The Banff Gondola (or Sulphur Mountain Gondola) offers incredible panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, the Bow Valley, and the town of Banff all year round. The gondola takes visitors to the top of Sulphur Mountain and allows them to experience summit views without effort. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Banff when you’re on holiday here.
It’s a tough call as to which season has the better views, but we’re partial to winter (expect cold toes). As one of the most popular things to do in Banff, many visitors have some questions before they head up the Banff Gondola. Here’s all you need to know about experiencing the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain.
The History of the Banff Gondola
Norman Bethune Sanson was one of the early pioneers to ascend Sulphur Mountain. He was a park meteorologist and museum curator who climbed the mountain on snowshoes in order to record the weather observations in 1896.
In 1903, a trail was built from the Upper Hot Springs to the summit ridge. Norman used this trail over 1000 times to observe the weather. His last hike was in 1945 at the age of 84! Norman wasn’t the only one to make the trek, as park visitors could also hike up the mountain. The trail was quickly becoming the most popular in the park.
In the 40s, a teahouse opened on Sulphur Mountain, built and operated by John Jaeggi, a Swiss mountain guide in Banff. All the building materials and supplies had to be carried up by horseback. However, when finished, his dream of having tourist facilities at the top of a mountain had come true.
In the 1950s, Jaeggi made plans for an aerial lift inspired by his native homeland, and construction for the Sulphur Mountain Gondola began in 1958.
The gondola and complex shifted and went through many changes through the years. Now the Banff Gondola complex is owned by the Banff Jasper Collection. They have invested millions into redevelopment and renovation to bring visitors up the Banff Gondola in a beautiful fashion.
Where is the Banff Gondola?
The Banff Gondola is not far from the town of Banff at 2.5 km. The exact address is 100 Mountain Ave, and you can reach it easily by car by driving to the end of Banff Avenue towards the Cascade Gardens. Turn left at Spray Avenue, followed by a right on Mountain Avenue. Drive past the luxurious Rimrock Hotel until you dead end at the Banff Gondola parking area.
There is never any problem parking in the winter, but in the summer, the area gets congested, so it may be beneficial to use the free shuttle operated by ROAM Transit. Route 1 departs from downtown Banff and costs $2 one way. During the winter, you can show your Banff Gondola ticket to the bus driver for a free return ride. The local buses arrive at the Banff Gondola every 40 minutes.
You can also walk from Downtown Banff, which we recommend if you really want extra exercise. The walk from Downtown Banff will take you slightly under an hour.
Where Should You Park for the Banff Gondola?
An open parking lot is free for visitors to enjoy the Banff Gondola or hike up Sulphur Mountain. It rarely fills up in the winter, but the area becomes congested in the summer, and utilizing the complimentary shuttle may work to your advantage.
Is the Banff Gondola Wheelchair Friendly?
Yes. The Banff Gondola facilities are wheelchair accessible to the elderly, small children, or those who are less mobile. There is handicapped parking 30 meters from the entrance and a ramp into the building. Once in the Banff Gondola complex at the top of Sulphur Mountain, all four levels are accessible by elevator.
Though the facilities are wheelchair accessible, the summit boardwalk is not. Strollers are permitted but not recommended.
Is the Banff Gondola Pet Friendly?
Except for service dogs, pets are not allowed on the Banff Gondola.
The Banff Gondola Experience
The Banff Gondola base station sits at the base of Sulphur Mountain, a few minutes outside the town center, at 1,583 meters. The Sulphur Hot Springs are located directly across from the Gondola, so it’s popular to combine a visit to both. There is a large parking lot at the base. A free shuttle runs every 40 minutes from town if you don’t feel like the hassle of parking or want to lose a prime spot.
At the Gondola station, you’ll find a gift shop, ticket window, bathrooms, and even a Starbucks. Starbucks here charges more than the one in town, so we suggest getting some local coffee in Banff instead.
