With 30 degree weather forecast, we took advantage of living so close to the Rockies, and headed to Banff on Friday evening. The low snowpack and early spring also meant that premier alpine hikes were accessible already.
We stayed at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 campground in Banff – not as cramped or city-like as we feared. Lots of elk (wearing tags) in the campground.
Paradise Valley and Sentinel Pass
On Saturday we hiked the superb Paradise Valley, continuing the hike from Giant Steps up to Sentinel Pass and down through Larch Valley to Morraine Lake. Total elevation 950 m and around 19 km.
We had lunch at the Giant Steps. The meadow areas and distant waterfall and corries suggest that camping here might be worthwhile for some exploration – although it’s a grizzly area later in the summer and you need to hike in larger groups.
The climb up to Sentinel Pass is steep and rocky – lots of loose material so it took ages to pick our way up but it’s worth doing the circuit. At the top of Sentinel Pass you meet many more hikers doing the relatively easy hike from Morraine Lake. Still, the views from the pass are great. Having quickly dropped from the pass, we were amused by some people having great trouble crossing a simple snow patch. No wonder the national parks are very conservative when reporting trail conditions. The views of the Fay Glacier from Larch Valley are great. Arriving at Morraine Lake, it took us about 1 minute to get a hitch down to the Paradise Valley parking lot and our car.
The flowers were out early this year due to a low snow pack and early summer. The Indian Paintbrush here are more purple than pink or orange, and the Columbine are completely yellow rather than yellow and red. There were also moss campion, with tiny purple flowers on a cushion of green.
On Sunday we drive the Icefields Parkway past Saskatchewan Crossing to hike Parker Ridge. This is one of the most popular short hikes in the Rockies – at least to the viewpoint of the Saskatchewan Glacier – a huge tongue of ice coming from the Columbia Icefield. It is amazingly busy, but it’s also easy to escape the crowds by ascending Parket Ridge itself towards Mount Athabasca. We enjoyed some quiet time up on the ridge surveying the mountains around, including Mount Robson in the distance beyond the Saskatchewan Glacier.
The decent included some fun trots down some late patches of snow. Back to reality and a drive back to Calgary. We stopped in Canmore for the first time, at the Grizzly Paw Brewery. We were hoping that it might match the excellent Howe Sound Brewing, our regular stop when coming back to Vancouver from the Coast Mountains. The beer is pretty good, but the food options are limited for non-meat eaters.