Mt. Norquay Viewpoint & Stony Squaw Trail

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There’s probably no better place to get the lay of the land around Banff than Mount Norquay.  A road switchbacks up the front of the mountain to the Norquay Ski Resort, and along the way, you’ll get some great views.  In this picture, the Mount Norquay Road interchange on Highway 1 is near the bottom, the town of Banff is in the middle, Sulphur Mountain is on the right, and Mount Rundle is on the left.

Tunnel Mountain is the smaller hill in front of Mount Rundle — and you can even see Tunnel Mountain Drive carved into the hillside.

I had already hiked one long trail on this day, but I was tempted to tackle another one at the top of Mount Norquay.

The trail to Stony Squaw begins at the parking area, just below the entrance to the ski area.  The sign at the trailhead says it’s 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) to the summit of Stony Squaw — but my guidebook said the trail was a 2.4 kilometer loop.  My guidebook was wrong, but it would be a while before I figured that out.  If I had known I was setting out on a 4+ kilometer trail, I probably would have chosen to go back to Banff, eat a nice dinner, and soak my feet in the tub.  Instead, I started climbing another hill.

The trail to the summit of Stony Squaw stays covered in trees for the entire journey.  Even though there aren’t any stunning views, it’s still a nice walk, and a beautiful forest…

… complete with mushrooms…

… and a whole lot of green.  I was enjoying the walk, even though I didn’t know exactly where I was going, or how far I’d have to go to get there.

As close as I can figure, this is the summit of Stony Squaw.  The trail became a bit harder to follow as it crossed over this rocky outcropping.  This was the highest point I could find, but there was no view in any direction — another inaccuracy in my guidebook.  I continued beyond the summit, where the trail (even more faint) headed downhill.  It was a steep descent — so much so, that twice I decided I must be in the wrong place, then turned around, only to decide to keep going.  After all, I thought I was on some sort of loop trail, and my GPS device (which didn’t work well underneath the clouds and the trees) said I had already walked 1.9 kilometers.  If I was on a loop trail, it would take much longer to backtrack.

A short distance down the steep path, I finally found a viewpoint.  It wasn’t great, though — trees were in the way.  The view from the road was much better (and didn’t require any effort).  Frustrated and worried, I turned around.  I had a difficult hike back to the summit, up a hillside that was almost too steep to safely climb — and it started raining.

Of course, I made it back safely.  I hiked quickly on the return trip, since it was getting late and getting dark.  On the drive back to town, I only stopped to take one more picture…

… and then went back to the motel for the night.  I was getting tired of the rain and clouds, and I was hoping I wouldn’t waste any more time on hikes that went nowhere.

Norquay Ski Resort touts itself as the area’s most family friendly ski area.  It sells lift tickets by the day or by the hour, and offers night skiing — the only Banff ski area that lights its slopes.  You can check it all out on Norquay’s website.

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