Our expectations were high for Sunshine Meadows, located in Banff National Park. The Lonely Planet has rated it as the #1 hike in Canada in their guidebook, Discover Canada.
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And it was named one of the Top 10 Summer Attractions in 2005 by Where Magazine. Wanting to impress my German visitors, I choose the Sunshine Meadows hike in Banff. Well, that and because I had been there before and knew firsthand that it lived up to all the hype.
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Where is Sunshine Meadows?
Located at an elevation of 2220m, and enclosed by some of Banff’s highest peaks, the alpine views are breathtaking. As if that wasn’t enough, Banff Sunshine Meadows is also an excellent place to see fields of wildflowers and wildlife viewing.
The Sunshine Meadows hike gives you a spectacular view of the highest peak in the area, Mt. Assiniboine. Located only about 18km away from Banff, Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park also offers fantastic views.
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What Can You See at Sunshine Meadows?
While we didn’t see any wildlife at Sunshine Meadows the day we were there, the alpine meadow is ideal grizzly habitat. Richard’s ground squirrels provided ongoing entertainment with their brave antics of approaching us for food, which we lawfully declined despite their cuteness (it’s illegal to feed wildlife in a national park).
As we were approaching Sunshine Village we did see a small herd of bighorn sheep on the road both on the way there and the way back, which delighted my German guests. Not too shabby of a wildlife sighting for a visitor’s first day in Banff National Park.
The lush wildflower meadows, however, did make a continuous appearance on the Sunshine Meadows hike. The array of wildflowers is just amazing, 26 different wildflowers in bloom to be exact! It makes you feel like walking on a carpet of wildflowers. This could easily be a fun family hike for sure!
Geography lovers will be interested to know that Sunshine Meadows is on the Continental Divide and it’s possible to have one foot in the province of Alberta and the other one in the province of British Columbia.
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The Sunshine Meadows Hikes
Sunshine Meadows is located in the Sunshine Village ski resort. While it is possible to walk the 5km, 500 meters in elevation gain up a dusty road. The preferred option is to take the shuttle bus to the hiking trail. The shuttle leaves every hour from Tuesday to Thursday, costing $35 for adults and $19 for children.
You can also get there on a gondola ride from Friday to Monday which costs costing $42 for adults and $21 for children.
Although the Banff Sunshine Village Gondola is a more expensive option, the price is well worth it. It’s one of only a few places in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where visitors can experience these types of incredible views for such minimal effort.
Two of my guests weren’t hikers but they were still capable of hiking the small hill (~100m elevation gain) at the beginning of the hike. A bit of elevation was nothing compared to the 360-degree views on top
In total there is 5km of hiking to reach all three lovely lakes – Rock Lake, Grizzly Lakes, and Larix Lakes. It’s this accessibility that makes Sunshine Meadows so popular with families and such a popular hiking destination in Banff. Great for day hikes on a lovely path to enjoying lake views with friendly people!
Those seeking a more challenging adventure can hike the entire ~10km trail system, with more elevation to the Standish Viewing deck, or use it as a starting point for a variety of trails including the 29km trail to Mt. Assiniboine.
A couple people said they saw bears but we were only lucky enough to spot Colombian ground squirrels while at Larix lake, so that was another highlight for us. I wanted to bring them to Lake O’Hara, Helen Lake, and Moraine Lake too but I think we wouldn’t be able to go any further.
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Why I Love This Hike So Much
See Sunshine Meadows Trail Map for details. Few trails offer such diverse hiking opportunities as this incredible place. It should be noted that while you certainly won’t have the trail to yourself, it doesn’t feel crowded either after the initial burst of hikers are let off the bus ride and disperse within ten minutes or so.
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Perhaps the best endorsement came from my German guests who are such incredible people. As we made a rest stop along with one of the many benches found along the trail system in Sunshine Meadows, I told them if they were tired we could turn around.
Both of them shook their heads vehemently. Despite being tired, neither of them considered not finishing the Sunshine Meadows hike, afraid of the scenery they would miss should they consider such a thing. At the end of the day, they were both exhausted but had huge grins on their faces.
Note: Reservations are not required, but are recommended and can be made online. There is also food available, including a BBQ over lunch while taking in all the stunning views around.
Note: Reservations are not required, but are recommended and can be made online. There is also food available, including a BBQ over lunch.
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Where to Stay in Banff
Top Pick: Fairmont Banff Springs
Fairmont Banff Springs was built in 1888 and is styled after a Scottish Baronial castle near Sunshine Meadows. The beautiful hotel has a lap pool and a heated pool. The building offers a selection of 11 restaurants and 14 shops as well as lots of outdoor activities including horseback riding. There is a shuttle service that takes you to Sunshine Village.
Top Pick: Canalta Lodge
Canalta Lodge has an onsite coffee shop that serves a complimentary breakfast in the morning and great coffee. The rooms offer private bathrooms and are spacious and comfortable. The hotel is this brown cabin-like exterior that exudes Canadian charm. It’s the perfect place to stay while exploring the Sunshine Meadows hike.
Top Pick: Mount Royal Hotel
Mount Royal Hotel is modern and includes a hot tub and sauna onsite. Rooms come equipped with coffee makers and desks. There is storage available onsite for skiing equipment and luggage.
Sunshine Meadows is the perfect place to hike and relax, with some of the best views in the area.
Disclaimer: Sunshine Meadows provided me with a complimentary ticket, but all views and opinions expressed are my own. I have also hiked it before on my own dime and returned because I liked it so much.