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Lake Louise Gondola VS Banff Gondola: Which one is Better?!

Lake Louise Gondola VS Banff Gondola: Which one is Better?!

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There is no doubt that Banff National Park is one of the best places to visit in Alberta. This area is full of natural, untouched beauty and everywhere you go you’ll find stunning Instagrammable spots!

We lived near Banff for many years and have explored the area countless times, so you can believe me when I say that taking a gondola ride is one of the best things to do in Banff. It offers amazing aerial views across the mountain ranges that you would normally only get if you did a long and strenuous hike. Plus once at the top there are many different fun activities you can partake in.

There are actually 4 different gondolas in Banff National Park, but this blog will focus on comparing the 2 most popular – the Lake Louise Gondola and the Banff Gondola. When deciding between them, there are many things to consider such as where you’re staying in Banff and what season you’re visiting. You should also think about what you’re interested in doing at the top and what kind of views you want along the way.

This guide will help you choose which gondola to add to your Banff itinerary – maybe you can even try both!

Don’t have time to read the full article? While both gondolas offer a unique experience with panoramic mountain views, we think the overall best choice is the Banff Gondola. It’s open year-round and offers more to do when compared to the Lake Louise Gondola. At the Banff Gondola’s summit, you can visit the 4-story building full of interactive activities, restaurants, cafes, a bar, an observation deck, and even a theater!

The Banff Gondola

fours cars some up the cable of the Banff Gondola with mountain views
The Banff Gondola is in the most beautiful of locations!
Banff gondola building and boardwalk on a early spring day with lots of snow
The top of the Banff Gondola
  • Price: Adults (16+) cost $59-$72 CAD, kids (6-15) cost $37-$45 CAD, and children 5 and under are free.
  • Location: Sulphur Mountain, 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) south of the Banff townsite at 100 Mountain Avenue
  • Open from: Summer 8 am – 10 pm, Fall 9 am – 9 pm, Winter 10 am – 9 pm (may close an hour later on weekend nights and select months)
  • Best for: Families with young children, people who don’t want to travel far from Banff, those visiting in the colder months, and those looking for more of an overall experience with plenty of things to do at the top! 

The Banff Gondola offers a unique experience by bringing you up 698 meters (2,290 feet) to the top of Sulphur Mountain. You’ll board an enclosed gondola cabin with glass windows that offer a gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys on your 8-minute journey up!

Each of the gondolas holds up to 4 adults, and infants can be seated on your lap during the ride. And since the gondolas are enclosed, you are sheltered from the elements, making this a Banff activity you can do in the rain.

This gondola is open year-round (minus a couple of weeks in the winter when it’s closed for annual maintenance) making it a great thing to do in winter or in the summer! Please note that the gondolas are not heated though – so dress accordingly!

On the way up and at the top, you will get breathtaking panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains including Mount Rundle, Tunnel Mountain, the mountains of Lake Louise, Bow River, and Lake Minnewanka to name a few. At an elevation of 2,281 meters (7,486 feet) above sea level, you’ll also get sweeping views over Banff Town and 6 different mountain ranges.

The fun doesn’t stop once you reach the top, there is so much to do up there that you’ll need to set aside at least half a day to explore! There is a 4-level building full of family-friendly interactive activities, a theater, coffee shops, restaurants, an observation deck, and much more!

For more detailed info on this experience, check out our full guide on everything you need to know to ride the Banff Gondola

Best features of the Banff Gondola

Bailey walks down the boardwalk at the top of the Banff Gondola at th top of Sulphur Mountain
The Boardwalk to Sanson Peak

Summit Building – At the peak of Sulphur Mountain you’ll find the Summit Building. This multi-level center is full of many things to see and do such as the Interpretive Centre which has interactive exhibits about Sulphur Mountain and its unique ecology.

You can also visit the multi-sensory Above Banff Theatre, and watch a short film that shows views of the Canadian Rockies through the eyes of a bald eagle! There is also a 360° observation deck on the top floor offering breathtaking views. The best part is that all of these activities are included with your admission ticket!

The boardwalk to Sanson Peak – My favorite part of the Banff Gondola experience is going for a stroll along the boardwalk at the very top of the mountain! This 0.5 km (0.3 miles) boardwalk is built along the mountain ridge and only takes 15 – 30 minutes each way. There are a few stairs, but overall the walk is leisurely and easy for most fitness levels making it one of the easier hikes in Banff.

