Sunshine Meadows Hike in Banff National Park

Author: Dan Brewer

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Banff National Park is full of amazing hiking areas, but without question, one of our favorites is a visit to Sunshine Meadows. Located in the Sunshine Village ski resort, the summer hiking trails at Sunshine Meadows rank among some of the best hikes in Banff National Park.

Sunshine Meadows is such a popular summer attraction in Banff because it has an excellent scenery-to-effort ratio. You’ll enjoy an abundance of world-class views of the Canadian Rockies without too much effort. As a bonus, it’s one of the most spectacular places to see alpine wildflowers in all of Banff.

view of Rock Isle Lake from the Rock Isle Lake Viewpoint at Banff's Sunshine Meadows

Granted, it’s not exactly cheap to go hiking at Sunshine Meadows in summer, but we return year after year because it’s such a special place. Between the wildflowers and the incredible mountain views, we simply love taking the sightseeing gondola to go hiking at Sunshine Meadows.

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Sunshine Village Summer Sightseeing Gondola

As long-time downhill skiers at Sunshine Village, we really enjoy the opportunity to take the gondola to the village without all of our skiing gear. It’s a 20+ minute gondola ride to the village at the top, so settle in and enjoy the surrounding mountain views.

Gondola at Sunshine Village up to Sunshine Meadows hiking trails

As the Sunshine Village Gondola takes you from an elevation of 1,670 m to 2,170 m, keep your eyes peeled on the openings in the forest for wildlife such as bears and deer. Before you visit, get expert tips on how to spot wildlife in Banff.

Interpretive Centre

Before hitting the hiking trails, take a few moments to visit the small, but informative Sunshine Meadows interpretive centre. Here you’ll learn a lot of interesting facts about the Banff flora and fauna found in the areas. Especially interesting are the molds of animal tracks and the scat displays.

Interpretive Centre at Sunshine Village in Banff

If you are visiting Sunshine Meadows with kids, be sure to pick up a scavenger hunt kit from the interpretive centre. It will help your kids learn more about the area and will keep them interested and motivated during your family hikes.

One thing I loved about visiting the Sunshine Meadows Interpretive Centre was the chance to practice using bear spray. As funny as it sounds, I’ve owned and carried bear spray with me for decades and (thankfully) have never needed to use it. I’ve never had the opportunity to practice with an empty bear spray bottle. I highly recommend you swing by the interpretive centre and give it a try.

7 Sunshine Meadows Hiking Trails

There are many excellent hiking trails at Sunshine Meadows which visitors can combine according to their interests and hiking capabilities. There are hiking trails at Sunshine Meadows for every skill level.

The route we describe below is a nearly complete circuit of the Sunshine Meadows hiking trails. Over 11 km of hiking, you’ll visit every important viewpoint and natural attraction within the beautiful alpine meadows.

You can follow along by looking at the Sunshine Meadows trail map.

blue wildflowers in Banff National Park at Sunshine Meadows

1. Standish Viewing Deck Loop Trail

Your amazing day of Banff hiking will begin by taking the Standish Express Chairlift from the village to the top. If you’ve been skiing here before, watch for Dell Valley (one of our favorite easy ski runs at Sunshine Village) on the left-hand side.

Sunshine Village's Standish Chairlift

We were lucky enough to spot a tiny little pika (the cutest animal you’ll ever see!) in the rocks near the top of the Standish chairlift. Once you are off the Standish chairlift, you’ll get your first glimpse of the views of the Canadian Rockies you came here for. Just wait – they get even better shortly.

The Standish Viewing Deck Loop Trail begins straight ahead off the Standish chairlift. The walking trail begins as a slight downhill with a highly groomed crushed gravel surface, making this trail accessible for almost all visitors to Sunshine Meadows.

Sunshine Meadows hiking trail from Standish Chairlift to the Standish Viewing Deck

As you walk through a field of alpine wildflowers and small larch trees, you’ll cross the Continental Divide (and therefore from Alberta into British Columbia) as you walk toward the Standish Viewing Deck. The views of the Rocky Mountains that you’ll enjoy from the multi-level Standish Viewing Deck are some of the best views available anywhere in Banff National Park.