From the station, you’ll already be enamored with mountain views of Mount Rundle and the Spray Valley that only get better as you ascend up the Banff Gondola. You can purchase tickets at the base, but we recommend ordering your tickets online for a more seamless experience.
Visitors ride to the summit in gondola cabins with large windows that allow 360-degree views from the base. A ride to the top takes eight minutes and climbs to 2281 meters (7486 ft) above sea level. You climb 698 meters very quickly, with the ride taking 8 minutes.
Keep your eye out for Cascade Mountain to your right (if looking up), with Tunnel Mountain right in front of it and the massive Mount Rundle behind you.
The view from the Gondola is of the Bow Valley and Mount Rundle directly across the valley. It’s an enjoyable few minutes, and after doing the hike up Sulphur Mountain a few times, we can confirm the views are much better from the Banff Gondola. If you are hiking up Sulphur Mountain, you’ll be in the trees most of the time.
Upon the top of the mountain, you’ll find the summit building. It has several floors with a coffee shop, interactive displays, observation decks, cafeteria, restaurant, and a gift shop.
The most notable restaurant is the Sky Bistro, but more on that later. It’s a fantastic place to warm up in the winter before heading outside. We love the interactive displays as they provide excellent information on the park.
Throughout the year, the building also hosts several events. Around Christmas, the entire summit is decorated and has a cheerful Santa Claus for the Banff Mountaintop Christmas.
Around this time, there are events like cookie decorating and a toy workshop for the kids! Don’t worry, for the adults there is a lively cocktail bar.
The Banff Skywalk also continues to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory from the summit. Don’t skip walking the Skywalk when visiting. The views are well worth it, and it’s a nice leisurely walk.
The Banff Skywalk
The best views are another kilometer-long walk along the summit ridge. It’s an easy walk on an elevated boardwalk that provides phenomenal views and is well worth the walk. You get great views of the Sundance Range to the west as you walk along the boardwalk.
At its end, you’ll find Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory for the original man responsible for using the small building to record weather dates for almost 30 years in the early 1900s.
The walk takes about 15-20 minutes one way, allowing for around 30-40 minutes to the round trip journey. Alternatively, you can take the more adventurous hike up the South East Ridge Trail to the true summit of Sulphur Mountain (summer only). This trail is not a boardwalk, and the observatory offers better views over Banff town, so we don’t recommend it for most visitors.
Banff Gondola Price
The tickets for the Banff Gondola operate on dynamic pricing, so there is not always a set price. This does help reduce crowding, and tickets are sold for specific days and time slots.
You’ll find that mid-week tickets are cheaper than weekends during the summer months. Ticket prices online are also lower than buying at the ticket window.
This may mean you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance without knowing the weather. Although, the weather in Banff changes frequently, and the weatherman never quite gets it right anyway.
You can also opt for the Pursuit’s Ultimate Explorer Combo Ticket, that gives you a ticket to the Banff Gondola, Lake Minnewanka Cruise, and Columbia Icefield Adventure, which includes the Columbia Skywalk.
- Adult tickets for the Banff Gondola start around $50 and can reach prices up to approximately $70 at peak.
- Youth tickets for ages 6 to 17 are $25 and up.
- Children 5 and under are free, but must have a ticket.
- Guests are able to modify their tickets up to 48 hours in advance. If you have to change plans within 48 hours of your ticket price call 1.866.756.1904 and the staff will try to assist, but may be subject to a small fee.
- To get the best Banff Gondola price for the day and time you want, it’s recommended to book in advance. Prices will increase as the date approaches.
- Selecting a mid week date in the off season (outside of June-September) will yield cheaper prices.
- The best time to visit the Banff Gondola is in the early morning and evening when crowds are at their lowest.
- Group rates are available for groups over 15. Bookings must be made 48 hours in advance.
Do You Need to Pre-Purchase Banff Gondola Tickets?
You do not need to pre purchase tickets to enjoy the Banff Gondola. It is possible to walk up day of and buy tickets at the counter. However, Pursuit recommends pre purchasing to save money online, and because tickets can sell out during busy periods (weekends, especially in July and August).
