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Banff Gondola is expensive. And I’m afraid of heights. I did it anyway.

Posted inBanff Canada

The Banff Gondola takes 8 minutes to lift you to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Once at the top, you can see forever. Or at least one of the most glorious views in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, a sweeping vista of Banff National Park in all its glory.

I was advised to put this on the top of my list of things to do in Banff. Because I love sweeping mountain views. But then I had to admit that I’m afraid of gondolas. Not heights per se, just moving pods hanging in the sky. I’ve done it, and I’m always happy once I get to the top, but there’s definitely trepidation.

The Banff Gondola sign
The Banff Gondola lifts you to 2,281m above sea level

How much are Banff Gondola tickets?

Also a bit scary? The price. Banff Gondola tickets operate on a “dynamic pricing” system. Meaning the price you’ll pay depends on the day you visit, and how far in advance you buy. Since we decided at the last minute in high season, I paid $77.70. Ouch! That’s almost $5 per minute for the return trip. Them’s carny Haunted House prices! But we were already there, parked in a sweet free parking spot, and ready to go so… what’s that expression? In for a penny, in for a pound

I waited until we were waiting to board before telling my friend that I would like her to hold my hand on the way up. And to pretty please do not rock our pod, or make any jokes about getting stuck. Lucky for me, she’s a good friend and agreed. The glass cabin came swirling around to us and within seconds we were on our way up.

Was it scary? A bit. Did I close my eyes at times? Yes. I mean I could feel how smooth and steady the gondola cabin and cable are, and it did look pretty out there but…. That hand remained squeezed! But as they say in those TikTok videos…. Let’s skip to the good part.

Views from Sulphur Mountain summit after taking the Banff Gondola
On Top of the World (or at least Sulphur Mountain)

Are the views worth it?

The views from the top of Sulphur Mountain are as beautiful as they say. I didn’t know which direction to look at first! The Bow Valley? Mount Rundle? Yonder into unknown? All breathtaking.

We did a full walk around the summit building, said hello to some hikers just arriving by foot (more on that in a minute), and a sculpture my friend affectionally calls “Disco Bear” then plopped into Muskoka chairs to just enjoy the mountain fresh air and postcard perfect scenery. It really is so, so, nice.

Because we visited first thing in the morning (see: getting that sweet parking spot!), the air was cool and the restaurants were closed. But I could easily imagine grabbing a drink up there at sunset being a highlight of any trip to Banff. As it was, we didn’t have to queue for anything, had lots of space and nothing impacting our views. Which was definitely our trip vibe.

There’s a large Canadian flag flying up here and while this country and what that flag represents is far from perfect, watching it wave in front of the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful clear day does make one grateful to live here, and to visit on the lands of the Stoney Nakoda peoples.

Banff Skywalk on Sulpher Mountain, photo by Sonya Brady
Banff Skywalk on Sulpher Mountain, photo by Sonya Brady via Unsplash

So what else is there to do up there?

Well, walking. There’s a popular 1km Skywalk to the summit’s edge that looks beautiful. Unfortunately, I was visiting while I was physically unable to climb up/down many stairs, and the Skywalk is all up/down stairs, so I had to skip it this time. On the plus side, my health issues were also a handy excuse not to walk up the entire mountain itself!

Yes, if you don’t want to pay $77.40 to ride the Banff Gondola you could actually hike up. My travel companion did it before (gold star for you, mate!) and judging by the lack of sweat on the folks we saw arriving it’s not that crazy. (Once upon a time you could then ride back down for free, but now they charge you half-price.)

Honestly though, those views are worth the price of admission even if you don’t do anything else. If you like the glory of nature, I mean. I’m sure some people found it boring but those people are not my people.

Riding the Banff Gondola 2022
Scary? 5/10. Still good!

How to not be scared on the Banff Gondola

I could have sat in my Muskoka Chair with a View for many hours. But we had more fun things to do in Banff so all too soon it was back on the gondola.

And you know what? Riding down is a lot less scary for me. So I opened my eyes the whole time and wow, there are 8 more minutes of gorgeous views to be had. I wasn’t exactly hanging my head outside the window, but once again I found myself hard pressed to decide which direction to face, because the entire panorama is a beauty.

Back on the ground, I was in for a new shock. The entry we had breezed through just a few hours before was now a long queue. And the parking lot? All full. So that’s the real thing to be afraid of at the Banff Gondola – high season crowds. Nevertheless, I am delighted that I went up and would encourage all visitors to Banff to do the same, even if it seems scary or overpriced to you, it is a world class attraction. Just know some things before you go….

View from summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff
View from summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff

Banff Gondola: Know Before You Go

Where? The Banff Gondola is located at the base of Sulphur Mountain at the end of Mountain Avenue in Banff.

Parking is free but the lot is small and fills up fast during high season. If you’re not getting up at 8am like we did to get there early, seriously consider taking public transit. The local ROAM bus Route #1 will get you right there for $2/$1 adults/kids, and if you show the driver your Gondola ticket on the way back the return bus ride is free. There’s also a free shuttle in high season from downtown Banff but it doesn’t seem to run as frequently and so if you’ve got $2 I’d say take the bus.

When? Open every day of the week with longer hours in the summer months (8am to 10pm) to catch that sunset. Check the latest hours here.

How much? The price, as mentioned above, varies. Alberta residents get the best deal. The rest of us visitors pay between $55 and $75 for adults, $45 and up for kids, I think? It’s a bit confusing and frankly I think pricing based on “projected visitation” is not very tourist friendly. Not everyone has the freedom to select a weekday for their holidays, and why should they pay more? On the plus side, they do offer one free child admission for each paying adult, available if you go before 10am. Check the calendar with prices and choose your departure accordingly here.

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