The Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff is arguably one of the best Banff hikes, and it’s a classic! It’s beloved by locals for its accessibility, and you can hike it year-round.
Tunnel Mountain is just 1,684 meters above sea level with 266 meters of elevation gain; it’s much smaller than most other mountains in the area. You’ll notice this the most as you look up to Mount Rundle for almost the entire hike.
It may be one of the smallest mountains in Banff National Park, but it still offers tremendous views of the surrounding valleys and the town of Banff.
The hike moves slowly up the mountain through several switchbacks and offers various viewpoints out into the Bow and Spray Valleys. It’s great for sunrise or sunset, and it rarely disappoints. It’s just one of those things you need to do in Banff.
Tunnel Mountain Hike
Key Points for Hiking Tunnel Mountain
4.5 km. (2.8 miles)
1 – 2.5 hours
266 meters (872 feet)
Tunnel Parking Lot
Tunnel Mountain Hike Location
Because Tunnel Mountain is so close to Downtown Banff you can easily walk to the start of the trailhead; you can also take the Roam Transit, or drive.
- Walk: If you don’t have a car, it’s best to walk to Tunnel Mountain. From the center of town to the Tunnel Mountain trail is a little over 1km.
- Drive: There are two areas to park a vehicle, though the lower parking area has more space. It takes about 3 minutes to drive to the start of the trailhead from Downtown Banff.
- Bus: Roam Transit Route 2 will take you to Tunnel Mountain.
Tunnel Mountain Route Description
There are many start points for the hike up Tunnel Mountain, including from the center of town. Other start points begin from three separate parking lots designated for the hike. It’s a pretty straightforward route that follows a series of well-graded switchbacks.
Tunnel Mountain is pretty easy for anyone of reasonable fitness and makes for a great morning or evening hike from the town. Most of the trail moves through the forest and provides several viewpoints over the Bow River, Banff Springs Hotel, Banff Town, Banff Springs Golf Course, Mount Rundle, and the Bow Valley.
It may be the smallest mountain in Banff, but it’s still a mountain and has a few steep sections to climb on the way to the summit. The trail starts uphill on long switchbacks with the occasional glimpse of the town and Banff Springs Hotel. As it climbs in elevation, the trail does narrow but remains easy to walk along.
Towards the summit, many prominent viewpoints overlook several limestone cliffs famous for rock climbers in the park. Do take care not to knock anything from the top on unsuspecting climbers down below.
From these viewpoints, you get some tremendous views of Mount Rundle. Viewpoints make for an excellent spot for photographers looking for early morning or evening light as it’s a safe trail to climb in the dark with a headlamp. There are railings to protect hikers from falling to certain death; please don’t hop these for a photo.
Tunnel Mountain’s summit is only a few hundred meters past these viewpoints, where you can find several small meadows and more views back towards town. In the distance, you can see Vermilion Lakes, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Bourgeau, and the ever-present Cascade Mountain to the North of town.
Hiking 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.
Tunnel Mountain Has No Tunnel
If you want to hike Tunnel Mountain and expect a tunnel, you may be disappointed. The mountain’s original name was Sleeping Buffalo, given by the natives as it has a similar appearance from a distance.
However, the name Tunnel Mountain was given in 1882 when the Canadian Pacific Railway put forward plans to blast a tunnel through the mountain. However, the plans were never set, and they chose the more cost-effective route around the mountain.
When Can You Hike Tunnel Mountain?
The Tunnel Mountain trail is good all year round, and we’ve made the hike in both the winter and the summer. We actually prefer the trail in the winter months as it’s very popular in the summer months. Unless it’s a very fresh snowfall, the trail has enough traffic to keep the snow compacted and easy to walk on, and is a family friendly hike to enjoy.
Keep in mind that the trail can get icy in the early mornings during springtime as the snow melts and refreezes, so it helps to have microspikes.
You can even rent microspikes at several shops in town like the Banff Adventure Center, and it can really help on other trails around Banff during this time (looking at you, Johnston Canyon).
How Long Does it Take To Hike Tunnel Mountain Banff?
The trail length is pretty subjective due to its accessibility to a wide range of fitness levels. In general, I’d say it will take between one to three hours to complete the hike.
However, the hike is great for a jog in the early morning or late evening and can be completed in around thirty minutes or less. We completed it in 45 minutes on our last hike at an easy constant pace.
How Hard is the Tunnel Mountain Hike?
It’s an easy hike but not the easiest in Banff, as it does have 266m in elevation gain. If you’re seeking something more simple, try the trails around one of the lakes, such as Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, or Lake Minnewanka. Other simple hikes include Johnston Canyon, Grassi Lakes, and the Bow River loop in town.
How Busy is the Tunnel Mountain Hike?
AllTrails rates this as a heavily trafficked trail, and it is very popular. The Tunnel Mountain trail is considered one of the easier Banff hikes and it’s walkable from Downtown Banff, meaning you don’t have to have a car to access it. Unless you’re on the trail around sunrise, you will likely pass people frequently on the trail.
Don’t come here expecting to be alone. Your best bet at having a crowd-free experience is coming mid-week at either sunrise or sunset. One of our last climbs up Tunnel Mountain was on Christmas Eve, and we still passed a few people on the trail.
Are There Toilets on the Tunnel Mountain Trail?
We usually don’t note toilets on Canadian Rockies trails, as most don’t have any facilities, and the best thing to do is duck behind a tree. However, considering this is a family friendly, easy hike, many might expect restrooms.
Unfortunately there are none, and because of the popularity of Tunnel Mountain, it’s challenging to break away from the trail to squat behind a bush. We recommend going before you set out on your adventure.
Should I Bring Dogs or Kids on Tunnel Mountain?
The Tunnel Mountain hike is totally appropriate for dogs. In fact, it may be one of the best in the park. Although you’re just outside of town, it’s still bear country, so keep your dog on a leash and carry bear spray. The Bow Valley wolf pack and cougars have even been spotted around Tunnel Mountain.
We’d say all kids should be okay for the hike up to Tunnel Mountain. Of course, every kid is different. It’s between 30-60+ minutes of sustained walking uphill, so there shouldn’t be any issues if you think they’re up for it.
Can I Bring a Stroller on the Tunnel Mountain Trail
We would advise against bringing a stroller up Tunnel Mountain as the trail is a bit rugged. Instead, it’s best to hike with a baby backpack carrier.
Wildlife Awareness on Tunnel Mountain
You should practice proper wildlife awareness if you’re on any hikes in Banff National Park. 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 any hike or walk-in Banff, 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 and in our chest vest on our hiking backpack.
The likeliness of seeing wildlife on the Tunnel Mountain trail is low. It is a heavily trafficked trail, but bear sightings have occurred. The meadow and valley is prime grizzly habitat, and the trail has been closed in the past due to bear activity.
As always while hiking, stay alert, travel in a group if possible, 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 Banff sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use them properly.
Advice on All Hikes in Banff
- If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies, take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around.
- For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
- On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
- In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — it’s different than gym fitness. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
What to Wear on a Hike in the Rockies?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone who has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can say that your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the mountain base and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system. If you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post!
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Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service that will connect you right from YYC to the town of Banff or Canmore.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.