The Banff Gondola is one of the top attractions in Banff National Park. It’s no surprise, given the views from the top of Sulphur Mountain are some of the best views in all of Banff. Did you know that you don’t need to take the Banff Gondola to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain? Everyday plenty of people hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
Hiking Sulphur Mountain may be a challenge for some, but you’ll feel incredibly proud of yourself at the top. Making those views just a little bit sweeter! In our experience, the views from the summit are way better after you hike up Sulphur Mountain. Everything just looks better when you earn it.
As an added bonus, you can hike Sulphur Mountain before the gondola even starts running. You might just get to enjoy those world-class views without another soul around!
Sulphur Mountain Trail – Quick Details
Trailhead: Sulphur Mountain Trailhead
Distance: 10.9 km out and back (including Sanson Peak Boardwalk)
Elevation: 756 m elevation gain
What You’ll Find in This Article on Sulphur Mountain Hike in Banff:
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Sulphur Mountain Hike Highlights
The Sulphur Mountain trailhead is at the NW end of the Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot. The parking lot for the Banff Gondola (one of four sightseeing gondolas in Banff National Park) is below this parking lot.
The hike up Sulphur Mountain begins very steep on a gravel trail wide enough for a vehicle. Don’t let this steep section scare you, the majority of the Sulphur Mountain hike is much less steep.
After 200m of hiking you’ll be greeted by a Parks Canada information sign for the Sulphur Mountain hike. You’ll also see an almost comical amount of warning signs posted by the Banff Gondola.
While the number of signs is funny, the underlying safety messages are serious. The basic message is that you shouldn’t hike up Sulphur Mountain if you are not confident you can also hike down. One-way tickets down the mountain are not guaranteed to be available.
By 400m of hiking Sulphur Mountain trail, you’ll have gained enough elevation to start appreciating the views through the evergreen forest. Mount Rundle is the closest mountain to you, while Cascade Mountain, Tunnel Mountain and Stoney Lookout are all further North and West.
The Sulphur Mountain hiking trail is through a dense evergreen forest, with a mossy carpet and Old Man’s Beard lichen dangling from the branches. The forest tends to block your views, but if you keep an eye open you’ll be afforded tons of excellent vistas along the way to the Sulphur Mountain summit.
The view of Cascade Mountain is especially nice at the 0.6 km mark. You’ll also see the Bow River flowing towards Calgary beneath the eastern cliff face of Tunnel Mountain.
The Sulphur Mountain trail is a long series of switchbacks up to the Banff Gondola terminal up top. The trail crosses the path of the gondola several times, giving hikers an opportunity to enjoy the Banff views where the trees have been cleared for the gondola.
The clearings also present a fun opportunity to watch the Banff Gondola cars glide soundlessly past you. You can smile knowing that you’re saving enough money to splurge at one of Banff’s best restaurants after the hike.
You’ll reach a nice clearing after 2.2 km of hiking the Sulphur Mountain trail. From this clearing you’ll enjoy a nice view of the true summit of Sulphur Mountain along with extensive views of the Goat Creek valley along the base of Rundle Mountain. You’ll also be close enough to hear the water flow from a stream working its way down Sulphur Mountain to the Spray River below.
At the 2.5 km mark of hiking Sulphur Mountain, you’ll reach a clearing near a massive Banff Gondola tower. This tower is remarkable as it’s not vertical, but rather sloped at a 45-degree angle. Thankfully, it’s supported by a vertical structure at the bottom!
This angled gondola tower is notable as it marks the first time you can see Lake Minnewanka from this Banff gondola hiking trail. If you look in the distance and see the green water tower, Lake Minnewanka appears in the distance behind it. The Banff Springs Golf Course is now also visible, next to the Bow River, as is Mount Inglismaldie (emerging just to the left of Mount Rundle).
Around the next switchback, you’ll be able to see the Rimrock Hotel, perched high up on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see why this luxury Banff hotel claims to have the best views in Banff!
Speaking of Banff luxury hotels, you’ll get an incredible view of the iconic Banff Springs Hotel after hiking Sulphur Mountain for 3.2 km. From here, you can see why CPR choose this stunning location at the confluence of the Bow River and Spray River for their signature Canadian Rockies railway hotel.
The Banff Sulphur Mountain trail gets rockier the higher up the mountain you hike. You’ll probably do fine in normal walking shoes, but your feet will be happier in a pair of good hiking shoes.
After a long straightaway, the final set of switchbacks begins at the 4.3 km mark of the Sulphur Mountain hike. Before long, you’ll see a large metal pipe just beyond the corner of one of the switchbacks. Take the little spur trail to the pipe and you’ll be treated to incredible views of the Town of Banff.
From this vantage point on Sulphur Mountain, you can also see Mount Norquay (you can see the ski runs on the right-hand side of the mountain) and Stoney Lookout just below. The views of Lake Minnewanka are just that much better here – it’s fun to watch the views evolve as you climb higher up the Sulphur Mountain hiking trail.
And, before you know it, the hard work of hiking Sulphur Mountain is over! At the 5.2 km mark you’ll pass beneath the upper Banff Gondola terminal, and just a few seconds later you reach the end of the Sulphur Mountain trail!
You did it! By hiking Sulphur Mountain, you experienced one of the best hikes in Banff, got some great exercise, enjoyed some outstanding views and saved some cash. This is one of the best free things to do in Banff!
Once at the top, hikers are free to enjoy all the same amenities as people who paid for Banff Gondola tickets, such as the restaurants in the Upper Terminal, or the Banff Gondola boardwalk to the historic Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site.
The views atop Sulphur Mountain are epic – they are probably the best overall views you will find anywhere in Banff National Park.
Sulphur Mountain Trailhead
The Banff Upper Hot Springs parking area can get quite busy, so arrive early.
See more Hikes in Banff Without a Car.
Sulphur Mountain Hike Stats
How Long is the Sulphur Mountain Hike?
We tracked the round-trip distance of the Sulphur Mountain trail at 10.3 km (one-way distance of 5.2 km) from the Sulphur Mountain trailhead to the Banff Gondola upper terminal. The Sanson Peak boardwalk is an additional 0.5 km each way.
How Hard is the Hike to Sulphur Mountain?
Primarily due to the amount of elevation gain, we rate the Sulphur Mountain hike as “moderate”.
Rating a hike is difficult, as everyone has different physical abilities. A hike can even feel different from one day to the next. When we start reaching distances of 10 km with a decent amount of elevation gain, it may be too difficult for some Banff hikers, but it may be more of a moderate hike for many.
Although the popular AllTrails hiking app rates this as a “hard” hike, we agree with Parks Canada’s rating of the Sulphur Mountain hike as “moderate”.
Yes, the Sulphur Mountain hiking trail will be a hard hike for many, but we feel that most regular Banff hikers will manage the Sulphur Mountain hike without much issue.
How Long Does the Sulphur Mountain Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult around 3-4 hours to hike to Sulphur Mountain. We recently did the Sulphur Mountain hike and it took us 2.5 hours. This is the total time it took us to hike up and back down. This doesn’t include the extra time at the top to walk the Sanson Peak Boardwalk or visit the Banff Gondola Terminal at the top.
Sulphur Mountain Trail Map
The Sulphur Mountain trail is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the AllTrails app while hiking to Sulphur Mountain, but the hiking trail is easy enough to follow and there’s really only one way to go.
To find the Sulphur Mountain trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Sulphur Mountain Trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you can’t always count on having a cell signal in Banff National Park.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
Hiking Sulphur Mountain Trail with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, the Sulphur Mountain trail will be a fun hike for families who hike regularly. It may be a challenging hike for some kids, with the consistent climb and rocky sections, but it’s well worth it to make it to the top. Kids will especially enjoy the Sulphur Mountain boardwalk at the top.
We have not yet hiked the Sulphur Mountain with our kids, who are 8 and 6 years old, but based on hikes of comparable difficulty (like the Taylor Lake trail or Boom Lake hike) we know that they could do it.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
Take the time to enjoy the spectacular views at the top of Sulphur Mountain hike. Banff and all its majestic peaks will be the perfect backdrop for lunch. You’ll have the choice of packing your own lunch or taking the time to visit one of Banff’s best restaurants.
The Sulphur Mountain boardwalk has plenty of benches and the restaurants have large windows offering spectacular views. Either way, your efforts should be rewarded!
Sulphur Mountain Hiking Safety
There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Sulphur Mountain hiking trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. The trail to Sulphur Mountain has a moderate amount of rocks and roots, but they are easy to navigate.
That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.
Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.
Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
We recommend you check the Sulphur Mountain trail report (under Town of Banff Area) for the Sulphur Mountain trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Sulphur Mountain Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Sulphur Mountain hike and on the Sanson Peak Boardwalk. They are not allowed in the Banff Gondola interpretive centre.
- Mountain biking is not allowed on the Sulphur Mountain trail.
- There are toilets in the Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot and in the Upper Gondola Terminal.
- Plan to pack plenty of water and high energy snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave. Though you can refill your bottle in the interpretive centre and eat at one of the restaurants.
- You might get cell service on the Sulphur Mountain hike, but don’t count on having a cell signal for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking the Sulphur Mountain Trail
Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
Here are a few items that we recommend bringing on every Banff hike:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.
- Water – the Sulphur Mountain trail has a steady & extended uphill climb. You’ll get a good sweat going on your hike, so be sure you have enough water with you. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Sulphur Mountain Footwear Recommendation
The Sulphur Mountain hike has sections covered in roots or rocks. You’ll be able to do the hike in normal hiking shoes.
The Sulphur Mountain hike offers outstanding views of the Bow Valley that shouldn’t be missed!
Other Banff Hikes
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.