At the end of the boardwalk is Sanson Peak where you’ll find the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station and Weather Observatory which was used from 1903 to 1945 to monitor the climate of the Rockies. This walk offers fantastic views at any time of the year, but be sure to wear some crampons/shoe spikes in the winter to avoid slipping on any ice!

Restaurants and cafes – You will find two delicious restaurants at the summit including the award-winning Sky Bistro. You can get your caffeine fix from Starbucks at the Gondola base, or from Castle Mountain Coffee (one of the best cafes in Banff) at the peak before going for a stroll along the boardwalk. During the summer, the Peak Patio outdoor bar is open. One of our favorite things to do is take the gondola up in the evening to have a cocktail here and watch the sunset over the mountains (sometimes there is even live music!).

Gift shop – There’s a gift shop inside the gondola complex with loads of souvenirs, so you can pick up something cute to remember your trip up the mountain. Or, if you’re feeling generous, it’s a good place to grab a gift for friends and family back home. There are lots of cozy hoodies here, which is handy if you arrive at the top of the mountain and realize it’s colder than you expected!

Stargazing – Since the Banff Gondola is open later in the evening, you may be able to go up on a clear night to stargaze (depending on the time of year you’re visiting). The altitude helps you get an even better view of the night sky, so you’ll spot constellations you’d never have seen from the city. The award-winning Banff Gondola stargazing program runs at certain times of the year and allows you to peek through high-powered telescopes and ask astronomers all your questions about the universe. You can check Banff Gondola’s current events here to see when stargazing is offered.

Getting to the Banff Gondola

a view of Mt Rundle from the top of the Banff Gondola
This is the view that you can expect from the top!

The Banff Gondola is located on Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park, just 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) south of the Banff townsite. 

Being so close to the town means if you have your own rental car, it only takes about 10 minutes to drive from Banff Town to the Banff Gondola. Take Banff Avenue south towards the Bow Bridge, and after crossing, turn left onto Mountain Avenue. Keep right and follow the road until you reach a dead end, which is the Banff Gondola parking lot. We found this drive super straightforward.

The parking lot at the Banff Gondola is also huge, and free! However, during the busy summer months and the Christmas season, it does completely fill up. You’ll want to arrive early and avoid visiting on the weekends.

Alternatively, you can take the Banff ROAM bus from downtown to the gondola. You’ll need to take Route 1, and buses depart every 25 – 60 minutes throughout the day, from 6 am until 11 pm. It’s $2 CAD per person each way, so it’s super cheap, and it only takes around 17 minutes. During the summer months, you can buy a one-way ride and then show your Banff Gondola ticket to the driver on the way home for a free return!

There’s also a free shuttle between downtown and the gondola during peak tourism season. From around May 21 until June 12, this is only available on weekends, and then from around June 13 to October 9th, it runs every day. It runs every 30 minutes from 9 am until 6 pm from the Banff Visitor Centre. You can check Banff Gondola’s website for more info on this free shuttle (although it won’t be posted in winter).

Also, if you aren’t staying the night in Banff, there are many awesome tours of the Canadian Rockies where you can just add-on the Banff Gondola to the experience!

Buying tickets to the Banff Gondola

Daniel pretends to throw and snow ball at Bailey at the top of the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain
Don’t forget to have a snowball fight!

Ticket prices for the Banff Gondola are dynamic and are always changing based on demand, season, and day of the week.

You will often see an increase in ticket prices in the busy summer season or on weekends when tourism is at its peak. Adult tickets range anywhere from $59 to $72 CAD, with youth tickets (ages 6-15) starting at $37 CAD. Children 5 and under are free, but you still need to book them a free ticket.

In order to get the cheapest prices, we highly recommend booking your tickets in advance. The earlier you book, the lower demand will be so you are most likely to get the best deal. Also, try to go on a weekday if possible to save a few more bucks.

When you’re figuring out the best place to buy tickets for the Banff Gondola, I highly recommend buying tickets online here. I like using Viator because they’re a reputable company and will refund or reschedule tickets in case of bad weather. Plus, they include taxes so prices are transparent and you won’t need to do any extra math.

Related Read: If you’re flying into Calgary International Airport, we have a guide on how to get from the Calgary Airport to Banff!

