Popular hiking trails in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks are expected to be busier than ever in 2017, thanks to free national parks entry in celebration of Canada's 150th. Thanks to careful planning and trail selection, we're aiming for maximum enjoyment while exploring the Canadian Rocky Mountains this summer. Read on to take advantage of our top strategies and to get the inside scoop on our favourite hiking trails.
An awesome wildflower season hike, the Helen Lake trail is also a good option for early fall. It offers great views of Crowfoot Glacier across the valley, has a relatively modest elevation gain of just under 600 meters from trailhead to lake shore, and includes a long stretch of trail with expansive views of Dolomite Peak and several unnamed ridges and peaks. Upon reaching the scenic highlight that is Helen Lake, there are a few options to extend the day, including hiking to the Cirque Peak or a nice ridge walk above the lake.
While Sunshine is most well-known for skiing, the summer gondola and shuttle bus service make Sunshine Meadows one of the most accessible alpine hiking areas in the Canadian Rockies from late June through late September. For some, its a starting point for backpacking adventures to Mt. Assiniboine or the Egypt/Pharoah Lakes area. For dayhikers like us, prime times to visit Sunshine Meadows are during peak wildflower season (usually towards the end of July) and peak larch viewing season (usually towards the end of September). Our most recent larch season visit was timed just about perfectly and reaffirmed that it's well worth the effort to do at least one golden larch hike each fall.
We first hiked to Citadel Pass in 2009. After seven years, two things prompted us to return: first, there's summer weekend gondola service to Sunshine Village; and second, the moderate elevation gain is something I can handle even with a torn ACL. Our late July timing was ideal. The wildflowers were fantastic! We also spotted a male Mountain Bluebird and enjoyed the company of countless Columbian Ground Squirrels. For more than half the day we enjoyed blue skies which meant great long distance viewing of the cone of Mt. Assiniboine - something cloaked by forest fire smoke during our 2009 exploration of this trail.
Below freezing temperatures and slippery conditions make it harder to get out and about at this time of year. But a daily dose of Vitamin N(ature) is one of my priorities, so I make a point of getting out there almost every day. Dressing in layers, taking along in a pair of MICROspikes, NANOspikes or snowshoes and heading out with family or friends are three ways to increase the likelihood of enjoying being outside in mid-winter. Add some fantastic Banff NP scenery to the equation and it's a guaranteed winner!