Standish Viewing Deck at Banff's Sunshine Meadows

In addition to the seeming never-ending views of mountain peaks (which includes the iconic Mount Assiniboine), you can also enjoy views of the three mountain lakes found within Sunshine Meadows. This might be one of the best viewpoints in Banff National Park that’s easy to get to!

view from Standish Viewing Deck of three lakes in Banff

Some of our other favorite viewpoints in Banff National Park include the Banff Gondola, the Lake Louise Summer Gondola, and the Aylmer Lookout hiking trail.

2. Standish Viewing Deck to Rock Isle Lake Junction

Rather than complete the loop and return to the Standish Chairlift, we left the lower deck of the observation deck to join the trail to Rock Isle Lake Junction. This trail is also crushed gravel, but it’s noticeably steeper downhill. Hikers with balance concerns or tricky knees may wish to bring hiking poles for added support and stability. There’s a series of benches to stop, rest and enjoy the views.

Wildflowers along Sunshine Meadows hiking trail

The trails are surrounded by alpine wildflowers, evergreen trees and larch trees. On our most recent visit to go hiking at Sunshine Meadows in late August, most of the wildflowers had gone to seed, but we were lucky enough to see three gentle deer eating leaves just a few feet off the trail.

deer in meadow at Sunshine Meadows

A few hundred meters after leaving the Standish viewpoint, you’ll reach the Twin Cairns Junction. We’ll be back at this trail junction later, but for now go left to continue on to the Rock Isle Lake Junction.

red leaves of fireweed at Sunshine Meadows in Banff

3. Rock Isle Road Trail

Approximately 400 m later, you’ll arrive at the Rock Isle Junction. If you turn right here, you’ll hike toward the Grizzly / Laryx Loop. But, seeing how we are visiting all the major viewpoints within Sunshine Meadows, continue straight to the Rock Isle Viewpoint.

Rock Isle Lake Viewpoint at Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park

It only takes a few minutes of walking to reach the Rock Isle Viewpoint, and to be honest, the views of this Banff lake are amazing the entire way. You’ll also pass an outhouse in case you need to get rid of some of your pre-hike coffee.

mountain lake with rock island at Sunshine Meadows called Rock Isle Lake

You’ll cross a little bridge to reach the Rock Isle Viewpoint, where you’ll find lots of park benches and several interpretive signs. I’ll never forget this spot as it is where I spotted my first wild fox in Banff National Park. (I’ve since seen them at Minnewanka Lake).

You can continue along Rock Isle Road back to the Sunshine Village Gondola station. It’s the easiest way back to the village, but in our opinion, it’s the least scenic.

Rock Isle Road hiking trail at Sunshine meadows

Rather, we recommend you turn back towards the Rock Isle Junction and continue your hike around the Grizzly Lake and Laryx Lake Loop.

4. Rock Isle Junction to Grizzly / Laryx Junction

Getting confused with all the trail junctions? Don’t worry – as long as you have your Sunshine Meadows hiking guide in hand (available for free at the ticket counter and the interpretive centre), you’ll do just fine. There is abundant trail signage within Sunshine Meadows, making it nearly impossible to get lost.

As you start hiking towards the Grizzly / Laryx Junction, the trail starts to become a non-groomed real hiking trail, but it’s still in good shape. As with everywhere in Sunshine Meadows, the sheer amount of alpine meadow wild flowers is astounding.

yellow wildflowers at sunshine meadows in Banff National Park

From the scenic bench along the trail, you can really appreciate how clear the water is within Rock Isle Lake. If you can peel your eyes of Rock Isle Lake, you can also see the tops of the Angel Express Chairlift, the Tee Pee Town LX Chairlift and the Great Divide Chairlift on Brewster Rock.

Rock Isle Lake at Sunshine Meadows as seen from Standish Viewing Deck

As you leave the shores of Rock Isle Lake, watch for a short wooden boardwalk on the right to a small, but pleasing waterfall. You’ll enjoy nice views of The Monarch (2,904 m) and Mount Shanks (2,838 m) in the distance.