Pros of the Banff Gondola

Sanson Peak Weather station on Sulphur Mountain at the top of the Banff Gondola
Sanson Peak Weather Station on Sulphur Mountain at the top of the Banff Gondola
Cable cars travel up the Banff Gondola
Up we go!

You can hike up or down – The Sulphur Mountain Trail is one of the best hikes in Banff and is a great alternative to taking the gondola for people who want some extra exercise. This challenging trail is 5.5 km (3.4 mi) one way and takes about 1.5-3 hours.

If you hike to the top and want to take the gondola back down, you will only have to pay half-price. However, if you choose to take the gondola to the top and hike down, you will still need to pay full price. As you will be hiking up switchbacks through the trees, you will not get the stunning aerial views you get with the gondola. I recommend taking the gondola at least one way to get the most out of the experience. 

It’s close to Banff town – If you are staying in downtown Banff, this gondola is only 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the town center, making it easily accessible! If you are renting a car, you can drive to the gondola and park for free. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, the Banff ROAM Bus Route 1 from downtown Banff to the gondola, and during the summer there is even a free shuttle!

Wheelchair accessible – The Banff Gondola experience is very accessible, with wheelchairs being able to fit in the gondolas, and ramps and elevators throughout the Summit Building. The boardwalk is not accessible though, as it has stairs.

Facilities open all year round – The Banff Gondola and all the Summit activities are open year-round. This is fantastic if you’re visiting in the more popular summer months or looking to take in the beautiful snowy views in the heart of winter. While there is never a bad time to visit, I highly recommend visiting Banff in winter when there’s lots of snow and the mountains are in their prime! 

Close to hot springs – The Banff Gondola is located right across the street from the Banff Upper Hot Springs (also called the Sulphur Hot Springs). It’s a nice treat to head over once you are done on the mountain for the day and have a nice soak, especially if it’s a little chilly out! These are some of the best hot springs in all of Alberta and are open daily from 10 am to 10 pm. Tickets cost $17.50 CAD per person, are first-come, first-serve, and are purchased at the door.

Winter Nightrise experience – If you are visiting from December to the end of March, the Banff Gondola offers a Nightrise experience where you can enjoy a unique after-dark gondola ride. Music and special lighting help to create a magical experience that feels like you are walking through a winter wonderland – talk about the perfect Banff Christmas activity!

Cons of the Banff Gondola

Snow covered trees and the Bow Valley as seen from the Banff Gondola'
What a view from the gondola!

Limited parking – There is very limited parking at the Banff Gondola parking lot, especially during peak tourist season in the summer months. I recommend getting there early to try and get a spot, or taking the bus or shuttle from Banff.

Often very busy, especially in the summer months – The Banff Gondola is one of the most popular things to do in Banff, and for good reason! Its beautiful landscapes and fun activities mean it draws in a lot of people. To avoid the crowds, try going on a weekday either early in the day or in the evening.

Not much of a nature experience – With the exception of the Sanson Peak Boardwalk, there aren’t really any other trails from the top of the mountain that you can take and explore freely. I still think it’s worth it though, as the views are sure to cure your nature cravings! And if you want more nature time, you can always choose to hike up the mountain instead and then take the gondola back down.

What we think overall

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo on the Banff Gondola
It’s not a long ride, but the views are spectacular!

Overall, the Banff Gondola has to be one of my favorite Banff activities! We even wrote a full review of the Banff Gondola here, but spoiler alert: we think it’s well worth your time and effort! You get incredible mountain-top views without having to go on a long and tiring hike. The gondola ride itself is such a fun experience, and the numerous activities at the top really make for a fun and engaging day!

If you have a short amount of time in Banff, it’s a great way to take in the scenery, get a lot of epic pictures, and learn a lot about the area at the same time.

Although it does get busy and more expensive during peak times, we think this experience is still worth it. Just try going on a weekday if possible to beat the crowds and book in advance to try and snag a lower price!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Lake Louise Gondola

Lake Louise Gondola in summer
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola
Two Bears below the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
How cool? Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola
  • Price: Adults (18+) cost $63 CAD. Seniors (65+) cost $52 CAD. Youth (13-17) are $27 CAD, kids (6-12) are $14 CAD, and children under 5 are free.
  • Location: Located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, 7 km (4.4 mi) from Lake Louise, 60 km (37.5 mi) from Banff
  • Open from: Mid-May to early September 8 am – 6 pm, September – October 8 am – 5 pm, October to mid-May 10 am – 3:30 pm
  • Best for: Anybody wanting a chance to see wildlife, nature lovers interested in learning about the area’s biodiversity, people wanting a unique view of Lake Louise

The Lake Louise Gondola offers a unique way of viewing the bright blue Lake Louise, one of the best lakes in all of Banff National Park – if not the entire world! You get stunning views as you ascend the side of Mt. Whitehorn. During the summer, it’s also one of the best spots in the Rockies to see bears!

