The Banff Gondola: An Evening on Top of the World

view of the mountains and trees from the Banff gondola lookout

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The first thing I recommend you do upon arriving in Banff, Canada is catch a ride on the Banff Gondola. This 8 minute gondola ride up a mile of track takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain, all while providing sweeping views of the Bow Valley, the town of Banff, and six mountain ranges. This is a great way to get oriented, take in a ton of majesty all at once, and get a bird’s eye view of this remarkable location. Also a nice way to build a true appreciation of physics and pulleys, or to get slightly nauseous before dinner.

a girl stands in front of the Banff gondola ticket office
Outside the ticket office. You can purchase tickets on site.

The Banff Gondola Ride

Before you ride the gondola, you must purchase tickets. These are available on site as well as online. If you are crazy, you can also purchase one way tickets, in case you felt like hiking up and then riding down, or vice versa. We opted to ride the gondola both up and down, and made sure not to miss the last gondola down to keep it that way.

Once we entered the gondola, the ride itself is smooth, with a few “swing and sways” at each tower, and lots to look at on the way up. The 8 minute rides gives you lots of time to feel like what you are doing is completely insane, yet totally fine, the whole way up.

the Banff gondola carriage
The little gondola you sit in while you dangle quite high in the air
the view from the Banff gondola on the way up shows lots of trees and snow-capped mountains
View from the gondola

Dining

Upon arrival at the top, stop for a bite to eat at Sky Bistro, and count yourself lucky if you do, because we did not get to do this. We didn’t realize Sky Bistro is closed on Tuesdays, so we settled for the buffet at the Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen, which has mediocre food, but million dollar views. If you don’t feel like eating, you can shop at the gift shop, or check out the interpretative center.

*snippet of actual conversation with buffet staff

“Excuse me, are you going to bring out more prime rib?” 

“Ma’am, this is brisket, and no….” (What can I say, we had high expectations, and had dinner at a buffet 30 min before closing.)  

the empty but beautiful Sky Bistro dining room shows snow-capped mountains out the dining room windows
The stunning dining room we did not get to sit in. Check out the view from the windows in the back!

Go for a walk-about

After dinner, stroll the boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station, which is a very fancy description for a shack used for science things on top of a mountain. While the Cosmic Ray Station may be underwhelming to those of us who don’t even know what a cosmic ray is, the views en route to it are absolutely breathtaking.

sun streams through the clouds illuminating the Bow River and mountains from the Banff Gondola viewpoint
Loved the light streaming through the clouds, proving this is a beautiful view no matter the weather
snow-capped mountains surround the town of Banff from this bird's eye view from the Banff Gondola
The town of Banff, with the Bow River winding through it. Check out the golf course on the right!

Another perk of this destination is the wildlife; we were lucky to catch two bighorn sheep on the move.

a big-horn sheep
close-up of a bighorn sheep

Full from dinner, and a little windblown from our walk, we boarded the gondola to head down the mountain, satisfied with our first adventure. Overall, a trip to the top of Sulphur Mountain on the gondola is well worth it; there is much to see, do, and eat, all whilst marveling at other-worldly mountain views. We were glad we did this on our first day in Banff because it gave us a good fix of mountains right off the bat. I highly recommend this experience; the Banff Gondola must not be missed!

No fear of heights? You might also want to check out this post on the thrilling hike, Angel’s Landing, at Zion National Park in Utah.

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14 thoughts on “The Banff Gondola: An Evening on Top of the World

  1. I agree with you. I stayed at the Rimrock, across from the hot springs and just down the road from the gondola. I had no intention of doing the gondola but one day I was back to the hotel early from exploring and Town and I decided to go. It was more than worth the trip. It’s a must do when in Banff!

    1. Did you know there is also a gondola at Lake Louise that goes over grizzly territory? I didn’t do that one but now I wish I did! Sounds like you had a great location while in Banff.

    1. The views were so crazy; I had to keep pinching myself. And it was such a cool surprise when the sheep walked up. We could see them from our dinner table, and then again when we were on our walk.

  2. We have visited Banff several times but have never done the Banff Gondola yet. Now I wonder why! This looks like a great way to start your visit with stunning views. We too would probably opt to ride the gondola up and down. Good tip about checking on opening hours if you want to eat at the top. Or pack a picnic!

    1. If you are able to go back to Banff, I would definitely do this. They also have a gondola at Lake Louise that takes you over grizzly bear territory. I wish I could have done that one too!

  3. Banff is so high on my bucket list and this incredible blog post of yours just made me remind that! Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

  4. I love gondola rides and the Banff Gondola Ride loos like an excellent one to do. Thanks for the detailed description and awesome pictures!

    1. Thanks for visiting my site Anita! I love gondola rides too, but I always feel better when I am back on the ground 🙂

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