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 kilometre 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 kilometres 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.
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 kilometre 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.
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 kilometre 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 kilometres one way. It took only about 90 minutes to reach our lunch spot and turnaround point.
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 kilometres 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.
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.
The hike back to the parking lot
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 kilometres. And we saved $80, as it’s an expensive $16 per person each way on the bus.
Have you managed to see the wildflowers at their peak in Sunshine Meadows?