Hiking in Sunshine Meadows

sunshine meadows_sceneryOur 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 and it was named one of the Top 10 Summer Attractions in 2005 by Where Magazine.

Wanting to impress my German visitors,  I choose Sunshine Meadows.Well, that and because I had been there before and knew firsthand that it lived up to all the hype.
Lake with mountain in backgroundLocated at an elevation of 2220m, and enclosed by some of Banff’s highest peaks, the views are breathtaking.  As if that wasn’t enough, Sunshine Meadows is also an excellent place for wildflower and wildlife viewing.

While we didn’t see any wildlife at Sunshine Meadows the day we were there, the habitat is ideal grizzly habitat and 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.

Wildflowers, however, did make a continuous appearance in Sunshine Meadows with 26 different wildflowers in bloom.

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.
Big horn sheep seen driving to Sunshine MeadowsSunshine Meadows is located in the Sunshine Village ski resort.  While it is possible to walk the 5km, 500 m elevation gain up a dusty road, the preferred option is to take the shuttle bus, which leaves every hour from Tuesday to Thursday, costing $35 for adults and $19 for children.

You can also get there in a gondola from Friday to Monday and costs costing $42 for adults and $21 for children.

The price is well worth it.  It’s one of only a few places in the Canadian Rockies where visitors can experience these types of 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.

In total there is 5km of hiking to reach all three lakes.  It’s this accessibility that makes Sunshine Meadows so popular with families and such a popular hiking destination.

Those seeking a more challenging adventure can hike the entire ~10km trail system, with more elevation to Standish Viewpoint, or use it as a starting point for a variety of trails including the 29km trail to Mt. Assiniboine.

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 and disperse within ten minutes or so.

Breathtaking view overlooking a valley in the Canadian Rockies
Just one of the many breathtaking views you can find at Sunshine Meadows

Perhaps the best endorsement came from my German guests. As we made a rest stop along 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 trail, 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 face.

Walking in Sunshine Meadows
At 69 years old H.P. shows off his balancing skills on one section of the trail.

Note:  Reservations are not required, but are recommended and can be made online.  There is also food available, including a BBQ over lunch.

 

Disclaimer:  Sunshine Meadows provided me 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.

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About Author

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Laurel
Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.

Comments

August 5, 2011
Stunning! How could you not have a great time at Sunshine Meadows. Cool fun fact that you can have one foot in BC and one in AB!
August 5, 2011
Looks amazing. Banff is truly a special place.
August 6, 2011
Looks absolutely beautiful.
August 8, 2011
Good to see you back in the Canadian hills. Just returned from a week of perfect hiking weather in Waterton Lakes National Park. Looking forward to wandering in Yosemite in September. Take care. All the best.
August 8, 2011
The scenery is so different to the ones I'm used to! Canada is great for that, we have just about everything but white-sand beach (and great beach weather) :-) Hope your Canadian trip is going well!
August 9, 2011
I didn't realize that JP's father was with you guys in Canada -- very nice! You really know your way around Banff, don't you? Sunshine Meadows looks like another great spot there. I love how the sheep look like they're smiling. Very cute.
Laurel
August 9, 2011
@Christina - I agree, it's such a happy place! @Kris- Agreed, Banff is one of my favorite places in the world. @Mette - And the pictures don't even begin to do it justice. @Barry - It's so nice to be back in the mountains. Glad to hear that you're doing so much hiking. @Zhu - You are truly missing out if you haven't been to Banff yet :) @Cathy - We were so happy that J.P's father was able to join us and are having fun showing him around. I guess after spending virtually every weekend in the area for years, I'm a decent tour guide :)
Raymond @ Man On The Lam
August 9, 2011
Living in Calgary, I love this area too!
August 9, 2011
Wow - that second last photo is unbelievable. What a vast landscape!!
August 9, 2011
Bighorn sheep! Haha, I just wrote about my obsession with them. The views look amazing. I would love to check it out someday.
August 9, 2011
Incredible views for moderate effort... Like!
August 9, 2011
I am constantly amazed by the wildlife in Canada, I can see how this would be top rated in Lonely Planet.
August 9, 2011
Another reason I need to make it to Canada! Banff has been on my list and I really can't wait to go. It looks so beautiful.
Kathleen Bowyer
August 9, 2011
Did Sunshine Meadows 2 weeks ago, it is very beautiful and quite an easy hike so anyone can enjoy. Just did 16 k hike at Lake Louise, it is a more difficult hike if you want to reach the top but the effert is worth it, found that it is one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. But I have to put Waterton Lakes National Park no. 1, so beautiful, different hikes for different level of fitness and experience. They say it's the least travelled of Alberta's and quite possibly the most spectacular....I agree!
Kikicat
August 9, 2011
Great shots as usual. Did you see any signs of bears?
Christy @ Technosyncratic
August 10, 2011
Stunning place -- looks like a wonderful location for a moderate hike with gorgeous views. :)
Grace
August 11, 2011
Really lovely views and I almost think that you won't get as tired since they are almost refreshing. I also like the glimpse of the wild life.
Laurel
January 25, 2012
Thanks for your comments everyone. Yes it is stunning and truly deserving to be on Lonely Planet's list. No bears, but we were happy with the big horn sheep and all the marmots.
September 6, 2012
[...] Hiking in Sunshine Meadows – Monkeys and MountainsAug 5, 2011 … Sunshine Meadows lives up to its hype of being the #1 hike in Canada. [...]
Rinjani Hikking
April 18, 2016
What an amazing adventure, you have the heart of adventure with those gorgeous views

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