Hiking with kids can really blow if you choose the wrong hike. Personally, I think the reason most people hike with their children is so they don’t have to spring for a babysitter. Yeah, yeah, you want to foster a love of nature in your offspring (and get them to eat green vegetables, too!). You just don’t want this noble parenting to ruin your day in the great outdoors. The solution? A family friendly path that delivers epic views in the high alpine. Welcome my friends to the Sunshine Meadows hike.
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Sunshine Meadows Hike
Lonely Planet rated Sunshine Meadows Canada’s #1 hike, and for good reason. You’d be hard pressed to find prettier views anywhere in the Rockies. Located in Banff National Park, there are wildflowers scattered over the mountain meadow in early summer and in autumn it’s a prime spot to view the changing colours. Best is that the Sunshine Meadows trail is well developed (mostly flat) trails are a cinch for strollers or toddlers to hike on their own. Yes, it’s the hike where everybody wins!
Sunshine Meadows Gondola
The hike begins either with a bus or gondola ride to Sunshine Village. The gondola runs every day of the week over the summer months,. But after the September long weekend the gondola is only open on weekends. If you hit Sunshine Meadows during a week day in September or October, you take a bus ride up the mountain.
If you’re hiking with kids and can make it this long weekend it’s worth it for the gondola ride alone. Kids often find this to be the highlight of the excursion.
Hiking in Banff National Park
Lots of people have been grumbling about how busy Banff now gets in the summer. We hiked Sunshine Meadows last Sunday and it was relatively quiet. Out of all the places you could go hiking in Banff National Park, this has the fewest crowds.
I counted maybe 20 people max on the trail. There were clouds in the sky and the forecast threatened rain, though none appeared. Fair weather hikers missed out! And hiking here is easy. There’s nothing technical about any of the Sunshine Meadows trails.
Once you’re at the Village, you can use the washroom facilities inside Trapper’s, grab a burger or get yourself a trail map. From there, head up the Standish Chairlift. Usually the hiking begins from the Village, but running Standish chairlift in summer (weekends only in September and October) is new and very much appreciated by those hiking with wee ones.
Sunshine Meadows Trail
It’s less than a five minute walk from Standish Chairlift to Standish Lookout. But as soon as you get off the chairlift, you have a few different trail options for Sunshine Meadows. For first time visitors, I recommend walking down to the Standish Lookout. Not only does that place you on Continental Divide, but from there you can see Rock Isle Lake and Laryx Lake clearly.
Then it’s down a few steps and your on the gravel pathway towards the lakes. For the very young, doing a trek around Rock Isle Lake is probably best. Estimate you’ll be on the trail for an hour, not including the gondola or chairlift.
If you’ve got kids who don’t whine too much, go ahead and do the loop around Laryx Lake. That’s one of the longer Sunshine Meadows trails and takes close to three hours round trip, but it’s not taxing.
Be sure to compensate your outdoor adventurers with plenty of carbs and chocolate. Sunshine Village has several restaurants and cafes on mountain open during the summer and fall months. Budget time for a snack or a drink afterwards to really soak up those views and toast your accomplishments. Rewarding calories is the real reason anyone hikes, isn’t it?
To really stretch out your stay, you could overnight at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. This is the only ski-in, ski-out accommodation available in Banff National Park. They’ve just recently remained open for the summer months and it is so blissfully quiet!
Have you ever hiked Sunshine Meadows? Do you know of any good day hikes near Calgary for youngsters?