What to Expect on Your Banff Gondola Ride

Cradled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park is a must-see on your adventure to the area. It’s home to awe-inspiring beauty, from its craggy peaks that stretch toward the sun to the wildlife meandering through its dense forests and valleys.

While there’s much to do, from hiking to skiing, the Banff gondola ride is a must-do experience for visitors. Even though we’ve seen the sights multiple times, the 360-degree views of Sulphur Mountain and the peaks and valleys beyond never get old. So, if you’re planning to visit Banff National Park, be sure to stop and enjoy a gondola ride. Here’s what you can expect on your adventure.

The Banff Gondola Ride: From Start to Finish

Taking that first ride can be daunting if you’ve never ridden in a gondola. After all, riding in a compact enclosed cabin that dangles from cables can seem quite scary. But, if you know what to expect, you may find that you can enjoy your excursion to the summit more.

So, after taking a ride or two on the Banff gondola, we can give you a better idea of what to expect. Here are the basics of the ride, from start to finish:

Arriving at the Base

Your adventure begins at the base of the Banff Gondola, located just a few minutes outside the town of Banff. Plenty of signs indicate where the gondola is, so you shouldn’t miss it. There’s plenty of parking to go around, so there’s usually no hiccups in this regard.

If you don’t have a ride, you might be able to catch the Banff ROAM Public Transit bus, which will take you to the Banff Gondola. It costs $2 per person each way. In the summer, you can get a free return ride from the gondola back into town. All you’ll need to do is show the driver your ticket for a free return ride!

Once you’ve parked, you’ll need to purchase a ticket. You can buy them online in advance (we recommend this route) or at the office on-site. The price varies based on the person’s age and season. Group packages are available, plus packages that combine the gondola ride with other popular attractions.

Boarding the Gondola

With your tickets in hand, it’s time to board the gondola! This seemed a bit scary, but it’s really not that bad. You’ll just step from the platform into the enclosed cabin, and an employee will come around and close the doors.

Each gondola comfortably fits four people, although five may fit if one is a small child or baby. Once you’re on board, sit down and enjoy the ride! It usually takes a few minutes to load each of the gondolas, but before you know it, you’ll be on the move!

Journey to the Summit

Once the gondola starts its ascent, keep your eyes peeled out the windows. The scenery gets better and better as you climb, giving you a bird’s eye view of the forest, rocky outcroppings, and alpine meadows below.

If you look closely, you might even spot some wildlife! It’s not unheard of to see deer, mountain goats and even bears going about their daily lives. We spotted a few deer but nothing else.

It takes about eight minutes to get to the top. The ride covers a distance of 2.3 miles and climbs over 2,200 feet, bringing you to almost 7,500 feet above sea level!

Sights at the Top

Once the gondola halts its journey at the upper terminal, you’ve reached the summit of Sulphur Mountain. You’re at an elevation of 7,486 feet! Stepping out of the gondola, you’ll find panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and the town of Banff far below.

The upper terminal is a marvel all on its own! There’s plenty to explore up here before making your descent down the mountain once more. Here’s what you’ll find at the top:

  • Observation deck and boardwalk: There are a few observation decks that offer incredible views of the mountains beyond. The Banff Skywalk, or Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk, is a self-guided interpretive walkway that extends a little over half a mile along the ridgeline. At the other end, you’ll find the historic Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station and Cosmic Ray Station, each with fascinating insights into the area’s scientific significance. The stroll along the ridgeline offers outstanding views and features a gentle incline, so you don’t need to worry about a tough hike to get to the stations.
  • Interpretive Center: The Above Banff Interpretive Center is also located at the Sulphur Mountain summit. Its interactive exhibits and displays offer intriguing information about the region’s geology, wildlife, and history. We thought it was a fascinating addition to the mix. After all, it’s pretty neat that you can learn more about the natural wonders sprawling right in front of you!
  • Dining with a view: If you’re in the mood for a bite to eat, pick from one of two dining options: the Sky Bistro or the Northern Lights Cafe. Both offer phenomenal views and yummy food. The Sky Bistro is a fine-dining restaurant with Canadian-inspired cuisine, while the Northern Lights Cafe is set up for quick bites, snacks, and beverages. We had eaten not long before we came up, so we just grabbed a few light snacks from the cafe before continuing our explorations.
  • Gift shop: If you want something to commemorate your experience atop Sulphur Mountain, be sure to stop at the gift shop. There’s an impressive array of souvenirs, apparel, and even locally crafted options to bring home with you to preserve the memory of your trip. We loved perusing the indigenous arts and crafts, but since we didn’t save much room in our suitcases, we opted for a postcard to commemorate our trip (we like to write our favorite memory on the back of the postcard).

Descending the Mountain

Once you’ve had your fill of the panoramic views and activities at the summit, take the gondola back down the mountain. Like the ride to the summit, the journey down offers incredible views of the changing landscape, giving you another opportunity to snap a few photos.

