Sulphur Mountain is situated immediately outside of Banff, just south and west of the town, really almost part of Banff. The mountain is best known for its hot springs (whose odor gives the mountain its name) and its gondola ride (built for tourists and not associated with skiing). Tens of thousands of people each year enjoy its thermal waters, or take the 8 minute gondola ride to the 2,281-meter-high (7,486-foot) summit of Sulphur Mountain for one of the most famous views in Canada—a 360-degree panorama encompassing the town of Banff, the Bow River Valley and Banff Springs Hotel, and well known peaks like Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle. But there is also a less traveled trail one can walk to the summit and, as you have the option of purchasing a one way return gondola ticket at the top, far fewer people actually walk down than up.
Having ridden the Banff Gondola a number of times over the years, I finally thought it time to hike the trail while my knees would still cooperate with the effort. The trail begins immediately adjoining the old Hot Springs building, on the mountain’s east slope. It progressively makes its way up the mountain and has almost no flat areas — just a steady climb. The trail is well maintained and offers 28 switchbacks, allowing for a manageable grade. The overall altitude gain is 700 meters (2,300 feet). It took me 1 3/4 hours to hike up this 5.5 km path.
The hike is mostly through forest and its shade is pleasant on a warm summer day although it limits the scenery. There were some wildflowers blooming, including columbine and dogwood, a pleasant diversion. And the trail does have a few clearings with great views of Banff and the surrounding region. These are a nice preview of the panoramas that await you at the summit.
The summit of Sulphur Mountain has a gondola terminus with several restaurants and refreshment kiosks. There are viewing platforms that allow you to enjoy the wonderful 360 degree landscapes you see from Sulphur Mountain, including the finest of the town of Banff anywhere. I allowed myself a lot of time to drink in the great views of the beautiful Bow River valley. The landmarks I’ve known so long are all there and I burn these images into my mental topographic map, as well as onto my SLR camera.
From the upper gondola terminal, a boardwalk leading 600 meters (0.4 miles) to the summit of Sanson Peak, really part of Sulphur Mountain, where there are the remains of an old Cosmic Ray monitoring station abandoned decades ago, now a novelty of historic interest.
The trail takes you down as you came up, much easier not having to fight gravity but still requiring caution so you don’t slip and fall. A good day hike for anyone in Banff that wants to do something moderately challenging but not too overwhelming!
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