How to Hike the Sulphur Mountain Trail (Banff Gondola Alternative)

Sulphur Mountain is an icon of Banff despite the fact it is not the most scenic mountain in Banff. A hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain is ideal for anyone wanting to take in the fine mountain air and alpine views.

The Sulphur Mountain hike 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, an 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 to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain can be a tad crowded during peak summer. Regardless it’s a wonderful introduction to the Canadian Rockies, and enjoyed by all who hike to the top or take the gondola.


All About Sulphur Mountain


History of Sulphur Mountain

sulphur mountain and cosmic station

Sulphur Mountain is named for the two sulfurous hot springs 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, including 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 Experience

Banff-Gondola
Riding 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 fantastic 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 $62 Round trip. In my opinion, the gondola is excellent for those that are not physically able to complete the Sulphur Mountain hike. This may mean people with disabilities, the elderly, or large families with young children.

If you are able, I highly recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain instead of spending money on the Banff Gondola. The beautiful view will feel much more rewarding after you burn some calories to get up.


The Sulphur Mountain Hike

Infographic for hike length
Length

10.1 km

Infographic For Hike duration
Duration

3 – 5 hours 

Infographic For Hike Elevation Gain
Elevation

744 m

Infographic for difficulty of hike
Difficulty

Moderate

Infographic For Trailhead
Trailhead

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 great vantage point over the Bow Valley, and the Banff Gondola’s visitor center offers some excellent 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 sometimes feel unrelenting. It’s impossible to get lost or go off trail, as it’s a well trodded path that continues along the switchbacks all the way to the top.

The hike gets an occasional glimpse of the Goat Valley down below and Mount Rundle’s western face. The Sulphur Mountain hike is pretty simple and takes around 1-2 hours to reach the Banff Gondola station on top of the mountain. This all depends on your fitness and hiking ability.


How Long Does Hiking Sulphur Mountain Take?

Sulphur Mountain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back route, plus a few extra hundred meters depending on how long you walk on the Sanson Peak Boardwalk. 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 microspikes on, which definitely helped with the sliding.

Ascending 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 as there is plenty to take in at the top.

If you are really taking your time, this whole circuit could be completed in four hours with an excellent coffee stop at the Sky Bistro at the top. There’s also a nice interactive indoor center for kids and families to learn about the area. As well as a gift shop for visitors.

During Christmas in Banff, Pursuit organizes a “Mountaintop Christmas” event complete with Santa, cookie decorating, outdoor bubbles, and firepits (and adult Christmas cocktails!).

There aren’t any WOW views on the Sulphur Mountain 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?

Sulphur Mountain Hike

AllTrails has rates this hike as hard, and I would have to say this is more of an easy/moderate trail. 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. This is one of the easier hikes that you can do in the park. It’s more difficult than Tunnel Mountain or Johnston Canyon but much easier than say 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 and be on your feet for at least 10km. Come expecting to get your heart rate up a bit!


Which Way Should I Hike Sulphur Mountain?

Banff Gondola Hike

There is only one trail up! You’ll find it off to the left of the parking area right near the Sulphur Mountain and Banff Hotsprings sign. You’ll take this same way down, too.

If you hike up, and don’t have the energy to hike down, it’s possible to grab a ride on the Banff Gondola for half price of a normal ticket. If you are a Bow Valley local you can show your ID for a free ride down. Note that you cannot take the Banff Gondola up, and hike back down without paying full price for a ticket.

Make sure to pay attention to the times of the last ride. In the summer, this usually means 10:30 pm, while in the offseason, it is generally 9:30 pm or earlier.


Hiking Gear We Recommend for Sulphur Mountain

Salomon Speedcross 5

Salomon Speedcross 5

The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.

Arc'teryx Cerium Hoody

Arc’teryx Cerium

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.

Peak Design Capture Clip

PD Capture Clip

This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!

Hiking Poles

Hiking Poles

A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail. 

Gregory Nano Backpack

Gregory Nano 20L

20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.

Garmin Inreach Mini

Garmin Inreach Mini

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?

The Sulphur Mountain hike is a year round hike. 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.

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 microspikes weren’t necessary at this time, they definitely were helpful for a few members of our group. It all depends on the grippiness of your boots!

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. And unless you head up the Sulphur Mountain trail around the holidays it’s unlikely you’ll find many other people in the winter.

However, the Sulphur Mountain hike is heavily trafficked during the peak summer season, given its ease and proximity to downtown Banff.


How Busy is Sulphur Mountain Hike?

Sulphur Mountain Hike

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 and saves money by not taking the Banff Gondola. Don’t come here expecting to be alone, except maybe on a mid-week winter day.


What About Dogs and Kids on Sulphur Mountain?

The Banff Gondola does not allow pets inside the cabin, so if you have pets and wna to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain your only option is to complete the Sulphur Mountain trail.

That being said you should bring the dogs and the kids! Sulphur Mountain is a doable trail for all. Remember to keep the dogs on a leash at all times in Banff and make sure the kids don’t slip in the winter.


Summiting Sulphur Mountain

Town of Banff Overlook Canmore vs Banff

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.

Banff-Gondola

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 and commercialized 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

Bear Road Banff

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 typically wear our bear sprays near our shoulders.

However, the likeliness of seeing wildlife on the Sulphur Mountain 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!

Always check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 

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 carry bear spray and know how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray, Valhalla Pure Outfitters in Canmore and Atmosphere in Banff sells spray and holders. Employees there will demonstrate how to use it properly if you ask, or just look up a few tutorials on YouTube.

12 Bear Safety Tips • How To Hike In Bear Country

Hopefully, this Sulphur Mountain hike guide was helpful for you!

If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.


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About Natasha

Natasha lives in Canmore, Alberta. After traveling across six continents and 80 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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