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18 Things to KNOW Before Riding the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift in Banff

18 Things to KNOW Before Riding the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift in Banff

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If you’re visiting Banff during the summertime, then a ride on the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift is the best way to enjoy amazing views of the town itself, as well as the beautiful Mount Rundle! 

We actually think that this open-air chairlift is pretty underrated in comparison to some of the more famous, enclosed gondolas in the Banff region. But just because it’s not as popular doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a visit. The views from the Mt Norquay chairlift are nothing short of spectacular, and it makes a nice, quick stop on your Banff itinerary

Riding the Mt Norquay sightseeing chairlift is a pretty quick and easy activity, as always, there are plenty of things to know before you go, which is why we’ve compiled this guide to riding one of Banff’s best chairlifts.

1. About the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift 

Bailey walks down some steps at the top of the Mt Norquay Chairlift
Bailey sits with a beer at the top of Mt Norquay at the Cliffhouse Bistro
Not a bad place to enjoy a beer!

Mt Norquay is a ski mountain in Banff National Park that was named after John Norquay, who climbed the mountain in the late 1880s. It gained popularity in the 1920s when Austrian and Swiss mountain guides began tackling its slopes, bringing their skiing culture to the Rockies.

A resort opened in the late 1920s, and then in 1948, a chairlift was installed. This was a pretty big deal back then, and it actually became famous since it was the longest and steepest one in North America at the time. Yup, this is no run-of-the-mill ski lift we’re talking about here.

The Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift takes you up to 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level, which is pretty dang high! The ride takes about 10 minutes, and since it’s an open-air chairlift, we found that it was quite a thrilling experience. The views of the Rockies are amazing, and you can also see right over the town of Banff itself. 

2. Where is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

View from the bottom of the Mt Norquay Gondola looking up at Mt Norquay
View from the bottom of the Mt Norquay Chairlift looking up at Mt Norquay

Mt Norquay is 7.4 km (4.6 miles) outside of Banff town, so it takes just under 15 minutes by car.

There’s also a free shuttle bus that runs from Banff to Mt Norquay, which is super convenient. You can catch the shuttle from several stops around town, including the Banff train station and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, and it takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the chairlift. The schedule changes according to the season but you can check the times here.

3. How much does the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift cost?

Tickets for the sightseeing chairlift cost $45 CAD for adults and $28 CAD for kids aged 6-15, and it’s completely free for kids ages 2-5. No little ones under 2 are allowed since this is an open-air chairlift.

When you buy a ticket on Viator, it’s good for any time on the day you purchase it (the chairlift is typically open 9 am to 7 pm in the summer). Plus, you’ll be able to utilize the buy now, pay later option and cancel up to 24 hours in advance if your plans change.

In addition to the chairlift pass, there’s another cost to be aware of. Anyone over the age of 17 also needs a Parks Canada Pass to be inside Banff National Park. A Parks Pass costs $10.50 CAD and it’s valid from the day you buy it until 4 pm the following day. You can also get a group pass for $21 CAD, which covers up to 7 adults traveling in the same car, which is a pretty good deal if you’re traveling in a group. 

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”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.

4. Do you need to purchase tickets in advance?

Mt Norquay Chairlift
Photo credit: Mt Norquay

No, not really, but it can be handy to do. The Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift isn’t typically very busy, so you can just rock up on the day and purchase a ticket on arrival.

However, I’m somebody that always likes to purchase things in advance so I’m guaranteed the experiences I have my heart set on. So if you’re like me, buying Mt Norquay chairlift tickets in advance online is the way to go!

Related Read: You’ll want to grab tickets ahead of time for the whitewater rafting tours around Banff! It’s a short rafting season in the summer and these tours are SUPER popular.

5. Is there parking at Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift? 

Yes, there’s loads of parking at Mt Norquay. There’s really no need to worry about it or get there super early to secure a spot. Parking is free, and the lot is right next to the main lodge, which makes everything super easy. 

Yup, that’s right, for once you don’t have to worry about getting parking in Banff National Park! 

6. When is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift open? 

The view of Banff from the top of Mt Norquay
The view of Banff from the top of Mt Norquay

The Mt Norquay chairlift is usually open for summer sightseeing from the second week of June until early October. 

From June to September, you can ride up between 9 am and 7 pm, and the last chair comes back down at 7:30 pm. 