If you are visiting during the summer or around the holidays, it’s best to pre-purchase just in case. However, during the shoulder seasons and winter, especially on weekdays you may not need to.
Keep in mind that Alberta residents can save up to 15%, and you can cancel up to 2 days before your trip for a full refund.
Is the Banff Gondola Worth the Price?
While there is a lot to love about taking the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, the price tag can be a deterrent. At nearly $70 on average per adult, it’s an expensive ordeal, especially if you go for Pursuit’s Ultimate Explorer Combo Ticket.
If you want to experience the restaurant, cafe, or gift shop, you’ll also have to budget for that. The experience can be crowded during peak summer, but the timed tickets help with waiting times.
The price is more if you compare the ticket price with the three other gondolas or chairlifts operating in the park. The Lake Louise Gondola and Banff Sunshine Gondola also provide exceptional views for a lower price (around $40).
Banff has many hikes offering fantastic views and fewer people if you really want to save money. However, you’ll have to put in the work!
All that being said, the Banff Gondola is easily accessible from town, and most importantly, it is wheelchair accessible. Those with limited mobility can take in the views from a mountaintop where it’s not possible elsewhere. It’s also great for families traveling with children. Kids are sure to be impressed with the ride and views from the top.
Our parents absolutely love this experience, as they get the views without a hike, and the Banff Gondola is also a great way to get young kids up to the top of a mountain. Around Christmastime, they go all out with festivities, and I certainly think the price is better justified in December.
Read More: ULTIMATE Banff Gondola Comparison Guide: Lake Louise, Sunshine, Banff, Norquay? Which is Best?
No matter who goes to the top of Sulphur Mountain, anyone will be blown away! I personally love going up the Banff Gondola around Christmastime when the mountains are covered in snow, and Santa Claus is on Sulphur Mountain.
The ticket combo for lunch or dinner is also a pretty good deal, especially if you catch the sunset during dinner on top of the mountain.
Banff Gondola Price + other gondola prices in the area
- Banff Gondola – Adult $65, Child $30 (Prices Fluctuate)
- Mt. Norquay – Adult $39, Child $25, Family $115
- Sunshine Village – Adult $44, Youth $40, Child $30
- Lake Louise – Adult $40, Child $19
- Kicking Horse – Adult $45, Youth $38
- Jasper Sky Tram – $52 Adult, Youth $27.50
Weather For the Banff Gondola
The downside to an advanced ticket purchase is that you could be scheduled during lousy weather. Don’t worry if it’s cloudy, as the cloud coverage may often be high enough to not affect the views over the mountains.
The weather in the mountains is constantly changing, so it’s pretty hard to predict the best time to visit the Banff Gondola.
If the weather is nasty, you may be offered an opportunity to reschedule your date and time – this is an option (sometimes for a small fee). To check on the views from top of the mountain, the Banff Gondola website operates a webcam, so you can see the visibility.
July and August are the best times to visit the Banff Gondola for good weather. When the weather is warm, and you stand your best chance of having a sunny day. That is if it’s not a smoky summer, of course.
Banff Gondola Tips
- Consider one of the multiple ticket options such as dinner or lunch that offer better value.
- Parking can be a challenge at the gondola in the peak summer. In the summer through early October there is a free shuttle from town. You can find the shuttle information on the website where you purchase tickets.
- Make sure to dress in layers and be prepared for a cool summit even in the summer months, we’ve seen snow on the peaks in August. Temperatures at the base are no indicator of the temperatures on the summit.
- Plan for at least two hours for the full experience. This includes enough time to walk along the boardwalk and enjoy the views.
- Check the schedule if you plan to visit in January, as they typically shut down for two weeks for maintenance at this time.
- The Banff Gondola facilities are wheelchair accessible. This includes the summit complex that has an elevator to reach all the levels of the building.
- Due to limited space on the gondola cabins, strollers are not permitted.
- The best time to avoid crowds is before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Sunset from the Banff Gondola is spectacular!
