Sundance Trail to Sundance Canyon in Banff

Author: Celine Brewer

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As locals to the Bow Valley, we often shy away from doing the touristy things. I expect this is true for anyone who lives in a place as popular as Banff National Park. Yet, each time we have been on the Sundance Trail to the Sundance Canyon hike in Banff, we are pleasantly surprised.

If you read reviews online of this popular thing to do in Banff, you might read things like “boring trail” or “very touristy thing to do in Banff”. However, you’re also likely to read “beautiful views over the Bow River” or “great hike through the canyon”. We disagree with the naysayers – we think the incredible scenery at the end qualifies it as one of the best hikes in Banff.

Mountain Reflections on Bow River on Sundance Canyon Hiking Trail Banff

It’s true, a paved pathway meandering through the forest doesn’t make for the most exciting hike and while it might seem touristy, we are certain you’ll still love this easy Banff hike.

We highly recommend biking the Sundance Trail instead. It offers the same views, but it’s a fun and easy bike trail in Banff. With bikes locked up at the mouth of the canyon, hikers of all ages will enjoy the beauty of this trail through a water-filled canyon.

wooden bridge over Sundance Creek Banff

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Sundance Canyon Hike Highlights

Sundance Trail Bike or Hike

The Sundance Canyon Trail begins at the historic Cave & Basin site, where Banff National Park was born. Be sure to visit this historic site and to read the many interpretive signs around the property either before or after you hike Sundance Canyon.

Cave and Basin Historic Site in Banff National Park

The paved Sundance trail begins just beyond the Cave & Basin building. You’ll pass a few picnic tables on the right next, which also has an entrance down to the boardwalks.

A short distance later, you’ll pass the National Internment Exhibit. This permanent exhibit recognizes Canada’s role in the WW1 internment operations.

Paved Sundance Trail past National Internment Exhibit at Cave and Basin Banff

After the Internment Exhibit, you leave the Cave & Basin historic site behind. If you took our advice and are biking the Sundance Trail, the cycling is easy at this stage as the paved biking trail descends gradually towards the Bow River. It’s a long, gentle downhill where cyclists don’t need to pedal at all. Enjoy this fun ride down as you’ll be pedaling back up it on the way back to the car.

The trail eventually flattens out and the Sundance Trail begins a beautiful stretch along the shores of the Bow River. This is one of the most scenic spots on an easy Banff bike ride anywhere in the park. The river is tranquil and glass-like, while mountains loom large in the distance.

paved Sundance Trail in Banff

All too soon, the paved Sundance trail turns inland away from the river and begins a slow, steady ascent through the forest to the Sundance Canyon hiking trail. The uphill portion of this bike ride is around 1 km long, but is gentle enough that most should be capable of it.

Just short of the 4 km mark of this easy Banff hike (or bike), the trail reaches the shores of Sundance Creek. There’s a small picnic area here with a shelter and a few picnic tables. A little further up the trail from the picnic area are toilets.

toilets on Sundance Canyon hike Banff

About 1 minute past the toilets, you’ll arrive at a large clearing where you can lock your bikes on the bike rack. There are a few spots you can walk down to the edge of Sundance Creek before you begin the short, spectacular Sundance Canyon hike.

Sundance Canyon Hiking Trail

The Sundance Canyon hike feels like a more rugged alternative to the Johnston Canyon hike.

If you’ve ridden a bike to Sundance Canyon, lock up your bike and enter the lush forest on foot. No bikes are allowed past this point.

The trail passes an informative Parks Canada trail plaque, before crossing the Sundance Creek on a wooden bridge.

Entering Sundance Canyon Banff

The next leg of the Sundance Canyon hike is truly spectacular. The trail ascends a relatively steep trail where Sundance Creek violently rages its way through Sundance Canyon. With a beautiful cascading waterfall, followed by dramatic rapids, below a towering canyon wall, this is one of the most scenic spots in all of Banff National Park.

Sundance Canyon Hiking Trail in Banff National Park

The hiking trail is steep along this portion of the Sundance Canyon hike, but it’s short. Hikers will traverse rock steps and are treated to a walk across a bridge at the top of the Sundance Canyon waterfall.

stairs along Sundance Canyon Banff Hike

Many hikers will stop, admire the incredible scenery then turn back, but we recommend continuing upstream through Sundance Canyon.

