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Banff's most accessible alpine meadows
A shuttle bus operated by White Mountain Adventures (403/762-7889 or
www.sunshinemeadowsbanff.com) departs for
Sunshine Meadows mid-June to late Sept. two or three times daily from the
parking lot at the base of a gondola leading up to Sunshine Village ski
area. To get to the parking lot, take the Trans-Canada Hwy. 9 km (5.6 mi)
west from the town of Banff and follow the Sunshine Road for another 9 km
The Sunshine Meadows region is unique in the Canadian Rockies. Unlike most of the Continental Divide, which is composed of heavily glaciated peaks, this 100-square-kilometre (38-square-mile) stretch is rolling subalpine meadows filled with an incredible variety of wildflowers.
Although it is possible to reach Sunshine Meadows on foot along a 6.5-kilometre (four-mile) access road (allow two hours one way) from the Sunshine Village parking lot, the vast majority of visitors arrive via the shuttle bus described above. The bus service terminates at the top of the gondola (which only operates in winter only), from where the following trails lead through the meadows.
From the shuttle bus drop-off, head uphill on the gravel road and follow the signed trail off to the left. This wide trail ascends to the Continental Divide and crosses into British Columbiaís Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, from where magnificent views stretch across the vast Sunshine Meadows to the distant pyramid of Mount Assiniboine. From here itís a short downhill walk to the viewpoint overlooking Rock Isle Lake. In the early morning, the waters of this small lake are often a mirror reflecting its rocky island and shoreline, and there is a peacefulness and natural symmetry in the scene that has attracted artists and photographers for many decades.
Grizzly-Larix Lakes Loop
While the trip to the Rock Isle Lake and back can be completed in little more than an hour, most hikers extend their outing by descending to Grizzly and Larix Lakes. Continuing beyond Rock Isle Lake, the trail drops into alpine larch and fir and incredibly lush wildflower meadows. Soon, the trail splits to begin a 2.5-kilometre (1.6-mile) loop around both lakes. Keep left to reach Larix (the botanical name for larch), the largest of the two lakes. You follow the shoreline for nearly one kilometre (0.6 miles) before the trail veers left and contours along the top of towering cliffs overlooking the Simpson River Valley. It then descends gradually through an open forest of larch to shallow Grizzly Lake. From this lakeís inlet bridge, the trail climbs back to the loop split and returns to Rock Isle Lake.
Beyond Rock Isle Lake Viewpoint, the Grizzly-Larix Lakes Loop spurs left and this lofty trail heads uphill to the right. After a short climb, a 500-metre (0.3-mile) side-trail leads to a viewing platform near the top of Standish Ridge, from where there is an outstanding panorama of the Sunshine Meadows region. Wildflowers on this slope are exceptional throughout late July and early August. Back on the main trail, you climb gradually through an open meadow for nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) to a junction atop Wawa Ridge, from where the descent to Sunshine Village is 1.6 kilometres (one mile).
Strong hikers can easily complete both the Grizzly-Larix Lakes and the Twin Cairns-Meadow Park Loops in time to catch the last bus of the day back to the parking lot. Including the detour to Standish Ridge, this combination of trails is 10.6 kilometres (6.6 miles) and takes three to four hours without stops.
The trail to Citadel Pass is one of the most scenic trips from Sunshine Village, but due to its length usually less crowded than the trails described above. Starting from the 1.3-kilometre (0.8-mile) junction on the trail to Rock Isle Lake, it runs southeast along the Continental Divide, rolling up and down through the heart of the Sunshine Meadows. Highlights include wildflower meadows, which are justifiably renowned as some of the finest in Banff National Park, and frequent vistas of the rugged peaks of British Columbia to the south and west. Since the trip is long and the last shuttle bus of the day leaves in the late afternoon, many hikers only go as far as Quartz Ridge (5.2 kilometres/3.2 miles from Sunshine Village; allow 90 minutes one way), the highest point on the trail and a good viewpoint for the southern reaches of the meadows.
Content from 50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park
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