Sulphur Mountain is an icon of Banff despite the fact it is not the most scenic mountain in Banff. A journey up to the top of Sulphur Mountain to take in the fine mountain air and encompassing alpine views. It provides a surreal view of the towering Cascade Mountain and the staggering peaks of the Sundance Range.
You can carry yourself to the top or hop on the Banff Gondola for an eight-minute ride up 698 meters to the summit ridge. There you’ll find restaurants, hiking trails, a boardwalk, gift shop, information center, and observation decks. Most amazingly the Banff Gondola is wheelchair accessible so those less mobile can feel the joy of reaching the top of a mountain.
Since it’s easy to access and visitors can take a scenic ride up the Banff Gondola up to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain can be a tad crowded during peak summer.
History of Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain is named for the two sulfurous hot springs that are located on the mountain’s lower slopes. Due to a conflicting claim over the hot springs, then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald set the hot springs aside as a small nature preserve.
Two years later the Rocky Mountain Parks Act expanded the park into the first Canadian National Park which included Sulphur Mountain. From there tourism continued to grow as the wealthy continued to visit the Rockies in search of serenity and mountain sports. It was not until 1930 and the National Park Act that the park was expanded significantly and its name was changed to Banff National Park.
The Banff Gondola
The Banff Sightseeing Gondola is located just five minutes from the Town of Banff. It’s really one of the most popular things to do in Banff all year round. The gondola is there for you if you want to get those amazing six mountain range views from the top of Sulphur Mountain without the climb up or down.
The Banff Gondola runs year-round and provides the chance to relax and hang over the trees. The Banff Gondola is not a cheap experience at a $62 Round trip. In my opinion, the gondola is great for those that are not physically able to do the hike. This may mean people with disabilities, the elderly, or large families.
If you are able, I highly recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain. The beautiful view will feel much more rewarding!
The Hike Up Sulphur Mountain
3 – 5 hours
Banff Gondola Parking Area
Sulphur Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. This is due to its easy access from Banff and reliable trail. It’s a beautiful hike to a wonderful vantage point over the Bow Valley and the Banff Gondola’s visitor center offers some wonderful amenities.
The trail up to the top of Sulphur mountain begins at the Banff Gondola Parking lot. It’s a large lot that’s pretty easy to get parking, but if it’s a peak summer weekend the bus may not be a bad idea as it makes parking far easier.
Right from the start, the trail begins a gentle grade uphill through the trees. The trail up to the top of the mountain is a gentle series of switchbacks that can feel at times unrelenting. The hike gets an occasional glimpse of the Goat Valley down below and Mount Rundle’s western face. The hike is pretty simple and takes around an hour to reach the Banff Gondola station on top of the mountain.
How Long Does Hiking Sulphur Mountain Take?
Sulphur Mountain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back trail. We hiked up the Sulphur Mountain switchback trail in about 1.5 hours in the winter. We had hiking poles, and a few members of our party had crampons on, which definitely helped with the sliding.
I think ascending to Sulphur Mountain is doable in one hour in the summer, and you could descend in about 45 minutes. We spent about one hour enjoying the views from the top of Sulphur Mountain.
If you are really taking your time, this whole circuit could be completed in four hours with a nice coffee at the Sky Bistro at the top.
There aren’t any WOW views on the hike until you reach the top, but if you like to take many photos like us, then factor in an extra 10 minutes.
How Hard is the Sulphur Mountain Trail?
AllTrails has rated this hike as moderate, and I would have to say I agree with them. There is nothing technical or challenging about this hike, but it is a steady incline the entire way up with little to no flat spots and switchbacks almost the entire way.
If you’re in reasonably good shape, this will be no problem for you and is one of the easier hikes that you can do in the park. It’s harder than Tunnel Mountain but much easier than Cascade Mountain. Don’t think that means it’s a complete walk in the park! You’ll still gain an elevation of 744 meters through what seems like neverending switchback trails.
Which Way Should I Hike Sulphur Mountain?
There is only one trail up! You’ll find it off to the left of the parking area right near the Sulphur Mountain and Hotsprings sign. You’ll take this way down, too, if you decide to hike.
In the winter, anytime 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 or earlier.
Any other time the ride down will cost you $30.
Gear We Recommend
The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
When Can You Hike Sulphur Mountain?
Sulphur Mountain is doable all year! If you decide to tackle this in the winter, microspikes will come in super helpful to get you through. It’s steep and slippery. Hiking poles are never a bad idea either. See my section at the bottom for what to wear hiking.
We hiked Sulphur Mountain in early May, and there was still plenty of snow on the ground (if you can’t tell from these photos!). While crampons weren’t necessary at this time, they definitely were helpful for a few members of our group.
Hiking Sulphur Mountain in the winter means that you won’t find many other people on the trail. We saw maybe 10 other people in May. This trail is heavily trafficked during the peak summer season, given its ease and proximity to downtown Banff.
How Busy is Sulphur Mountain Trail?
AllTrails rates this as a heavily trafficked trail, and it is. It’s a moderate hike that is exceptionally close to the town of Banff and offers breathtaking views over the Bow Valley. Don’t come here expecting to be alone, except maybe on a mid-week winter day.
What About Dogs and Kids on Sulphur Mountain?
Bring the dogs and the kids! Sulphur Mountain is a doable trail for all. Remember to keep the dogs on a leash and make sure the kids don’t slip in the winter.
Summiting Sulphur Mountain
Once you reach the top of Sulphur Mountain, you may be in for a treat, depending on what kind of person you are.
The views are breathtaking, but there is also a well-built viewing and walking platform. The Sulphur Mountain boardwalk takes you across the summit comfortably and safely.
You’ll also find an interactive interpretive center for families, a small theatre, rooftop viewing platform, a mountain restaurant, and a coffee shop to relax at after your hike up. It’s fully wheelchair accessible and great for the elderly who want the views without the strenuous climb.
The way that Sulphur Mountain is built up at the top is certainly not for every adventurous hiker, but it is great for many visitors to Banff who want to learn more and get a great introduction to hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Wildlife Awareness On Sulphur Mountain
If you’re on any hikes in Banff, you should practice proper wildlife awareness. There are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars in the region. They are all a potential threat to humans, and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
Before hiking or walking around Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hips.
The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is rare. It’s heavily trafficked, and there is a loud gondola floating above the trail the whole time. Undoubtedly scaring away most wildlife. Still – you need to be prepared for any situation in the Canadian Rockies!
When you’re on the trail, make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re on the ridge, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.
As always, while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray, Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use it properly.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: From luxury hotels to wilderness cabins, there are plenty of places to stay in the Rockies. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our full Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
↓ 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 a place where you can meet one another when you need adventure buddies.