Banff Gondola – An Experience Not To Be Missed

The Banff Gondola is an iconic attraction in Banff National Park that’s popular year-round, and for good reason.

If you’re short on time in Banff or wondering if the Banff Gondola is worth it, I can guarantee you it’s totally worth the experience.

Not only is the scenic cabin ride a memorable experience on its own, but once you reach the top of Sulphur Mountain, you have four levels to explore that include fantastic dining options, interactive and informative exhibits, and a boardwalk where you get a bird’s-eye view of six mountain ranges in the Canadian Rockies and epic views to rival any in North America.

Here’s all you need to know about visiting the Banff Gondola.

View of summit station, boardwalk, and mountains

Written by Lou

Some links may be compensated, at no cost to you

How to get to the Banff Gondola

Getting to the Banff Gondola is easy, and it’s only a 10-minute drive from downtown Banff. Head south along Banff Avenue and over the Bow River bridge, and turn left onto Spray Avenue, then keep right onto Mountain Avenue. Follow the signs guiding you past the Rimrock Hotel (on the left) and the Banff Hot Springs (on the right), and into the Banff Gondola parking lot.

Banff Gondola Parking

Parking at the Banff Gondola is free, and I recommend getting here by mid-morning or later in the afternoon, as parking can be limited, especially during the high seasons. When we visited in March, the parking lot was busy by midday. So the earlier you arrive, the better your chance of snagging a space.

There are staff at the entrance to the parking lot who will guide you to available parking spots.

If you don’t want to drive, you can get the Bow Valley Roam Transit Services bus, or use the free shuttle from downtown Banff.

Carpark at the Banff Gondola
Car park at Banff Gondola

Roam Transit Bus

The Roam bus service on Route 1 has several pick-up locations in the town and conveniently stops at the gondola’s base. It only costs a couple of dollars each and it really saves the hassle of finding a parking spot at the gondola during peak times and seasons.

Free Shuttle to the Gondola

A free shuttle runs from downtown Banff to the gondola on Saturdays and Sundays from May 21 to June 12. A daily service runs from June 13 to October 9th.

This page gets updated with dates and times, so it’s a good idea to check it out if you’re visiting around these dates.

How much does the Banff Gondola Cost?

You’ll find that costs differ depending on when you choose to visit. Generally, you can expect to pay between $58 to $72 CAD per adult, around $42 CAD for kids aged 6–15, and children under 5 go free.

You can buy your tickets from Viator or Pursuit. We got our tickets through both websites, both were straightforward and convenient.

Entrance to Banff gondola base
Banff gondola base entrance

Should You Purchase Banff Gondola Tickets in Advance?

I would definitely suggest buying your Banff Gondola tickets ahead of time, particularly in the summer and Christmas seasons, to avoid long lines or selling out for the time you want.

It’s a good idea to book ahead anyway and you can book up to 4 months in advance. You can even book online on the day if there’s space or at the ticket counter on-site.  However, we were unsuccessful one time when trying to book on the day for a particular time.

View from inside the banff gondola on the way up Sulphur Mountain
View from inside the Banff gondola on the way up Sulphur Mountain

Banff Gondola Ride

From the car park, you’ll walk to the gondola base to get to your cabin. Inside the base are also Starbucks and a gift store.

Did you know that this Starbucks location at the Banff Gondola base is the highest Starbucks in Canada?

The staff are all really helpful when you enter the base. Once you have shown your tickets, which you will either have saved on your phone or printed off, you will be directed to queue for your cabin.

Each cabin can hold up to four people (two on each side) so there’s enough space to enjoy the ride.

As you board the cabin, you’ll notice large windows that provide unobstructed views of the Rocky Mountains and the stunning surrounding landscape. This is one of the highlights of the Banff Gondola ride—the opportunity to take in the breathtaking panoramic views. The scenery is always beautiful, whether you’re visiting during the summer or winter.

View of Rocky Mountains from inside Banff gondola

How Long Does the Banff Gondola Ride Take?

The gondola ride lasts around 8 minutes, taking you up over 2,292 feet (698 meters) to the summit station, which is at an elevation of 7,486 feet (2,281 meters) above sea level.

The gondola moves slowly and smoothly, so you’ve got time to take lots of photos and videos of the stunning scenery.

Exhibits inside summit station where you can learn about the lakes and mountains
Inside Banff gondola summit – one of many activities/exhibits

Banff Gondola Summit

What will you find at the summit? There are four levels to discover, and here’s what you can expect to find on each level:

Level 1

This is where the gondola will drop you off and take you back down.

On this level you’ll find the Castle Mountain Coffee Cafe, where you can sit and have a drink and a snack.

There’s also a gift shop and, of course, access to the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk.

Firepits are dotted around outside to keep you warm when it’s a bit on the chilly side.

When you get in the cabin to return to the base, a staff member will take your photo, which you can buy at the gift store at the gondola base.

Level 2

On this level you’ll find a multi-sensory theatre, interpretive centre, washrooms, and a range of exhibits and displays that delve into Banff National Park’s rich, natural, and cultural history.

The theatre show is a fantastic educational presentation about the park’s unique ecosystem, wildlife, and conservation efforts. The stunning visuals and informative narratives really bring the park’s stories to life.

Level 3

The Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen and the Sky Bistro Restaurant are both great dining options with out-of-this-world views.

Level 4

A 360-degree rooftop observation deck and event area. You get absolutely stunning views on this level. You could time your visit with special events like the Sunset Festival for an open rooftop bar and barbecue.

Long boardwalk with steps at Banff gondola
Banff Gondola Boardwalk

Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk

The Sulphur Mountain boardwalk is a 1 km stroll to the impressive Cosmic Ray Station and Sanson’s Peak.

When you walk along the elevated boardwalk, you’ll stop in so many places to just stand in awe and take in the mesmerizing mountain scenery.

You’ll see Lake Minnewanka in the distance and the town of Banff. I was surprised at how small The Rimrock Hotel and the Banff Springs Hotel looked from up here.

Also along the route are two red chairs, purposely placed in this spot so you can take a seat and soak in the scenery.

These iconic chairs are found in various locations throughout the park, which you will no doubt come across.

Unfortunately, the sets of stairs on the boardwalk mean it’s neither accessible nor suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.

Cosmic ray station at Sanson's Peak Banff
View of the Cosmic Ray Station

Sanson’s Peak

At the end of the boardwalk, you’ll come to Sanson’s Peak. Named after Norman Sanson, the historic meteorologist who spent over 30 years observing and recording weather conditions on Sulphur Mountain.

This is impressive in itself, but what’s even more impressive is when you learn that he did this until he was 84!

At the peak is the cosmic ray station, a designated National Historic Site of Canada building. From here, make sure you take time to take in the 360-degree views, as they are just so beautiful.

It’s worthwhile stopping at the information boards, where you can read about the station’s history and Norman Sanson’s incredible contributions as a meteorologist.

Banff Gondola Restaurants

After all that walking, you might have worked up a bit of an appetite and fancy a bite to eat. Luckily, the Banff Gondola offers some great dining options, all with fabulous Rocky Mountain views.

For the Sky Bistro restaurant, reservations for lunch or dinner are available 30 days in advance via Open Table, but you could try your luck on the day if there’s availability.

The menu is varied, along with a great wine selection. It’s not as expensive as you’d think it would be, considering the views you’ll be enjoying.

The other restaurant is the Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen, which serves a buffet-style dinner, all for about CAD 45 per person.

Again, reservations are made through Open Table and are available 30 days in advance. But you could also try your luck for walk-ins on the day and see if there are any available seats.

Fancy eating outdoors with a 360-degree Rocky Mountain view? Then Peak Patio is for you. Open during the summer when you can have something light to eat and enjoy with a nice glass of wine or cocktail.

If it’s a quick bite or a coffee you’re after, then you’ll find it at the Castle Mountain Coffee Co.

Can you hike to the top of the Banff Gondola?

Yes, you can follow the 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) trail. The hike takes 2–3 hours, depending on your pace and fitness level.

If you don’t fancy hiking back down, you can always take the gondola down for half the cost of a regular ticket. But the half-price rule doesn’t apply if you’re taking the gondola up and hiking back down.

How Much Time Is Needed At The Banff Gondola?

If you’re not planning on stopping for a meal or a visit to the coffee shop, then I’d say plan for at least 2–3 hours. You really don’t want to rush and not make the most of those views.

What is Nightrise?

If you’re visiting between November and March, then you might want to experience the Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain differently with this after-dark event.

Through a partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation, this fantastic multi-media interactive show uses lights, digital art, and sound to tell the story of the mountains and the culture of the Stony Nakoda people.

This immersive experience starts as soon as you board the gondola cabin, with soothing music for the ride up Sulphur Mountain. When you reach the summit, you’ll be able to explore the four multi-sensory digital art installations and experience Sulphur Mountain and the boardwalk completely differently than if you were visiting during the daytime.

Sky Bistro and Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen are open during Nightrise, so you can enjoy a fantastic meal or drink under the night sky.

This event is included in the price of a regular ticket.

Nightrise information board
Nightrise information board

What to Wear at the Banff Gondola

Wearing layers is a good idea, that way you can bundle up if it’s cold and remove some items if it’s warm.

We’ve been in the warmer and colder months. Even in the warm months, the temperature can suddenly drop on the mountaintop, so you’ll want to have a hoodie with you, at least.

The temperature can be colder at the summit than at the base, and the gondola cabins aren’t heated, so it gets very cold in winter. A warm coat, gloves, and hat will definitely be needed for Banff in the winter anyway.

You might find our Banff packing list helpful.

You’ll also want to wear comfortable and sturdy shoes, especially in the winter months when there’s snow on the ground.

Lastly, don’t forget to bring sunglasses, as there are so many days in Alberta when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun is shining.

Is a Park Pass Needed for the Banff Gondola?

Yes, you need a valid park pass since the Banff Gondola is within Banff National Park.

These park passes can be purchased online or in the park. We have everything you need to know about the park pass here.

Is the Banff Gondola Worth it?

The question of whether it is worth it ultimately depends on your preferences and interests. However, most would agree, including us, that the Banff Gondola is definitely worth a visit.

One of the main reasons that makes the visit worth it is the views. You won’t see vistas anywhere else like them in the park. You’ll have amazing panoramic views over the vastness of the Canadian Rockies, the Spray Valley, and the town of Banff below.

On top of that, there’s the chance to dine in a mountaintop restaurant, so I’d say a visit to the Banff Gondola is most certainly worth it.

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