The Sundance Canyon hike continues to follow the rapidly flowing waters and waterfalls of Sundance Creek. There are several creek crossing over small wooden bridges.

Looking down on bridge in Sundance Canyon Banff

With the humidity from Sundance Creek, the forest surrounding the hiking trail is very lush, with vibrant green moss carpet and loads of lichen hanging from the evergreen trees.

Sundance Canyon Loop - Easy Banff Hike

There are a few small streams which flow across the hiking trail into Sundance Creek, so you may need to hop from rock-to-rock in a few spots. Be sure to wear water resistant hiking shoes just in case.

After around 1 km of hiking in the Canyon, you’ll reach a trail junction. Make a sharp right into the forest to return back to the Sundance Canyon trailhead.

The remainder of the Sundance Canyon loop is through a beautiful forest. If you’d prefer to stay along Sundance Creek, you could skip the remainder of the loop and simply backtrack the way you came. But we enjoy easy walks through beautiful forests, so we always hike the full Sundance Canyon loop hike.

Around the halfway point back to the trailhead, the Sundance Canyon hike arrives at the first of many safety fences. Take a moment to look through the trees at beautiful views of Mt. Norquay, Mt. Edith and Mt. Cory in the distance.

Views from Sundance Canyon Loop hike in Banff

From here, the Sundance Canyon trail enjoyably winds its way down a small valley to the trailhead, where you can return the same way back to the Cave & Basin.

Mountain reflection in Bow River along Marsh Loop Banff

Approximately 1 km before reaching the Cave & Basin, there’s the option to return on the Marsh Loop. This is not a paved trail, but offers some spectacular views. This junction will be a left turn when heading towards the Cave & Basin.

Mountain Views on Marsh Loop near Cave and Basin in Banff

Read More

Sundance Canyon made the list. Now see the rest of our favorite hikes in the Banff Townsite.

Sundance Canyon Hike Directions (or Location)

How do you get to Sundance Canyon?

The Sundance Canyon trailhead can be reached by biking or walking 2 km from downtown Banff. From Banff Avenue, cross the Bow River Bridge and turn west (right) to the parking lot. Alternatively, the Roam Route 4 takes visitors to the Cave and Basin.

The Sundance Canyon Trail begins behind the Cave and Basin Historic Site.

Sundance Canyon trailhead in Banff National Park

Sundance Canyon Trail Statistics

How Long is Sundance Canyon Trail?

While Parks Canada has the Sundance Trail at 3.7 km followed by a 1.6 km Sundance Canyon hike, we tracked the paved Sundance Trail to be 4 km in length and the Sundance Canyon Loop trail an additional 2 km.

If you plan to hike the Sundance Canyon trail from the Cave and Basin, you are looking at 10 km round trip. If you bike Sundance Canyon, you’ll have 8 km of biking and 2 km of hiking.

Sundance Canyon Trail in Banff

How Steep is the Sundance Canyon Trail?

The Sundance Trail has a very gradual climb after leaving the river. The first half of the Sundance Canyon has some stairs to climb that help with the elevation. This portion is short and manageable.

Sundance Canyon Banff Easy hike

How Hard is the Sundance Hiking Trail?

While this is an easy Banff hike given the paved trail for the majority of it, it is a moderate distance of 10 km. The Sundance Canyon portion has some steep steps and possibly rocks to hop over, so it does become slightly more difficult.

Overall, we’d rate this as a long but very easy hike especially if the first portion is done by bike.

paved trail to Sundance Canyon Banff

How Long does the Sundance Hike Take?

It took us just over 2.5 hours to complete the Sundance Canyon trail. This time was with kids (as young as 5 years old) biking and includes stopping for lunch. So pack plenty of snacks and water if planning this hike when visiting Banff with kids.

To walk this distance, we’d expect it to take around 3 hours walking at an adult pace.

