Banff’s Sulphur Mountain Hike: Everything You Need to Know
Okay hey folks. So I spent a loooot of time up on Banff’s Sulphur Mountain summit. I worked at the Banff Gondola the summer of 2020 which meant I was stationed at the summit 5 days a week. I used to hike the mountain before work so I know quite a bit about hiking the Sulphur Mountain trail.
From the Sulphur Mountain summit you can expect striking views of the Bow Valley, Mount Rundle, Cascade, the town of Banff and sososo much more. Sulphur Mountain is located directly in the heart of Banff which gives you elevated views of all those big beautiful mountains you can see from down below in the town of Banff.
In this post I’ll tell you everything you need to know about hiking Sulphur Mountain, proper hiking gear for Banff, the best places to stay in Banff, and my favourite off-the-beaten path version of this hike. Plus I’ll share 42929 versions of the same photo.
Now, let’s go hiking!
- How to get to Sulphur Mountain trailhead
- About Banff’s Sulphur Mountain trail
- Hiking Banff’s Sulphur Mountain
- Things to do at the Banff Gondola
- Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route
- Essential hiking gear for banff
- What to wear hiking in Banff
- Best place to stay in Banff
This post contains affiliate links; see my full disclosure. If you click these links and make a purchase you’re supporting The Holistic Backpacker. Thanks for your support & happy adventuring! – Taylor ♡
- 50+ Things to do in Banff in summer
- Discover more Banff trail guides
- Complete guide to the Icefields Parkway
- Step-by-step guide for planning a trip to Banff
- What to wear hiking in Banff
- Hiking gear guide for Banff
How To Get To Sulphur Mountain Trailhead
Unlike most hiking trails in Banff, Sulphur Mountain has 2 ways up; hiking (of course) and the gondola. I always recommend hiking to the summit – it’s much more rewarding this way – however hiking isn’t always possible. So, as a backup you can take the Banff Gondola.
In terms of getting to the actual Sulphur Mountain trailhead you also have 2 options; drive or take the Roam bus. In this scenario I’d recommend taking the Roam bus (route 1). This is a $2 (one-way) bus that takes you directly to the Banff Gondola and it has multiple pickup points in town.
Parking for the gondola/Sulphur Mountain trailhead is shared, so during high season it can be nearly impossible to get a parking spot. Taking the bus will alleviate any parking hassles and make this experience much easier.
If you do plan on driving, make sure you have a Banff Park Pass for your vehicle. You can purchase these online, at the visitor centre, or at the Park gates when you enter Banff.
About Sulphur Mountain Trail
- Distance: 10.9km
- Elevation gain: 756m
- Rated: hard according to Alltrails, more like moderate
- Type of trail: out & back
- Estimated time: 4.5hrs
^Allot extra time for this hike – there’s lots to do at the summit. I’ll talk about this more next.
Banff’s Sulphur Mountain trail is well-trafficked and super easy to follow. This is one of the busiest hikes in Banff which means you can expect to see people on the trail no matter what time of day you hike. This means it’s also a great hike if you’re interested in trying solo-hiking.
The Sulphur Mountain trail follows switchbacks up the mountain (27 to be exact), has minimal exposed roots & rocks, and is mostly in the trees. This means there are minimal views along the way, but man oh man does that change when you reach the summit.
This trail can be hiked year-round, however if you plan to hike Sulphur Mountain in winter make sure to wear your micro-spikes and bring snowshoes if conditions permit. Here’s more information for hiking Sulphur Mountain in winter.
One thing to note about the Sulphur Mountain trail is the importance of staying on the actual trail. Many people like to cut through the switchbacks, but since this is such a well-trafficked area, cutting is detrimental to the landscape. Be respectful and help take care of the land.
Who Can Hike Sulphur Mountain?