- During the peak summer months, you will be assigned a time to ascend and descend the mountain. It is usually a 2-hour window, but if you want more time you can typically adjust your time slot, given availability, at the ticket window. The staff have never checked our download times, and you can usually stay as long as you want without worry (as long as you catch the last gondola down!)
- While you may have a scheduled time to ascend up Sulphur Mountain, you have as long as you want to explore at the top. There is no set descent time and you can head down whenever you wish!
- The best place to book your ticket on the Banff Gondola is direct with Pursuit.
Banff Gondola Free Alternative: Hike Up Sulphur Mountain
If you want to skip going up Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola, you can easily hike up! We’ve made the hike up Sulphur mountain a few times as it’s an easy workout for locals when the weather isn’t great for other hikes.
The Sulphur Mountain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back trail that takes you up 698 m. It’s all neverending switchbacks with very few views, but it is a great activity to get moving. It’s well beaten, so in the winter, you don’t need much more than some microspikes and a pole.
We hiked up the Sulphur Mountian switchback trail in about 1.5 hours in the winter. Ascending Sulphur Mountain is doable in one hour in the summer if you are a relatively quick hiker, and you could descend in about 45 minutes.
There is no charge to enjoy the summit station, so you’re free to enjoy the boardwalk, have a meal, explore the interpretive center, or drink some coffee once you are at the summit.
In the past, if you hiked up Sulphur Mountain, you could take the gondola down for free in the winter. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, they changed these rules. Before you could hike up for sunset and enjoy the gondola down for absolutely no charge. Unfortunately, like many things, the 2020 pandemic rules stuck, and visitors cannot ride the Banff Gondola down for free anymore.
If you plan to hike up, pay attention to the last gondola rides back down for the day. In the summer, this means 10:30 pm, while it is generally 9:30 pm in the offseason, but times are subject to change. If you plan to hike up and take the gondola down, the ride down will cost you $35.
Can You Hike Up and Take the Gondola Down?
You sure can (but not for free anymore). Those who wish to hike up and ride down can purchase a one-way trip at half price (5 and under free).
You must pay the total ticket price if you want to ride the gondola up but hike down.
**Bow Valley residents can receive a complimentary one-way ticket at the summit if they want to hike up and take the gondola down. Proof of residency is required.
Enjoy the Sky Bistro
For most jaw-dropping views from a restaurant in Banff, you can not do better than the Sky Bistro at the top of Banff Gondola. The restaurant operates on a “farm to summit” premise and, when available, sources as many local ingredients as possible. If you book one of their dining experiences, it’s a pretty good deal if you had plans to head up the Banff Gondola anyways.
They offer a few unique combo tickets – one is a daytime lunch for around $95, and the other is their Sky Experience for approximately $140. Keep in mind they use dynamic pricing based on demand, so you may find different price points. Check experiences here! Reservations are necessary, and the Sky Bistro experience often books up months in advance.
The Banff Nightrise Experience
New in 2021 is the Banff Nightrise Experience, which runs from the beginning of December to the middle of April.
The Banff Nightrise is an interactive experience created by multimedia studio Moment Factory and is in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Nightrise is an immersive and interactive journey that transforms Sulphur Mountain after dark with lights, projections, and riveting soundscapes.
It allows visitors to “listen to the view,” and each level of the complex is transformed, with the viewing deck allowing visitors to view Banff in a new way.
It’s a beautiful experience, especially since it is partnered with the Indigenous peoples that contribute music, words, and stories. You can purchase Nightrise tickets on Pursuits webpage.
Which Gondola is Better – the Banff Gondola or Lake Louise?
This is like comparing apples and oranges as the Banff Gondola, and Lake Louise Gondola are entirely different and offer different experiences. For one, they are in completely different locations and provide unique views.
On top of the Banff Gondola, you’ll see the Town of Banff down below and mountains like Mount Rundle and Cascade in the distance.
