Hiking the Paradise Valley to Sentinel Pass & Moraine Lake

We had a plan. And we thought it was a great one (probably our first mistake!).

Knowing how crazy Moraine Lake parking can be, we thought we’d drive up, park & lock up a bike, then head 10km back down the road to the Paradise Valley trailhead, park, and hike in. We’d do the detour to have lunch at the giant steps waterfall, hike out the other side of that loop, head up and over the lofty 2600m Sentinel Pass for a fantastic snack, and wind up back where we’d planted our bike on the shores of beautiful Moraine Lake. Bill would then ride down to the car & bring it back up the road while I waited with Seamus and our packs. IMG_4974.jpgIn theory, it was a sound plan… in reality, well… let’s just say we should have been prepared with a Plan B. And we should have never expected to pull this off on a weekend!

Let me back up a bit.

IMG_6736.jpgParadise Valley is a spectacularly beautiful valley, running parallel to the majestic Valley of the Ten Peaks, sharing the slopes of imposing Mount Temple, Pinnacle Mountain and Eiffel Peak. It has a beautiful creek, waterfalls, picturesque Lake Annette (a great day hike destination in and of itself), lots of little wildflower meadows, an impressive rock fall area to explore, lofty heights from which to see the mountains and the valley through which you’re passing, and a gorgeous glacier-filled cirque. Its beauty gets right in to your very core and infects you with a sense of euphoria… so great that you don’t notice the lengthy distance you’re putting in with those dusty hiking boots.

IMG_6605.jpg
The trail begins at a small parking lot 2km up the Moraine Lake Road. It is an access point to a number of fun destinations… you can also hike to Fairview Mountain (and Saddleback Pass) and into Lake Louise from here.
IMG_6610.jpg
It follows the course of Paradise Creek, passing through fir and spruce forest, heading gradually up to Lake Annette.
IMG_6618.jpg
It’s quite gentle and has perfect little bridges to make crossing the creek an easy affair.
IMG_6620.jpg
After a little climb you reach Lake Annette. The perfect place to have a snack, it is calm and serene, with Mount Temple looming behind it, its impressive flanks reflected in the blue-green mirror that is the lake’s surface, below.
IMG_6623.jpg
The panoramic photo of the lake, above, didn’t capture the intensity of the colour. The greens and the aquamarine colours that came through in this setting are astounding!
IMG_6627.jpg
It’s truly a great little picnic spot.

Lake Annette is the day hike destination for many entering this valley. There were already quite a few people gathering up there when we arrived at about 9:30am. One group was setting up an inflatable dingy to take out on the lake. So we decided to cut our visit here short, and head back out and up along the trail and find a more peaceful rest spot.

IMG_6628.jpg
The trail headed out and up steeply, hugging the forest that lay at the side of massive Mount Temple.
IMG_6632.jpg
We came out on an avalanche path filled with wildflowers, the first of many that were to come.
IMG_4979
And to the left, we saw this rock fall area. It was quiet and beckoned to be explored! THIS was our snack & chocolate place!
IMG_4981.jpg
Look carefully here and you can see me & Seamus exploring the area. It was a gigantic landscape! There were so many different kinds of rocks here… I was like a kid in a candy shop, spotting and investigating them!
IMG_4985.jpg
We stayed here for a while, taking it all in.
IMG_6655.jpg
Then it was time to head back out onto the trail in search of the Giant Steps Waterfall. With a name like that, we just had to see what it was all about!
IMG_4990.jpg
As we entered the forest again, the sides of the trail and the forest floor itself, were carpeted in wildflowers. We passed a group of hikers from Grant MacEwan University who were stopped, quite literally, dead in their tracks taking photo after photo after photo of the flowers. It really was THAT beautiful!
IMG_6670
We crossed Paradise creek once more to head over to the Giant Steps Waterfall area (it’s also a backcountry campground location).
IMG_6675
There was a long boardwalk approach in to the waterfall viewing area.
IMG_6679.jpg
Mr. Dainty Paws was all over THIS way into the area… no chance of wet toes here!
IMG_6718.jpg
It was a neat place, where water seeped from the cracks that lay between gigantic slabs of rock.
IMG_6681.jpg
The water seeping gently through & over the slabs supported incredibly lush moss gardens.
IMG_6687.jpg
And the waterfall itself, while not super high, was spectacularly beautiful, spilling over great chunky slab steps.
IMG_6702.jpg
This was our lunch spot! Bring on the sannies & pickles! (Not for everyone, I know!)
IMG_6694.jpg
Our timing was perfect as we had the place to ourselves for lunch. As we got up to leave, we realized quite a few people had trickled in behind us, but we hadn’t heard them over the sound of the water rushing by our perch. Take a listen in the video below.
IMG_6720.jpg
It was time to move on, hiking back out the falls’ access trail with its beautiful trail-side flowers.
IMG_6722.jpg
It was time to head back through the larch forest with its bright green, ever-so-soft needles.
IMG_6730.jpg
And it was time to get our first glimpse of Sentinel Pass. Can you see those rocky pinnacles, looming up, like ever vigilant guards on the right hand side of the mountain pass? THAT’S where we were headed.
IMG_6744.jpg
First we had to cross Paradise Creek once again.
IMG_6736.jpg
The valley was wide open and spectacular here!

