Sunset Pass ️️⛺

October 16, 2020  •  1 Comment

Backcountry Camping at Norman Creek, Banff National Park 🏕️

September 25-27, 2020

After work on Friday, we zipped down the Icefields Parkway to the trailhead for Norman Lake.  We loaded up and headed up the steep trail at 6pm - it is around 4.8km and 580m of elevation gain - and arrived at the meadows in which the campground sits at around 7:30pm.  It was getting dark, so we set up camp and started a fire to enjoy with our supper. 

Arriving to CampIt was almost 7:30 by the time we made it to camp, which in the fall in the Rockies means it's getting dark! The next morning was a chilly one so we slept in a bit before the need for coffee was too much.  We sat in our camp chairs and drank it while looking out at the meadows beneath Mount Coleman. The food prep area at camp was behind and the the left of our chairs in the picture below, complete with firepit, and two small picnic tables.

Good MorningWhere we sat and drank our beverages in camp :) Our goal was pretty relaxed: wander around the meadows and find Sunset Pass.  We loaded up our daypacks and headed out the trail exiting camp. The fall foliage was gorgeous - red, oranges, and lots of yellows covered the meadows as we wandered along beside the creek.  We came to a fork in the trail - it was obvious the trail across the creek to the right (northeast) would head to sunset pass, but we were curious about where the trail to the left (southeast) went! We followed it along a slightly mucky trail along a creek with a few interesting features.

Autumn Hiking in Banff National ParkA view of Mount Coleman on the way through the meadows to Sunset Pass Autumn WanderingHiking along the horse trail east of Norman Creek campground in Banff NP
We came out to a clearing with a shallow and reflective part of the creek that had another fork in the trail and decided to break for pictures and lunch.  After our munchies we opted for the right hand trail, thinking that maybe we would backtrack and take the left hand trail if it didn't work out.  Soon we could hear the sound of the creek as it ran through a small slot canyon.

Rampart ReflectionsLooking at the backside of the Ramparts in the backcountry of Banff   Backcountry ReflectionsAutumn hiking in the Canadian Rockies
Our pace slowed as we were distracted by all the cool waterfalls and the small canyon that they ran through.  I think this was one of my favorite parts of the day!
Waterfall AdventuresExploring the mini slot canyon on our way to the horse camp. Secret CascadesA miniature slot canyon along a horse trail in Banff National Parl

As we were searching for an easy way to get back across the creek, we spotted a bridge and a tipi made of old fence posts. It seems as though we found a horse camp (after we got out on Sunday we researched it and it was indeed a horse camp). We explored around and found some campsites and a large picnic table and firepit. There were a few trails to leading away from camp, so we picked a trail to continue on and it ended up wrapping around to our lunch spot! We crossed the creek and then headed back to the meadows from where we had originally forked off.

Hidden CampThe bridge leading across to the Horse Camp Mountains and TipisLooking back towards the camp - tent sites to the left of the tipi, and food prep across the river to the right. Heading back to the main trail Mountain Meadows

After we got back to the original fork and crossed the river, the skies started to cloud up.  By the time we walked the meadows and started to enter the forest, we were treated to a white out blizzard for a good 30min as we hiked up towards the pass. As we neared the pass, the sun came out again and blue skies again made an appearance.  A trail sign indicating the Banff/Wilderness Border led us to pause at the top of a hill.  We noticed a slight trail to the northwest and decided to take it.  The trail opened up and it became apparent that we needed to get on top of the ridge that led towards the peaks at the west end of the great meadows. We made our way up and the scenery opened up for us (the wind did too!).

Windy RidgewalksLeft is Mount Coleman, and you can see the high point on the ridge at the centre. The Corner of BanffAs we hiked along the upper ridge we came across this sign - we swept the now off of it and then too the picture.

We gradually made our way higher and higher up the ridge until we came to the small summit. Stopping for a snack break, we relaxed on the rocks and appreciated the views. We could now see the lower trail that worked its way down to the now visible Pinto Lake in the Cline Wilderness. It was decided that we would make our way off the ridge down to the lower ridge overlooking the lake. 

Ridge Summit ViewsLooking down into the Cline and Whitegoat Wildernesses from a small summit on the edge of Banff National Park

Winter is ComingLooking past the small summit towards Mount Coleman add beyond        Mountain FlowA close up of where I thought the horse camp was situated.
The MeadowsLooking back towards camp and Mt Amery, which is located on the other side of the Icefields Parkway. Descending the RidgeHeading towards the lower ridges overlooking Pinto Lake
We worked our way down the ridge and then cut across towards the lower ridge, knowing that we'd eventually hit the trail.  As we crossed it and hiked to the ridges over looking the lake, we could see a few cairns lining the ridge.  Although I had taken many photos if the lake from higher up, I couldn't help but take more. Although it was sunny, the chilly wind nudged us back to the trail and we headed back towards camp. 

Pinto Lake OverlookA tiny hiker gives the scene some much needed scale Late Afternoon Light         Back to CampHeading back onto the main trail and back to camp for supper.

We headed down through the forest and popped out at the eastern end of the meadows. The late afternoon sun against the autumn golds made for some beautiful shots, and I paused many times on our way back to camp.

When we got back to camp there was another party camped at one of the three empty sites. We said hello and then started our supper while we sipped our beer - luckily it had stayed so cool all day, they were nice and cold. We built another fire and chatted about our successful day of adventuring.  Mark realized that he had accidently left his bear spray at the waterfalls when he had taken off his pack...oops! We also spotted the small summit on the ridge to the east that we had stood upon a few hours earlier.  The light started fading and the alpenglow on Mount Coleman slowly signaled the end of the day. We stayed up a bit with the fire, but we were pretty pooped from our full day of adventuring, plus we wanted to be up for sunrise. 

                           The Summit Ridge             Early Autumn Evening

Morning came early (although not summer early) and it was quite chilly - our water bottles were frozen as were the edges of the creek.  We carried our chairs and coffee and breakfast making gear down to the creek to prepare for sunrise and breakfast. There were a few pink clouds of which I captured a long exposure, but it was mostly blue skies and alpenglow that kept us entertained as we hunted for great compositions.

After many coffees and and appropriate amount of ooohs and ahhhs, we decided we should get camp packed up. The goal was to hike across the meadows towards Mount Coleman and find Norman Lake, and then head down the trail to the junction, then up the path to Sunset Lookout.  We've been to the lookout a few times now, an didn't look forward to carrying our big packs up, but we've always enjoyed the view from there, so that was the plan!  As we headed across the bridge out of camp with our packs on, we stepped off the trail and headed in the direction of the lake.  The willows were bushy, but we made it to the creek exiting the lake in a few minutes. As I snapped a pic, there was a flourish in the water - the creek was packed with fish of various sizes. As we walked along it, we delighted in watching the fish dart by.  We arrived at the boggy shoreline of the lake - it was scenic clear but shallow and full of algae (some seemly pink).

Norman CreekWalking along the creek towards Norman Lake

After the customary pictures, we cut across northwest to where the trail would have come into the meadow from the main trail coming up through the forest.  Joining the main trail, we made short work of the rest of the trail down to the Lookout junction and turned right.  The trail is steep but after 2km we came out to the Lookout and spent an hour or so drinking coffee and basking the sunshine.  Although we didn't want to leave, the call of burgers and beers was enough to convince us to pack up and head back down the 5km to the parking lot. 🍔
Autumn at Sunset LookoutLooking down to the aspens and the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park            



Kathy Pierce aka steveswife11(non-registered)
Hi Brigid,
I enjoyed reading your blog! Thank you for posting the link to ot! What a wonderful way to spend the weekend!
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