Depending on how far along you go this could be rated easy. Judging by how wide the trail is, majority of people stop at the base of the canyon or just go to the waterfalls and turn around there. The entire loop adds about two kilometers once you get to the canyon. We did not need snowshoes until we reached the canyon and got past the waterfall area as the trail was stomped down enough that you did not sink anywhere. Depending on how much snow has melted on top of the ice you can sometimes be rewarded with beautiful sheets and sculptures of ice that have formed as the frozen water crawls over the rock and down the cliff sides.
In Summer time this is a super busy hike, horses, bikers, joggers, hikers, skateboards etc... all share this paved path. Now that the snow is out we only came across a handful of people the entire day we were out there. A very nice change.
Sundance Canyon Trip Log
The trail starts off on the west side of the Cave and Basin. It is a short walk past the parking lot before you arrive at the trailhead that has "Sundance Canyon" posted on the sign.
As you continue along the path which is actually an old road that once ran through here, the forest to the right opens up and you are greeted the the frozen Bow River.
The trail stays its consistent width and does not gain any elevation as it approaches the canyon. Once you reach a small sign that informs you that you have 800 meters left the trail does start to slowly ascend.
As you pass the bathrooms and the wide trail opens up into a clearing where in summer you chain up your bike as there are no bikes allowed beyond this point. Avoid taking any of the small tracks into the forest and stay on the main trail as it narrows considerably into a single track right past the sign.
After a few meters you will come across a tablet that explains the geology of Sundance Canyon. This signifies the beginning and the end of loop through the canyon. We suggest taking the loop in the clockwise direction as once you cross over the bridge you will see all the beauty that the canyon has to offer and have a easy descent on the way down.
If you choose to go clockwise, once you pass over the bridge the trail ascends steeply. Depending on how much snow has accumulated or melted from on top of the ice you might get a chance to see amazing ice architecture created by nature as the water freezes in the water falls.
On your way up in the canyon you will come across a few sets of stairs. These can be easily conquered by step kicking. They are a bit slick as it is rather apparent people have used them as slides. This is not encouraged as it does a pose a hazard for someone who is not comfortable in step kicking on a slope.
Once you conquer the short inclines you have reached the top of the canyon. Although mostly covered by massive snow drifts, the top is still a pretty view as you manage to briefly escape the forest below.
As the majority of people turn around at this point, now it is time to put on your snowshoes as the rest of the loop is narrow and the snow soft. The trail stays relatively level, only losing a few meters in elevation and regaining over consistent small hills. It follows the stream further into the canyon and you cross over it back and forth a few times. The Stoney Nations people once used to come here to participate in the Sundance Ceremony.
The snowshoe trail takes you further into the forest before it gains a little elevation and makes a u-turn. At this point the trail is nearly flat until you start to descend.
Shortly after this flat area you come across wooden fencing that has "Please stay on trail" inscribed into it. This signifies the descent is about to start and it's your last chance to grab a overlooking view of the area before dropping down into the forest again.
As you make the descent the trail takes a couple long switchbacks.
When you see the tablet near the bridge again you have completed the Sundance Canyon snowshoe loop. At this point there is not much else to do in the canyon besides possibly have lunch and head back to the Banff Cave and Basin. Return is the same route you took from the Cave and Basin to Sundance Canyon.
GPS Plotted Route
The starting point at the Banff Cave and Basin is the left hand edge of the blue line. The trail follows the Bow River and skirts under Sulphur Mountain. That zig zag on the right hand side of Sulphur Mountain is Cosmic Ray road. This is another route that takes you up the observation building and the gondola at the summit. That trip report can be found under our hiking page or by clicking here. From there the trail climbs steadily as it reaches the canyon and does the loop.
While the profile does look rather intense, the total elevation gain is 175 meters so in reality it is not that steep as you gain it in almost two kilometers. The trail does go nearly consistently up as you approach the canyon and proceed to snowshoe the loop but it does level off frequently for small distances to give your legs a short break.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences snowshoeing Sundance Canyon?
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