20 Apr Sulphur Mountain Hiking and Gondola Ride
Sulphur Mountain is located in the adorable mountain town of Banff, Canada. Views from the top overlook the town below as well as the mountains and lakes covering the landscapes The top of the mountain’s observation deck is 7,486 feet above sea level and rises from an elevation of 5,194 feet above sea level. To reach the top you have two options: take a scenic gondola ride or hike.
Being gluttons for punishment, we decided to hike to the top and take the gondola on the way back down. Why would we do such a thing? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that it was cheaper to hike up and take the gondola down rather than the reverse. It must have been the price combined with the mountain air and the thought of a challenge that led us to hike upwards and onwards.
We pulled into the Upper Hot Springs parking lot (next to the gondola parking lot) and prepared for our hike. Once we set out on the trail, we quickly realized that we were in for a challenge. It’s not that the trail is very difficult, but it is made up of steep switchbacks the entire way. We did feel a bit better with our decision to hike when we noticed how many others decided to hike the trail, as well; at least we weren’t suffering alone.
The trail is 3.4 miles each way and gains 2,300 feet in elevation—that’s quite the elevation gain for such a short trail. With us living at such a low elevation in Minnesota, it made the hike even harder for us. But despite our huffing and puffing and many stops for photos, we made it to the top in about 2 hours. Most of the views along the trail are blocked by trees, but you when do get to gaze at the scenery below, it just keeps getting better and better the higher you climb.
At the top of Sulphur Mountain, you will find a boardwalk and trails leading all the way to the summit with interpretive displays, a rooftop observation deck, interactive exhibits, restaurants and even a multi-sensory theater. The summit station was updated in the fall of 2016, so unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the new and improved site, but from the photos online, it does look like they did a wonderful job with the new facility!
After exploring every possible view from all angles, we got in line for the gondola back to the bottom. We briefly contemplated hiking down, as well, but I really wanted to see the views from the gondola, too. We were assigned a gondola with another couple, and after quickly getting situated, we were off on our way down the mountain.
There are 40 gondolas and four people can ride in each one. The ride takes around 8 minutes in total, and the total elevation gain is 2,292 feet. The views from the gondola were everything I was expecting, and the thrill of soaring down the side of a mountain made us forget about all the work involved in getting to the top. It’s amazing how an experience can be so difficult and so rewarding at the same time!
Trail Information & Tips:
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
Distance: 6.8 miles roundtrip; 3.4 miles each way
Starting Point: Upper Hot Springs parking lot
- The hike should take around 2 hours each way.
- The trail is well marked and filled with switchbacks—the most difficult aspect of the hike is the elevation gain.
- If you hike to the top, you can ride the gondola down for $25 in the summer and for free in the winter, which is a significant savings from the roundtrip gondola tickets—more than half off! If you want to take the gondola up and hike down, you will have to pay the full, roundtrip price.
- Hiking the trail in the winter is not recommended, but if you do venture out, it requires hiking gear that is suitable for winter conditions, as the trail will be covered in snow and ice.
- If you are planning on taking the gondola in either direction, make sure you check the opening/closing times so you don’t get stuck hiking both ways!