Best Short Hike in Banff – Sulphur Mountain Trail

As newbies to Calgary, we have a bucket list item of activities to see, do, and explore in Calgary and Alberta. One of the most obvious activities, is hiking in beautiful Banff/Lake Louise /Kananaskis whenever we can. Our requirements for a hike include:

  • Must have beautiful, scenic views (Instagram worthy)
  • Long enough and challenging enough to feel like we squeezed in a workout
  • Not overly strenuous, i.e. no super steep climbs (like Cascade Amphitheatre)
  • Good conditions: avoid muddy /slipper trails, rocky terrain

We found a great hike that met all the above requirements – Sulphur Mountain Trail in Banff.

Getting there

Pretty simple to get there – take the Trans Canada highway from Calgary to Banff, and follow signs for Sulphur Mountain. We arrived at 12:30 p.m., and it was quite busy so we had to circle the parking lots a couple times, and eventually found a spot. The trail head is right beside the lot, and the signage was very clear throughout.

The Hike

Described as a 5.5 KM ‘strenuous trail‘, the hike follows 25+ switchbacks to the summit of the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. The friendly rep we spoke to at the tourism centre told us we’d be fine (even carrying venti teas from Starbucks like the basic b*tches we are), so we embarked on the hike with our teas.

Highest Starbucks in Canada

Hiking with Starbucks

The first 30 seconds of the hike were steep enough that we had to pause to catch our breaths between conversations, but the switchbacks evened out pretty quickly, and there were long flat stretches mixed with incline, so it wasn’t bad at all. The views walking up were beautiful, and the path was wide and clear, with lots of hikers on the trail. As we got closer to the top, the switchbacks tightened up and became a lot steeper, we had to take quite a few mini breaks to catch our breath. Finally, after about 2.5-3 hours we reached the summit!

Sulphur Mountain Trail hike

As promised, the view of the Bow Valley was stunning, and we spend about half an hour taking photos and walking around the observation decks. Since we were short on time, we didn’t venture out to the Cosmic Ray Station, but we definitely want to check that out next time. Although we got quite sweaty trekking up the mountain, it was cold at the top, and we could’ve done with an extra layer of clothing. There were tons of people milling around and taking photos, but it wasn’t overwhelming, and we were able to get all our photo opps in.

Stunning views of the Bow Valley

Summit of Sulphur Mountain

The Gondola

We took the Gondola back down the mountain, and it was a ton of fun. The best part, it was free!  A return trip to the summit will cost you $40 (which is pretty steep, excuse the pun), but since we hiked up, we took it back down free of charge (apparently during the summer it’s $20 back down). It moves pretty quickly and offers stunning views, and was a great feeling to rest our achy legs.

Gondola ride at Sulphur Mountain

What’s your favourite short hike in Banff?

xo, late & lovely

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