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Banff Gondola Review – Is it Worth it?

Banff Gondola Review – Is it Worth it?

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If you’re heading to Banff, you may have already heard of the popular Banff Gondola. Initially constructed in 1959, this was actually the first gondola in all of Canada! It’s undergone many renovations since then to turn it into the booming attraction that it is today.

With so many epic things to do in Banff, it can be hard to narrow down what is worth including in your trip itinerary. Having lived near Banff for a while, we’re here to help you out by giving you the low down on the Banff Gondola and answering all of your questions. This way, you can decide if the Banff Gondola is worth your time and money!

About 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)

The Banff Gondola is an enclosed glass gondola that will take you 698 meters (2,290 feet) up the side of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. The ride up and down takes around 8 minutes and you will get incredible views of the Rocky Mountains the entire way!

Since the gondola is enclosed, it keeps you nice and safe and even protects you from any unpleasant weather. This makes it a great activity to do in Banff when it rains or even in the winter! Please note that the gondolas are not heated though – so dress accordingly!

4 adults can go in each gondola and infants can be seated on their parent’s lap as you ascend up the mountain to an elevation of 2,281 meters (7,486 feet) above sea level. You can even fit strollers and wheelchairs inside! Once at the top, you’ll get sweeping views over Banff town and the Rockies including Mount Rundle and Tunnel Mountain. You’ll also see the mountains of Lake Louise, Bow River, and Lake Minnewanka just to name a few.

What I love most about the Banff Gondola is that it is so much more than just a gondola ride, it’s an entire experience. You’ll need at least half a day here because once you’re at the top there is so much to do. Not only can you walk the outdoor boardwalk, but you can explore the 4-level Summit 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

Related Read: Another must-do activity while you’re in Banff is a tour of the beautiful Johnston Canyon!

What is there to do at 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 – This is the best part of the whole experience in my opinion! Along the ridge of the mountaintop is a boardwalk that goes to Sanson Peak. This leisurely 0.5-kilometer (0.3-mile) walk takes about 15-30 minutes each way and is relatively flat with some stairs, making it one of the most scenic easy hikes in Banff. I recommend popping into the Summit Building cafe to grab a nice beverage to enjoy on your walk and stopping lots for photos along the way!

At Sanson Peak, you’ll find the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station, a historic site where they used to study how the sun’s rays were affecting the Earth’s environment. We love doing this walk in any season, but there is something so special about doing it in the winter and being surrounded by the snow-capped mountains. Just make sure to wear crampons/shoe spikes if there is any ice to avoid slipping and to dress for the weather – it is always colder up on the mountaintop!

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 – If you’re looking for some souvenirs to take home, make sure to stop by the gift shop in the Summit Building. There are so many cute trinkets and nice gifts you can get for friends or family. And if you’re feeling a little chilly up on the mountain, there are lots of cute hoodies and sweaters you can buy to keep warm!

Stargazing – Since the Banff Gondola is open quite late, you may be able to go up on a clear night to stargaze (depending on the time of year you’re visiting, the sun will set at different times). 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.

How do you get 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!

Did you know there are actually 4 gondolas in Banff National Park? The Banff Gondola is the most popular and the closest to downtown Banff, which is super convenient if you’re planning to stay in downtown Banff.

You’ll find the Banff Gondola located on Sulphur Mountain which is only 2.5 km (1.5 miles) south of Banff town!

If you have your own rental car, you can drive there in about 10 minutes from Banff town. Just head south on Banff Avenue towards the Bow Bridge and turn left on Spray Ave. Keep right on Mountain Ave and at the end of this road you’ll find a huge parking lot. It’s free to park here, but during the summer it does tend to fill up quickly, so we recommend getting there early!

Another easy way to get there is on the Banff ROAM bus. This bus goes from downtown Banff to the gondola on Route 1 and only costs $2 CAD per person each way. The bus departs every 25-60 minutes, runs from 6 am to 11 pm, and only takes about 17 minutes to get there. As a bonus, during the busy summer months, you can show your gondola ticket to get a free ride back to town on the bus!

From around June to October there is also a free shuttle bus that runs from downtown to the gondola. It leaves from the Banff Visitor Centre and departs every half hour from 9 am to 6 pm. Make sure to check the Banff Gondola’s website for more information (the schedule won’t be posted until summer).

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!

How do you buy 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!

The Banff Gondola ticket prices are always changing and seem to increase based on demand, season, and day of the week. The ticket prices tend to go up in the summer, on weekends, and on public holidays when the gondola is busier. 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.

We understand that this is pretty pricey, so to get the cheapest prices we recommend booking your tickets well 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. 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 be hit with any sneaky extra fees!

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 – For people looking for a more active experience, you can actually hike up to the top of the mountain on the Sulphur Mountain Trail instead of taking the gondola. This is one of the best hikes in Banff and provides a challenging 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) trail one way that takes about 1.5-3 hours depending on how fast of a hiker you are.

If you hike up and back down, this hike is completely free to do. But, if you hike up to the top and take the gondola down, you can ride for half-price! If you choose to do it the other way around, and take the gondola up and then hike back down you will have to pay the full price. That’s why we recommend hiking up, rewarding yourself with a nice bite to eat and beverage when you reach the top, and then taking a scenic gondola ride back down the mountain.

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 have 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 was built to be accessible. You can fit a wheelchair into the gondolas and there are ramps and elevators throughout the Summit Building at the top. The only thing that isn’t accessible is the boardwalk because there are quite a few 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. Visiting Banff in winter is actually quite nice because it is much less busy and crowded!

Close to the hot springs – The Banff Gondola actually shares the same parking lot as the Banff Upper Hot Springs (aka the Sulphur Hot Springs)- one of the best hot springs in all of Alberta! Located just across the street, you can conveniently do both activities on the same day. Once you’re done on the mountain you can head on over to the hot springs for a relaxing soak before heading back to town. This is especially a nice treat if it’s a bit chilly out or if you did the hike up and want to soak your muscles.

The hot springs 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!

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.

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 – The Banff Gondola is a very popular summer activity, and the parking lot fills up quickly. Make sure you get there early to try and get a spot, or just take the bus option mentioned above instead.

Often very busy, especially in the summer months – To the same point as above, the Banff Gondola is super popular (and for good reason!). This means that it often gets busy and crowded in the summer and around holidays. To avoid this try and buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the lines, and go on a weekday early in the morning or later 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 should you bring on the Banff Gondola?

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

Whenever I get to the top of a mountain it is always much cooler than I expect! I’ve learned to always bring more layers than you think you need, even if you’re visiting Banff in December or the middle of summer.

The weather in the mountains can change suddenly, so having a light rain jacket or waterproof windbreaker with you wouldn’t be a bad idea during the spring or summer. Also, make sure to have a sweater, especially if you’re going in the evening because the temperature drops quickly once the sun goes down.

If you’re going during the winter, make sure to wear your winter jacket, gloves, scarf, and hat (or toque as we Canadians call them!). We also recommend some spikes for your shoes so you can safely walk the Sanson Peak boardwalk.

Also, this might be obvious, but don’t forget your camera! This is one of the most Instagrammable places in all of Banff!

Related Read: Banff can be an expensive place to visit. To help keep you on budget, I’ve created this guide to the best free things to do in Banff!

Is the Banff Gondola worth it?

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

Yes! Overall, the Banff Gondola has to be one of my favorite Banff activities! 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!

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

Bailey at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Waterfall at Johnston Canyon!
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake!

Taking a ride up the Banff Gondola is just one of many fun 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 – You may have seen Lake Louise from above if you took that gondola, but here’s your chance to see it up close – along with the gorgeous Moraine Lake. 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.
  • Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.

Where to Stay in Banff, Canada

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

Choosing accommodations 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 CAD 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!

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!

To sum it up, we feel the Banff Gondola is well worth the time and money! For the best views of the Rocky Mountains (without doing a strenuous hike of course) a trip up the Banff Gondola is the way to go. I know you’ll have so much fun on the ride up and exploring everything there is to do at the summit.

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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