Pass around the same time and met Walter in Banff of 1894. Together they were the first to climb Fairview Mountain, another popular trail and mountain in the Lake Louise area. There was also Yandall Henderson, whose main thoughts and writings are found in this book, George Warrington and Louis Frissell, all who were students at Yale University. The group explored much of the area in 1894 and named the Beehive above Lake Agnes along with Saddle Peak, Sheol Peak and Sheol Valley. They were the first to actually explore Paradise Valley (the popular and gorgeous Giant Steps Waterfall found in Paradise Valley was named by Walter Wilcox) and climb up and over Sentinel Pass into Larch Valley, which at the time they called "Desolation Valley". Sentinel Pass was named by Samuel Allen because of the resemblance of the pinnacle of rock, at the top of the pass, to a man who looked like he was guarding the pass ("man on guard duty" as described in the book).


Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass Trip Log

The trail picks up at the edge of the parking lot in front of Lake Moraine. Depending on how hot it is outside and if you are arriving on a weekend, you might be forced to park a waaays back on Moraine Lake Road. This can add a fair bit of a walk to make it to the parking lot. Just as Lake Louise, Lake Moraine bustles with tourists and unlike its neighbor, it has minimal parking in comparison. As you follow the west lakeshore of Lake Moraine you will see the typical signs marking the way to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.


After passing the canoe rental platform, which is a popular jumping area into the frigid glacier fed lake, you will come to a fork in the road. This is where the ascent starts, and generally does not stop until you reach Larch Valley.


As you make your way onwards and upwards you encounter switchbacks, switchbacks, and some more switchbacks. There are minimal view from the forest that surrounds you and you do start to question where all this hype of great views comes from. But do not fret, it only gets better.


At about 2.7km you come to another fork in the road. Take the right to continue onto Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. If you changed your mind, taking the left takes you to Wenkchemna Pass and Eiffel Lake. There is a nice size bench here as well to take a quick break.


After the junction you are close to Larch Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks and the elevation seems to come more gradually. You can start seeing what appears to be mountain peaks over the tower trees around you.


Once you reach Larch Valley and the Valley of the Ten Peaks, you suddenly forget about all the switchback mumbo jumbo you had to endure. The cliffs of Mount Temple tower on your right as the valley opens up before you.


If your goal was Larch Valley and to see the Valley of Ten Peaks, you have made your destination. There are a few places to sit down and take in the grandeur of what surrounds you. If your goal is to make it to Sentinel Pass then you still have a bit of work ahead of you. Follow the obvious path to the North. Straight ahead the pass between the Mount Temple and Pinnacle Mountain (The peak on the left when looking straight North) is called Sentinel Pass and is the new goal.


As you follow the trail it will start turning towards and ascending the very base of Mount Temple. From there, the trail traverses towards Pinnacle Mountain and continues making another two switchbacks before reach the summit of Sentinel Pass. From the valley you do gain a bit over 250 meters so there is still a fair bit elevation to gain once you reach Larch Valley.


As you reach Sentinel Pass, you can finally see over into the next valley called Paradise Valley. The view from here is fantastic, you have Larch valley with its magnificent mountain backdrop and Paradise Valley on the North side with Mount Aberdeen towering over. The pinnacles that got Pinnacle Mountain its name are clearly visible from here. The scramble of Mount Temple starts at this pass as well. Not to be attempted unless you are experienced as there are numerous natural hazards ahead.


Return is the same way back.



GPS Plotted Route



The trail itself is very straight forward and clearly marked so there are no surprises. There is a fair bit more switchbacks then the GPS puts on as it is zoomed out. The hike from Moraine Lake to Larch valley is very uneventful and is just switchback after switchback.


The elevation is steady with basically no downhill parts as you ascend. The small dip is past Larch Valley and very minimal. The large one on the descent was due to us going off trail to see the small waterfall.

Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.


What were your experiences hiking Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass?

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