Citadel Pass hike
If you’re going hiking in Banff, you need to get up to Sunshine Meadows for the incredible hike to Citadel Pass. This hike has it all, beautiful wildflowers, expansive views, multiple lakes and above all, varied and stunning views. We love this hike.
Trail Alert: the Sunshine Gondola is closed for the 2021 hiking season
Drive 4.8mi west of Banff on Trans-Canada Highway and take the Sunshine Village exit. Drive 5.1mi on this lovely road to Sunshine Village ski resort. Pick up your bus or gondola ticket Upstairs in the main building.
|When to do|
July to early October
Howard Douglas Lake
Sunshine Village, Howard Douglas Lake
Out and back
Route Description for Citadel Pass
Hiking to Citadel Pass should be on your bucket list. Especially on a clear day in the peak of wildflower season. This hike is spectacular, and you get to explore Rock Isle Lake, Howard Douglas Lake and be surrounded by stunning views almost all the entire time.
To start this hike, you’ll need to buy a gondola ticket or bus ticket to get to Sunshine Village. We prefer going by Gondola, as it provides great views and is more comfortable then the bus, though the bus is cheaper.
Once you get off the Gondola (or bus) you’re in the base area of Sunshine Village, a popular ski hill known for the legendary powder snow. In summer, the village is much quieter, as summer is the off-season.
From the gondola head over to the Standish Chair Lift (there are lots of staff who can direct you in the right direction), and take the chairlift up to the top. Once you get off of the chairlift, take either path forward as you head towards the Standish Viewing Deck, a simply stunning view of Rock Isle, Grizzly and Larix Lakes.
From the viewing deck, head down on the stairs to the right and follow the path as it heads towards Rock Isle Lake. This is a good path and you will often see Sunshine Village employees on the path to answer questions you may have. Due to the sensitivity of this alpine meadow, please stay on the path and don’t cut across, as it can damage the vegetation.
You will come to a T-Junction roughly 0.4mi from the Standish lift. Here you go left, signposted for Rock Isle Lake. You will soon come to Rock Isle Lake, which is jaw-dropping beautiful. Keep the camera out, as the views just keep on changing as you walk around the lake.
Follow the trail around the left-hand side of Rock Isle Lake. Near the end of the lake, our map shows us taking a little detour to the right for a better view of stunning Rock Isle Lake, before we return to the regular hiking trail.
The trail starts to head away from Rock Isle Lake, going in a NE direction, and soon comes to a junction (1.2mi from the start of the hike), with the route to the left heading back to Sunshine Village and the route to the right signed for Quartz Ridge and Mt Assiniboine.
At this junction go right and hike along this path towards Quartz Ridge and Mt Assiniboine. The views slowly change as you hike, and it’s a very pretty route. This route is part of the famous Great Divide Trail, which goes from the US border in Waterton National Park all the way to the Northern Terminus at either Mount Robson or the Kakwa Trailhead.
Keep hiking along this trail, heading roughly SE all the way as you head up to cross over Quartz Ridge, with Quartz Hill to your right. The views from Quartz Ridge are incredible, with Howard Douglas Lake down below and mountains dotting the horizon. We actually think the view from this point is better than Citadel Pass.
Continue over Quartz Ridge and then head down on the other side and you’ll soon be at Howard Douglas Lake, a backcountry campground and a great base if you want to split this hike into two days. It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Howard Douglas Lake, and it was 4.2mi with 509ft of elevation gain and 804ft of elevation loss. This is a good turn-around point if you want to do a shorter hike.
If you’re looking for Howard Douglas Lake Campground, it is about 20 seconds left of the path, but the map on the trail makes finding it more confusing that it needs to be.
Howard Douglas Lake is a good place to also fill up your water, as there is no more water as you head towards Citadel Pass.
From Howard Douglas Lake, continue on the path as it continues in a SE direction. It’s another 2.2mi to Citadel Pass on a good trail with views continuing to impress. Soon Citadel Peak dominates the view as you approach to the left of this pretty mountain.
Before you know it, you’re at Citadel Pass. The view here is great, with Mount Assiniboine dominating the view from the Pass. To be honest though, this is not a hike where the view from the pass is the best part of the hike. The view from Citadel Pass is great, just like the rest of the hike.
To get back to Sunshine Village, simply retrace your steps from the pass, with new views on the way back. You’ll notice that you completely missed the pretty Citadel Lake on your left as you head back.
Follow the path back towards Howard Douglas Lake, with the views in the opposite direction now impressing. Continue on your path as you head back towards Sunshine Village.
The only decision on getting back to Sunshine Village gondola is which route to take. We prefer to retrace our steps to get another look at Rock Isle Lake and the views from Mount Standish. This way does have a bit more ascent, but we think it’s worth it. Note that the GPS track shows a start/finish at the top of the Standish Chairlift.
An easier route (or one to do if the Standish lift is closed) is to simply go straight ahead at the junction signed for Rock Isle Lake and head down to the base area. This route bypasses many of the great views but is faster with less elevation gain.
Start early as you don’t want to miss the last gondola / bus down at the end of the day.
Consider a stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge and get to enjoy this stunning part of the Canadian Rockies without many others around.
You can make this an easy backpacking trip by booking a night at Howard Douglas Lake campground (SU8).
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