Sunshine Meadows Hike (Rock Isle, Grizzly and Larix Lake)
The Sunshine Meadows hike is the easiest way to get into the alpine in the Canadian Rockies. The trail starts at the base of Sunshine Ski hill, and you can take the bus or Gondola to the Sunshine Ski village and hike from there. Rock Isle Lake is truly stunning!
To get to the Sunshine Meadows hike trailhead, drive 7.7km west of Banff on Trans-Canada Highway and take the Sunshine Village exit. Drive 8.2km on this lovely road to Sunshine Village ski resort. Pick up your bus or gondola ticket from the main building.
|When to do|
June to early October
At trailhead, on trail
Sunshine Meadows Hike (Rock Isle, Grizzly and Larix Lake)
Sunshine Meadows Hike Description: Visiting Rock Isle, Grizzly and Larix Lakes
This Sunshine Meadows hike begins at Sunshine Village, which can be accessed via gondola Friday through Monday or a bus shuttle on Tuesday through Thursday. It’s worthwhile to book your ticket in advance on the Sunshine Meadows website.
To start the Sunshine Meadows trail, you’ll need to buy a gondola or bus ticket from Sunshine Village. We prefer going by gondola, as it provides wonderful views.
Once off the gondola (or bus) you’ll find yourself at the base of Sunshine Village, a popular ski hill known for its legendary powder snow. In summer, out of the ski season, the village is much quieter.
From the gondola head over to the Standish Chair Lift, and take it up to the top. Once you get off, take either path forward as you head towards the Standish Viewing Deck. You’ll be greeted with a simply stunning view of Rock Isle, Grizzly and Larix Lakes below you.
From the viewing deck, head down the stairs to the right and follow the path as it heads towards Rock Isle Lake. This is a good way to do the Sunshine Meadows hike as 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 trail and don’t cut across, as it can damage the vegetation.
Rock Isle Lake
Continuing the Sunshine Meadows hike, you will come to a T-Junction roughly 700m from the Standish lift. Go left here, sign-posted for Rock Isle Lake. Continue along this path for another 425m, until you get to another junction. Go right here on a path that goes around Rock Isle Lake (it’s on your left), where you can enjoy some simply incredible views.
Sitting at an elevation of 2280m, Rock Isle Lake is a small but picturesque lake close to Sunshine Village. Created by the passage of an immense glacier many millions of years ago, this lake has a curious feature that has given it its name. Unlike most other glacial valleys, a significant rocky peak was left in place, spared when the glacier scoured and eroded the basin. This small peak is now the ‘island of rock’ that gives the lake its name.
Continue on the Sunshine Meadows trail until you reach a set of stairs. Here you can decide which direction to take for your circuit of Grizzly and Larix Lakes. We recommend going counterclockwise and descending towards Grizzly Lake on a very lovely path.
The area around Grizzly Lake will bring you through some of the most beautiful and lush wildflower meadows on the hike, passing intermittently through forests of larch and fir. The crystal waters of the lake act as a mirror for the surrounding trees, making this a wonderful spot for photos.
Soon after Grizzly Lake watch out for Simpson Viewpoint (4.3km), a wonderful place to view the entire valley opening up below.
You will then approach Larix Lake, where you contour around the far edge of the lake. There are spectacular views along this path, as well as great spots for a rest and some contemplation.
Larix Lake is somewhat larger than Grizzly Lake, nestled in between the meadows and the dense larch forest. Indeed, the larches give the lake its name, taken from the Latin Larix Lyallii, which is the botanical name of the type of trees commonly found in this area. Take a little time to admire the view, especially if you’re hiking in the fall, when the trees show off their finest colors.
Soon you are back at the point to ascend back to Rock Isle Lake. Go back following the trail you ascended contouring around Rock Isle Lake.
When you reach the junction with the trail back to the top of the Standish chairlift, we recommend going right and continuing to go around the northern shore of Rock Isle Lake, as the best views are from this part of the hike.
Follow the trail as it goes north, away from Rock Isle Lake. When you reach a junction, continue heading north towards the ski hill. You will eventually come down a hill into the village area, where you can grab a coffee in Sunshine Mountain Lodge or some nachos and a beer at Mad Trappers and enjoy the end of a great, family-friendly hike.
Alternate Approach to Rock Isle Lake
You can also Hike to Rock Isle Lake if you don’t want to take the chairlift.
This hiking route is more difficult, and the first km isn’t great for views. That said, if the winds are too high or the chairlift isn’t running, you can still get to Rock Isle Lake.
To take this route head off uphill to the left of Strawberry Chair on a clear gravel path towards the divide. After about 1.0km, the path flattens and as you pass into the province of British Columbia you’ll be rewarded with views of Rock Isle Lake. Enjoy the views as they unfold while you pass along the lake. Many people are content to come here and return – a 5.0km round trip.
As you continue along the lake you’ll come to a junction, with the right-hand side offering a view up to the lovely Standish Viewpoint. Go left and join the rest of the hike down to Grizzly and Larix Lakes.
Sunshine Meadows is one of the most popular hiking and sightseeing destinations in Banff National Park, a stunning natural garden covered in a carpet of wildflowers. Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, it sits at an altitude of 2300m, with spectacular views over the region’s highest peak, Mount Assiniboine.
The fragile alpine ecosystem of this magnificent region draws many visitors each year during the short summer hiking season. In June and July the wildflowers and rare alpine lichen begin to bloom, creating a feast for the senses and a dense concentration of colorful flora. By the fall, the flowers are gone, but the surrounding larches come into their own. Expect vibrant autumn colors as the leaves turn and the forests explode in a stunning display of gold and crimson.
The large number of visitors in the summer months means that you’re unlikely to see much wildlife, with larger animals preferring to seek out quieter places. However, you may catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, or even elk in the distance, and there are plenty of squirrels and smaller mammals. Sunshine Meadows sits on the Continental Divide, meaning that you’ll be right on the border between Alberta and British Columbia. A visit here is a cool opportunity to stand with one foot in each province!
Frequently Asked Questions about Sunshine Meadows
How long is the gondola ride at Sunshine?
The gondola ride at Sunshine Village takes approximately 17 minutes.
How far is Sunshine Village from Banff?
Sunshine Village is approximately 8.0km from Banff.
What time does Banff Sunshine Open?
Banff Sunshine Village is open between 9am and 4pm.
Do you need a Banff pass for sunshine?
In order to ski from Sunshine Village you’ll need to purchase a Banff park pass.
Book your bus or the Sunshine Village gondola ticket ahead of time on www.sunshinemeadowsbanff.com/.
Enjoy a burger and a beer at the Mad Trappers while you wait to get on the bus.
Consider spending a night at Sunshine Mountain Lodge and enjoy a dawn or dusk hike to have the stunning beauty of Rock Isle Lake to yourself.
Check out our YouTube video on this great family hike.
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