Anyone! Trust me, when I worked at the Banff Gondola it was shocking to see some of the people who made it up the mountain. I watched women wearing flip flops and flowy dresses arrive at the summit. Teeny tiny toddlers frequently hike up Sulphur. There are also lots of veryyy stumbly people who summit Sulphur after a few too many beverages.
With that being said, you are still climbing a mountain; this is no walk in the park. Ensure you have a decent fitness level and make sure you’re prepared with proper gear and attire. To help you prepare for your next Rocky Mountain adventure I’ve written a few guides:
More: Essential gear for hiking in Banff
More: What to wear hiking in Banff
Give these a read, study this trail guide and you’ll be well on your way to hiking Sulphur Mountain!
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Hiking Sulphur Mountain
The Sulphur Mountain trailhead starts right next to the porta-potties by the Upper Hot Springs road – pee here! There are so many people on this trail there’s nowhere good to hide and take a pee along the way.
The trail will gain elevation steeply in the beginning and continue to gain elevation the entire way up; you won’t get any breaks on this hike.
Since you’ll be in the trees the entire way up you can expect to have minimal views, however when you start seeing the gondola cabins passing overhead you’ve made it to about the halfway point.
Closer to the top you’ll hear flowing water – there is a waterfall! You can hike to a viewpoint, but if you hike in winter/spring don’t venture out on the snow. There’s flowing water underneath which can be deadly if you step on it.
After what seems like 28493 switchbacks you’ll reach the summit which lets out at the Gondola’s helicopter pad. Hike left for the Traverse Route (I’ll talk about this next) and hike right for the gondola building/boardwalk.
How Long Does the Sulphur Mountain Hike Take?
The Sulphur Mountain hike takes different amounts of time depending on a number of factors. If you’re new to hiking I’d say expect at least 2 hours+ to reach the summit. On the way down you can cut about half an hour off your time.
My fastest time is 1 hour and 10 minutes, but I believe the fastest time on record is something crazy between 30-45 minutes. Freakin’ trail runners I tell ya.
Same, Same, but Different
Here’s a look at the small collection of the same (but slightly different) photos I have from the Sulphur Mountain summit.
Other Things to Expect at the Summit
With any hike in Banff, you’re hiking up. This means the air gets colder, the wind picks up, and the temperatures drop. I’ll talk about the dream combination of layers for hiking in Banff next, but make sure you bring an extra coat/sweater whether you’re hiking or taking the gondola.
Here are some things you can expect on Banff’s Sulphur Mountain:
- Big Horn Sheep – there’s a whole big family of big horn sheep that live by the summit.
- Beautiful sunsets – Sulphur Mountain is definitely the best place in town to watch sunset.
- Fog/clouds – oftentimes, especially in dreary weather/shoulder seasons, Sulphur Mountain is covered in fog and clouds. This blocks the view, but also gives you the chance to literally stand in a cloud!
- Busy – this is a busy summit; you can always expect to find heaps of people here. If you want some solo time at the summit, hike very early or take the Traverse Route.
- Wildfire smoke – some summers are worse than others, but around July/August there may be wildfire smoke in the area. If this is the case when you visit I honestly wouldn’t bother hiking or taking the gondola – not good for your lungs and it blocks the views.
Next I’ll talk about things to do at the gondola, the Traverse Route, essential hiking gear/clothes for Banff, and the best places to stay in Banff for every budget.
Hiking Sulphur Mountain in Winter
Hiking Sulphur Mountain in winter is no different than any other hike in Banff in winter. Actually, this is a great hike to do in winter especially if you’re new.
The trail is well travelled year round, there’s lots of help available, and no risk for avalanche. You’ll also have cell service for the entirety of this hike which will feel like a nice safety blanket.
Before you decide to hike Banff’s Sulphur Mountain in winter, let’s quickly go over essential winter hiking gear:
- Winter hiking pants – Soft shell pants (men’s version) have easily become my favorite pant for winter. They’re durable, water resistant, super warm, and mobile. I use these for winter walks, hiking, skating, errands – you name it!
