Banff National Park
Time: 5 1/2 hours
Distance: 9 km (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 390 m
How To Get There: Park at the Sunset Pass trail head parking lot 17 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing on the east side of the Icefields Parkway.
What a beautiful day for a hike! There wasn't a cloud in the sky as my brother and I packed up the car and headed westward towards Hwy 93. The sun shone brightly the entire drive there. We stopped briefly at Saskatchewan Crossing for a quick look at what the store had to offer before driving the last bit to the Sunset Pass Parking Lot.
We quickly put our gear on, enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding wetlands, took a look at the kiosk of trail information and then started up the trail.
The hike is a constant climb up a mix of short switchbacks and straight uphill. The trail itself winds through a thick forest of spruce trees and the ground is covered with tall grass and wildflowers.
The terrain is covered in pine-needles and for the most part well-used.
About partway up the switchbacks, there is a fork in the road. Going left takes you on the continued path to the lookout but going right provides a welcomed break and the first chance at glimpsing the Norman Creek Waterfall.
The impressive waterfall was slightly obscured by towering spruce trees but there was still no doubt how tall and powerful the natural tumbling water was. Going up a few more switch backs took us to the second exit to the waterfall and this time the view was unrivaled. A waterfall to our left and a view of the mountain landscape to our right.
We continued to hike the high-quality trail, moving among limber trees, every now and again being offered the chance to glimpse Mt. Amery.
The trail itself varies from switchbacks that journies over protruding stones to flat ground that travels through a beautiful green-drenched forest.
About 3 km into the hike, another cross-roads is reached, this time splitting off to Sunset Lookout to the left and Sunset Pass/Pinto Lake to the right.
Originally the plan was for us to hike to Pinto Lake but time constraints led us to turning left instead. The climb was more severe but much shorter. As we turned upwards we were met with an oxymoron of snow patches and gorgeous yellow wildflowers.
The remaining 1.5 km is mostly straight upward and brings endless views of old growth and fallen trees covered in moss.
Along the way we were lucky enough to spot familiar looking tracks in the snow. The prints were old and caused no alarm but still had us talking a little louder, especially when we found a matching pile of scat.
Not too long after we came to the highest point of our ascent.
Only a few hundred more feet and we were taking a gentle descent to the actual viewpoint. As soon as we reached the tiny patch of tree-free grass, the whole world opened up to us. We were taken back by how expansive and gorgeous the view truly was. A panorama shot of the mountain valley and the braided North Saskatchewan River creates a profound ambiance that is impossible to describe. Immediately we took out our cameras and began capturing the moment.
The Alexander River only added to the intricacy of the blue below.
There were old remnants of foundation and wire that proved there was once a fire lookout that sat atop this natural ledge.
We took the time to enjoy the tranquility of the moment as it felt as though we had the entire valley to ourselves.
The trail to the lookout was hard on the lungs at times but completely worth it. Take your dog, your kids or your friends. Everyone will love this amazing view of the Icefield Parkway! Have I mentioned lately how happy I am to be home?