Hike Sundance Canyon Banff

Sundance Canyon Trail Map

The trail to the Sundance Canyon is well marked and easy to follow. There’s one trail junction along the Sundance Canyon loop trail where you’ll want to make a right into the forest. This part is not marked, though it happens about 1 km into the canyon and about 300 m after the Sundance Canyon Trail veers away from the creek.

You may have some cell service along the way, but it’s always a good idea to download the trail map onto your phone ahead of time just in case.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Hiking to the Sundance Canyon with Kids

The Sundance Canyon trail is a kid-friendly hike in Banff. While kids may not enjoy the long walk along the paved trail, bikes or a scooter are an excellent alternative. This portion of the trail is also a stroller friendly hike in Banff, although you would need to park the stroller and use a baby carrier to complete the Sundance Canyon hike portion.

Sundance Canyon Trail - Easy bike trails in Banff

While there are some steep portions in the canyon, small kids will need some help and there are some drop offs so hold hands with little ones. We first took our kids on this trail when they were 4 and 6 years old. While our son struggled a bit on the bike ride, he had no issues climbing up through the canyon.

biking with kids to Sundance Canyon Banff

Kids on bikes with gears should have no issue with biking this portion of the trail. Kids on bikes without gears may need a break or a little help along the way.

Just keep in mind that this is a multi-use trail and bear encounters are not uncommon. Keep your kids nearby at all times and make sure they know trail etiquette.

Sundance Canyon easy hike in Banff National Park

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

There really isn’t any great spot to stop in Sundance Canyon for lunch or a break. The clearing at the Sundance Canyon trailhead has a couple of picnic tables in the trees. Alternatively, there are picnic tables along the paved trail and at the Cave and Basin site, making either a good place for a picnic. If it’s not lunch time, plan on one of these best picnic areas in Banff for more spectacular scenery..

Sundance Canyon Hiking Safety Tips

The Sundance Trail is a multi-use trail, meaning you will encounter hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Make room for everyone on the trail.

The Sundance Canyon area is prime wildlife habitat. Even though this trail leaves from the town of Banff, seeing a bear is still possible.

Bear in Banff National Park
A bear near Sundance Canyon in July 2020

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

Sundance Canyon Trail Logistics

Cave & Basin Facilities

The area around the Cave and Basin has picnic tables for a picnic lunch after the hike. There are also bike racks and toilets can be found behind the Cave and Basin building.

bike racks at Cave and Basin Historic site Banff

Sundance Canyon Facilities

As you near the clearing before the entrance to the canyon, you’ll find both a picnic area and toilets on the right.

There’s also a bike rack immediately before the Sundance Canyon trailhead for locking up bikes.

What to Bring for Hiking the Sundance Trail to Sundance Canyon

Check out our list of essential Banff hiking gear with everything we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable weather and trail conditions. For the Sundance Canyon portion, a bike lock and bug spray are two other essentials we pack.

Always bring bear spray and carry your bear spray in an easily accessible place.

hiking Sundance Canyon Trail with kids

Sundance Canyon Hike in Winter

In the winter, the Sundance Canyon Trail from the Cave and Basin can be hiked, snowshoed or cross-country skied. To do the Sundance Canyon loop in the winter, we recommend you bring winter traction devices (such as snowshoes and/or micro spikes).

Another fun option is to fat bike in Banff from Healy Creek to the Sundance Canyon. The Healy Creek trail starts along the Sunshine road and comes to Sundance Canyon from the other direction.

Banff Fat Bike Trail - Healy Creek

We attempted the canyon portion in the winter, but forgot to pack our Kahtoola MICROspikes so we didn’t get very far before turning around.

Sundance Canyon in Winter

Avalanche Risk

We are not avalanche experts, so please educate yourself and make smart, informed decisions while safely enjoying the beauty of the Sundance Canyon in winter. You are responsible for your own safety.

We recommend consulting the Banff Avalanche Danger Report published by Avalanche Canada before you go.

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Don't miss the beautiful Sundance Canyon Trail in Banff National Park. Whether you decide to walk or bike the Sundance Trail, you'll be in awe of the mountain views and the water-filled canyon. This easy hike is perfect for visiting Banff with kids.

Celine Brewer - Travel Banff Canada

Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.