On top of the Lake Louise Gondola, you’ll get great views of Mount Victoria, Lake Louise, and Mount Temple. The Banff Gondola is more of a full experience as there is a gift shop, coffee shop, restaurant, and overall tourist attraction. In contrast, Lake Louise Gondola provides great views only but no amenities.
ULTIMATE Banff Gondola Comparison Guide: Which is Best?
Visit the Banff Hot Springs When Finished
Adjacent to the Banff Gondola station is the Banff Hot Springs. If you have plans to visit both attractions, it is an excellent time to plan a visit simultaneously.
Where to Stay Near the Banff Gondola?
The closest hotel to the Banff Gondola is the Rimrock Hotel, just a short walk or drive down the road. It’s one of the best hotels in Banff, and easily one of the most luxurious. You’ll have to plan ahead and book early in the summer as it books up fast!
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out Safetywing or HeyMondo offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, you can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards.
↓ Join the community ↓
The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies’ travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. This is also where you can meet one another when you need adventure buddies.
11 thoughts on “20 Things to Know BEFORE You Ride the Banff Gondola”
Unless you live in the Bow Valley (Banff/Canmore residents), the gondola is never FREE to take down. My husband and I live in Calgary and have made the beautiful and absolutely worthwhile hike up and down Sulphur Mountain many, many times – I would encourage any tourist who is interested and has the time to take the opportunity to hike Sulphur Mountain. But know you will be paying to ride the gondola down, if that is how you choose to descend. Please update this blog with accurate information.
Thank you Karen, but this is simply not true, we have taken the Banff Gondola down for free many times in the winter, as recently as 2019. In 2020 many rules were changed by Pursuit and they restricted things like this due to COVID. Perhaps this is when you visited.
We’re still waiting to hear what will happen for winter 2021 and will update when Pursuit releases its guidelines. PS we live in the Bow Valley, and have never been asked to share our ID or proof of residency to take the gondola down.
Decided to do this Sulphur today December 12th 2021, as we have many times before. Full disclosure,: we live in Cochrane but we’ve done this hike many times and this is the first time we hiked up and were told we had to pay to take the gondola down, like Natasha was saying. When I told the lady at the counter the website said otherwise, she told me I was incorrect and reiterated the fee. Sadly, that is enough of a deterrent to stop the annual hike we used to do and we ended up saying forget it and hiked back down. I am curious now of the impact this will have on people visiting the summit. $70 for two people for a gondola ride is way too much and the food and drinks at the top are expensive too. Just a bit heartbreaking to see a tradition go out the window.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I called Pursuit in November and they didn’t have an update, but after chatting with them today it seems the rules that changed during covid are here to stay. I have updated this article to reflect that. It’s a shame that they are not allowing winter hikers this free opportunity anymore, but thankfully there are plenty of other adventures to get up to in the Rockies!
Hi. Very disappointed today as we bought 2 tickets via our hotel at lunchtime for a 3.10pm departure. As soon as we got off the gondola we were told the last gondola left at 5pm and would have to line up early to be gone by 5pm for a private function.This barely left us 1 hour. Very expensive hour. Why didn’t you advise our hotel at midday when we booked. Again very disappointing for 2 Australian ladies.
I’m sorry for your experience and disappointment, but please note we are just local bloggers providing information on the area and do not run or operate the Banff Gondola. It’s best to voice your concern to the Banff Gondola or directly with your hotel..
Thank you for the list of all the gondolas with prices. I didn’t know that there were so many to choose from! I’ve been reading all your blogs and enjoying them plus learning so much. I am traveling to Canada in August and visiting most of the parks. You’ve been very helpful, thank you.
Glad they are helpful! Enjoy Banff!
I made a reservation for Sky Bistro and “a note from the restaurant” says a gondola ticket is required to visit Sky Bistro. Is this true? I was planning to hike up Sulphur Mountain, eat at Sky Bistro, then take the gondola down (or hike down).
Best to call Pursuit and confirm!
This post was exactly what I needed to plan my day trip this weekend thanks so much