How To Visit Surprise Corner Viewpoint in Banff

Surprise Corner is a spectacular viewpoint of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the Spray Valley. It is easily one of the most famous photo spots in Banff.

“The Castle of The Rockies” sits at the base of Sulphur Mountain with the roaring Bow Falls in the foreground. Since it’s only a few minutes outside of town along Tunnel Mountain Road, it’s an easy stop for visitors to Banff. The view is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic places to snap a picture in Banff.

Most visitors are probably familiar with the view as the iconic scene is often shared across social media and used for marketing. That being said, a photo rarely conveys the scale and beauty like witnessing the natural setting in person.


Surprise Corner Viewpoint in Banff

Banff Springs Hotel View From Surprise Corner

The Surprise Corner viewpoint sits high above the Bow Falls off of Tunnel Mountain Road. There is a small parking lot with enough space for about 10 cars, which can make parking a bit difficult. Across from the parking lot, there is a short flight of stairs and an elevated platform.

The viewing platform of Surprise Corner
Across the street from Surprise Corner

From the platform, you have an amazing view above the trees of the Banff Springs Hotel and the Spray Valley. However, it is not the famed photo location, as the Bow River is not visible down below.

If you want to find the scenic spot, head up the road a short distance until you see a barricade and a small area for pedestrians. Here, you can stand along the cliff edge to snap a photo. However, be careful as the precarious cliff is covered in loose gravel and a fall would be perilous.

Banff Springs in the evening from Surprise corner

It’s a spectacular photograph and one of our favorite photo spots around the town of Banff, along with Banff Ave and Vermilion Lakes. Once you see the amazing landscape in person, it leaves little wonder as to why it’s on many visitors’ list of things to do in Banff.


When is the Best Time to Visit?

Banff Springs Hotel
Surprise Corner in Winter

We’ve been to Surprise Corner countless times and have seen it in all kinds of weather and seasons. A visit to the viewpoint is great any time of year, but our favorite time is after a fresh snowfall when the trees have a dusting of snow.

surprise corner
Hanging out at Surprise Corner with pups

If you’re seeking the best time for photographs, that would be in the morning when the sun lights up Sulphur Mountain. The sun sets over the hotel and mountain, so it’s best not to photograph in the afternoon.

Surprise-Corner-in-october
Surprise Corner in October

If you wait until late enough in the evening, a photo with the Banff Springs all lit up can also be very nice. However, it’s not a good spot for astrophotography or spotting the Northern Lights as the light pollution from the resort and town is too great.


Where is Surprise Corner?

Google Maps Photo of Surprise Corner

It’s super easy to find Surprise Corner as it signposted off of Buffalo Street. From Banff Ave, turn left at the CIBC bank and follow the road until you reach the viewpoint — it’s pretty hard to miss! You can also type in Surprise Corner Viewpoint into Google Maps and it will bring you right there!

Surprise Corner
Surprise Corner in the Summer

It’s a 20-25 minute walk from town, but be forewarned a bit uphill. Although you can see a bit of Bow Falls from the Surprise Corner Viewpoint, you’ll have to head to the Bow Falls Viewpoint to see the entire scene. The walk from Surprise Corner to Bow Falls is about 30 minutes.

There is a short trail for half the walk along the Bow River. However, we’d recommend other easy hikes around Banff, like Bow Falls, Cascade Gardens, or the Hoodoos as this is more of just a viewpoint.


Open Top Tours

open-top-touring-banff

If you are visiting Banff without a car, you can book an Open Top Tour. This is a full-guided tour that transports visitors all around Banff in an open-air vintage vehicle. One of their stops is the viewpoint!


Walks and Hikes Near Surprise Corner

Tunnel Mountain Hike offers an amazing view of Mt Rundle
On Tunnel Mountain

There are a number of walks and hikes that are near Surprise Corner. One of our favorite local hikes is Tunnel Mountain. The parking lot for Banff’s smallest mountain is not far from Surprise Corner. It’s a great hike that takes the average hiker under an hour to reach the top!

You can also hike down to the shoreline of the Bow River or out to the Hoodoos from Surprise Corner. The Surprise Corner Viewpoint to Hoodoos Interpretive Trail is 4.6 kilometers, 60 meters in elevation loss and gain, and should take about 1.5 hours to complete.


Tips For Visiting

Surprise Corner
Surprise Corner in the Fall
Surprise Corner
Visiting Surprise Corner with my mom in August
  • Be prepared for crowds if you’re visiting in the peak summer months. It’s a popular spot for social media and tour buses.
  • Surprise Corner is a quick stop! We recommend you plan 20-30 minutes out of your day to stop here.
  • Practice caution in Banff in the winter as the steep bank can be very slippery and the snow can cover steep drop-offs. The platform may not be cleared if the snowfall is recent.
  • Please park in the parking lot or walk to the viewpoint, traffic is a common problem along with the viewpoint due to poorly parked vehicles. The lot, however, is very small, with only enough room for a few vehicles (although buses sometimes try and cram in there, too).
  • A visit to Surprise Corner is free of charge — of course, you will need your Parks Canada pass to do anything in Banff National Park.
  • We love to visit in the winter when things are nice in quiet, especially in the morning.
  • If you’re spending a day seeing the sights around town I’d highly recommend a quick hike up Tunnel Mountain for some exercise and great views. (There is a spectacular view of Mt Rundle!) A longer hike near Banff would be up Sulphur Mountain, which is also spectacular.

Stay Nearby!

Banff-Springs-Hotel
Banff Springs

Don’t just get a glimpse of the famous hotel, actually stay there!

Check Rates

Tunnel Mountain Resort

Right up the road is Tunnel Mountain Resort, it’s perfect for families and most rooms have a kitchen!

Check Rates


Hopefully, this helped you determine how to experience the fabulous Surprise Corner in Banff. 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 Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

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2 thoughts on “How To Visit Surprise Corner Viewpoint in Banff”

  1. Hello! We’ll be in Banff May 30, 2024 with the Rocky Mountaineer tour group and will not have a rental car. We need to know how strenuous it is to get from Bow Falls to Surprise Corner. Is it an uphill and difficult walk for someone age 68 and overweight? About how far is it from Bow Falls?

    Reply
    • From the Surprise Corner Viewpoint to the Bow Falls Viewpoint is quite some distance – about 2km+ apart and uphill from Bow Falls to Surprise Corner, I would say it would be pretty strenuous for an older person so it might be best to look for alternative activities

      Reply

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