Horseshoe Meadow was a drop-dead-gorgeous place. Hemmed in by Pinnacle Mountain, Eiffel Peak, Wenkchemna Peak, Ringrose Peak, Mount Lefroy and The Mitre, it is a dramatic landscape. Horseshoe Glacier is tucked away up there. As the crow flies, a little to the right through the photo above, lies Abbot Hut. It is simply a beautiful spot. You can hear the creek gurgling past and a massive waterfall off in the distance. The flowers bring in the bees and insects and birds. It is incredible.

IMG_6751.jpg
After crossing over the creek, and taking in the wide-open expanse of Horseshoe Meadow, we headed up over ancient rock falls that led into the approach to the pass. See all that amazing sage green lichen everywhere!? This place has not been disturbed for a very long time!
IMG_6760.jpg
There were really neat sink holes that you hiked around, up and through here that I just couldn’t capture on camera. Most likely they were where rockfall lay to rest over glacial ice that’s long since melted away. There’s such a sense of ancient history here.
IMG_5004.jpg
Our trail switchbacked through the rockfall area, twisting and turning on a very solid (clearly maintained) path.
IMG_6766.jpg
The larch trees rejoined us, part way up the mountainside, while pikas called out, alerting the rest of their pack to our presence, as they hid, sheltered in the gaps between the boulders.
IMG_6772.jpg
After switchbacking through the rockfall area and gaining some height, we were back into a flowery meadow… our approach to the pass was magnificent! Soft, gentle larches and so many flowers… what’s not to like?
IMG_6776.jpg
Looking back out over the way we’d come, we were now high enough to see the ice & snow, the glacier and its rubble-covered ice that was the source of the beautiful creek we’d been following all day long. Looking through the trees on the slope of the terminal moraine, you can see a waterfall… it is huge! We’d heard it, but not seen it until this point on the trail.
IMG_5006
A good distance through the hike, it’s always nice to get what we affectionately call the “Seamus Assist.”
IMG_6777.jpg
Our approach to the pass. That doesn’t look too bad, right? Ha!
IMG_6790.jpg
Hiking past those rocky sentinels that give the pass its name was really neat! The whole time we were there (though you can’t see them in the lack of detail on this phone photo), there were climbers ascending Grand Sentinel (the rock column with the light coloured stripes, to the left here).
IMG_6804.jpg
It’s that tallest rock tower in this photo that they were climbing.
IMG_6817
As we headed up the scree slope, there was a trail of sorts, at first.
IMG_6808.jpg
There were two choices here: right or left. Our guide book said to stay to the right, so off we went.
IMG_6814.jpg
This rock was quite loose and gives good practice for what you’d attempt at the Abbot Hut, as some of the big boulders really move, should you want to take that challenge on.
IMG_6810 2.jpg
Looking back down the valley (and stopping to catch my breath, I’ll admit it!), the light green patch that you see is the larch forest with the pine forest, a darker green, cozying up to it from below.
IMG_5010.jpg
Seamus slipped a few times, and caused little rock falls, but he managed just fine.
IMG_6820
We were in the shadows of the pass now, and looking back on that sunlit valley was one of those “Wow” moments!
IMG_6825.jpg
And then we’d made it! We were up on the pass, that narrow col/shoulder that lies between Mount Pinnacle (ahead) and Mount Temple (behind). It’s from this point that the scramble up Mount Temple begins.
IMG_6829
Bill on top of Sentinel Pass. It was a lofty place with tremendous views.
IMG_5014
Seamus was ready for that treat! He’s learning… climb something big and rocky: EAT.
IMG_6853.jpg
Looking over the other side of the pass, our route was clear. We’d be heading back on the more popular approach to Sentinel Pass, heading down through the switchback of trails that would take us through “Larch Valley” and back to the shores of Moraine Lake.
IMG_6871.jpg
It is truly a spectacular hike out, down the gentle Larch Valley Trail. The grade is perfect, at the end of a long hike.
IMG_6868.jpg
Looking back at Sentinel Pass from the Larch Valley side… you can see it’s a far easier approach from this side.
IMG_6885.jpg
Down through the larches we went, to join up with the main trail that would take us back to the shores of Moraine Lake where we’d parked that bike.