The gondola ride takes 14 minutes to reach the top at a height of 2,101 meters (6,893 feet) above sea level. You can choose to ride in either an open-air chairlift or an enclosed gondola with glass windows. The enclosed option is great if you have small children or if the weather isn’t cooperating. Personally, I enjoyed the open-air chair as it allowed me to look all around to spot the wildlife!

The Lake Louise Gondola takes you over a protected wildlife corridor, meaning the area is home to many animals including grizzly bears. So if spotting wildlife in Banff is something you’re after, then this would be a good choice for you. Grab your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled while riding the gondola and there is a good chance you may spot a wild bear!

Once you reach the top, you can explore the area without having to worry about any unwanted guests. There is an electric fence around the area to protect you from the wildlife. At the top, you can enjoy the view from the observation platform and learn about the area’s biodiversity at the Wildlife Interpretive Centre. You can also have a bite at the restaurant or go on one of the many hiking routes.

Please Note: While the Lake Louise sightseeing gondola operates year-round, all of the activities and facilities at the top of the gondola are closed in the winter months (October to mid-May). So unless you’re going skiing, you’d be paying full price just to ride the gondola up and back down the mountain. For this reason, we think this is mainly a summer activity where you can really explore once you reach the top. But hey, if all you want is magnificent snow-capped mountain views, go ahead and add it to your Lake Louise Winter bucket list!

If this gondola is already sounding like the one for you, make sure to read our tips on taking the Lake Louise Gondola before you go!

Best features of the Lake Louise Gondola

View looking down the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
What a stunning place! Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola

Viewing platform – At the top of the Lake Louise Gondola, you’ll find a large protected area. It’s sheltered by electric fences to keep your experience bear-free. The viewing platform even has binoculars, although you don’t need them to appreciate this view.

Wildlife Interpretive Centre – Once at the top you can take a short walk to the Wildlife Interpretive Centre. Here you’ll learn all about the animals that frequent the area and the natural history of Mt. Whitehorn. Entry is free when you purchase a Lake Louise Gondola ticket. Plus, the staff even put on free nature talks daily near the viewing platform at 10 am and 2 pm.

Hiking trails – For those looking to get closer to nature, there are some of Lake Louise’s best hiking trails just outside of the electric fence. When we hiked here, we felt completely immersed in all the beautiful nature found in this part of the Rocky Mountains. If you’d like you can even join a guided hike of the area for an extra fee.

There are 3 main trails at the top of the gondola. We did the Kicking Horse Pass Viewpoint Trail, a 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) out-and-back hike along a dirt and gravel path that leads to a viewpoint of the valley below. Even though it was short, it was steep and had us out of breath in no time! We recommend doing this hike in the fall to see the beautiful larch trees changing color.

The Pika Trail is a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) trail that follows a more steady incline as you pass through wildflower meadows. Keep your eyes peeled to spot the adorable rodent-like pikas that call this area home! Alternatively, you can keep going to the Ptarmigan Valley viewpoint, which makes for a 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) round trip. The final section is a bit steeper but you’ll get amazing valley views, and we thought the extra effort was totally worth it.

Restaurants – At the base of the gondola is the Lodge of Ten Peaks Cafe, a cafeteria that is nice for a quick bite to eat or to grab a coffee before you ascend the mountain. At the top of the mountain, you’ll find the Whitehorn Bistro, one of the best restaurants in Lake Louise. It offers stunning mountain views while you enjoy your delicious meal (the Whitehorn burger was to die for!). They also offer a great selection of cocktails and beer that you can enjoy against the alpine backdrop.

Getting to the Lake Louise Gondola

Two people travel down the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola

The Lake Louise Gondola is located in the Bow Valley inside Banff National Park. It takes you up Mount Whitehorn, which is part of the Canadian Rockies range.

