Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
Last updated on January 11, 2023
We’ve personally soared up Sulphur Mountian via the Banff Gondola many times and thus easily declare it one of the top things to do in Banff! Offering unparalleled views, delicious food options, and even some special events like live music, there are few attractions in all of Canada as compelling. So please don’t plan a trip to Banff without including it on your itinerary! Below you’ll find all the information you need to know for this jaw-dropping mountaintop experience.
Banff Gondola History
While people have been using the hiking trails to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain for centuries, it was John Jaeggi who envisioned the mountain’s first gondola. Realizing how popular the gondola could be with tourists, he researched lifts in his native Switzerland before raising enough money to begin construction in Banff in 1958. The gondola officially opened in July 1959 and remains the only bi-cable gondola in all of Canada.
While there have been other tourist centres at the top of the mountain since 1959, a massive 26 million-dollar renovation began in 2015 to build a multi-level complex. In September 2016, the new interpretive centre was opened. With it came four levels of fantastic dining options, retail shops, a theatre, information about the mountain and the surrounding area, and, of course, the jaw-dropping 360-degree rooftop view over Banff National Park.
About Sulphur Mountain
Named for the two hot springs on its lower slopes, Sulphur Mountain has a summit of 2,281 metres (7,486 feet) above sea level. Soaring above the treetops of Banff National Park, the 360-degree view from the top affords unbelievable views of the snow-capped mountain ranges all around you.
While many people glide inside the 4-seater cabins of the gondola to the top, you can also explore the hiking trails in the area. The Sulphur Mountain Trail is considered a moderate to difficult hike of nearly 11 kilometres, where you’ll reach the summit. Enjoy the interpretive centre at the top, and then take the gondola down for a different perspective (and a rest!).
Besides its natural beauty and phenomenal views, the mountain is also known for its National Historic Site – the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station – a meteorological observatory building built in 1903. It was frequented by Norman Bethune Sanson, for whom Sanson Peak is named. The building still exists today, and visitors can look through the window to see the original interior.
Sanson first climbed the mountain in snowshoes in 1896 to record the weather conditions for Banff National Park; he went on to hike the mountain more than 1000 times in his life, continuing to hike the mountain well into his 80s!
Banff Gondola Tickets
It’s straightforward to book tickets for the Banff Gondola online. However, it’s highly recommended that you book tickets well in advance for the date you’d like to visit; this will ensure you get the date and time you’d like, and it also gives you cheaper price options (see below).
Banff Gondola Price
Interestingly, because the ticket cost of the Banff Gondola is based on projected visitation, the price of a ride on the gondola varies depending on the day and time. Therefore, the absolute best way to get the lowest price for the day you’d like to visit is to book as far in advance as possible. Know that you can get a full refund if you need to cancel up to 2 days before your trip.
Pricing for the Banff Gondola experience fluctuates depending on the day you want to visit.
In general, the pricing starts around:
- General Admission: $55 CAD per adult / $27.50 CAD per child
- Alberta Local Admission: $44 CAD per adult / $22 CAD per child
- Family Experience (kids ride free): $55 CAD per adult
Be sure to keep your eyes out for deals and packages that combine experiences, meals and in some cases, allow children to ride for free.
In addition, if you decide to hike up Sulphur Mountain, you can take a one-way trip on the Gondola down, and the ticket price is 50% discounted.
Where is the Banff Gondola?
The Banff Gondola is found at the base of Sulphur Mountain, just at the end of Mountain Avenue in Banff.
It is very easy to find from downtown Banff. Starting on Banff Avenue, drive south until you cross the bridge onto Spray Avenue, where you’ll turn left. Then turn right onto Mountain Avenue. Continue driving down Mountain Avenue until you reach the Banff Gondola parking lot.
There is a free shuttle to Sulphur Mountain from downtown Banff in the summer. There is also year-round service with Bow Valley ROAM Transit Services, and buses make frequent stops within Banff and at the Banff Gondola.
If you’re walking from Banff, expect at least an hour’s walk each way (the journey is approximately 5 kilometres). It is not recommended to do this in winter because of the frequently changing weather conditions.
Banff Gondola Parking
While there is indeed a parking lot at the Banff Gondola, it fills up quickly, and parking is limited. Therefore, it might be useful to take the Bow Valley ROAM Transit Services bus so that you don’t even have to worry about the lack of parking or, in summer, to take the free shuttle from the town of Banff to the gondola.
Banff Gondola Hours
It’s important to always check the Banff Gondola hours of operation before your visit, as the hours’ change depending on the season. The gondola is also sometimes closed for planned maintenance or weather considerations. In general, however, the Banff Gondola is open every day, even in winter. It’s important to note that the last ride up the gondola is 30 minutes before closing time, while the last ride down is at closing time.
The best time to visit the Banff Gondola is on clear days so you can have a clear 360-degree panorama of Banff National Park.
Banff Gondola Ride
Make sure to get lots of photos of that 360-degree view of the Canadian Rockies as you ride the gondola… at only eight minutes either way, it goes by quickly! The track of the gondola is approximately one mile long, and you’ll climb 698 metres (2,292 feet) to the summit ridge. It takes about 8 minutes each way to go up and down the mountain.
Each gondola car fits four adults, while a baby or small child can comfortably join to make five. Strollers are not recommended due to the limited space in the gondola cars.
Accessibility and Safety
The Banff Gondola is committed to the safety of all guests and employees. The Banff Gondola cars are wheelchair accessible, and there is designated wheelchair parking in the parking lot. There is ramp access to the main building at the bottom of the mountain, while each of the four levels of the complex at the summit of Sulphur Mountain is accessible by elevator.
Service dogs are allowed on the gondola with proper accreditation.
What to Do at the Top
Once you’ve arrived on top of the mountain, there are plenty of things to do including two gift shops, hiking trails, an interactive compass, and more.
Above Banff Interpretive Centre
As soon as you walk off the gondola you will walk into the state-of-the-art “Above Banff Interpretive Centre“. There are interactive interpretive exhibits and displays, a multi-sensory theatre, and even an interactive mobile game for the kids to play and learn about the top of the mountain.
Banff Observation Deck
From this birds-eye view, you will be able to see the Banff townsite, the Bow Valley and the Spray Valley. You’ll be amazed at how beautiful it is from this 360-degree vantage point. Be sure to get a selfie with the Banff mirror bear!
Sulphur Mountain Ridgetop Boardwalk
From the viewing platform, you will notice the Ridgetop Boardwalk which extends along the summit ridge. It’s a short and easy walk along the elevated boardwalk and you will be rewarded with incredible views making it well worth the effort. Try and make it all the way to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory for the panoramic view of the valley.
New in 2022 is the “Nightrise” experience. It’s all about experiencing the summit from a new perspective with an incredible display of dynamic lights glowing amongst the mountain and trees, creating a sense of wonder and amazement.
Visitors are dazzled by twinkling snowflake lights, interactive projections and hear soundscapes with guided voices. With the support and partnership of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, they contributed music and spoken word to tell their story about their land and home.
Banff Gondola Restaurants
There are some fantastic options for eating once you are on the mountaintop!
Sky Bistro Banff
If you’re looking for one of the most memorable Banff restaurants, look no further than the Sky Bistro Banff. With exceptional views of the Canadian Rockies all around you, there’s no better place to enjoy a fine dining experience than at the summit of Sulphur Mountain.
Using the best of Canadian ingredients and inspired by what you can find on the local land, settle in for an exquisite meal of Alberta beef, house-made pastas, locally sourced salmon, and more.
Before you go up the gondola, you can grab a java at the Starbucks coffee shop, or else get your fix at Castle Mountain Coffee which is found on Level 1 of the Summit Building. It’s a great spot to grab a coffee, tea, or some light snacks. Take your coffee along for a stroll to Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station or to Sanson’s Peak.
Peak Patio is open only in summer, and is the perfect place for a sunset cocktail. Make sure to check out their drinks menu filled with local beer and wine.
Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen
Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen is a wonderful spot to fill up for lunch or dinner. Served buffet-style, you can find a variety of soups, flatbreads, salads, hot entrees, and desserts. Inspired by local ingredients, expect lots of salmon, fresh vegetables, and Alberta beef on the menu.
More Banff Resources!
Pete is a co-founder of Road Trip Alberta. Growing up in Edmonton he has an extensive knowledge of Alberta and everything the province has to offer. He loves to eat good food, hike (especially in the winter), play tennis and curl. Apart from running Road Trip Alberta, he is a director with HMI, a digital media agency, half of the Hecktic Travels duo, and a co-creator of the popular card game Trip Chaser.