Banff National Park
Distance: 7.5 miles Time: 2.5 hours Type: There and back
The trail to Sentinel Pass starts from Moraine Lake, one of the most famous spots in the Canadian Rockies and a national icon (it even features on the reverse of the $20 note). This hike offers superlative views of both the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Paradise Valley with epic panoramas and eye-popping perspectives. From the top of the pass, it's hard to believe you are only a few hours from the car park and the multitude of tourists.
The trail starts from the north side of Moraine Lake. At the time we hiked, there were signs stating that you were only permitted to hike with a minimum group size of four people due to recent bear sightings in the area. Luckily a couple from Manchester were already waiting at the trailhead when we arrived so we made a group of four and set off.
The trail starts by climbing the mountainside by switchback. Unfortunately there are no clear views down to Moraine Lake due to tree cover. The trail eventually reaches a flat meadow area from where you can start to see the peaks of the ten mountains. This is Larch Valley, which is covered in beautiful yellow larches in late September.
The views of Valley of the Ten Peaks continues to improve as the trail climbs further, before it reaches a couple of small lakes. Straight ahead is the path to Sentinel Pass, a saddle between Pinnacle Mountain and Mount Temple, which is still covered by a few snow patches even in summer and requires careful footing given the large number of small stones.
Once you reach Sentinel Pass, you have impressive views back toward the ten peaks, but also over the other side of the mountains into Paradise Valley. It's an amazing spot. There are a number of pesky chipmunks who seem quite used to hikers and are not shy about trying to nab a few nuts. It would be tempting to stay a long time at the pass, but the strong wind encourages you to continue.
It's possible to hike into Paradise Valley and join up with the main road but you then have to find a way back to Moraine Lake. We turned around to come back via Larch Valley, picking up our pace when a summer downpour arrived quite suddenly.