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 easily one of the best things to do in Banff when you’re on a holiday here.
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. Here’s all you need to know about experiencing the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain.
The Banff Gondola Experience
The Banff 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 even a Starbucks. Although, the Starbucks 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 Banff Gondola.
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. 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 I 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. However, 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. It’s a fantastic place to warm up in the winter before heading outside.
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 festive cocktail bar.
From the summit, there is also the Banff Skywalk that continues on to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory. 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 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 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 Moutain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back trail. It’s all neverending switchbacks with very little views, but is a great activity to get moving. It’s well beaten, so in the winter this means 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. 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 you are 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, but times are subject to change. Any other time the ride down will cost you $30. If you plan to take the Banff Gondola up and ride down you’ll have to pay the full ticket price.
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 two unique combo tickets – one a day time lunch for around $85 and the other is 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. Check experiences here!
How Much is the Banff Gondola?
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. 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 may mean you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance without knowledge of 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 that includes the Columbia Skywalk.
- Adult tickets for the Banff Gondola 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.
- Guests are able to modify their tickets, but may be subject to a small fee.
- To get the best 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.
Is the Banff Gondola Worth the Price?
While there is a lot to love about 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 experienve the restaurant, cafe, or gift shop you’ll also have to budget for that as well. During peak summer the experience can be 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 price is a bit more. The Lake Louise Gondola and Banff Sunshine Gondola also provide exceptional views for a lower price (around $40), And if you really want to save money then there are many hikes in Banff offering fantastic views and fewer people around, 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 are able to take in the views from a mountaintop where it’s not possible elsewhere. Our parents would absolutely love this experience, and the Banff Gondola is also a great way to get young kids up to the top of a mountain. 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 Sukphur Mountain.
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.
The Banff Gondola Prices + others 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 quite often high enough to not affect the views over the mountains. The weather in the mountains is always changing, so it’s quite hard to predict the best time to visit the Banff Gondola.
If the weather is truly bad 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 on top of the mountain, the Banff Gondola website operates a webcam so you can see the visibility. See it here!
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 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. 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.
- 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 descend time and you can head down whenever you wish!
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 completely 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 be able to 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, whereas Lake Louise Gondola provides great views only, but no amenities.
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 a good time to plan a visit both at the same time.
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