The Banff Gondola offers incredible panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies, the Bow Valley, and the town of Banff all year round. It’s located on the top of Sulphur Mountain and allows visitors to experience summit views without the effort.
It’s a tough call as to which season has the better views, but we’re partial to winter. As one of the most popular things to do in Banff, many visitors have some questions before they head up the Banff Gondola. There’s also a strong argument that the Banff Gondola is a bit of an overpriced tourist trap
Banff Gondola Experience
The Gondola base station sits at the base of Sulphur mountain a few minutes outside of the center of town. At the Gondola station, you’ll find a gift shop, ticket window, bathrooms, and a Starbucks. Although, the Starbuck here charges more than the one in town 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 cable car.
From the base, visitors ride to the summit in gondola cabins with large windows that allow for 360-degree views. A ride to the top takes eight minutes and climbs to an elevation of 2281 meters (7486 ft) above sea level.
The view from the Gondola is of the Spray Valley and Mount Rundle directly across the valley. Further afield you can see Cascade Mountain and Tunnel Mountain. It’s an enjoyable few minutes, but the views are the best from the summit.
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. Throughout the year the building also hosts several events like around Christmas when the summit is decorated and has a cheerful Santa Claus. From the summit, there is also the Banff Skywalk that continues on to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory.
The best views are another kilometer long walk along the summit ridge. It’s an easy walk that takes place 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 date for almost 30 years in the early 1900s.
The walk takes about 15-20 minutes one way, so allow 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. This trail is not a boardwalk and the observatory offers better views over Banff town so we don’t recommend it for most visitors.
Hike Up Sulphur Montain
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 Moutain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back trail. We hiked up the Sulphur Mountian switchback trail in about 1.5 hours in the winter. In the summer I think ascending Sulphur Mountain is doable in one hour, and you could descend in about 45 minutes. There is no charge to enjoy the summit station so once your at the summit you’re free to enjoy the boardwalk, have a meal, explore the interpretive center, or drink some coffee.
In the winter any time of the day or after 7 pm in the summer the Banff Gondola is FREE to take down. So if you want to hike up for sunset and have a breezy way back down you can plan on taking the gondola for absolutely no charge. Make sure to pay attention to the times of the last ride. In the summer this means 10:30 pm, while in the offseason it is generally 9:30 pm. Any other time the ride down will cost you $30. If you plan to take the Gondola up and ride down you’ll have to pay the full ticket price.
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 two unique combo tickets one a day time lunch for around $85 and the other their “Northern Lights Experience” for around $69. Keep in mind they do use dynamic pricing based on demand, so it’s possible you find different price points.
Banff Gondola Ticket Prices
The tickets for the Gondola operate on dynamic pricing so there is not really a set price. This does help reduce crowding and ticket are sold for specific days and time slots. During the summer months, you’ll find that mid-week tickets are cheaper than weekends. Ticket prices online are also cheaper than buying at the ticket window.
This means you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance without knowledge of the weather. 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 that includes the Athabasca Skywalk.
- Adult tickets start around $50 and can reach prices up to around $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.
Is the Banff Gondola Worth the Price?
While there is a lot to love about the Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain the price tag is a deterrent. At nearly $70 on average per adult, it’s a very expensive ordeal, especially if you go for Pursuit’s Ultimate Explorer Combo Ticket. The high prices don’t stop there as even the restaurant, cafes, and gift shop feel overpriced when compared to the rest of Banff. To top it off the experience is also crowded, but the timed tickets do help with waiting times.
If you compare the ticket price with the three other gondolas or chairlifts operating in the park the value is not great. We find the views at Lake Louise and Sunshine Village to be far better. They also come in around half the prices at $30 and are far less crowded. Then, of course, there is a strong argument that many many hikes in Banff offer far better views than any of these operations for free.
However, the Banff Gondola is easily accessible from town and most importantly it is wheelchair accessible. Those with limited mobility are able to take in the views from a mountaintop where it’s not possible elsewhere. The ticket combo for lunch or dinner is also a pretty good deal, especially if you catch the sun setting while dinner on top of the mountain.
Competitor Prices in the Area
- Banff Gondola – Adult $65, Child $30
- 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 you could be scheduled during bad weather. Don’t worry if it’s cloudy as it’s possible the cloud coverage is high to not affect the views over the mountains. However, it’s possible that cloud coverage may obscure the mountain top in a cloud.
If the weather is truly bad you may be offered an opportunity to reschedule your date and time – no refunds are provided. To check on the views on top of the mountain, the Banff Gondola website operates a webcam so you can see the visibility.
Banff Gondola Tips
- Consider for 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.
- If you have a fear of heights the Gondola may not be for you as the cable cars can be a bit unnerving for those afraid of heights.
- Make sure to dress in layers and be prepared for a cool summit even in the summer months, we’ve seen snow on the peak in August. Temperatures at the base are no vindictive 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.
- 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.
Banff Hot Springs
Adjacent to the Banff Gondola station are the Banff Hot Springs. If you have plans to visit both attractions it a good time to plan a visit for both at the same time.