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.
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.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Sundance Canyon – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t let this scare you off. Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are low, but you never know what will happen with wildlife, so be educated and prepared.
We recommend you check the latest trail reports for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
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.
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 hiking gear with everything we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff 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.
Sundance Canyon Footwear Recommendation
The Sundance Canyon trail is paved and easy the entire way. Unless you are doing the Sundance Canyon hike in winter, you won’t need any special hiking shoes for this hike.
If you plan to do a lot of Kananaskis or Banff hiking during your visit, you’ll need a proper pair of hiking shoes.
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, either snowshoes and/or micro spikes will be required.
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.
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.
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.
Other Easy Banff Hikes
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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.