Sundance Canyon Hike

Recently I visited Banff National Park and stayed there for a few days. The town of Banff is surrounded by mountains in every direction, and there’s something magical about waking up in the morning and being right next to the mountains. It’s also beautiful seeing the sun rise from behind the mountains and with the first rays of sunlight casting an orange glow over the peaks.

One does not simply stay at a national park without going hiking! While most of the trails are located throughout the park and they need to be accessed by a vehicle, there are a few trails that start right from the town. One of these trails was the Sundance Canyon hike, which starts at the Banff Cave and Basins. At the Cave and Basins you can learn about the history of Banff National Park. In fact, Banff was Canada’s first National Park, which was created when three railway workers discovered the hot springs. You can visit the cave and there is a boardwalk outside with plaques providing more information about the thermal hot springs.

The Banff Cave.

The Banff Cave.

The Sundance Canyon trail (which is about 4.3 km one way) begins right at the Cave and Basins and starts out as a paved road which weaves between the forest and along the shore of the Bow River. The views along the river are beautiful, with the peaks of different mountains visible on the north side of the river.

Bow River - Just look at how green the water is.

Bow River – Just look at how green the water is.

The paved road continues on for 2.1 km, and then splits into two trails. The paved road goes to the left, further into the forest, which is the continuation of the Sundance Canyon hike. Taking the non-paved trail to right leads to Healy Creek. The paved path continues for 1.1 km until it stops at the Sundance Canyon Picnic area. There’s an outhouse here, a place to lock bikes, and a fairly large picnic area.

This is also the start to the looped trail which goes along the canyon and comes back through the forest. This is exclusively a hiking trail, and basically what I was expecting the entire trail to look like. The loop is about 1.6 km long, and definitely worth it. While the views were nice along the paved road, they get even better on this trail!

Sundance Canyon trail  by the river.

Sundance Canyon trail by the river.

The Sundance Canyon Loop starts by going along the river and gaining some elevation (maximum elevation gain of 145 m). So it’s definitely not like climbing a mountain, but it feels great regardless. Sundance Canyon reminded me of Johnston Canyon, but it was smaller and much less busy. Occasionally we ran into some people on the trail, but we were on our own for the majority of the time. The second half of the loop was fairly flat and all through the forest. Not as picturesque as the first half, but still nice. There was a beautiful lookout near the end of the forest portion.

A lookout from the Sundance Canyon hiking trail.

A lookout from the Sundance Canyon hiking trail.

On the way back, we decided to take a little detour and go on the Marsh Loop trail, which goes right along the edge of the river.

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View from the end of the Marsh Loop Trail, right before reaching the parking lot.

Here are some more pictures from the hike:

Sundance Canyon trail map. The entire hike is about 4.3 km long, with an option of taking a longer route back through the Marsh Loop.

Sundance Canyon trail map. The entire hike is about 4.3 km long, with an option of taking a longer route back through the Marsh Loop.

Banff Cave and Basins: there used to be a pool here in the past.

Banff Cave and Basins: there used to be a pool here in the past.

The hike starts along the shore of the Bow River.

The hike starts along the shore of the Bow River.

Sundance Canyon Loop: look at the icicles on the logs. Winter is coming.

Sundance Canyon Loop: look at the icicles on the logs. Winter is coming.

This little stone staircase was part of the trail. How cute is that? It feels like something that would be in Lord of the Rings. Maybe Mirkwood Forest?

This little stone staircase was part of the trail. How cute is that? It feels like something that would be in Lord of the Rings. Maybe Mirkwood Forest?

Looking back at where we just climbed.

Looking back at where we just climbed.

Sundance Canyon.

Sundance Canyon.

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Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Bronte Creek Provincial Park is a great place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without committing to an entire camping trip. Located right off highway 403 on the border of Oakville and Burlington, it is less than an hour drive from Toronto, making it the prefect day-trip. The park even offers a camping area for those interested in overnight camping. The campground and the day-use areas of the park are completely separate, therefore it is important to know which are you will be using before arrival.

The day-use area features 4 hiking trails, ranging in length from 1 to 2.7 km. The remnants of last winter’s ice storm was visible along some of the trails, with downed trees here and there, however most of the trails were cleared and easy to access. In addition to the hiking trails the park contains gravel roads and access trails that can be used to get around.

A great place to start is the Lookout Ravine Trail, which runs along the ravine and has an observation point overlooking the ravine and the woods on the other side. This is a great place to see all the leaf colours fall has to offer. The closest parking lots to the Lookout Ravine Trail are Parking A or Parking F. We started at Parking A, and the path at the end of the Lookout Ravine Trail lead directly to the Half Moon Valley Trail. Half Moon Valley was nice trail because it took us down the hill right to the banks of the creek. It was great walking through the forest, and then hiking down to the creek, and walking along the area next to the creek. The last portion of the trail provides great exercise, as there is no option but to hike back up the hill to get to the main road.

There are other trails available, which I did not have the chance to try out yet. A map of the day-use area is available here. The only complaint I have about the park is that the trails and roads are not labelled well. It was confusing getting to any of the trails from the parking lot, and there were a lot of moments when we were lost in the park. Once in a while a trail would lead to a fork in the road, but there were no signs indicating which road would lead to where, and to make things worse, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where you were on the map. On the rare occasion, trails were marked with numbered posts. However, these numbers were not indicated on the map, so it was impossible to know where you were at any one time.

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If hiking is not your thing, there are many seasonal activities available in the park, such as biking, fishing, swimming, bird watching, and cross-country skiing. In addition, the park has a recreation center with a public pool open in the summer months, and a skating rink available in the winter.

If interested in other Ontario Parks and viewing fall leaf colours, the following website has a neat interactive tool that shows how much of the park’s trees have changed their leaf colours, and also shows the peak viewing areas:
http://www.ontarioparks.com/fallcolour