We thought that the descent felt more relaxed than the ascent, but that was probably due in part to the excitement of riding up and seeing the sights for the first time. When you return to the lower terminal, hop off the gondola and continue your adventures.

We explored Banff National Park a bit more before heading into town. It’s such a beautiful area, so we took our time soaking in the splendor before we meandered back into town for a bite and some shopping. Of course, you can do whatever works best for you! If you’re ready for a meal when you get back down, we recommend the Bluebird Wood-Fired Steakhouse (the steak is incredible) or the Juniper Bistro (the French toast and eggs are delicious).

Tips to Make the Most of Your Gondola Ride

Before you embark on your adventure to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, here are a few things to consider:

Dress Warm

Remember to dress warm if you visit during the late fall, winter, or early spring. The ride brings you up over 2,000 feet above where you started at the lower terminal, bringing you to an elevation of nearly 7,500 feet above sea level. It can get pretty chilly up here, and the gondola cabin isn’t heated, so it’s important to dress warm.

At this elevation, it can be chilly, even in the summer, especially if you go earlier in the morning or later in the evening. So, be sure to dress warmly. If you go in the winter, wear your winter gear, including a hat, coat, pants, gloves, and a scarf.

Book Ahead

Banff is a touristy town that attracts millions of visitors annually, so attractions around town can get pretty busy. The gondola ride stays fairly busy year-round, although there’s usually a lull between September and October and May to June. Banff is a popular destination in the summer for its hikes and in the winter for its skiing, so it can be hectic during these peak times.

So, since it stays shockingly busy, even during slower seasons, we recommend booking ahead. This way, you won’t miss out on the ride, as it can get booked out for days at a time.

If possible, book a slot before noon or after 5 p.m. to beat the crowds.

Arrive Early

Just like booking ahead, arriving early is a must. Given how busy and chaotic it can get during the busiest hours of the day, it’s important to give yourself enough time to beat the crowds and make it to your ride.

Give yourself at least 10 or 15 minutes extra to get to where you need to go. Many people have reported having to wait in line for hours, usually if they didn’t have a ticket, so plan ahead and give yourself enough time in case of lengthy lines.

Bring a Camera

The sights from the gondola and summit are simply incredible, so bring a camera to capture the views. You could even keep a theme going on your Banff trip and bring along a Polaroid camera to capture your trip. Then, when you get home, put them all in a cute little scrapbook to preserve your memories.

Of course, a good ‘ol camera or smartphone will do the job, too. Snap a few pictures (and videos, if you like) on your way up and at the summit. But, as you capture the moment, don’t forget to stay present and soak it all in! The ride isn’t very long, so enjoy each second as you steadily climb to the summit.

Be Prepared for The Heights

If you’re a bit nervous about heights (some of us are, too), prepare yourself before getting on the gondola. The views are exceptional and well worth it, but it’s important to note that you will be over 100 feet above the ground at some points during the ride.

This might not be the best fit if the heights are too much for you. If you decide to go, avoid looking down. Instead, keep your eyes on the beautiful mountains surrounding the gondola, watching as the trees pass by the window. It’s such an incredible experience, so if you don’t mind the height, we think it’s well worth the venture.

Add Hiking to the Mix

If you’re up for a hike, you can hike one way and take the gondola the other way. The hike is moderate to difficult and usually takes two to four hours, depending on your fitness level. During the excursion to the top, you’ll get some awe-inspiring views of the mountains and forests beyond.

If you’d like to hike but aren’t too keen on huffing and puffing to the top, consider riding the gondola up and walking down. With this option, you’ll still have to pay the full ticket price, even though you won’t be riding down.

Or, if you’re up for the exertion of a hike at higher altitudes, hike up and ride the gondola down. You can buy tickets at the top for half price since you’ll only be riding down! However, it’s important to note that you can’t bring pets onto the gondola, so if you plan to ride the gondola down, your furry companion will have to stay behind.

Enjoy the Gondola, Canadian Rockies, and Glacier Park on a Guided Tour

Alberta is home to an assortment of stunning scenery, from its crisp alpine lakes and winding rivers to its rocky outcroppings and jagged mountain ranges. There’s much to see, whether you enjoy an invigorating hike or simply soaking in the dramatic scenery. Given the abundance of things to see and do, planning a well-rounded trip can seem a bit daunting. That’s where we come in.

We’ve packed the best sights and activities into our nine-day tour of the Canadian Rockies and Glacier Park. This tour takes you from the striking beauty of Glacier Park in Montana to the sweeping views you’ll get on the Banff gondola ride. The best part? We handle the details, from transportation to lodgings, so you can kick back, relax, and enjoy your vacation!

Ready to book a trip? Call 1-800-CARAVAN or 1-800-312-321-9800 to get started today.