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If you are looking to bag an easy summit 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 3,000m 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.
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Tunnel Mountain Hike Highlights
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 summit, the 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.
Near the top you will come to a Tunnel Mountain viewpoint where Parks Canada has placed two of the iconic bright red Adirondack chairs. This is a highly Instagramable spot and is a must for your social media feed.
A few steps beyond this is the official summit. There’s a large clearing here where you can sit and enjoy the amazing views of the Banff Townsite, the Vermillion Lakes and the mountains of Banff National Park. The mountains always look better when you’ve earned your view!
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 hike a great choice for families or larger groups who wish to socialize along the way.
Tunnel Mountain Trail Stats
Distance: The one-way distance from the Tunnel Mountain parking lot to the Tunnel Mountain summit is 2.3km.
Elevation Gain: The elevation gain you’ll encounter to the Tunnel Mountain summit is 266m.
Difficulty: 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 Tunnel Mountain hike as “easy”.
Duration: 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.
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 Roam bus goes right to the trailhead. Learn more in Getting Around Banff Without a Car.
- Walk: It’s about 1km 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 4.5km to 6.5km. A good option if you want a little extra exercise.
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.), I use a variety of hiking apps. AllTrails is my go-to app, but I also use the GAIA GPS trail maps app. Within the hiking apps, search for “Tunnel Mountain Trail”.
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 map entitled, “Banff & Mount Assiniboine”.
You can order one off Amazon before your trip, or you can pick one up while here as they are widely available.
Hiking Tunnel Mountain with Kids
Tunnel Mountain is one of the most popular Banff hikes. The trail is a bit challenging, 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 top themselves, they were 3 & 5 and they made it without any issue.
Note, there are no toilets anywhere along the Tunnel Mountain hike. This is a very popular 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 site. 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 up there are so good, you’ll be glad you chose there to stop and soak it all in.
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 Banff National Park Trail Conditions report before you head out.
Hiking Tunnel Mountain in Winter
If you visit Banff in winter, you can still easily enjoy this hike. In fact, with the snow-capped mountains, the scenery is arguably better than it is during the spring/summer hiking season.
The signs posted by Parks Canada at the trail head 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 (and we never use poles).
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.
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 Summit 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
- Bear spray is a must. You cannot order bear spray by mail, but you can buy a canister at many locations in town.
- Water – a hydration pack is an effective way to bring enough water for a long hike
- A sun hat and sunscreen – you’ll often be in the open sun along Tunnel Mountain Trail
- Mosquito repellant spray
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 this hike. If you plan to do lots of hiking during your visit, you’ll need a proper pair of hiking shoes.
Banff & Kananaskis Hiking Trails we Recommend
- 9 Easy Hikes in Banff National Park
- Johnston Canyon Hike
- Karst Springs Trail
- Chester Lake Trail
- Grassi Lakes Hike