So… best laid plans and all. We got to the lakeshore and the bike was there, where we’d left it, unharmed. So THAT isn’t where the Plan B comes in. Bill shed his pack, gulped some water, ate a snack and rode off into the distance… just one hill up, and then it would be all down hill to where we’d parked the car. Easy peasy. Done in 20 minutes (even wearing hiking boots).

Seamus was unnerved because the lakeshore there, perched as it is at the side of the parking lot, is packed with people. Seamus hates vehicles and the cars and loud busses and RVs kept circling past, looking in vain for places to park. It was Seamus’ worst nightmare AND Seamus was heartbroken that our “pack” had split up, that Bill had left… he wined and wined for 96 minutes of the 100 minutes Bill was gone! Offers of treats went ignored; no pats would settle him.

IMG_6888.jpg
One of the four minutes where Seamus didn’t whine… morose, collapsed, snout resting on my boot, giving up all hope that Bill would return and our pack get reunited.

Yup, I said 100 minutes!!! Over an hour and a half! It took Bill an eternity, at 5:30pm to get back up the last kilometre of that road. The traffic was insane! And he had no way to reach me to say, “just walk down the road and find me in the line-up” because there’s no cell service up there!

Twice, men on mountain bikes rode by us, and Seamus lunged after them, leash stretched taut, extended to its fullest range, shouting a long tirade of hurt feelings barks! I’m not sure what he was thinking… maybe those men were Bill, maybe they’d lead him to Bill on those strange 2-wheel machines. Who knows! Poor guy.

So… should you do this yourself…. and if it happens to be on a weekend… have a Plan B in place…. and learn from our mistake! There’s just no underestimating how popular our National Parks are this year, with the Canada 150 free passes! The jump in attendance is insane! And this particular hike (and it’s access points in either direction) will get even busier once the larches start to turn their spectacular fall colours.


IMG_6850Distance: 19.8km (so a long day)

Elevation Gain: a little over 1040m


Click here for more terrific hikes in Banff National Park. And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

 

 

16 Comments on “Hiking the Paradise Valley to Sentinel Pass & Moraine Lake

  1. I’m so envious of your clear skies up there! We haven’t been on a decent hike in weeks here in GNP. The air quality is just too bad with all the fires. And I know what you mean about attendance levels. Sheesh. We’re DOUBLE from last year, and our services just can’t handle all the traffic. Something’s gotta give.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too bad, Monica! The smoke comes and goes here. There are good days & bad. And as for the crowds, well, that’s more people having experiences in the natural world, which hopefully translates into their loving these spaces and working to protect them for generations to come. In the meantime, we just have to be creative in our attempts to avoid them!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sheri.

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! It looks like an amazing area to hike! I particularly liked the Lake Annette and the high peak just above the lake. Also the Grand Sentinel looks massive and very nice to climb.

    Thanks for sharing

    P.s. I really enjoy to read through your blog and to look at all these beautiful places you have been hiking to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poor Seamus. My heart was broken to know that such a sweet guy was so sad even treats wouldn’t fix it. The hike was spectacular, Sheri. If there’s a petition to Parks Canada to add summer shuttles to Moraine Lake, sign me up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s near Banff, but closest to Lake Louise. But at this time of year it’s exceptionally hard to get to with all the people flooding in to see the larches turning colour in the Moraine Lake area. The parks service offers shuttles to Lake Louise, and then shuttles from there to Moraine Lake. I’m sure it could drop off at the Paradise Valley Trail head en route.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: