There are four paid gondola rides in Banff, so competition is fierce. But which is the best gondola in Banff National Park? Here is our review of the 4 different gondola/chairlift experiences that you can find in Banff, as well as everything you need to know about admission, hours and access.
The Sulphur Mountain Gondola
The Sulphur Mountain Gondola or “Banff Gondola” is Banff’s most popular and well known gondola. The interpretive centre is visible from the town of Banff, and it’s probably the closest and most accessible option for a top down view of Banff.
The gondola is also located next to the Banff Upper Hot Springs, so there’s plenty to do in the area. You can also actually hike Sulphur Mountain for free, and in a normal year (2020 aside), hikers are able to go inside at the top, use the facilities and even ride down for free in the off season.
The Sulphur Mountain Gondola has three main parts, the gift shop and cafe at the base, the interpretive centre at the top, and the boardwalk on the peak.
At the base, you’ll check in, buy your tickets and are given a boarding time and downloading time (a time slot for going up and going down). The process can be very quick in the off season or you can have to wait several hours for your loading time during peak season.
Either way, there’s a discount for booking online, and it’s a good idea to book your day early.
Our thoughts on the Banff (Sulphur Mountain) Gondola
The biggest benefit of the Sulphur Gondola is it’s location. It overlooks the town of Banff and really gives you an incredible view of the area. The viewing deck gives a virtually 360 view of all the mountains in the area, and the facilities are great on top. There are cafes and restaurants for every budget, and there’s even a fine dining option at the Sky View Bistro.
The board walk is also a gentle introduction to hiking for newcomers, and you can feel like you’ve reached the top of a mountain by heading to the Cosmic Ray Station. Usually there are also binoculars on the top that allow you to take a closer look at the town below.
In the spring, you can also generally ride down for free, which is a great way to stretch your legs and save your knees at the same time!
Finally, there is a movie theatre which allows you to take in a few more of the mountain views on days where the weather prohibits views from the outside.
On the flipside, crowds are always a major issue with the Sulphur mountain gondola. In peak times, the wait times can run into hours, so you’d better have patience or not much else to do that day.
Aside from the wait times, the experience can be very expensive, and my personal opinion is that you get the least bang for your buck with this experience. The interpretive centre funnels you through the gift shop, at the top and the bottom, so it does also feel like a little bit of a tourist trap. You can read our full experience on the gondola here
How much is the Sulphur Mountain Gondola in 2020?
Ticket prices vary depending on the time of year and whether or not you’re visiting in the morning or afternoon, are an Alberta resident (save 20%) or are combining the gondola with anything else like the Skyview Bistro or some of the other Pursuit tours.
As far as we could tell, the cheapest earlybird, afternoon tickets start at $42 for adults, but go up to $70 or more if you book a full adult tour at the last minute. Prices increase as you get closer to the tour date, so we really recommend booking in advance when possible.
Kids are roughly half the price of adults, but again, it really varies depending on when you book.
What are the Sulphur Mountain Gondola Opening Hours?
Below are the official opening times and dates for the Banff Gondola as posted on their website (as of August 2020). Of course, these may be subject to change
|AUGUST 4 – SEPTEMBER 7|
|Banff Gondola||Daily: 10 AM – 10:30 PM*|
|Sky Bistro||Mon–Thur: 4:30 PM – 10:30 PM**|
Fri–Sun: 11 AM – 10:30 PM**
|Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen||Mon–Thur: 11 AM – 3:30 PM† / 4:30 PM – 7 PM†|
Fri–Sun: 11 AM – 3:30 PM† / 4:30 PM – 8 PM†
|Castle Mountain Coffee Co.||Daily: 11 AM – 5 PM|
|Peak Patio||Fri–Sun: 12 PM – 8 PM|
|SEPTEMBER 8 – OCTOBER 12|
|Banff Gondola||Daily: 10 AM – 9:30 PM*|
|Sky Bistro||Daily: 11 AM – 9:30 PM**|
|Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen||Daily: 11 AM – 8 PM†|
|Castle Mountain Coffee Co.||Daily: 10 AM – 6 PM|
- *Last ride up: 30 minutes prior to close
- *Last ride down: at closing time
- **Last seating at Sky Bistro: 1 hour prior to close for lunch, 2 hours prior to close for dinner.
- †Last seatings at Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen: 3:30 PM for lunch, 1 hour prior to close for dinner.
- ‡Last call for food and drinks at Peak Patio at 9 PM
OCTOBER 13 – DECEMBER 17
Mon-Tues: 10 AM – 4:30 PM*
Wed-Sun: 10 AM – 8:30 PM*
Wed-Sun: 11 AM – 8:30 PM**
Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen
Daily: 11 AM – 4:30 PM†
Things to know about the Sulphur Mountain Gondola
- Currently you can’t access the interpretive centre without purchasing a return ticket at the base
- You can get married or have wedding photos taken up the top
- In the winter, there are fire pits and heated bubbles on the deck, sometimes there are s’mores on the viewing deck too!
- The Interpretive Centre is fully wheelchair accessible, however the viewing deck is not. It can also get slippery in the winter!
How to get to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Drive across the bridge at the end of town, turn left, stay in the right hand lane and continue on up the hill to the gondola. It’s pretty hard to miss and there are plenty of signposts.
Take the Banff Roam Transit route 1 up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs stop. It’s a short walk from here to the gondola.
You can quite easily walk from town to the gondola on foot, but it’s about 3-4km in total. The easiest way to reach it is by heading to Fairmont Banff Springs, and continue along the Spray River Trail towards Banff Upper Hot Springs. It’s easy to track down the gondola once you reach the hot springs.
The Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
The Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola is easily our favourite gondola experience in Banff National Park. It easily has the most stunning views, the best wildlife experience, and in our opinion, the best restaurant too. Aside from that, it’s one heck of a deal and it’s super under appreciated by the crowds so it’s far less crowded.
Head to Lake Louise Ski resort and buy a ticket, and you’ll be automatically given a $25 food and beverage voucher. Then, choose from either a gondola or a chairlift for your right up the mountain, where you’ll have a great chance of seeing grizzlies.
The grizzly bears love to eat flowers in the summer months, and the ski slopes are prime habitat for dandelions; a grizzly’s favourite. When we visited, we saw 3 bears on the way up, and 3 again on the way down. The Lake Louise gondola is easily the best place to see bears (aside from perhaps the gondola at Kicking Horse, because they actually have a resident grizzly bear named Boo!)
Once you reach the top, it’s a short winding walk down to the Whitehorn Bistro, where you can enter the animal museum on the ground floor (full of all the Canadian wildlife you’ll see in the mountains here). Then, finally, you’ll head upstairs to an epic viewing platform for your lunch. On a clear day, you’ll see all the way across the valley to Lake Louise!
Finally, if you want to continue the adventure, there are also guided hikes available from here in the summer as well!
Our thoughts on The Lake Louise Summer Gondola
The first thing we noticed when we visited the Sightseeing Gondola was how quiet it was. Yes, it was during COVID, but it’s just far less well known than the Banff Gondola, and therefore it’s a far less chaotic experience. The next thing we noticed was a grizzly bear on the ski hill right in front of us. Seeing a bear is never a guarantee anywhere, but I think your chances are pretty good if you visit in June or July!
Obviously, hovering above some enormous grizzlies was a real treat for us, and this is really only something you’ll see at Lake Louise or potentially Norquay. The Banff Gondola flies above forest and your chances of seeing any wildlife at all is very slim indeed.
Finally, the food and drink at the Whitehorn Bistro was delicious and reasonably priced, and it was very easy to afford a main course without spending more than the food and beverage voucher. I had surf and turf, which was slightly more than the $25, but worth every penny!
Lake Louise might lose a couple of points for being a 45 minute drive from Banff, (which means you’ll need transport) but virtually nobody visits Banff without stopping in at Lake Louise, so the point is fairly moot. If you’re in the area anyway, it’s really only 5 minutes away
I suppose if we’re comparing this to other rides, the Banff Gondola can offer a regular dinner experience, which would be nice at the Sightseeing Gondola, but this would be an amazing extra and not something that I really feel is missing from Lake Louise. In any case, there is an incredible Torchlight ski and dinner at Lake Louise in the winter that is absolutely unmissable!
How much is the Lake Louise Summer Gondola in 2020?
Ride and Dine tickets (which are unbelievable value and include $25 F/B voucher) are $59.95 for adults and $26.95 for children (aged 6-15).
Standard gondola tickets are $39.95 for adults, $18.95 for children, $109.95 for 2 adults, 2 children and free for kids under 5.
You can also do a ride and breakfast option for $41.95 for adults, $21.95 for children.
You can upgrade your breakfast tickets to lunch tickets at the ticket office, and it’s recommended to book in advance here.
Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola Opening times
The Sightseeing Gondola is open daily from 9:30AM – 5:30PM
Things to know about the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola
- There isn’t any information on the website about accessibility for this experience, however this is a road connecting the chairlift to the Whitehorn Bistro and a ramp to the viewing deck, so it may be feasible, but not straightforward.
- There are strict COVID restrictions at Lake Louise; you can only share a gondola with your own group and you have to sanitize before entering.
- Children must be accompanied by an adult on the gondola or chairlift
- The sightseeing gondola only runs from May 15 to the first week of October. Outside of these dates, the resort operates as the normal Lake Louise Ski Resort.
How to get to the Lake Louise Summer Gondola
To reach Lake Louise you have to follow the TransCanada Highway west from Banff for approximately 45 minutes. Take the Lake Louise exit from the highway and turn right at the Junction. Follow the road and eventually you’ll reach the ski resort. This is where you’ll be taking the Gondola!
The Norquay Chairlift
The Norquay Chairlift is another “gondola” experience in Banff, although technically this is a normal ski chairlift rather than a gondola. It’s about as close to the Town of Banff as the Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain, and is located up Mt. Norquay Road at the opposite end of Town.
The Norquay Chairlift is certainly more rough around the edges, but in many ways it’s good because all the extra swank that you pay for with the other gondolas is gone, leaving an equally impressive view for a fraction of the price. This is the chairlift for adventurers, and can be combined with Norquay’s epic Via Ferrata experience (which we loved) for the more daring visitor.
Tickets are relatively cheap, and the short chairlift ride will take you up to an observation deck with stunning views of the town of Banff and Mount Rundle behind. Because you start higher, the ride is a little shorter than the other gondolas, but the view is no less impressive and you’ll still have a chance to see wildlife. We’ve seen black bears and elk from the chairlift on previous visits.
At the top, there’s a small restaurant too (The Cliffhouse Bistro), where you can grab a beer or hot chocolate and a variety of different tasty dishes. It’s not as fancy food as Lake Louise or Sulphur Mountain, but it’s still lunch with a view! We particularly enjoyed the food and drinks after our via Ferrata experience, as a drink and charcuterie board was included with our package.
With this chairlift experience, there is generally no long wait or boarding time, so you’re free to spend as much time as you like up here.
Our thoughts on The Norquay Chairlift
We really love that you can combine this with the Via Ferrata Experience, and we also really love that you can go around and around on the chairlift as many times as you like. Some of the other gondolas allow you one trip up and one trip down. Louise and I took some wedding photos here, and it was really handy to be able to loop around a few times to figure out the best angles.
I also love how quiet the Norquay Chairlift is. There are talks of extending the chairlift down to the town (which we personally don’t think is a great idea), but for now, Norquay is a bit of a hidden gem. Because it’s so quiet, you also often have a good chance at spotting wildlife!
In general, there isn’t much that we don’t like about the Norquay Chairlift. It’s quite basic compared to the other experiences, but if you want epic views for the least amount of money, then this is your best option.
The chairlifts mean that you can’t really enjoy the experience in the rain or cold, which is unfortunate, but they do offer waterproof gear if you want to push ahead anyway.
It also isn’t accessible to all abilities as you only have the option of using a chairlift, and not a gondola.
How much is the Norquay Chairlift?
- Adult (16+ years old): 39.00
- Child (6-15 years old): 25.00
- Family (2 Adults & 2 Children): 115.00
- Infants (2-5): Free
|DAYTIME OPERATIONS||OPENING TIME||CLOSING TIME||NOTES|
|North American Lodge||8:30 am||7:00 pm|
|Sightseeing Chairlift||9:00 am||6:00 pm||Last ride down 6:30 pm (From June 19th)|
|Cliffhouse Bistro||10:00am||6:00 pm||(From June 19th)|
|Cliffhouse Bistro – Full Food Service||11:00am||5:30 pm||Last Seating 5:30 pm|
|Via Ferrata Tours||9:00 am||3:30 pm||Last group down 6:30 pm|
Things to know about the Norquay Chairlift
- You’re taking a chairlift, so you’re completely exposed to the elements. Sometimes it’s cold or raining, so bring appropriate clothing!
- The Norquay Chairlifts aren’t generally wheelchair accessible
- Norquay Ski Hill generally has shuttle buses that pick you up from your hotel in town if necessary.
- The main ski lodge isn’t open in the summer, there is only the main check in/cafe at the base. Food and drink options are limited at the base.
How to get to the Norquay Chairlift
Mount Norquay is visible from the Town of Banff, and getting up to Mount Norquay takes around 10-15 minutes in total. Leave Banff via the west exit (cross the train tracks and pass the giant Banff letters). Cross the highway and continue up the mountain beyond. Follow the switchbacks all the way to the top until you see signs for the Norquay Chairlift.
Sunshine Village/ Sunshine Meadows Summer Gondola
The Sunshine Meadows Gondola is a new entry because in previous years, Sunshine Meadows was accessible via a big yellow school bus. Now you get to ride the gondola instead, which is actually far more pleasant and an infinitely smoother ride!
Sunshine Meadows is a completely different experience to the previously mentioned gondola rides. This isn’t a ride to the top of a mountain, but instead the gondola takes you to a high alpine meadow at the base of several mountains. Essentially, you’re taken to the Sunshine Village ski base.
From there, you have the option to walk around several trails and hikes and explore a vast area that comprises of lakes, wildflowers and forest. Sunshine Meadows is a very popular bear habitat, so you do have a fairly good chance of encountering one on your travels, so make sure you have bear spray with you!
There are a variety of restaurants and cafes here to explore in the summer, and you can even stay at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge too.
The Sunshine Meadows Gondola could also conceivably be used to access Assiniboine Provincial Park, instead of having to hike up Healy Pass.
Our thoughts on the Sunshine Village/Sunshine Meadows Gondola
This is the most active gondola experience you can have from the options in our list. You can walk several kilometres here and feel like you’ve walked into the backcountry. There’s also some great food options once you’re up the top, so you don’t have to worry about packing anything in.
It’s a completely different experience that’s mostly suited for people that want to hike in an area that would otherwise take many hours to reach.
Overall, I’ve always loved any time up at Sunshine Meadows, and this is a great option for people that are looking to experience something fairly unique within Banff National Park!
How much is the Sunshine Village/Sunshine Meadows Gondola?
GONDOLA & CHAIRLIFT PACKAGE
- Adult (16+): $45
- Senior (65+): $42
- Family (2 Adults / 2 Youth): $109
- Youth/Child (6-15): $23
- Toddler (0-5): FREE
The Sunshine Meadows is currently closed until 2021 due to Covid, however the normal season is approximately JUNE 28 – SEPTEMBER 8, 2019.
Opening hours for the gondola is generally 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
The hours for the Mt. Standish Chairlift, once you’re there, are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Things to know about the Sunshine Village/Sunshine Meadows Gondola
- There are plenty of bears in the area, and there are very few places to hide if anything were to happen. Bring bear spray and stay in a group.
- There is some walking/hiking required at Sunshine Meadows, be prepared for it!
- The Gondola takes approximately 25 minutes, the Standish chairlift takes 8 minutes.
- There is free transport provided to/from Banff if you book a ticket
- Biking up the access road is not allowed.
- No dogs are allowed except for service dogs
How to get to the Sunshine Village Gondola
What is the best winter gondola experience?
The only gondola that operates in Winter as a sightseeing experience is the Banff gondola. This one is purely a gondola experience, unlike the other gondolas which all turn back into ski resorts in winter. You can still buy winter lift tickets at the ski resorts, but you’ll be paying for a full ski pass to do that, so you’ll probably want to ski rather than sightseeing.
With that being said, the Banff Gondola is only open between October and December, but it’s enough time to still experience the mountains with a dusting of snow!
What is our favourite gondola in Banff?
After considering all the pros and cons of all the gondolas (value for money, views, experience), I would have to say that my absolute favourite Banff gondola experience is the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola. It has everything you want from an experience; wildlife, epic views, a short walk, small crowds and amazing food and drinks.
The other gondolas all deliver on those things too (for the most part), but subjectively, Lake Louise is the hands down winner for me. But honestly, they’re all very different experiences, and hopefully by reading our review you’ll now have a sense of the merits of each and why you might enjoy one over the other.