Beyond the boardwalk, the trail descends into one of the largest larch stands within the Sunshine Meadows hiking area. Sunshine Meadows is often mentioned as one of the best places to see golden larch trees in Alberta, but the gondola often closes for the season before the larch needles turn. You can hike or bike up the access road if you’d like this experience.

mother with two kids on hiking trail at Sunshine Meadows

5. Grizzly / Laryx Loop

After 2.8 km of hiking, you’ll reach the trailhead for the Grizzly / Laryx Loop. This trail is one-way – follow the sign to the trail on the right. (There’s another outhouse found here as well).

The hiking trail continues its downhill trend as it crosses a bridge over a beautiful stream before entering a meadow. The trail follows the stream for a bit, providing a tranquil soundtrack to an already very enjoyable hike.

Before long, the hiking trail reaches the shores of Grizzly Lake, where you’ll find a long bench to stop and soak in the views. We stopped here for a quick lunch break, admiring the crystal clear water.

Grizzly Lake at Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park

The trail between Grizzly Lake and Laryx Lake is along a berm next to a river bed. The river bed provides an opening for mountain views, but otherwise the trail is surrounded by evergreens, larches and (of course), wild flowers. As you walk across a wooden boardwalk, look into the forest on the left for the ‘Surprised Tree’.

pink paintbrush wildflowers at Banff National Park's Sunshine Meadows

Watch for the Simpson Viewpoint on your right, where you’ll be treated to amazing vistas of the Canadian Rockies, including the impressive Monarch.

Simpson Viewpoint

Beyond the Simpson Viewpoint, it’s a short walk through the forest until you get your first glimpse of the larger Laryx Lake. In short order, you’ll be hiking along the south and east shores of Laryx Lake, getting an up-close view of the startling clarity of the water.

trail between Grizzly and Laryx Lake

You’ll alternate between hiking trail and wooden boardwalks along the lakeshore. Perhaps walk quickly through the patch of cow parsnip (a favorite food of grizzly bears!)

Sunshine Meadows Laryx Lake

The Laryx Rest Area is found on a peninsula on the eastern shore of the lake. There are many benches with excellent views of Laryx Lake and The Monarch across the water. A pleasant walk through an open meadow, followed by a forest walk and you’ll find yourself back at the beginning of the Grizzly / Laryx Loop.

6. Grizzly Laryx Junction to Twin Cairns Junction

From here, you’ll need to backtrack for 1.3 km back to the trail junction just below the Standish Viewing Deck. This leg of the hike is mostly uphill, but it’s never overly strenuous.

If you don’t have the time to continue on to the Monarch Lookout Trail, you can head back to the Standish Chairlift and take it back down the village.

7. Twin Cairns to Monarch Lookout Trail

Congratulations! Once you pass the Twin Cairns Junction and hike towards the Monarch Viewpoint, your uphill climbing is largely over for the day. I trust you’ll find the 130 m elevation gain wasn’t that bad.

The Twin Cairns to Monarch Lookout Trail is very flat through a sparsely treed, yet rocky alpine meadow. It can get a bit windy up here, which would explain the stunted growth of the trees. Wildflowers are still abundant though. Without trees, the views of The Monarch and the Twin Cairns to your left are very nice.

Alpine meadow with Sunshine Meadows hiking trail to Monarch Viewpoint

With so much open space, this meadow feels like a good space to see a bear. Keep your eyes peeled for any sign of movement in the alpine meadows between the trail and the mountains. We haven’t seen any bears here yet, but we did see a couple of buck deer resting under a shady rock.

deer resting on rocks in Banff NP

Just 700 m beyond the last junction, you’ll cross back into Alberta from BC. You’ll enjoy nice views of Wawa Ridge (2,384 m) and Mount Bourgeau (2,930 m) in front of you. You’ll also be able to see the Goats Eye chairlift on Eagle Mountain (2,820 m) to your right. And while you’re at it, take a moment to look behind you as the layered mountains in the distance are pretty special.

Sunshine Meadows hiking trail with mountain backdrop

About 2.2 km after the Twin Cairns Junction, you’ll arrive at another junction. Go left for a short, slightly uphill walk to the Monarch Viewpoint. (You can also access many other hiking trails from the Monarch Viewpoint including Simpson Pass, the Healy Pass Trail and Egypt Lake).

From the Monarch Viewpoint, you’ll (not surprisingly) get an excellent view of the Monarch, and a seemingly endless number of Rocky Mountain peaks in the distance, several of which have glaciers on top.

