Elevation Gain: 275 meters
Time Required: 3 - 4.5 hours
This hike starts from the base area of Sunshine Ski Resort and travels through one of the most stunning areas in the Rocky Mountains. The ski resort acts as the trailhead for numerous hikes, but this post focuses on linking several short, easy hikes together into a spectacular half day trip. There are three pristine mountain lakes that you can loop around, making for a gentle day hike through wildflower meadows with mind blowing views at every turn. Note that the resort area doesn’t open for summer activities until the beginning of July, but if you wait until the autumn, this is a great area to see the spectacular larch trees in vibrant orange and yellow color.
Sunshine ski resort is located just off the #1 highway, 8km west of Banff. In the summer, take the shuttle bus or gondola up to the ski base where the hikes begin. There is also an optional chair lift (Standish chair) can take you up the top of the Standish Viewpoint which overlooks the lakes and valley. The view is incredible, so definitely make a trip up the view point, whether on foot or via the chairlift. From here you can hike down and join the trail which circles Rock Isle Lake.
Otherwise, if approaching by foot, hike uphill from the day lodge on the marked gravel path. After about 1km, you will reach Rock Isle Lake. If time is limited do the loop around Rock Isle (about 5km), then head back. Keep going from here to loop around Grizzly and Larix Lakes, and you will be even more rewarded. Both are gentle hikes with incredible views and fields of wildflowers.
Head counter-clockwise around Rock Isle and follow the descending path until you reach an intersection. I suggest heading right towards Grizzly Lake (3.6km) first. The lake is gorgeous, but there aren’t a lot of rest spots here, so keep going to the Simpson Viewpoint (4.25km). Here the entire valley opens up and the mountains continue on into the far distance. It’s one of the most spectacular mountain vistas I have ever seen. Take a break, have lunch here and admire the breathtaking view.
After taking a break at the viewpoint, continue on to reach Larix Lake (4.45km). The path curves around the lake and there are several great spots to stop and enjoy the view. Every direction you look, there are snow-capped mountains with the pretty turquoise lake in front. Eventually, the path will lead you back to Rock Isle Lake. Make a pit stop in the day lodge for a beverage or washroom break, then head back down to the parking lot.
This hike is one of my favorites and a great option for out of town guests who may not come prepared for a more rugged hike. It’s also one of the best areas for photography, as the views are incredible and the whole valley goes yellow in larch season. Definitely a must-do.