Tunnel Mountain Hike – Advice from a Local

Author: Dan Brewer

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Tunnel Mountain is a popular and easily accessible hike in Banff offering panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, ideal for all skill levels.

If you are looking for an easy summit hike near the Banff Townsite, the Tunnel Mountain hike is for you.

While Tunnel Mountain isn’t technically a mountain, but it’s called Tunnel Mountain, so your friends back home won’t ever know…  At 1,684 meters above sea level, it’s much shorter than the surrounding peaks such as Cascade Mountain, which is over 3,000 m above sea level.

A view of Tunnel Mountain, Banff

That said, Tunnel Mountain is a nice, big hill which offers excellent views of the Banff Townsite, the Banff Springs Hotel, the Bow Valley and the surrounding mountains.

Tunnel Mountain Hike Stats

Distance: 4.6 km / 2.9 miles out & back.

Elevation Gain: 266 m / 873 ft.

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours return.

Tunnel Mountain Trail Map

Important Things to Know:

Parking is free at the Tunnel Mountain trailhead.

There are no washroom facilities at Tunnel Mountain.

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Tunnel Mountain trail.

There is a bike rack at the trailhead, but bikes are not allowed on the Tunnel Mountain trail.

Click to browse even more Banff Hiking Trails of this same difficulty!

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Tunnel Mountain Hike Location

One of the most popular hikes in the Town of Banff, the Tunnel Mountain trailhead is located on the eastern edge of the Banff Townsite. It’s so close to town that you have several easy options to get there:

Drive to Tunnel Mountain Trailhead

It’s a 3-minute drive from the Banff town centre. There’s a decent sized parking lot at the trailhead, but this is one of the most popular Banff hikes, so it can fill up fast on weekends and holidays.

Walk from Banff to Tunnel Mountain Hike Trailhead

It’s about 1 km to walk to the trailhead from the Banff town centre. This should take you roughly 15 minutes. Walking to Tunnel Mountain extends the total distance of the hike from 4.5 km to 6.5 km. A good option if you want a little extra exercise.

Take a Bus to Tunnel Mountain Hike

The Roam Route 2 goes to stops near the trailhead, but it’s a 7 minute walk from there. After factoring in the time to wait for the bus, you may as well just walk to Tunnel Mountain from Banff town center.

Read More

Here are plenty of other Banff hikes by bus if you haven’t rented a car and don’t miss our post on Getting Around Banff Without a Car.

Tunnel Mountain - Easy Banff Winter Hikes
Can you see why Tunnel Mountain is called “Sleeping Buffalo?”

Tunnel Mountain Hike Highlights

One of the best hikes in Banff, the Tunnel Mountain hike leads hikers up the eastern slope of the mountain to the summit. You will enter a forest almost immediately, but as you make your way up the switchbacks which climb the mountain you will encounter plenty of breaks in the trees to enjoy epic views.

Local Tip

This is a very popular Banff hiking trail for both locals and visitors, so to avoid the crowds, try to visit early in the day on a weekday if possible.

On your way up, you’ll enjoy views of the historic Banff Springs Hotel and the mountains surrounding the Bow Valley to the north.

As you near the Tunnel Mountain summit, the hiking trail turns north and you follow a ridgeline to the top. Being on the ridge means you will enjoy views of the scenery in both directions.

There are safety rails alongside the west side of the mountain, protecting you from a fatal drop down a cliff. These safety rails also offer an excellent opportunity to enjoy the mountain views to the west, including the Bow River valley and the Banff Springs Golf Course.

The views of the Banff Springs Golf course are amazing from the Tunnel Mountain hike

Near the top you will come to a Tunnel Mountain viewpoint where Parks Canada has placed two of the iconic bright Banff red chairs.

This is one of the best Banff viewpoints and a highly Instagrammable spot that’s perfect for your social media feed.

Red Chairs at Tunnel Mountain Summit Banff

A few steps beyond this is the official summit of Tunnel Mountain. There’s a large clearing here where you can sit and enjoy the amazing views of the Banff Townsite, the Vermillion Lakes and some notable mountains of Banff National Park including Sulphur Mountain, Mt. Bourgeau, Pilot Mountain, Mount Cory, Mt. Norquay and Stoney Lookout.

The mountains always look incredible, but they look even better when you’ve earned your view!

The setting for the Town of Banff as seen from the Tunnel Mountain Trail

The Tunnel Mountain trail is always wide enough for 2-3 people to walk side-by-side. This isn’t always the case on Banff hiking trails, so it makes the Tunnel Mountain a great hike for families or larger groups who wish to socialize along the way.

How Long is the Tunnel Mountain Hike?

The one-way distance from the Tunnel Mountain parking lot to the Tunnel Mountain summit is 2.3km. Despite the Town of Banff charging for downtown parking, Tunnel Mountain remains a free Banff parking lot.

How Hard is the Hike to the Tunnel Mountain Summit?

Despite being primarily uphill the entire way to the summit, we rate the Tunnel Mountain hike as “easy”.

The first stretch of the Tunnel Mountain hike is quite steep, but soon it levels off to a moderate incline with switchbacks the entire way to the top. Most people should be able to hike to the Tunnel Mountain summit with little issue and I can’t recall an instance of seeing anyone struggle on their way up.

We rate the Banff Tunnel Mountain hike as “easy”, but for another data point, Parks Canada rates this popular Banff hike as “moderate”.

How Long Does the Tunnel Mountain Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult about an hour to hike the full there-and-back distance of the Tunnel Mountain hike.

We often do this hike with our kids. At times, it has taken us 2 hours to complete the full distance with them. But there’s always a lot more stopping when hiking with kids!

Read More

Looking for more hikes to do with kids while in Banff? Don’t miss these 25 Best Banff Day Hikes with Kids!

Tunnel Mountain Hike Map

It’s virtually impossible to get lost on this hike – simply enter the trail from the parking lot and follow the crowds along the single trail.

If you’d still like a digital map of the hike and the ability to track your stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.), we use and recommend the AllTrails hiking app. To get the digital Tunnel Mountain trail map click here for the “Tunnel Mountain Trail”.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Hiking Tunnel Mountain with Kids

Tunnel Mountain is one of the most popular Banff hikes and is one of the best things to do in Banff with kids. The trail is a bit challenging for smaller kids, but most kids who get a normal amount of activity should be able to make it to the top.

The first time our kids hiked to the summit themselves, they were only 3 & 5 years old and they made it without any issue.

A family hike along the Tunnel Mountain Trail nea the Town of Banff

Note, there are no toilets anywhere along the Tunnel Mountain hike. This is a very popular hiking trail with very few places to duck behind a tree, so make sure everyone goes before they leave.

If you are considering hiking Tunnel Mountain with a baby, we would not recommend a stroller. The trail is gravel with some larger stones protruding. There are occasional stairs to contend with as well. If possible, a baby carrier is a better option for hiking with a baby.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

There are no good spots to stop along the way for a break, so we recommend waiting until you get to the Tunnel Mountain viewpoints near the summit to have a break. The views from the top of Tunnel Mountain up there are so good, it’s an excellent spot to plop down your picnic blanket and soak up the views.

Two kids enjoying the view at the top of Tunnel Mountain - a popular kid-friendly hike in Banff National Park

The Tunnel Mountain trail is close enough to the Banff Townsite, that you could easily do the hike in the morning and then go into town for a well-deserved lunch. Alternately, it could also be done post-lunch in the afternoon.

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

Hiking Tunnel Mountain in Spring

Due to its south-west facing exposure, the Tunnel Mountain trail gets a lot of sunshine in spring. This often results in it being an excellent choice for an early spring hike, even when other easy Banff hikes are still snow covered. The snowpack conditions will vary from year-to-year, but you can often hike a snow-free Tunnel Mountain trail by early May.

An easy way to check current Tunnel Mountain trail conditions is to read recent user reviews in AllTrails.

Hiking Tunnel Mountain in Winter

Winter scenery in Banff National Park - the view of Rundle Mountain and Banff Springs Golf Course from Tunnel Mountain

If you visit Banff in winter, you can still easily enjoy this hike. In fact, with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the scenery on Tunnel Mountain is arguably better than it is during the spring/summer hiking season.

The signs posted by Parks Canada at the trailhead recommend that winter hikers use cleats and hiking poles, and you’ll find that most hikers on the trail follow this advice. On our most recent winter ascent, we had our cleats in our day bags, but we found we didn’t need them.

Given the snow cover on the trail, the cleats would have probably made it a little easier, but we still made it up with little effort. Don’t be afraid to try this hike in the winter if you are visiting Banff without them.

Tunnel Mountain is an enjoyable Banff winter hike

One thing to keep in mind is that in the winter the sun is low in the sky and will duck behind a mountain in the mid-afternoon, creating an artificially early dusk. When the sun goes away, the wind will pick up and the temperature will get noticeably colder immediately. If you hike Tunnel Mountain in the afternoon in the winter, be sure to dress warmer than you think you’ll need to.

Read More

If you are looking for a fun place to stay in Banff, check out the nearby Tunnel Mountain Resort, one of the best Banff Cabin Rentals.

What to Bring Hiking in Banff

Even though this is an easy Banff hike, you should bring along the basic hiking gear to ensure a safe and successful outing. Before hitting the Tunnel Mountain Trail, be sure to check out our recommended Banff hiking gear.

The Tunnel Mountain trail surface is hard packed gravel with some larger rocks protruding, making a slightly uneven surface. Unless you are doing this hike in winter (when we would recommend microspikes for traction), you won’t need any special hiking shoes for the Tunnel Mountain hike.

Read More

If you plan to do lots of hiking around Banff during your visit, you’ll need a proper pair of hiking shoes. For more information, check out our post about how to dress for hiking in Banff.

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The Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff National Park offers some incredible views for an easy hike. Add this to your list of hikes when you visit Banff!
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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