The summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff offers stunning views, hikes and activities for everyone. From a scenic gondola ride to an interpretive walk and a dining experience with unrivaled vistas. In this post, I outlined eleven activities you can do at the summit of this iconic mountain.
The big question about getting to the top of a mountain is how to get there. In this case, it’s easy as the Banff Gondola takes you to the top in a beautiful 8-minute ride.
You can also hike there. It typically takes 2 hours to complete the 5-kilometer (3.11 mi) trail to the summit (one way).
Make sure you’re in shape because many possible activities await you when you reach the summit. Let’s find out what these activities are.
Table of Contents
Walk the Sanson Peak Boardwalk
This one is a must. The boardwalk along the summit ridge is about 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) long and provides views of the Rockies in all directions.
This elevated wooden promenade covers a big part of the summit and leads you to several viewpoints with several benches along the way. It consists of 368 small steps each way and takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
There are many coin-operated binoculars available to get a close-up view of any point of interest.
You’ll have a view of many different mountains surrounding the town of Banff in the Bow Valley, like Mount Cory (2,802 m), Rundle Mountain (2,948 m), Mount Norquay (2,133 m), Cascade Mountain (2,988 m), Tunnel Mountain (1692 m), and Mount Inglismaldie (2,964 m).
You’ll also be able to see the Sundance Range, Banff’s biggest lake Minnewanka, the Banff Springs Hotel and its adjoining golf course, and the meandering Bow River, cutting through the landscape as a glimmering turquoise snake.
You’ll probably get the nicest views if you walk to the end of the boardwalk. So make sure you walk the entire promenade.
Take the South East Ridge Trail if you want to hike up Sulphur Mountain’s true summit. However, this trail is not a boardwalk.
Visit the Above Banff Interpretive Centre
After being completely rebuilt in 2016, the Sulphur Mountain upper terminal houses the Above Banff Interpretive Centre. Located on the second level, you’ll find interactive interpretive exhibits with lots of information about Banff.
It’s especially entertaining for kids and includes the Above Banff Theatre. It’s a 48 seats multi-sensory theater that plays a six-minute drone-shot film showcasing the breathtaking grandeur of the Canadian Rockies.
Take the Famous Pic of Banff (and Many Other Snapshots)
This one is hard to escape. The boardwalk leads you to the well-known viewpoint that offers the classic view of the Town of Banff, the Bow Valley, Spray Valley, Tunnel Mountain, and Cascade Mountain. It’s a gorgeous sight, and I assure you won’t be able to resist taking pictures here.
But several more viewpoints give you a different perspective on the stunning Rockies around you. All are very much snapshot-worthy, so don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone.
Play Agents of Discovery
Agents of Discovery is an interactive exploring game to “spark kids’ sense of adventure”. Through an app, they look for challenges in the many interpretive signs on the Banff Gondola Mission. They will be rewarded for exploring the top of Sulphur Mountain.
It’s best to download the app before you visit Sulphur Mountain.
Visit the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station
You’ll find the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station at the very end of the boardwalk. It’s also known as the Sulphur Mountain Observatory. It has been recognized as a federal heritage site.
The modest little building was built at the top of the mountain in 1902 and constructed of local materials. It served as a shelter for meteorologists and measuring equipment.
The data gathered over the years played an essential role in determining the climate of the Rocky Mountains. The weather station was part of government efforts to boost tourism in Banff and provide the public with weather information.
In summer, it can get very busy here. If you get a chance, peek through the windows of this historic building.
Have a Drink, Lunch or Dinner
The new upper terminal building on Sulphur Mountain now features three eating establishments: Sky Bistro, the Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen, and the Peak Patio for lunch, dinner or a quick bite and drink.
On the first floor of the building, right after you exit the gondola, you’ll find Castle Mountain Coffee. You can get snacks and other fast bites in addition to coffee here.
You’ll find the Sky Bistro at the third level. This is fine dining at a high altitude. With it floor to ceiling windows, you’re assured of stunning views of the Rockies around you. This prize-winning restaurant uses regionally-sourced meats, fruits and other ingredients.
It’s worth a visit, but make sure you book your place. You can do so at the Banff Gondola website.
The Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen (see picture above) offers buffet-style dining. Located on the third floor as well, this restaurant also has floor-to-ceiling windows to ensure mesmerizing vistas.
Every summer, the Peak Patio opens, serving quick bites and drinks on the patio on the fourth floor of the upper terminal building.
But if you want to bring your own lunch, you can do so at one of the several picnic tables on the deck outside the building.
Visit the Rooftop Observation Deck
If you want to feel on top of the world, visit the 360-degree rooftop observation deck. It’s located on the fourth floor of the upper terminal building and has many places to sit. In the winter, there are fire pits to keep you comfortable.
This is as high as you can get at the summit. It’s a fantastic opportunity to take some more stunning pics, including one of the famous glass polar bear statue (see the picture below).
Watch Sunrise or Sunset from the Summit
Watching the sunrise and sunset at Sulphur Mountain is a no-brainer. Just imagine seeing a multi-colored sky over the Bow Valley and the town of Banff. Magic guaranteed. It may well be the ultimate sunset viewing platform.
Visiting the summit to enjoy the sunrise from the mountain takes much more effort. You need to hike up because you can’t yet take the gondola up the mountain.
At this time as the gondola’s operating hours start at 8 am or 9 am, depending on the time of the summer season.
To experience the sunrise, you need to start your hike about two hours before in total darkness. Besides needing to get up exceptionally early, this is not your safest option. I’d advise you to experience the sunset instead (see picture below).
The upper terminal at the summit of Sulphur Mountain has a gift shop. They sell all kinds of souvenirs, including fridge magnets, little bear figurines, T-shirts and much, much more.
If you’re unsure what souvenirs to buy, click the link to read the blog post I wrote to help you out.
Attend an Event at the Summit
It depends on the time of the year, but if you’re lucky, you can visit one of the events held at the summit.
The summit of Sulphur Mountain hosts several events throughout the year. Here is a brief description of the events and the times they take place.
Nightrise allows visitors to enjoy the starry night in the Canadian Rockies through interactive lighting, projections, and soundscapes at the summit. Also, while traveling in the gondola.
- Daily: December 2 – March 11
- Thursday – Sunday: March 12-31
Valentine’s Dinner at Sky Bistro
Want to treat your partner to a romantic dinner and breathtaking vistas on Valentine’s Day? The Valentine’s Dinner at Sky Bistro (CAD 99, excluding the gondola ticket) might well be the ultimate romantic location in Banff. The dinner is accompanied by live music.
When: February 14.
Exit the Banff Gondola and be welcomed by live music. About 20 local musicians get to play their instruments at the Peak Patio on top of Sulphur Mountain. Seven days a week, between 5.30 and 9.30 pm. The festival admission is included in your ticket.
When: Late summer.
Banff Gondola Mountaintop Christmas
Each year the Banff Gondola holds its Banff Gondola Mountaintop Christmas activities. Expect seasonal decorations and treats for kids. If you’re lucky, you might run into Santa.
For adults, there’s boozy hot chocolate available at the Sky Bistro. It’s a part of the yearly Hot Chocolate Trail, which features more than twenty Banff restaurants, each offering its own twist on hot chocolate.
When: It starts on weekends in the second half of November. In the days before Christmas, the event is held daily.
Good to know: Kids go free before noon.
Ride the Banff Gondola to the Lower Terminal
Don’t want to hike down after spending several hours atop Sulphur Mountain? Ride the Banff Gondola to the lower terminal at the base of the mountain.
You probably intended to do so already, as most people buy a return ticket. But if you came hiking up and don’t want to put the effort to hike back down, taking the Banff Gondola back is a good solution. In this case, you only pay half the price.
The ride takes about 8 minutes, is roughly 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mi long), and covers 698 meters altimeters (2,290 ft) at an average incline of 51 percent.
At the base terminal, you’ll find another gift shop and a Starbucks.
To easiest way to get to the top of Sulphur mountain is by taking the Banff Gondola.
To get there from the town of Banff, head south on Banff Avenue, cross the Bow River Bridge and turn left onto Spray Avenue. Then turn right onto Mountain Avenue and drive down this road until you reach the Banff Gondola parking lot.
The Banff Gondola base station borders the parking lot.
Want to know more about the Banff Gondola? Click the link to read everything you should know.