Sunset Lookout features stunning panoramic scenery along the scenic Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The trail for Sunset Pass is an efficient 13.7 KM (8⅝ mile) one-way link to Pinto Lake. However, near the end of this day, there is insufficient daylight time remaining to hike to Pinto Lake, or even the 8.2 KM (5⅛ mile) one-way hike to Sunset Pass.
The hike to panoramic Sunset Lookout is possible to achieve by maintaining an aggressive pace, given this is the fourth hike of the day after Parker Ridge, Hilda Glacier and Panther Falls. The hike from the trail-head along the Icefields Parkway to Sunset Lookout is 4.5 KM (2¾ miles) one-way with an elevation gain of 390 m (1,280 ft).
The Sunset Pass trail-head is clearly signed along the Icefields Parkway about 17 KM (10⅝ miles) north of Saskatchewan Crossing. The drive home to a late dinner at The Crossing Resort will be short. The few remaining vehicles in the parking area likely belong to backpackers enjoying a retreat at the incredibly beautiful Pinto Lake. Late day sun sparkles from water in the pristine wetlands surrounding the parking area.
The trail winds into dense forest accented by shadows and sunbeams. Terrain is fairly rugged on this well-used and popular trail as sustained ascent is aggressive over tree roots and occasional rocky outcroppings. Periodic level spots of good quality, tranquil trail provide intermittent welcome relief on the ascent.
Partway up the switchbacks, a brief trail option to the right leads to spectacular viewpoints over Norman Creek Waterfall. Close proximity to tumbling, crystal-clear water renders a single photographic image impossible with the camera. There are two exits to view this spectacular waterfall. The uppermost option is the best.
The climb continues through dense, aromatic and lush forest on well-established and variable quality trail. Near 2.9 KM (1¾ miles), an opening clearly defines the well-signed junction on the left to Sunset Lookout. The trail continues straight ahead to Norman Lake Campground, Sunset Pass and a subsequent descent to Pinto Lake.
This section of the trail to Sunset Lookout is a dream. The excellent quality tail is relatively straight with rolling features and lush undergrowth bordering long-established forest. Evidence of old growth remains stubbornly present and downed trees support colonies of brilliantly colored moss and fungi. This portion of the hike is a beautiful and efficient forest hike until imminent arrival at the short, gentle descent to the actual viewpoint. Sunset Lookout is a tiny patch of real estate offering incredible views and worthy-of-attention exposure.
The small ledge is complicated with old concrete foundation and metal debris from a long-ago fire lookout. Caution is sensible. The view, enhanced by a setting sun, is breathtaking. WOW! The intricacy of the panorama is so profound it defies reality.
Sunset Lookout is perched about 390 m (1,280 ft) above the clearly visible and surprisingly quiet Icefields Parkway which provides directional reference with its north-south inclination. There is an outstanding view of the confluence of the wide and braided North Saskatchewan River delta with the Alexander River, which is not visible from the highway.
Even though daylight time is limited, Sunset Lookout belongs to me alone and I shall sit here for awhile to absorb the incredible peace and ambiance. Many photographs are captured and summarized with a short, panoramic video.
The sensual beauty here makes leaving difficult but expedience is necessary to make a dash for the parking area so return to The Crossing Resort will occur before darkness sets in.
This amazing day has created many memorable highlights. Dinner is outstanding at a window seat in the nearly empty dining room as the sun sets into an orange glow through mist rising on surrounding dramatic mountain summits. The slowly morphing images of ethereal magnificence provide spiritual transportation into absolute darkness. This closing experience brings new meaning to fine dining and caps an amazing day of hiking in Banff National Park.
Service throughout my stay has been crisp and cordial. There is also an excellent buffet in the Mount Wilson Restaurant.