It’s 7 km (4.4 mi) from Lake Louise and about 60 km (37.5 mi) from Banff, so it’s easy to visit from either town. If you are staying in Banff and renting a car, it’s about a 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise and is an epic mountain road trip!

If you only have one day in Lake Louise, you’re in luck! It’s just a quick 5-minute drive from the town across the highway to the base of the gondola. It’s important to note that the gondola does not start at Lake Louise Lakeshore! It starts at the Lake Louise Ski Resort and you can get views of Lake Louise in the distance as you ascend the mountain.

There is a huge, free parking lot at the base of the gondola. There is also a free park-and-ride service between this parking lot and the Lake Louise Lakeshore area. Parking at Lake Louise is expensive right at the lakeshore, so many visitors leave their cars in the lot after the gondola ride and use the return shuttle to go and explore the lakeshore.

Alternatively, if you are staying in Banff Town and want to go on the Lake Louise Gondola, you can take the Banff Hop-on, Hop-off Bus. It’s one of the top tours from Banff to Lake Louise and it runs from early June to late September. The route includes Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, and Samson Mall, as well as the Lake Louise Gondola. It costs $85 CAD per person, making it one of the best bus tours in Banff, but keep in mind you’ll have to purchase your gondola ticket separately.

Buying tickets to the Lake Louise Gondola

Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola

I highly recommend buying tickets for the Lake Louise Summer Gondola ahead of time to ensure the experience doesn’t fill up. The summer gondola experience is only available in the warmer months (usually May- October). Since Lake Louise in summer is incredibly popular, you can bet that this gondola attracts a lot of visitors.

To buy tickets for the Winter Sightseeing Gondola, you can purchase tickets in advance here. You also shouldn’t have any issue getting them on the day of.

The gondola prices are reasonable and adults cost only $63 CAD. If you’re going with children under 107 cm (42 in), you must ride in an enclosed gondola for safety purposes. Also, if you happen to have a winter-season ski pass to Lake Lousie Ski Resort – your admission on the gondola during the summer is free!

We prefer to book our tickets with Viator because they allow you to reserve your spot now and pay later. So you don’t get charged until just before you go! You can also cancel or reschedule up to 24 hours before you go, making it super easy to rearrange things if your plans change or the weather doesn’t cooperate.

The price is the exact same as buying tickets directly from Lake Louise, the only difference is that the Viator tickets look more expensive because the prices shown already include the taxes and fees. We always book with Viator because we feel so protected due to their amazing cancellation and rebooking policies, which you don’t get when you book directly with many companies!

Pros of the Lake Louise Gondola

Food from the Whitehorn Bistro at the Lake Louise Gondola
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola
Viewpoint at the top of the Lake Louise Gondola
Photo credit: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Summer Gondola

High chance of wildlife sightings – Riding the Lake Louise Gondola is one of the best chances to spot a bear in the wild as this area is frequented by both black bears and grizzlies. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the bears during your ride! More than just bears, this area is also home to deer, bighorn sheep, wolves, and other wildlife. 

For your best chance of spotting wildlife, I recommend taking the open-air chairlift rather than the gondola so you can easily look around. Take some binoculars if you have them as some animals may be off in the distance. Also, I’d recommend visiting during the cooler hours of the day – animals are more likely to be on the move in the morning or evening!

Can choose your experience – You can choose between riding in an enclosed gondola or an open-air chairlift. The enclosed gondolas are great for those who are afraid of heights, people traveling with young children, or when the weather isn’t cooperating. The open chairlift is best for those looking to take in full 360-degree views and wanting to better their chances of bear sightings. 

Safety enclosure at the top – At the top of the gondola you can feel safe to roam the area knowing you are in a protected enclosure away from any animals. There is a large electrical fence providing added safety and peace of mind. This is an especially appealing option for families traveling with little kids.

Great hiking trails – If you are comfortable leaving the enclosed area, there are a few different walks and hikes in the surrounding area to choose from. There are a few guided hiking tours offered in this area as well, making it a good option no matter your skill level. 

Skiing in the winter – Unlike the Banff Gondola, the Lake Louise Gondola is on a ski hill. So in the winter, you can go skiing here. Your lift ticket will cover the gondola ride so you can enjoy those magnificent mountain views.

Cons of the Lake Louise Gondola

Mountain views with the lake Louise summer gondola in Banff National Park
The gondola takes you high up the mountain!

