12 Lesser-Known Hikes to See Canada’s Fall Foliage
From Nova Scotia to British Columbia, here are the best trails by province to enjoy the show without the crowds.
Fall is finally upon us. With the bugs gone, the weather cooling off and the foliage in dazzling colours, there’s no better time to hit the trails and plan a little leaf-peeping adventure.
Wondering where to go? Fall colours are typically more intense in the Eastern provinces including Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, though the Canadian Rockies also draws a sizeable crowd each year for its brilliant gold larches. We’ve included a list of lesser-known trails in some of the country’s most popular fall parks — so you can find a pocket of solitude from which to enjoy the season’s greatest show.
Best fall colours in Ontario
Ontario’s autumn colours are among the best in Canada. While popular destinations like Algonquin attract thousands of hikers every fall, there are plenty of less-visited parks that are no less spectacular. Mid-September to late October is typically the best time to catch fall foliage in Ontario, but if you want to be extra sure you can check live conditions from this fall colour report before you set off.
1. Big Bend Lookout, Arrowhead Provincial Park
Described by one Tripadvisor traveller as “the best alternative to Algonquin Park”, Arrowhead Provincial Park is just 2.5 hours away from Toronto and offers a similar landscape of lush maple and birch forests. The wheelchair-accessible Big Bend Lookout is a short walk from the Roe Campground Road parking lot and offers panoramic views of the region’s iconic fall colours. After that, stop by the Arrowhead and Mayflower Lakes and rent a canoe for a quiet paddle against a backdrop of amber, gold, and crimson leaves.
2. Lions Lookout Trail, Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Preserve
The Lions Lookout is another fantastic hike in the Muskoka area for leaf-peeping. A short 0.8km climb through a forested trail leads up a 200-foot cliff from which you can get a 360-degree view of Huntsville and the surrounding lakes. If you’re driving from Toronto, consider subscribing to a GPS-Guided Audio Driving Tour. This audio commentary will keep the whole family entertained with trivia, fun facts, and more during the 2.5-hour drive.
3. The Crack, Killarney Provincial Park
If you’re looking for a more difficult hike, the 6km round-trip hike to ‘the Crack’ in Killarney Provincial Park ends with spectacular views of the brilliant blue Killarney and O.S.A. lakes surrounded by fiery foliage. Travellers advise wearing proper hiking boots and gloves as the climb is challenging and the lookout can only be accessed with some scrambling.
4. Sand River Trail, Lake Superior Provincial Park
Lake Superior Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s largest provincial parks and offers a variety of fall colours — reds and oranges dominate the south of the park, while the north typically sees more yellows and greens. Popular treks include the Awausee Trail and the Nokomis Trail but if you’re after something a little different, the 3.5km-long Sand River Trail passes multiple waterfalls that are perfectly framed by fall foliage. Consider staying the night; Lake Superior Provincial Park is a Dark Sky Preserve, meaning its pitch-black skies are perfect for stargazing and northern lights chasing.
Best fall colours in Quebec
Just about every tree in this province dons its finest fall colours every September. Peak colours in the northern and eastern regions like the Laurentian Mountains typically arrive around mid-September, while regions further down south usually peak in early to mid-October. Check Bonjour Québec’s foliage report for live leaf colour updates.
King Mountain, Pink Lake, and Champlain Trails are Gatineau Park’s must-do and most popular fall hikes. But if you’re looking to escape the crowds, the trails farther in are typically quieter. The Luskville Falls trail near the Municipality of Pontiac starts at a beautiful shaded picnic area and follows a waterfall up to a scenic vantage point. Wakefield in the far north with its iconic red bridge is also worth a visit.
This 7km loop hike near Parc Découverte Nature is just 2 hours away from Montreal. Climb to the summit and take a moment to admire views of Lac Lyster and the tapestry of fall colours blanketing the surrounding mountains.
Best fall colours in Nova Scotia
Dramatic, windswept, and untouched, Nova Scotia’s wilderness landscape bursts into brilliant colours every fall. Fall foliage season typically runs from late September to late October, peaking around the second week of October.
Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail is one of the most dramatic highway drives in the world — and the coastal route is especially spectacular when fall foliage is in full display. The meandering loop takes about 5 hours to drive, but 5-7 days is ideal so you have time to stop for a couple of hikes along the way. Traveller favourites include the Skyline Trail, Acadian Trail, and Franey Mountain Trail. The fall foliage views from the top of Franey Mountain are especially outstanding, but the steep 344m ascend means you’ll have to work for it.
2. Mersey River Trail, Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site got its name from the Mi'kmaw word Kejimkuji'jk, meaning little fairies. And true to its name, Keji’s picturesque rolling hills, old-growth forests, and serene waterways look straight out of a fairytale — especially in autumn. The 3.5km-long Mersey River Trail is especially peaceful and presents a quiet stroll amidst falling leaves and gently flowing waters. You can also rent a canoe or join a guided tour to explore Keji’s interconnected waterways. These routes were used by the native Mi’kmaq people for thousands of years as they travelled between the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Coast.
Best fall colours in Alberta
While reds and oranges dominate the east coast of Canada, yellow is the colour of fall in the west. The alpine larches that dot the Canadian Rockies’ snow-dusted peaks turn a brilliant gold from mid-September to early October every year. Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass in Banff National Park are classic larch hikes, but these treks offer a similar — and less overcrowded — larch hunting experience.
1. Saddleback Pass, Banff National Park
This 7.4km hike starts at the iconic Lake Louise but you’ll quickly veer off into a less-trafficked path. The first half of the journey winds through a forest with occasional views of Fairview Mountain and Bow River Valley, but soldier on and you’ll get your first glimpse of the majestic alpine larches. You can choose to continue the hike and summit Fairview Mountain or return to Lake Louise.
2. Arethusa Cirque, Kananaskis Country
Just 1.5 hours from Calgary, this valley south of the better-known Ptarmigan Cirque is K-country’s best-kept larch viewing secret. The 4.5km trek takes you across jagged mountains and a peaceful mountain lake with abundant opportunity to find the pot of gold that is the alpine larches.
Best fall colours in British Columbia
While most of BC’s forests are evergreen, you’ll still be able to find bold autumn colours in Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods and city parks. The Rockies are also nearby if you’re looking for a larch hike.
1. Deer Lake Park, Burnaby
Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park are obvious spots for Insta-worthy maple leaf photos — but don’t miss out on Deer Lake Park in Burnaby. This hidden gem in Metro Vancouver is loved by locals for a picturesque autumnal lakeside stroll. Don’t miss the fiery red Japanese maples surrounding the historic Burnaby Art Gallery. Dogs on leash allowed.
2. Floe Lake Hike, Kootenay National Park
For something more challenging, conquer the Kootenay Rockies’ 21km Floe Lake Hike. You’ll reach a stunning alpine lake at the foot of an epic 1,000m-tall rock face that’s surrounded by golden larches every fall. Kootenay is also the quietest of the four Rocky Mountain national parks — perfect for your off-the-beaten-path larch hunting adventure. What more could you ask for?
More like this: