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Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park

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

Ok, ok…  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.

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 – Quick Details

Trailhead: Tunnel Mountain Trailhead

Distance: 4.6 km out and back

Elevation: 266 m elevation gain

A view of Tunnel Mountain, Banff

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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. 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 Instagramable 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.

Tunnel Mountain Trail Stats

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 Steep is the Tunnel Mountain Trail?

The elevation gain you’ll encounter to the Tunnel Mountain summit is 266m. With 2,300 m to the summit, this equates to gaining 11 m of altitude per 100 m hiked.

The iconic "Castle in the Rockies" - the Banff Springs Hotel

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 most recently did this hike with our kids, so we were a bit slower, completing the full distance in 2 hours.

Don’t miss these 22 Best Banff Day Hikes with Kids!

Tunnel Mountain Hike Location

How to Get from Banff to Tunnel Mountain Trail: 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: 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.

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

    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.

  • Walk: 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.

Tunnel Mountain Trailhead Location

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

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.

Tunnel Mountain Hike Map

Despite growing up near the mountains, I have this horrible habit of taking wrong turns on hikes. Thankfully, I can now use hiking apps to ensure that I stay on the proper hiking trails. In this instance though, 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 search for “Tunnel Mountain Trail”.

Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

If paper maps are more your style, I highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. They are the gold standard for Banff hiking maps and we own the entire set. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration. The Tunnel Mountain Trail appears in the Gem Trek hiking map entitled, “Banff & Mount Assiniboine”. 

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 we let our kids hike 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

If you are considering a visit to Banff with kids or pets, check out our recommendations for kid-friendly Banff hikes, family-friendly-hotels in Banff and pet-friendly hotels in 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.

We have some great resources for hiking with kids on our Family Can Travel website. Check out our best tips for hiking with kids, the best hiking gear for kids and the 9 Best Hiking Songs for Your Family.

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.

Tunnel Mountain Trail Safety  

Banff National Park is bear country. We love bears and would hate for any harm to come to them or you, so please take the time to educate yourself by reading Safe Travel in Bear Country. Don’t be fooled that this hike is too busy to see any bears; bears can be anywhere at any time.

This is one of the rare hikes in the area where you will see dogs on leash, likely as it’s so popular that people feel social pressure to comply with the law.

We recommend checking the Tunnel Mountain Trail Report report before you head out.

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.

Tunnel Mountain Trail Logistics

  • There are no washrooms in the parking lot or anywhere along this trail. The trail is very close to the Banff Townsite, so be sure to stop in town before you begin the hike.

  • There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.

  • Dogs are allowed on-leash.

  • This is a very popular Banff trail, so to avoid the crowds, try to visit early in the day on a weekday if possible.

  • There is a bike rack in the parking lot, but bikes are not allowed on the Tunnel Mountain trail itself.

What to Bring Hiking in Banff

You don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Banff. Our list of hiking essentials contains the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.

Footwear Recommendation

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, you won’t need any special hiking shoes for the Tunnel Mountain hike. If you plan to do lots of hiking around Banff during your visit, you’ll need a proper pair of hiking shoes.

Other Top Banff Hikes

Banff Trip Planning Resources

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Hiking Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park. Don't miss these scenic views of Banff National Park!
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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.