Tunnel Mountain Hike – Banff National Park
Tunnel Mountain is the most popular hike in Banff National Park. The reason for this being that Tunnel Mountain is actually the smallest summit in Banff so it’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require any experience.
Tunnel Mountain is a great introduction to hiking in Banff and it’s the hike I always recommended to people who are just visiting for a short amount of time. Tunnel Mountain was my first hike in Banff and I’ve done it multiple times – a lot of locals hike it frequently for exercise.
Even though this summit is small the views are unreal! You’ll be overlooking the entire town of Banff as well as the valley and mountain ranges on the other side of the mountain. My favourite view from the top is of Mount Rundle, which I’ll feature here.
Now, let’s go hiking!
- How to get to the Tunnel Mountain Trailhead
- About the Tunnel Mountain trail
- Hiking Tunnel Mountain
- Essential day-hiking gear
- Tips for a successful hike
- Where 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 The Tunnel Mountain Trailhead
The best thing about Tunnel Mountain is that you can walk to the trailhead from town, so if you don’t have a car in Banff this is a great hike for you. You’ll see signs around town marking directions to the trailhead or you can download Alltrails.
If you want to check out other hikes in Banff or Kananaskis, you’ll need to rent a car to get to them.
Something to note about Tunnel Mountain is that there are 2 trailheads; the lower trailhead and the upper trailhead. The walk between the lower and upper trailhead is the steepest part of the hike and is a total grind, but it’s short lived.
About The Tunnel Mountain Trail
- Distance: 4.5km
- Elevation Gain: 267m
- Type of Trail: out & back
- Rated: moderate
- Estimated Time: under 2hrs
The Tunnel Mountain trail is well trafficked, clearly defined and doesn’t have too many hazards like exposed roots, however closer to the top there are some exposed rocks.
Something cool about this trail is that it can easily be hiked in the winter or summer, although if you’re hiking Tunnel Mountain in the winter I’d definitely recommend wearing micro-spikes to help with slippery terrain and snow shoes if there’s any fresh, deep snow – you can also rent this gear from Bactrax.
The Tunnel Mountain trail follows switchbacks up the mountain which means you’ll be hiking in a side to side fashion rather than straight up. This is nice because it makes the hike significantly less steep. Even if it looks like you can hike straight up, please stay on the trail to protect the surrounding vegetation.
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Hiking Tunnel Mountain
You’ll find the hike up Tunnel Mountain typically takes around an hour, unless you’re an experience hiker. In this case it will take significantly less time – I once hiked it in 20 minutes!
That 20 minute thing is not true for my first hike up Tunnel Mountain though… Tunnel Mountain was my first hike in Banff and I did not have my trail legs ready. I remember old people hiking past me at a significantly faster pace, people were running past me. I literally thought I was going to die.
I later realized my super intense reaction was actually due to altitude sickness. This doesn’t affect everyone, but it’s something to keep in mind before setting off on your next hiking adventure.
The trail from the lower trailhead is quite steep – expect to be out of breath during this first section. After this point the switchbacks are on a gentle grade and are not overly strenuous.
You’ll be in the trees for the majority of your hike, however once you get to the top you’ll have the chance to admire gorgeous views overlooking the town of Banff as well as the valley behind you.
From Tunnel Mountain you have a clear view of the infamous Mount Rundle. This photo was taken on an extremely smoky day; in summer 2021 Banff and the entire western side of Canada was engulfed in wildfire smoke due to a heat wave.
The sun rises right behind Mount Rundle, so this is a perfect spot to watch sunrise in Banff.
Apparently I only took photos of Tunnel Mountain on smoky days, so you’ll be surprise by the stellar views once you summit this mini mountain yourself!
At the summit you’ll find Banff’s red chairs and if you continue hiking you’ll come to a lower section in which you’ll have a great view of Cascade; Banff’s biggest baddest mountain.
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 🙂
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
Tips For A Successful Hike
- Hike Tunnel Mountain for sunrise or sunset
- If you hike Tunnel Mountain in the winter bring either micro-spikes or snowshoes depending on the conditions
- Bring a picnic or card games and spend some time at Tunnel Mountain’s summit to truly enjoy the views
- Aim to hike Tunnel Mountain early in the day or later at night to avoid crowds of people
- Stay on-trail to protect the surrounding vegetation
- Bring a bug suit – you’ll be inundated with mosquitos in July and August. I always bring a bug suit for hiking rather than bug spray because it’s lightweight and a toxin-free option
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!