- Puffer jacket – I have this puffer jacket from Columbia (men’s version) which I find perfect for winter hiking. It’s lightweight, warm, comfortable, and also very mobile. Plus it doesn’t have a hood! Although there is a hooded option for those that prefer to have a hood.
- Micro-spikes – these are grips that attach to your hiking boot. They’re essential for icy/slippery conditions. These ones are great quality and are priced affordably.
- Snowshoes – only necessary for hiking in fresh snow or if the trail hasn’t been broken in by those before you. If you’re looking to pick up a pair, Atmosphere has a variety that go on sale frequently.
- Gaiters – gaiters keep the snow out of your boots and ensure your feet stay dry.
Looking for More Banff Adventures?
Banff is an adventurer’s & view seeker’s paradise. If you’re planning a trip to this gorgeous Canadian Park, you can start with this step-by-step guide designed to help you plan the perfect Banff itinerary.
Alternatively, check out this page with all my Banff resources.
Banff Hiking Resources
On this page you can find all my Banff trail guides. A few signature hikes in Banff are these easy trails, Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Lake Louise, and Johnston Canyon. If you’re only in Banff for a few days, start with those!
A few of my personal favourite hikes in Banff are Mount Bourgeau, Sentinel Pass, Tower of Babel, the Banff Skoki Loop, and the Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route.
More Banff Resources you Might Find Interesting:
Want to continue your Canadian Rockies expedition outside of Banff? Check out my trail guides & travel resources for British Columbia and Kananaskis Country as well as Jasper, Waterton, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks 🙂
Things To Do At The Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola has lots of activities for gondola riders and hikers alike. I can assure you this is the only summit in Banff where you’ll find restaurants and indoor activities.
This post outlines in detail everything you need to know about the Banff Gondola, but I’ll quickly go over the basic things offered at the summit.
- Dining – the Banff Gondola offers fine dining at Sky Bistro (ensure you have reservations), casual dining at Northern Lights, and snack foods/treats a Castle Mountain Coffee Co. In the summer months you can also visit the Peak Patio – Banff’s best mountaintop patio!
- Hiking – there’s a boardwalk that goes over to Sanson’s Peak, you can hike down the backside of the mountain rather than take the gondola (this lets out at Cave & Basin), OR you can hike a secret trail only locals know about. I’ll talk about this next.
- Indoor Entertainment – there’s an interactive museum as well as a movie theatre and gift shop inside. There’s also fire pits and (sometimes) live music.
If you’re not one for hiking but still want those beautiful mountaintop views, the Banff Gondola will be the perfect addition to your Banff vacation.
Working At The Banff Gondola
As I previously mentioned I worked at the Gondola the summer of 2020. I’ve written about my experience working at the Banff Gondola here and I also outline how to find a job in Banff.
Moving to Banff was seriously the greatest thing date I’ve ever done – it made me realize I want to travel full time and become a blogger! You can read more about my story here and you can find more resources for moving to Banff here; I’ve written about everything you need to know 🙂
Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route
The Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route is my favourite off-the-beaten path hike in Banff. This is a hike only local’s know about because you can’t even find it on Alltrails – consider this one of my local’s secret’s for you. But shhhh, don’t tell anyone!
The Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route adds an additional few hours and a considerable amount of elevation gain to your hike up Sulphur Mountain (but it’s totally worth it). You can expect to scramble up multiple peaks over semi-technical terrain in order to reach the true Sulphur Mountain Summit.
^Spoiler Alert – the Banff Gondola’s “Sulphur Mountain Summit” ain’t actually the real Sulphur Mountain summit!
This is (obviously) one of the most visually striking hikes I’ve completed in the Rockies and I’ve hiked all over Banff, Kananaskis, Jasper, and Waterton.
I would only recommend the Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route to experienced hikers though – this is a hike you definitely need skills for.
So, if this hike is on your Banff bucket list, you can read my trail guide and hear all about how I totally f** up the directions PLUS how you can totally avoid f**ing it up when you hike it.