Accessibility – While the team at Lake Louise Gondola makes great efforts to assist those with wheelchairs and scooters, the area is not 100% wheelchair accessible. 

No bear sighting guarantee – While this area is densely populated with bears, there is no guarantee that you will spot these beautiful creatures while riding the chairlift. For your best chance, try to visit in the morning or evening since they are more likely to be on the move during the cooler hours of the day. If you aren’t lucky enough to spot a bear, you’ll still be impressed by all the beauty of the area. 

Nothing to do up top during the winter – The Lake Louise Gondola is mainly a summer activity. You can pay to take the sightseeing gondola up and back down in the winter. However, it really isn’t worth the money because there are no facilities open at the top (not even restrooms). In my opinion, it is only worth visiting in the winter if you are going skiing/snowboarding.

Not open late – During the warmer months, the gondola is only open until 6 pm. This is quite early compared to the Banff Gondola’s closing time of 10 pm. This means you won’t be able to watch the sunset from the top of the mountain or go stargazing after dark.

Cannot hike to the top – Unlike the Banff Gondola, you cannot hike to the top of the mountain at the Lake Louise Gondola. The area is a protected wildlife corridor, meaning the chance of encountering wildlife is high – and you don’t want to become bear food!

Related Read: Another great way to see grizzly bears and other animals is by joining one of the best wildlife tours in Banff National Park!

What we think overall

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie with friends on the Lake Louise Sightseeing gondola
So much fun with friends!

The Lake Louise Gondola is certainly a great choice for nature and wildlife lovers! The mountain is a grizzly bear hot spot, and while sightings are never guaranteed, it does provide one of the best chances of seeing them in Banff National Park.

I’d recommend enjoying lunch at the top or going for a hike. Without participating in these activities, the overall experience can be a little boring compared to the Banff Gondola. So, get up there and enjoy a meal or explore the mountain trails!

So Which One’s Better?

Scenic view out the window of the Banff Gondola
Scenic view out the window of the Banff Gondola

The best gondola for you depends largely on the type of experience you are looking for. 

Overall, I would say that the Banff Gondola is the best all-around gondola experience. It’s the most popular Banff gondola for good reason! There’s so much to do and see at the top and the ride up is enjoyable too. Plus, its facilities are available all year long, making it the best gondola experience in the colder months.

For those traveling with families, the Banff Gondola provides a multi-level upper terminal that offers lots of activities all in one place. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the option to hike up or down the mountain or enjoy walking the boardwalk. For those with accessibility needs, the Banff Gondola is the better choice because it has been seamlessly designed with accessibility in mind. It is also open later allowing you to savor those beautiful sunsets up top!

For those looking for an outdoorsy experience full of nature, wildlife, and hiking trails, I highly recommend the Lake Louise Gondola. It offers a high chance of seeing bears and other wildlife as well as a good amount of hiking trails. Plus, the aerial view of the turquoise-blue Lake Louise is something you’ll always remember.

Basically, you can’t go wrong with either! Both gondolas offer unique and memorable experiences and we are sure you will enjoy your time either way.

What to Bring on the Gondolas

Bailey on the baordwalk at the top of the Banff Gondola
To me, the Banff Gondola is cheap for the experience you get!

The temperature at the top of all these gondolas is always several degrees colder than at the bottom, so make sure to dress in layers! No matter if you’re visiting Banff in December or the middle of summer, it’s always a good idea to have a few extra layers with you. Plus, it can be windy at the top of these mountains!

If you’re planning a gondola ride in the spring or summer, I like packing a light waterproof windbreaker. The weather in the Rockies can change on a dime and you might get a rainshower you weren’t expecting.

If you’re planning an evening gondola ride, it’s a good idea to bring a sweater or sweatshirt. The temperature dips when the sun goes down.

In the winter, dress warmer than you think you’ll need to! Lots of layers of warm, comfy clothes along with a hat, scarf, and gloves. The gondolas aren’t heated, so you’ll need that extra warmth. Microspikes or crampons are also a good idea so that you don’t slip on any ice at the top!

This may seem obvious, but make sure you have a camera along too. The views on the ride up the gondolas and once you’re at the top are totally photo album-worthy. Plus, you’ll want to remember your trip!

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff and Lake Louise

Bailey at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Waterfall at Johnston Canyon!
The Lake Agnes Tea House on a sunny day in Banff
The iconic Lake Agnes Tea House!

