A Hike into Sunshine Meadows, Banff National Park

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One of the premier day hikes in Banff National Parks takes you to Citadel Peak via Sunshine Meadows. I didn’t have time, or the enthusiasm for the full 18.6 kilometer round trip hike but I was keen to see Sunshine Meadows in what I hoped would be peak wildflower season.

The hike actually starts with a bus ride. It’s only 4.5 kilometers up the road to Sunshine Village – where the downhill skiing happens in the winter. (In winter the gondola operates between the parking lot and the ski hill.) It’s a steep hike up and probably not the best use of your energy. It’s advisable, especially on weekends to reserve a seat on the bus. Show up on time because the bus doesn’t wait around.

"The hike starts with a 4.5 km bus ride up to Sunshine Village"

The hike starts with a 4.5 km bus ride up to Sunshine Village

There were three buses leaving at 10 AM and all were packed so you know you’re not going to be alone on any hike you do. Most people on the bus seemed to hike to Rock Isle Lake as we didn’t see too many hikers on our trail heading towards Citadel Peak.

The first kilometer of the hike is the steepest and least interesting. But once you reach the top of the road, Sunshine Meadows unfolds before you. Although our gang of five visited in the third week of July, we missed most of the wildflowers. I think in hindsight, a week later would have been better so I’ll have to try again next year.

"Starting off across Sunshine Meadows"

Starting off across Sunshine Meadows

"Lots of ground squirrels early on in the hike"

Lots of ground squirrels early on in the hike

"hike in Banff National Park"

There is still patchy snow in late July

Even though the wildflowers were a disappointment, the mountain scenery was not. In fact it was superb and some of the best I’ve seen in Banff National Park. Once you reach the high alpine, there is loads of off trail country to be explored.

This trail is also one of the gateways to Assiniboine Provincial Park and Assiniboine Lodge. But it’s a 29 kilometer one way hike and should be done as part of a backpacking trip.

Our hike to the ridge across from Quartz Hill totaled 4.7 kilometers one way. It took only about 90 minutes to reach our lunch spot and turnaround point.

"360 degree views from the ridge across from Quartz Hill"

360 degree views from the ridge across from Quartz Hill

"What a great place for lunch with a view of the Sunshine Meadows"

What a great place for lunch with a view of the Sunshine Meadows

"Great mountain views in all directions"

Great mountain views in all directions

"Alpine Forget-me-not in Banff National Park"

Alpine Forget-me-not

"Spectacular views of Howard Douglas Lake, Banff National Park"

Spectacular views of Howard Douglas Lake

"Looking across to Quartz Hill, Banff National Park"

Looking across to Quartz Hill

"wildflowers in Sunshine Meadows"

The best we could do for wildflowers – a bit disappointing

"heading off fishing in Banff National Park"

These people were off for some fishing

Because we hadn’t hiked very far and had energy to burn some of us elected to hike to Rock Isle Lake. I thought it was further away than it was. From the trail intersection it’s only 0.6 kilometers to the lake. Although the lake itself is beautiful, the area around it was full of people. Still, I was very impressed at how many elderly people had made the hike up, as it wouldn’t be a trivial hike for them.

"The much photographed Rock Isle Lake, Banff National Park"

The much photographed Rock Isle Lake

"Rock Isle Lake, Banff National Park"

Close-up of the island in the lake

When we got back to Sunshine Village, we had 30 minutes to wait for the next bus. Sensible people might buy a cold drink or beer, find a comfortable chair and enjoy the view. But we are not sensible and elected to walk back down to the car. It was a VERY STEEP walk and hard on the quads. On the bright side, we got more exercise bringing our total mileage for the day to 15 kilometers. And we saved $80, as it’s an expensive $16 per person each way on the bus.

"It's a steep 4.5 km walk down to the parking lot"

It’s a steep 4.5 km walk down to the parking lot

Have you managed to see the wildflowers at their peak in Sunshine Meadows? Is there another wildflower hike you’d suggest?

Leigh McAdam

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