Banff National Park

By Mike Potter

With wide alpine expanses and colorful wildflower displays, the Sunshine Meadows are very attractive for day hiking. A recent August visit to that area not far from Banff townsite was with my Danish partner and her mother.

Bodil, Birgit, and I take a shuttle bus up to the base of the Sunshine downhill ski area, then set out for Rock Isle Lake. Almost immediately we are walking among subalpine larches, a high elevation tree species that is coniferous but not evergreen. Their fresh green color is new from spring, for every autumn the soft needles turn golden and fall off.

Soon the three of us arrive in the open meadows that the area is famed for, and get our first views of Mt. Assiniboine. This signature landmark, whose elevation is an impressive 3,618 meters, rises head-and-shoulders above its satellites. With steep sides and a snowy crown, it is a magnet for the eyes even with the spectacular scenes all round.

A well-maintained trail leads to Rock Isle Lake, which indeed sports a rocky islet. A loop takes us onward to Larix and Grizzly lakes: The first name refers to the larch trees, the second obviously to the bears. (Although we don't see any this time, they are around.) These two small lakes on a high bench present a quiet intimacy, offering wonderful spots to relax and absorb the myriad inputs to the senses.

The highlight of Sunshine Meadows is the wildflowers, which, at their peak in July and August, carpet the ground. The species in bloom though the season include moss campion, glacier lily, purple saxifrage, white mountain heather, and alpine forget-me-not. Golden eagles fly overhead looking for forgetful creatures among the many ground squirrels that call this area home, feeding on the smorgasbord of luxuriant vegetation.

Our trio then heads for Standish viewpoint, which gives a sweeping panorama down to the lakes and over seemingly endless meadows. Then we take the Meadow Park trail back to the start to complete a rewarding ramble in the Rockies.

Two other great day hikes in Banff National Park: To the Plain of Six Glaciers near Lake Louise, which features a 1920s teahouse, and to Parker Ridge at the north end of the park, from which lies revealed the mighty Saskatchewan Glacier.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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