Photo Guide: Saddleback Pass Larches Hike

Here’s everything you need to know about hiking and photographing Saddleback Pass for the larches in Autumn.

It’s no secret that Lake Louise is the gem of the Canadian Rockies. It’s far from hidden though, so be sure to get up early for this one. Either that, or be prepared to go late and potentially make it back down in the dark. The parking lot here has been disgracefully busy these past two seasons.

The extra distance from the city, and fighting for a parking stall is well worth it though! There’s a reason everyone wants to be around Lake Louise in the Autumn. Especially hiking up to Saddleback Pass. There is literally no more suiting name for this pass. It’s beautiful during the summer but it’s just spectacular in the autumn. The larches are abundant!

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 2 minutes
Hiking time (roundtrip): 3-4.5 hours
Elevation gain: 660m
Trail Distance (roundtrip): 8.2

The hike up to the pass starts from the west side of Lake Louise. There’s also a lot of trail right from the parking lot that intersect with the first few hundred metres of the Saddleback Pass trail. The trail is heavily trafficked. There’s no way to lose it the entire way up to the pass.

You gain quite a bit of elevation right away. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’re ascending up into the clouds on this trail. There are a few breaks in the trees where you can look out towards the bow valley and Ski Lake Louise on the other side of the highway 1.

I found the ascent to be fairly quickly and only needed to catch my breath maybe once or twice before reach the pass. The elevation it steep but I thought it was still fairly gradual. It helps that the trail is pretty wide and even.

As you climb higher towards Saddleback Pass, the golden larches will begin become more obvious. The orange and yellow needles will are a beautiful contrast from the other trees around. There were a lot of photo opportunities along the trail right before you actually gain the pass. The last bit of elevation before the plateau has endless compositions waiting to be captured!

Once you get up into Paradise Valley pass, you can see stunning views of Mount Temple. Mount Temple is incredible from any angle, but especially the angle from Saddleback Pass. There are tons of larches in this area too. The larches here make for great foreground before Mount Temple.

Being down in the pass is spectacular, however there is a trail that continues up Mount Fairview. There’s still quite a bit of elevation to gain from the valley, but if you have the time, it’s worth it! The views ascending up Mount Fairview open up to incredible views of the entire valley with countless larches below.

It isn’t even crucial to summit Mount Fairview. Even if you ascend just part way, you will have amazing views of Paradise Valley and Saddleback Pass below.

5 Outdoor Photography Mistakes Beginners Make

Sometimes, the most effective way to rewire a photographers thinking, is by starting with “what not to do”. Working backwards from zero. Here are 5 outdoor photography mistakes beginners make.

Sometimes, the most effective way to rewire a photographers thinking, is by starting with “what not to do”. Working backwards from zero. Here are 5 outdoor photography mistakes beginners make.

Where is the Subject.

Canyon at sunset.

It’s often difficult to tell what the subject is. Clearly define what the viewer should be looking at, and engaging with. The outdoors provide an endless variety of possible subjects. Trees, mountains, lakes, athletes, wildlife, etc. Show the viewer exactly what they should be looking at, guide their eye.

It’s very important to use leading lines, soft depth of field. Perhaps try using grass or trees as foreground. Another helpful way to isolate your subject is with framing. Sometimes it’s as simple as placing some flowers and branches around the edges of your frame.

It’s a Matter of Perspective.

Dried river bed.

Chances are, if you’re taking your photo while standing at eye level, the shot has been taken before. Create something unique by changing your perspective. Climb on a rock, climb a tree, stand on the roof of your car. Alternatively, get low. Get on your back and point your camera up. Try this, getting below your subject. Create images that people don’t see every single day.

You Only Have One Light Source, Use it.

Joshua Tree sunset.

If you’re shooting in the great outdoors. You definitely don’t have the luxury of controlling light. Considering you are probably in remote places. Maybe you’re backpacking or camping. You only have one light source, the sun.

Use this to your advantage. Try to shoot in low light situations, right before and after sunrise, and sunset. Learn astrophotography and shoot late at night. If you can help it, avoid timing your photo shoots between 9am and 5pm.

Great Photo, What’s the Story.

Man fastening rope.

Beginners and pros alike share this mistake. Taking a visually compelling image is just a small part of what makes a great photo. What are you trying to say with your photos? What’s the underlining theme. Does the photo tell a bigger story. Is it just a pretty picture or are you using the photo as a tool, to tell a story or share an experience or moment in time?

Take one scroll on Instagram and you’ll see tons of “great” visually compelling photos. A lot of those “great” photos are just the low hanging fruit. The obvious shot. Anyone can point and shoot at glacier point in Yosemite, or prop a pretty blonde in front of a waterfall in Iceland. But the photos with heart, feeling, power. Those are much harder to come by. Find your voice, and photograph with purpose, direction, and intention.

It’s Not About the Tools, It’s how You Use the Tools.

Woman taking photo in desert.

Beginners often feel as though they outgrow their kit lens and starter camera long before they really do. It’s okay to want nice things, and eventually the investment of new gear, sharp glass and a full frame camera will be very important. However, don’t ever be so discouraged by your current set-up that you don’t even bother to go out and shoot.

Reality is, the more practice you have making great outdoor photos with shittier equipment, the more successful you’ll be at creating even more epic photos when you finally make that upgrade. Truth is, you shouldn’t ever let gear be an excuse, find a way to to make it work.

What are some mistakes you find yourself trying to overcome?

Download this article here for offline reference on your next outdoor photography adventure.

All Photos by Life Outside Studio Photographers Ryan and Hailey.