By Tanya Koob
October 26th, 2011
We wanted to go hiking last weekend with our two year old son but honestly, after working four days that week I just didn’t have the energy to deal with all the preparation that an outing requires. There’s enough gear to pack just for a solo trip but add a toddler who requires double the gear, it’s often a daunting task just to get out the door with your sanity still intact. To further complicate things, it’s late October here in the Canadian Rockies and that means we are looking at the possibility of winter hiking and having to pack enough extra clothing to keep everybody warm and dry.
Saturday we decided to save ourselves the effort and went to the zoo instead to see the pumpkins in the conservatory.
Sunday however, I was bounding with a little more energy and we decided to head out and play. I’m so glad we did because we discovered the perfect way for our family to have an actual stress-free day in the mountains. Yes, zero stress! The first thing that really worked for us was leaving around 11am. It was late enough that Noah slept on the way to Banff and woke up right as we got to the Tim Hortons for lunch. That was the second thing we did – we didn’t pack a lunch! Nothing! We went into Tim Hortons which, since it’s in a bus depot in Banff, actually has tons of parking and we sat down for some simple sandwiches. My son is a very picky eater and almost never eats much on the trail while hiking. Eating inside, in an actual high chair , he devoured parts of my husband’s sandwich and the snacks I had brought along for him.
After lunch, we drove to the trail head for a simple relaxed half day hike. We took the Chariot with us so didn’t have to carry anything and since we’d already had lunch, took nothing with us but water and extra layers of clothing. We didn’t even bring diapers since we had just changed Noah at the Tim Hortons.
We hiked up the Sundance Canyon trail and it was almost empty. In the summer you’d feel like you were marching in a parade if you were to do this trail. We saw only a handful of other couples or singles. We had the actual canyon to ourselves and didn’t see a soul.
It was absolutely magical. Snow had fallen overnight and it was like we had stepped into the wardrobe and come out into the fantasy world of Narnia.
The day couldn’t have been much more perfect. To finish it off though, we went out to eat that night with Grandma to celebrate my return to work. Hiking all afternoon and I didn’t have to go home and cook. That is a perfect stress-free way to end the day! We got home in time to read our little Pook a few stories, let him watch his half hour of before-bed TV, and put him to sleep.
Sundance Canyon Info:
Sundance Canyon is a popular hiking trail suitable for families with young children starting from the Cave and Basin parking lot in Banff, Alberta.
Directions: Drive to the SW end of Banff Avenue, cross the bridge, turn right, drive 1km to the Cave and Basin Parking lot. Trail starts just to the right side of the entrance to the building.
Note – currently the Cave and Basin parking lot is closed for construction. You’ll have to park near the Warner Horse stables below and take the signed hiking trail to the Sundance Canyon trail. It is quite muddy right now so I’d recommend if going before there’s lots of snow on the ground that you take the trail to the right when you come to the intersection at the Cave and Basin Parking Lot. This trail will loop down near the river and take you back up to Sundance Canyon’s paved trail. It’s a bit further but it’s not muddy.
The trail is 4km to the canyon according to Banff website but we found it shorter. Then there’s approx. a 2km loop through the canyon. We didn’t do the full loop but just went up the canyon a ways and turned around because it is very slippery in there right now. You’ll need cleats to get in there now for sure. Even the paved trail is slippery in spots so yak trax or ice cleats are a good idea.
There’s a picnic area at the end of the 4km trail right before the canyon with outhouses, a picnic shelter and tables.
People should count on a 10km round trip hike with a brief jaunt into the canyon. It took us maybe 2.5 hours total I think. I’d suggest 3 hours for total hiking time. Longer with stops or lunch. It’s easily a half day hike at a good walking pace. Full day hike for smaller kids. People can also bike as far as the picnic area.
There isn’t much elevation gain, pretty flat. Less than 100m total gain to the picnic site. More in the canyon. The canyon probably gains another 100m to the top.