I remember it clearly like it was yesterday. Driving from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for our annual 2 week family camping trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It was not every day you saw the world go from completely flat to monstrous towering rock. The trip that year would be extra special for me, as we would go on a hike that would become one of my first long-lasting memorie and a long lasting legend in our family.
The year was 1988 and we were hiking at Sunshine Meadows, Banff National Park.
The trip did not just involve hiking. It started with our family of five riding the gondola. My parents, my brother and sister and then of course, me. Once at the top we decided to take the chairlift even further up the mountain, where we would start our hike. Our chairlift ride began with my brother, eight years old at the time, catching the chairlift by himself. Then my mom nervously let me and my 5 year old sister ride together on our very own chair. That was when I was just 2 and half years old.
Amazingly, I remember quite a bit from that day – a tiny ground squirrel sneaking up and stealing my snack bag of peanuts. Oh and the views, those alpine views. They seeped into my soul. The bits I don’t remember have been filled in for me. To this day my Mom talks about how she had to carry me part of the 3 km from the chair lift back to the gondola. Baby carriers just weren’t really a thing in those days. It didn’t bother me though, I fell asleep in her arms halfway through the hike.
A few things have changed since my infant adventure. For one, I am pretty sure they would not let a 5 year old take a 2 year up the gondola! And the staff on the mountain ensure that your littles keep their food well out of reach of the ground squirrels. The overall magic of that alpine meadow is still there though. And luckily, in the last two years they re-started the use of the gondola and chairlift for hikers, a service that went on a short hiatus.
As you may have gathered, we had a chance to relive the Sunshine Meadows experience this summer, with my husband and two daughters aged 2 and 3, all with a private guided tour. When we first arrived at Sunshine, the girls were so excited to ride the gondola. Their creative dance moves on the 30 minute ride quickly got dubbed the “gondola dance”. While we talked about the mountain views we also looked down as we rode up to see if we could spot any bears or goats that frequent the area. While lots of people travel up the gondola, I was still happy to be carrying my bear spray for when it was time to get off.
From the top of the gondola I was so thankful for all of the resort facilities because my newly potty trained 2 year old was in dire need of a bathroom break. We lathered up with sunscreen because I knew that the trails were uncovered, which meant expansive alpine views but also lots of sun exposure.
Their moods were high and we made a quick stop at the interpretive centre to check out the various pictures of the flowers and animals we might see out on our hike. We also met up with our guide Nick who was a wealth of information on the area. He would fill my husband’s willing brain with fun facts about fauna and early exploration of the area. It truly brought the ecology and history of this alpine meadow to life for our family.
Well… I did not let me 3 year old and 2 year old ride alone on the chairlift together. In fact, my heart kind of skipped a beat taking them up the chairlift myself, even though throughout the experience it really felt quite safe. Not safe enough for me to let them go by themselves or to listen to my 2 year old when she said “Let go me mama”! Thankfully, both of my girls sat extremely still, holding onto the front bar with the hand bar between their legs, while soaking up the experience of looking down at the mountain landscape.
At the top we were blown away by the views. With a quick stop at the Great Divide to catch a picture with our girls standing beside one another, but with one in the province of Alberta and the other in British Columbia, we were off on our 45 minute guided tour to the Standish Viewing Deck.
The girls had an interesting hiking pace, from sprinting to stopping in their tracks, to then sitting on the trail. There was lots to look at. The Columbian Ground Squirrel eating the Moss Campion flowers that grows out of the moss was well worth the stop.
We learned that these flowers take about 10 years to grow to maturity, and that a large bunch of them could be as many as 40 years old. They were absolutely stunning! I couldn’t help thinking about how this aged flower must be like a particular delicacy for that little squirrel, like a finely aged wine or scotch perhaps. We watched that little squirrel for about 10 minutes and it just may have been one of the highlights of the girls’ experience.
Once at the Standish Viewing Deck we could see Rock Isle Lake, Laryx Lake, Grizzly Lake and endless mountain views. The surroundings are incredible and definitely my favourite part of the experience. In fact, I fed my bottomless pits of children multiple snacks just so we could stick around a little longer and take in the views.
The alpine flowers were blooming and the girls only struggled a little bit to stay on the trail. They used their noses to dip down and sniff the Forget Me Not Flowers. Then coaxing them to hike a little bit faster, with more food, we made our way back to the chairlift. Before catching the gondola back down we had a mouth-watering lunch at Chimney Corner.
Our family cannot wait to go back and explore. Sunshine is just so magical in the summertime and is so great for families. We want to try the 3.3 km hike my family did in 1988 from the chairlift back down to the gondola and even venture further around the various trails. I have no doubt that Sunshine Meadows has been engrained into my two littles, just as it was for me. Their little voices talking non-stop to their friends the next day assured me that it was indeed memorable for our whole family.
For more information and to book your Banff Sunshine Meadows trip click here.
More Pictures of our trip: