A few weeks ago I had the chance to finally hike in Sunshine Meadows, a beautiful alpine setting located slightly Southwest of Banff. Sunshine Meadows has been closed since the beginning of COVID, two and a half years ago.
To get to Sunshine Meadows you take a gondola from the base (1659 masl) to the Sunshine Village Terminal (2159 masl). The 4.5km gondola ride is fairly unique because it has two curves, and a mid-station, all while staying on the same cable! The highest point of the gondola is 40 metres (130 feet). The gondola was opened in 2001, and includes 165 8-passenger cabins, four garbage carriers, and one work carrier. A few fun facts, are that there was an accident in 2016 when two empty gondola cars came off the cable in high winds and crashed to the ground, and in June 2013 nine of their cabins were washed away during the Alberta Flood that occurred because they were getting painted, and were washed away. They were all found, and one nearly had made its way all the way to Canmore!
After arriving at Sunshine Village you’re given a quick orientation on the trail system, and then you’re off on your own. After a seven minute ride on the Standish Chairlift you arrive at the very top of the hike, where you’re presented with gorgeous 360 degree views of the mountains surrounding you. There’s beautiful alpine flowers all around!
Normally my hikes start at the lowest point, and end up on a mountain peak, but this hike is the inverse of that. The 2.5 hour hike starts with a steep descent towards Rock Isle Lake, before continuing on a loop around Grizzly Lake and Laryx Lake, before heading back up to the top. It’s amazing at how much the scenery changes as you progress through he hike.
The was one of my favourite hikes that I’ve done in Canada, and is a great family friendly hike, that isn’t too difficult. The 2.5 hour hike has 316 metres of elevation differential over 8.0 kilometres.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of exploring one of Canada’s most amazing places to visit; Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Lake O’Hara is a protected area because its a sensitive alpine environment, so the Canadian government has a reservation system to limit the amount of people visiting. Less than 50 people per day are eligible to visit this park between mid-June and early October. I’ve been bidding on this reservation system for over 5 years, and was very surprised to wake up one morning to an email notifying me that I was successful. My successful day was June 20th, which was a work day, so I took the day off of work.
I drove out on the night of June 19th and stayed at Deer Lodge hotel in Lake Louise. I arrived around 8pm at night, checked in, and spent some time in the hot-tub while looking at the beautiful sunset. The sky was quite red due to forest fires in the area. I met a gentleman visiting from Montreal with his daughter, so we chatted for a while.
The next morning I woke up around 630am, packed up, dropped off the key, and drove down to the small stripmall at the bottom of the hill at Lake Louise. For breakfast I purchased a wrap and a coffee from Trailhead Cafe. After eating my breakfast I drove about 15 minutes to the trailhead for the Lake O’Hara bus and waited until it was time to board the bus at 815am. Just an FYI if you are not successful on the reservation system to get to Lake O’Hara you can walk the 11km (one-way) road up to the top, but it will add 6 hours to your day (3 hours each way). You’ll likely be too tired to complete many of the hikes available to you at the top.
The bus ride to the top took about 15-20 minutes. Upon arrival you’re able to get water at the nearby campsite, buy food from the store, and use the restroom facilities before starting your hiking adventures. Today I chose to complete the premier hike called the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, which is one of the more difficult hikes, however it gives you a taste of everything that the area has to offer. All of my photos on this trip were taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max, because sadly my Tamron 15-30mm lens for my Canon EOS R decided to stop working. I later found out that it was because the screws for the front element had become loose, which I was able to fix on a later day. I still think the photos turned out fairly nicely all things considered.
The 10.6km hike starts off at Lake O’Hara. You start walking clock-wise around the lake about 1/4 of the way before proceeding up some grueling switchbacks, gaining nearly 900 metres in only a few kilometers. On the way up the view of Lake O’Hara continues to get better and better!
At the top of the switchbacks you arrive at Wiwaxy Gap, where you can see Wiwaxy Peaks, Mount Huber, Lake O’Hara, the valley on the other side, and even Lake Oesa, which is where you head to next.
To get to Lake Oesa you continue along a narrow ledge losing a few hundred metres of altitude gradually, but it’s not too scary. There’s also some beautiful alpine flowers I saw along the way.
Lake Oesa was a stunning turquoise blue and was surrounded completely by mountains. From here some people choose to hike to Abbot Pass Hut, however I was limited on time, so perhaps another day.
Departing Lake Oesa you’re presented with a beautiful waterfall, and bunch of smaller, yet still beautiful lakes (Lefroy Lake, Victoria Lake, and Yukness Lake). The journey from here is slightly upwards over somewhat loose shale, so be careful.
After passing Lefroy Lake it starts to become a bit more technical with some slight scrambling, before levelling off again, presenting you with yet another beautiful view of Lake O’Hara.
After the scrambling section you follow along the cliff edge before descending towards a group of lakes; Moor Lakes and Hungabee Lake.
The general area around Hungabee Lake and Moor Lakes is another alpine meadow area, with water runoff going every direction. This is some of the most vivid coloured water that I’ve ever seen in my entire life!
The rest of the hike gives other nice perspectives of Lake O’Hara, however can be skipped if you’re feeling tired. You can skip it by taking the West Opabin Trail back to Lake O’Hara instead of continuing along the route and gaining another couple hundred metres on loose shale. This was one of the most spectacular hikes that I’ve completed in my entire life, and it was an absolute privilege to see this protected area. Buses back to the parking lot run at 230pm, 430pm, and 630pm. I was able to grab the 230pm bus back to the parking lot.
Be sure to check back soon as I explore more hikes; Carnavon Lake, and Crypt Lake. I also have an upcoming trip to Iceland, which I’m really looking forward to sharing with you.
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