As daylight hours grow shorter in the fall, the operating hours tend to reduce to 9:30 am to 6 pm from mid-September onwards. The last ride down the mountain is usually at 6:30 pm.

7. How long is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

The chairlift is about 1,640 feet (500 meters) long. It takes you from the base of the mountain to almost 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level. The ride takes around 10 minutes each way, and then you’ll probably want to spend an hour or two exploring at the top. 

8. Is it scary for those afraid of heights?

Yes, you might find the chairlift scary if you’re afraid of heights. It’s an open-air chairlift, not a gondola, which can make it feel scarier, and it’s quite a steep ride up. However, you’re not actually that far from the ground for most of the way and it’s a smooth ride, so it’s not super scary for most people.

Related Read: You can stay closer to the ground and still get in some great sightseeing on one of the horseback riding tours in Banff!

9. What are the best things to do at the top of the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

Mt Norquay Gondola travels up Mt Norquay
Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at the top of the Mt Norquay Gondola

Take in the views of Banff from the viewpoints

There are some amazing views at the top of the Mt Norquay chairlift. The first one you’ll come to is a platform right next to where you get off of the chairlift at the top of the mountain. From here, you can see several surrounding mountains, including Cascade Mountain and Mt Rundle, as well as Stoney Lookout and the town of Banff itself. You can also often see some of the animals around Banff from here including elk and bighorn sheep grazing on the mountain. 

There’s also a small trail at the top of the mountain that takes you downhill for 5 minutes to another viewpoint, where you’ll find two of Parks Canada’s iconic red chairs overlooking the town of Banff. It’s an absolutely incredible view (and a great Instagram opportunity in Banff!).

Enjoy a meal at the Cliffhouse Bistro

The Cliffhouse Bistro was opened in the 1950s and it was a popular place for mountain goers to meet up for high tea, thanks to its amazing views over Banff and the Rockies. Marilyn Monroe even visited while filming in Canada! There’s even a photo of her riding the chairlift.

The bistro has been modernized since then but it still remains one of the best spots to eat in Banff with its cozy, vintage feel. There’s some really nice, unpretentious comfort food on the menu. We’re talking burgers, nachos, and craft beer (our favorite!)

Via Ferrata

Mt Norquay Chairlift Via Ferrata
The Via Ferrata! Photo credit: Mt Norquay

A Via Ferrata which translates to “iron path” is a climbing route in the mountains with a series of ladders, bridges, and handholds that make it possible to climb without any technical climbing skills.

The views from the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata are amazing, and we think that tackling it is a great way to do something really adventurous without putting yourself in danger, especially if you’ve never climbed before.

This small group tour is led by an expert guide, so it’s extra safe, and it’s very beginner-friendly. If you’re nervous about the Via Ferrata (which is understandable – it’s pretty high!), then this is an excellent option. It also includes your chairlift pass to the starting point, and all of the equipment you’ll need, right down to backpacks and hiking boots.

It costs $194 CAD and lasts for about 2.5 hours in total, so although you don’t need to have any sort of climbing knowledge, you do need to have a decent level of endurance.

Hike the Upper Stoney Trail

Unfortunately, there are no hikes at the top of the Mt Norquay chairlift but there are two excellent ones that start at the bottom.

The first is the Upper Stoney Trail, a 4.3-km (2.7-mile) loop that begins in the Mt Norquay parking lot and takes you through an evergreen forest up on a gentle incline along the side of Stoney Lookout Mountain. When you reach the Upper Stoney Lookout, you’ll have amazing views of the Rocky Mountains, Bow Valley, and Canmore (where we actually used to live!).

You only need between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete this trail, and the elevation gain is gentle, so it’s one of the top hikes in Banff for families to do together.

Cascade Amphitheatre, Banff
Cascade Amphitheatre

Cascade Amphitheatre Trail

The Cascade Amphitheatre Trail is a longer and more challenging hike than the Upper Stoney Trail, but it’s still very doable for anyone who’s in reasonably good shape. It’s 14.3 km (8.8 miles) out-and-back, and you’ll need about 6 hours to complete this one. Although the 950-meter (3,100-foot) elevation gain may sound a bit intimidating, this is spread out over 7.2 km (4.5 miles), so it’s actually not too difficult. You won’t be broken by the end, I promise! 

The trail takes you through the forest for much of your journey, but when you arrive at the Cascade Amphitheatre itself you’ll be blown away by this epic feat of nature. It’s a good idea to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy along with the views before heading back through the forest again.