Taking a ride up one of the gondolas around here is just one of many things to do around here. While we have full lists of the best things to do in Lake Louise and our favorite activities in Banff, we narrowed down a few of our can’t-miss activities!

  • Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. Or if you just want transport, take the hop-on-hop-off bus that stops here. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
  • Hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House – My favorite hike in Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail. Starting right from the lakeshore, the trail has you hiking high above Lake Louise where you can peer down and see parts of the lake from above. It’s a 7.3 km (4.5 mi) return track that is moderately difficult but not technical at all!
  • See the sunrise at Moraine Lake – If you don’t mind being a bit of an early bird, it’s worth the effort to get out of bed to see the sunrise at Moraine Lake! It’s a bit complicated to get to Moraine Lake since the road is closed to public vehicles, so the best options are this private shuttle or taking this award-winning sunrise tour.
  • Go on a wildlife tour – Seeing wildlife was high on my bucket list, and if it’s on yours too you’ll love going on this guided wildlife tour! We loved this experience because seeing wildlife in Banff is actually harder than you’d think, and the guides know just where to go. They also provided transportation and tons of information about the animals, so it was an all-around great experience!

Where to Stay in Banff, Canada

At the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Me, at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

This is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider. Below are some amazing hotels we recommend for all budget types.

Luxury – $$$

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose!

Prices can be as low as $650 CAD or upwards of $1,000 CAD depending on when you book. You can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.

Mid-range hotel – $$

Our top choice for the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town.

Prices start at $130 CAD and you can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Budget-friendly hotel – $$

The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar.

Prices range from $180-$440 depending on the season. Regardless of when you go, we suggest booking the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.

Budget-backpacker hostel – $

The Samesun Backpacker Hostel is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms. It’s perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available.

Dorms at the Samesun Backpacker Hostel run roughly $50 CAD in winter and $100 CAD in summer. They can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

Where to Stay in Lake Louise

Starting the Lake Agnes Tea House hike from Chateau Lake Louise
When you stay at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise, you can go hiking right from your hotel!

If you’re planning to ride the Lake Louise Gondola and plan to spend more than one day in Lake Louise, then consider staying overnight (especially since finding parking here can be such a challenge)! Being such a small village, options are very limited, so you should book as far in advance as possible. Below are my top three choices in all budget categories:

Luxury hotel – $$$

For those with a bigger budget, you can’t look past the Fairmont Château Lake Louise. The hotel sits on the shoreline of Lake Louise with epic views in the most stunning of locations. It is a staple in Lake Louise’s landscape, and you bet the rooms are as luxurious as the exterior makes them seem. They have 6 restaurants, an indoor pool, a spa, a fitness center, and private parking. I’ve added spending a night or two here to my personal bucket list!

Stays at the Fairmont Château Lake Louise can cost as little as $500 CAD a night when you book this luxury getaway well in advance.

Mid-range hotel – $$

The Lake Louise Inn is a budget-friendly option that’s comfortable and has all the basic amenities. The hotel features an indoor pool, hot tub, onsite restaurant and bar, fitness center, modern rooms, and even apartments for larger groups. There’s also a shuttle to the Lake Louise Ski Resort & Gondola in the wintertime.

Prices For the Lake Louise Inn start at $130 CAD and you can easily book your stay on Booking.com!

Budget-backpacker hostel – $

For budget travelers, the Hi Lake Louise Alpine Centre is the best option in Lake Louise Village. The location is right in town, they have a shared kitchen, basic but comfortable rooms, and friendly staff. They have access to a small library, sauna, and a cozy common area with a fireplace. They offer either shared dorms starting at $50 CAD or private rooms starting at $140 CAD. They even have family rooms and a play area for kids.

You can book a stay on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey play in the snow at the top oif the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain
Thanks for reading!

For the best views of all the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, a trip up a gondola is the way to go! We loved both the Banff Gondola and the Lake Louise Gondola. While each gondola offers a different experience, they both serve up breathtaking views of tall mountain peaks and stunning valleys. You really can’t go wrong with choosing either!

We’ve spent a lot of time exploring this part of Canada, and love sharing what we’ve learned. For inspiration, check out some of our other blog articles about Banff here. If you’re traveling elsewhere, you can read about several other destinations we’ve visited in Canada (Bailey’s home country!).

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