View from Monarch Viewpoint at Sunshine Meadows

After returning to the junction, the trail back to Sunshine Village and the gondola station is a pleasant 1.5 km downhill hike. As you begin your descent, you’ll enjoy excellent views of Mount Howard Douglas (2,820 m) and Lookout Mountain (2,730 m) – the two peaks in-between the Great Divide chairlift and the Goat’s Eye chairlift.

The trail soon meets up with the Meadow Park ski run (another of our favorite easy ski runs at Sunshine Village). It’s a lot of fun to hike along the path of a ski trail you know so well, as it gives you a glimpse to the beauty that rests underneath the deep snow.

We like hiking Sunshine Meadows so much, we included it in our 1 Week Banff Itinerary for Hikers.

How to Get to Banff Sunshine Meadows

The lower gondola terminal is a 20 minute drive from the Town of Banff. Simply drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway and watch for the Sunshine Village turnoff. Easy!

Being one of the major ski resorts in Banff, Sunshine Village has a massive parking lot.

Get Directions to Sunshine Meadows

If you are traveling to Banff without a car, you can simply take the free Sunshine shuttle buses. These shuttle buses offer pickup at the Banff Caribou Lodge, Fox Hotel and Suites, High Country Inn, Ptarmigan Inn and the Brewster bus depot on Lynx Street.

This is one of our favorite hikes you can do in Banff without a car!

See the Banff Sunshine Meadows shuttle bus schedule.

girl hiking on trails at Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park

Hours and Open Dates

The dates that the Banff Sunshine Meadows sightseeing gondola are open vary from year-to-year, depending on the weather. For the 2023 summer season, the gondola is open from June 23 – September 10. Operating hours are from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

If you are visiting Banff in September and it’s after they close the sightseeing gondola, the only option is to walk or bike the access road.

Sunshine Meadows Tickets

Admission tickets for Banff Sunshine Meadows are roughly equal in cost to the Banff Gondola. 2023 pricing is as follows:

  • Adult (16+): $65
  • Senior (65+): $59
  • Family (2 Adults / 2 Youth): $159
  • Youth/Child (6-15): $32
  • Toddler (0-5): FREE

Summer season passes are also available.

fireweed with mountains in the background at Banff's Sunshine Meadows

Facilities at Sunshine Meadows

Retail Stores

No matter if you forgot sunscreen or bear spray, or simply want a souvenir of your visit, Sunshine has you covered. For your convenience, you’ll find well stocked retail stores at the bottom terminal and one up top next to the Interpretive Centre.

Base at Sunshine Village in Banff National Park

Dining Options

You won’t go hungry while visiting Sunshine Meadows! There are plenty of dining options available, both down below and up top. Visitors can choose from two coffee shops, the Mad Trappers Grill (a pub with bbq), Chimney Corner Fireside Dining (offering breakfast and dinner) and the Eagle’s Nest Canadian Bistro (open evenings for fine Canadian cuisine).

Stay at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge

If you are really looking to get away from it all, consider staying at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. As the only high alpine hotel in Banff National Park, your stay is virtually guaranteed to be special.

As one of the top attractions in Banff, it can get busy around Sunshine Village, but if you stay at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge you can enjoy the peace and solitude of this magnificent setting without the crowds.

You can never guarantee a wildlife sighting, but one fact is clear – the more people there are around, the less animals you are likely to see. Staying on the mountain gives you a chance to get up before the gondola opens. I can’t imagine many better wildlife viewing opportunities than this!

Before You Visit Sunshine Meadows

Before you head out, be sure to:

Rock Isle Lake at Sunshine Meadows in Banff NP

Good to Know about Sunshine Meadows

  • There is no smoking on the trails at Sunshine Meadows.

  • Dogs are not allowed on the gondola or the Standish Chairlift (with the exception of service dogs, who can be allowed on the gondola).

  • Sunshine Village has a Telsa Super Charging Station near the reserved area of the parking lot.

  • You can ride your bike up the access road, but bikes cannot be brought into the village.

  • Fishing and swimming are not allowed in any of the delicate alpine lakes.

  • The Sunshine Village summer gondola does not stop at the Goats Eye terminal. Your only option is to go all the way to the top.
Trees and alpine meadow with hiking trail at Sunshine Meadows

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Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.