10. Is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift wheelchair friendly?

No, unfortunately not. The chairlift here is an open-air, two-person lift, so it’s not possible to take a wheelchair up to the top.

However, wheelchair users can still enjoy the Banff Gondola, since the enclosed pods can accommodate chairs weighing up to 320 kilograms (705 lbs). The facilities at the top of the Banff Gondola are also more accessible than those at Mt Norquay, as the complex has lots of ramps and seating for wheelchair users.

11. Is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift pet friendly?

Mt Norquay Chairlift summer
Photo credit: Mt Norquay

Nope. Due to the open-air style of the chairlift, it really wouldn’t be safe to take your beloved pet up with you! Your four-legged friends will need to stay at home while you ride the chairlift.

Related Read: A pet-friendly destination close to Banff is the incredible Emerald Lake! You can even take your dog in a canoe with you on the jade-colored waters.

12. Can you hike to the top of the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

No, there aren’t any hiking trails to the top of the Mt Norquay chairlift – we know, we were disappointed too. The only way to get up and down the mountain is via the chairlift, but you can always tackle the Via Ferrata instead to get your adventure fix. 

And if you don’t want to shell out cash on the Via Ferrata, you can still do one of the hikes that begin at the base of the mountain. Both the Upper Stoney and Cascade Amphitheatre trails are great and take you to beautiful viewpoints, so we think that they make good substitutes for hiking Mt Norquay itself.

13. What are the facilities at the top of the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

View of Mount Rundle from the Cliffhouse Bistro at the top of the Mt Norquay Gondola
Cliffhouse Bistro!

Cliffhouse Bistro

The Cliffhouse Bistro is a great spot to grab a bite to eat at the top of the chairlift. It’s got a small, simple menu and it only seats about 50 people, so it’s nice and cozy. Since there’s limited seating, it’s best to call the restaurant and book a table if you want to eat lunch here.

Bathrooms

There are bathrooms at the base of the mountain, as well as in the Cliffhouse Bistro once you get to the top. If you’re coming up Mt Norquay to do the Via Ferrata, make sure to use the toilets before you get on the chairlift! 

Small walkway

As we mentioned, there are no hiking trails at the top of the Mt Norquay sightseeing chairlift, but there is a small walkway that offers amazing views of Banff, Bow Valley, and Mt. Rundle. Even though this is a short walkway and not an epic hike, the views are absolutely insane. It’s honestly surprising that more people don’t ride the Mt Norquay chairlift! 

14. How long do you need to visit the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift?

You’ll need 2-3 hours to ride up and down the mountain, explore the views at the top, and enjoy either the Via Ferrata or eat lunch at the Cliffhouse Bistro. A ride on the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift actually makes a nice, quick stop on your Banff itinerary, and since it’s not super busy, you don’t need to worry about parking or going at a certain time of day. 

15. Is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift suitable for children? 

It is – but there are a few caveats. For one thing, the chairlift isn’t stroller friendly, which makes things a lot more difficult. It’s also a true chairlift, not a gondola, so you’re not in an enclosed pod and you might not feel comfortable riding on the chair with a toddler on your lap, especially since your legs hang over the edge of the chair. 

However, for kids who are a bit older, we think that a ride on the Mt Norquay sightseeing chairlift makes a super fun, family-friendly activity! As long as they’re not scared of heights, kids will most likely love soaring up the side of Mt Norquay and spotting elk and bighorn sheep on the side of the mountain. 

16. What is the best gondola in Banff?

The Banff Sunshine Gondola travels up to Sunshine Village in summer
Photo credit: Anderson.nancy Depositphotos

Hmm. It’s a toss-up between the Banff Gondola and the Banff Sunshine Village Gondola, but it really depends on what you’re looking for. Both of these gondolas have a ton to do at the top, but the Banff Gondola Complex is more focused on educational experiences while Sunshine Village is more about hiking and spending time outdoors. 

The Banff Gondola is probably the best choice for families because there are lots of activities for kids to do at the top, including visiting the interpretive center, which is very interactive and honestly great for children. There’s also a boardwalk that’s super easy to walk along as you soak up the stunning views of the Rockies. 

The Sunshine Gondola has way more hiking opportunities that will take you to visit 3 different alpine lakes. During the peak of summer, the wildflowers are also in bloom, which makes the experience even more beautiful – although the larch season in the fall is equally stunning. If you love to hike then we suggest you get yourself on the Sunshine Gondola ASAP! 

Plus, you can also stay overnight in a hotel at the top of the Sunshine Gondola. This is the only mountain-top hotel in Banff, so it’s a really unique experience that’s absolutely perfect for a couple’s trip to Banff. Nothing says “romance” like waking up to panoramic mountain views…

All in all, the Sunshine Gondola offers more of a wilderness-based experience than the Banff Gondola, which is more of an all-rounder and is more suitable for families with kids, but both are 100% worth visiting. The Banff Gondola is also open year-round, while you can only ride the Sunshine Gondola during the summer.

17. Tips for visiting the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift

Mt Norquay chairlift travels up Mt Norquay during summer

Wear layers

Even if it’s warm at the base of Mt Norquay, it can get pretty chilly at the top – you’re experiencing several thousand feet of elevation gain, after all. Plus, in Banff, it often feels like you get two (or more) totally different seasons in one day, so layers really are key for visiting pretty much anywhere in the national park! Wear a light layer, like a t-shirt, and then bring a jacket or sweater with you for when you get to the top. 

Arrive early or late in the day

Mt Norquay doesn’t get super busy, but arriving early or late in the day allows you to combine your visit with another fun activity in Banff. So you could ride the chairlift in the morning and then spend the rest of the day hiking the Cascade Amphitheater, for example – or vice versa! Plus, even though the mountain doesn’t get crowded, it’s still nice to get there before (or after) all of the other visitors and feel like you have the whole of the Rockies to yourself.

Bring bear spray if you want to hike

Bear spray is a must when hiking during the summer in Banff National Park. Hopefully, you won’t need bear spray but it’s always best to be prepared – you really don’t want to take any chances! UDAP and Counter Assault are two reputable bear spray brands. It’s also best to hike in groups and avoid the early morning and late evening, as this is when bears are most active.

18. Is the Mt Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift worth it?

Mt Norquay Chairlift on the way down
Photo credit: Mt Norquay

Yes! There’s not as much to do at the top here as there is with some of the other Banff gondolas, but the views are unparalleled. The Mt Norquay Chairlift is definitely the best place in the Canadian Rockies for aerial views of Banff, and we also like that it never really gets too crowded. 

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

Banff Ave on a summers day
Banff Ave!
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake tours are a must!

Riding up the Mt Norquay Chairlift is just one of many things to do in Banff. But with so much to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. So below, I’ve picked some of my other favorite activities in the area to help you out!

  • Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see iconic lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and impossible at Moraine Lake!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
  • Look for wildlife – Banff is home to some pretty incredible wildlife. You might just spot elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more! The best chance you have of seeing the most critters is on a wildlife tour in Banff. We really liked this small group tour where the guides tailor the itinerary to recent wildlife spottings and you get to see highlights of the national park along the way.

Where to Stay in Banff

the hot tub at Banff Inn
Relaxing in this hot tub is perfect after a day out exploring Banff. Photo Credit: Banff Inn

Finding a place to stay is one of the most important parts of your trip to 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:

Samesun Banff Hostel – Budget-backpacker Hostel

A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. The Samesun Banff Hostel is 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 can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

Banff Inn – 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. You should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – Mid-range Hotel

Pushing up into 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 is the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury Hotel

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! You can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.

Important info: Because of how popular Banff is, 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!

Renting a Car in Alberta

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

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.

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 at the top of the Skytram in Jasper, Canada
Thanks for reading!

Taking a ride on the Mt Norquay Chairlift is one of the top things to do in Banff and honestly, I would also rank it highly on the best things to do in all of Alberta! The views are stellar and it’s rare to find a place that isn’t packed during the peak season to visit Banff aka summer. So if you want to soak in the scenery, avoid the crowds, and don’t mind heights, this is a must-do!

Hopefully, this guide has helped you plan your visit! If you’re off to the Banff area soon, take a look around our other Banff blogs. We have lots of recommendations for places to stay, things to do, and how-to guides to share our tips on visiting the Rockies! Here are a few to get you started:

33 FREE Things to do in Banff, Canada

8 BEST Banff Bus Tours (So You Don’t Have to Drive!)

How to Visit Moraine Lake at Sunrise (Now that the Road is Closed)

22 BEST Places to Visit in Alberta, Canada