Hiking Banff National Park – Sundance Canyon

Starting just behind the Cave & Basin National Historic Site, we moved pretty quickly along the paved Sundance Trail. The pathway is definitely wide enough for walkers, bikers and in-line skaters to share, and we will consider cycling this trail on our next visit. But since the early morning fog and low-lying cloud prompted us to make quite a few photography stops, we were glad we were on foot for our first exploration of this trail.

After the pavement makes a sweeping left turn, we walked past a picnic area near a small creek, which would be a good picnic spot. If not everyone in your group wants to hike the slightly more challenging Sundance Canyon loop, this would also be a good place to hang out and relax while waiting (about 50 meters further along the trail there’s a small building with pit toilets, if needed).

Maybe 150-200 meters past the picnic area, there’s a bike rack so that riders can lock up their bikes while they explore Sundance Canyon on foot. This is an unpaved path that incorporates several small bridges. A series of small waterfalls provides the background music for much of the 2 km Sundance Canyon loop. The first part is a bit of a climb up (maybe 50 meters total elevation gain) through a jumble of rocks. To minimize problems with erosion and rock fall, Parks Canada has installed one set of concrete stairs, several runs of natural stone steps, and one fairly substantial footbridge across the canyon. Once we crossed the fourth footbridge, the trail leveled out and it was a peaceful walk through a cool forest with lots of beautiful moss.

From a photography perspective, there are lots of opportunities for abstracts and well as natural landscapes and waterscapes. If you’re at all into longer-exposure waterfall photography, you’ll want to bring at least a small tripod and ND filter. Otherwise, travel light and enjoy the scenery.


Total distance = 11.1 km (this includes part of the Marsh Loop trail)
Total elevation gain = 200 meters (141 net)
Total hiking time = 2 hrs 30 minutes with several stops for photography

We recommend this trail if you’re visiting Banff and don’t have much time but want to get outside the townsite for a couple of hours. It’s also a good option for those without a private vehicle, as the trailhead can be reached by bus (Route 4 runs Fri, Sat, Sun & holidays) or on foot. Finally, it would be a good choice if you’re new to hiking and looking to gain some experience on an easy trail.

And if you’re into geocaching, two of the five geocaches hidden for Banff National Park’s intermediate geocaching challenge (runs July 1 through September 30) are hidden here: one on the Marsh Loop (just off Sundance Trail) and one on the Sundance Canyon Loop.

Have you walked the Sundance Canyon Trail? What did you think? Any tips for new visitors to the area?

7 thoughts on “Hiking Banff National Park – Sundance Canyon

  1. Pingback: Cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail – 2017 Edition | Out and About with the GeoKs

  2. The “trail” from Cave and Basin used to be a road to a nice picnic area at Sundance Canyon. It was always one of my favorite places to visit as a child when my parents brought us to Banff on a road trip from Edmonton. It was often our first stop in Banff Park and I vividly remember the fresh mountain air smell when getting out of the car. The other place that I have the same memory is the picnic area at Miette Hot Springs in Jasper. Of course, it has also changed since I was little, but not as much as Banff!

    1. The connector road is still unpaved, full of mud holes and very bumpy. But the Roam buses are using it and we were able to get into the huge new parking lot without much trouble. It’ll sure be nice when it’s finally all finished.

      1. You sure have good knowledge of Banff history. I only started visiting the Canadian Rockies in the mid-90s, so had no idea there even was a road beyond Cave and Basin.

        The construction I refer to is the road from the bridge in town to the Cave and Basin, the one that runs past the fort.

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