Stoney Squaw Summit, Banff

by - Thursday, April 02, 2015

After a delightful day on Tunnel Mountain, we headed up to Stoney Squaw to get our second mini summit in two days. We had expected more snow with the higher elevation, but were shocked at the amount of ice on the trail (in late March). Since we had never done Stoney Squaw before, and had ice cleats and snowshoes, we stuck with the plan and headed up the trail to see what we could see.

Lichen laden trees
The trail is mostly in the trees, so we only got the occasional glimpse of mountains through the trees, but the summit view was pretty nice! 
A rare peek through the trees
What we mostly saw were mossy forest floors, large pine cone middens left by squirrels, and trees draped with lichens. According to 50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park, they are bryoria hair lichens. We also observed large paw prints near the trail, which we later discovered were cougar prints!

Old man's beard moustache!
One of many foot high pinecone middens! 
3/4 Family Photo on the Icy Trail
The trail could provide respite from the sun on a hot day, but on this March day, the heavy tree cover meant thick, treacherous ice on the trails. It was slow going and we got a little confused at a rock outcrop since so many people had gone off trail looking for a viewpoint, but after a quick look around, we found the trail. When you get to the rocky outcrop (which is not the summit), you need to take a sharp left and then the trail becomes visible again. You will descend to the left before turning right and ascending again.

Heading down the icy trail
At the summit, we found the Stoney Squaw Summit geocache and caught a glimpse of Cascade Mountain. We gave the kids a couple minutes to rest and have a snack before carefully making our way down the north side of Stoney Squaw. The trail on this side was far icier (to be expected given the northern aspect), but also much narrower. Since my 4 year old refused to wear her snowshoes, we had to carry her down the sketchy parts. If the trail is in bad shape on your way up, you can be guaranteed the north side will be worse, so go back the way you came! When you enter a clearing (ski run!), head straight towards the lodge, then turn left to get back to your car. 

View of Cascade Mountain from Stoney Squaw Summit
Big POG and Little POG enjoyed making old man's beard moustaches, and finding the geocache at the top. 
Big POG at Stoney Squaw Summit

Insider Tips: The trail is treacherous when icy. Check conditions before you go and bring ice cleats, crampons, microspikes, or snowshoes.

Happy Dance on Stoney Squaw Summit

Stoney Squaw Trail At a Glance

Distance: 4.4 km round trip

Elevation Gain: 185 m (610 feet)

Time: Allow 2.5-3.5 hours with young children.

Trailhead: Follow the signs to Mount Norquay ski resort and turn right at the main parking lot (6 km from downtown Banff). The trailhead kiosk is immediately on your right when you turn right into the parking lot.

Geocaching? "Stoney Squaw Mountain Summit" was near the trail and easy to find!

Stroller friendly? It is too narrow, bumpy (lots of rocks and tree roots), and steep for sports strollers, so bring a baby backpack for children that need to be carried.

Bike friendly? The trail is a multi-use trail and is used by mountain bikers in the summer. Due to the steep incline and bumps, this is definitely not a kid-friendly mountain bike trail.

Washrooms: The closest washrooms are at Mount Norquay's North American Lodge (check ahead for seasonal closures).

Fun Fact: The mountain is named after a loyal Assiniboine wife who hunted this mountain and provided for her husband for several months while he was ill.

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