Recommended Hiking Gear
The following items are some of my favourites – I never hit the trail without them!
The Capture Clip by Peak Design is a sturdy, safe, and super convenient way to carry your camera while hiking or backpacking.
Find it on Amazon (CAD).
Find it on Peak Design (US).
A hydration reservoir is SO important. It holds 2L+ of water and keeps you hydrated on-trail. I use the 2L Hydrapak; it never leaks and has a detachable tube.
Things to look for in a good quality day-pack: sternum strap, hip belt (with pockets), and a breathable mesh system for your back. I use the Osprey Sirrus 24L pack (men’s version) and I LOVE it!
What To Wear Hiking in the Rockies
For a detailed guide on what to wear hiking in the Canadian Rockies, check out this post.
Choosing what to wear hiking can be confusing, but the secret to properly dressing for a hike is layering. You can mix and match the tops and bottoms you already own to make up your base layers, however in addition to those clothes you’ll need a few extra things:
A waterproof jacket is the most important layer for hiking – it keeps you warm and protects you from wind and rain. I use the Marmot Eco Precip Jacket (men’s version) which is totally a bang-for-your-buck. If rain is in the forecast, don’t forget to pack waterproof pants (men’s version) too.
A good pair of hiking boots are Gore-tex, provide ankle support, and are durable. I use the Scarpa Kailash boot (men’s version) and they’ve never let me down. You’ll also want a good quality pair of socks. I use Smartwool – they’re great quality and last an entire season.
A puffer jacket acts as your warm layer. I use the hoodless Columbia Women’s Heavenly Jacket (men’s version). Alternatively you can use a fleece zip – I have this one (men’s version) from Columbia. Both of these options are perfect layers to keep you warm on windy, cold, or high elevation hikes.
Rocky Mountain hiking exposes you to different natural elements and conditions – it’s imperative that you’re prepared for whatever nature throws at you. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way!
More: Day-hiking Gear Guide
More: What to Wear Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
Where to Stay in Banff
More: Plan Your Trip to Banff: A Step by Step Guide
The “best” place to stay in Banff depends on your price range and what you’re looking for. There are a few ways to go about finding accommodations in Banff according to each price range:
- Find all accommodations in Banff here.
- Iconic Banff hotels: Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Rimrock Resort hotel, and Sunshine Mountain Lodge (ski in/ski out at Sunshine Village).
- Popular hotels in Banff: Mount Royal, Elk & Avenue, Juniper Hotel & Bistro, Banff Park Lodge, and The Banff Caribou.
- Budget accommodations in Banff: there are numerous hostels in Banff, The Dorothy Motel, Blue Mountain Lodge Bed & Breakfast, Banff Rocky Mountain Resort.
- Iconic hotels near Banff: Emerald Lake Lodge (Yoho), Prince of Wales (Waterton), Mount Engadine Lodge(Kananaskis Country), Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (Jasper).
Tips for Saving Money on Accommodations
I won’t lie, Banff can be a pretty expensive place to travel (but worth every penny). So, to help you offset some of the costs of your trip, here are tips for saving on accommodations in Banff:
- Camp in town. If you don’t have camping equipment you can rent tents, cooking sets, sleeping bags, and just about everything else from Bactrax.
- Stay at one of Banff’s hostels: the Banff International Hostel, Samesun Banff, HI Banff Alpine Centre, or the HI Lake Louise.
- Utilize Booking.com to compare hotel prices and amenities to ensure the hotel you book suits your needs. Some of the benefits of using Booking.com are their price match guarantee, free cancellation on almost all bookings, and clear pricing with no hidden fees.
- Check out hotels in Canmore. Canmore often offers cheaper rates and is located only 20 minutes from Banff.
More: Plan Your Trip to Banff: A Step by Step Guide
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About The Author
Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.
I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.
Get to know me and my story more here 🙂
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!