It always surprises me (no pun intended) when visiting tourists haven’t heard of one of Banff’s best viewpoints! Surprise Corner gives you that iconic postcard view of the Fairmont Banff Springs that everyone thinks of when they think “Banff”.
It’s an extremely short walk from the parking area, and just minutes from town, so it should absolutely be on everyone’s Banff bucket list. Here’s everything you need to know about Surprise Corner.
What exactly is Surprise Corner?
Surprise Corner is a small view point nestled across the river from the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. There’s a small parking area (space for about 10 cars), and then you can cross the road and walk up the short flight of stairs to the viewpoint!
The elevated platform gives you the perfect vantage point to see through the trees, but you can’t quite see Bow Falls (which is located directly below). So to fully complete the viewing experience, you should also walk along the road a little (watch out for cars), until you can see down the steep cliff below.
It’s a slippery gravel slope, so don’t get too close to the edge!
What else is there to do at Surprise Corner?
From Surprise Corner, there are actually one or two things you can do, but they all involve varying degrees of exercise.
Walk along the Bow River
The first thing you can do is walk into town along the river. Follow the river back towards Banff, and within a few short steps the trail will leave the roadside and take you closer to the water’s edge. From here you can walk to the pedestrian bridge or completely into town (roughly 1.3km or about 15 minutes by foot). You can also cross the pedestrian bridge and follow the trail back along the river on the opposite side, eventually reaching the Bow Falls viewpoint.
If you plan to do this, I would probably recommend parking in town and walking to Surprise Corner, rather than the other way around.
Follow the Hoodoos Trail
Surprise Corner is also the starting point for the Hoodoos Trail, which follows the Bow River downstream alongside the Banff Springs Golf Course. The trail is flat or slightly uphill for the most part, and very gentle terrain throughout. A stunning nature walk that’s well worth giving a try.
The Hoodoos Trail sneaks behind Tunnel Mountain, so it’s also the approach for any climbs on Tunnel Mountain. It’s also a very popular mountain biking route, especially as you approach the Hoodoos area, where the terrain is steeper and more interesting for cyclists.
We like to hike this in the evenings to escape the crowds and enjoy a nice gentle walk with beautiful views.
Secret Beach is a tiny strip of sand at the base of the Surprise Corner parking lot. Walk to the edge of the parking lot until you find some steps leading down, and follow the trail all the way down to the river. It’s not a great place to swim, due to the water current, and you do have to be fairly nimble to get down to the bottom.
Secret Beach is a quiet spot that is popular among locals, but it’s not really something I’d consider a “sight” in Banff. It is literally a tiny beach that’s just nice to chill at sometimes!
The Banff Centre
We never really talk about the Banff Centre on here, but it’s an amazing centre for culture, music and arts in Banff. In winter, the Banff Film Festival is often hosted here, orchestras play concerts here, musicians reside here and more. They also have a brilliant restaurant called Maclab, as well as the Three Ravens restaurant; one of Banff’s top eateries.
From Surprise Corner, The Banff Centre is just a short walk uphill. Take the first left and you can’t miss it. Again though, if you’re planning to visit the Banff Centre, don’t take up the Surprise Corner parking as there’s plenty at the Centre.
Hike Tunnel Mountain
Strictly speaking, surprise corner is on Tunnel Mountain, so you’ve practically already begun the hike, even though you might want to move a little closer to the trailhead if it’s something you really want to do.
There are two parking areas; one at the true base, and the other a little bit higher on Tunnel Mountain Road. The hike is only about 4km round trip with very little elevation, but the higher parking lot might save you a few steps! You can read our full Tunnel Mountain hike description here.
Tunnel Mountain is arguably one of Banff’s easiest hikes, so it’s very popular with tourists. It’s also popular with locals looking to stretch their legs. Avoid this one if you don’t like crowds!
For those that make it to the top, you’ll get a phenomenal view of the town of Banff on one side, and the Banff Springs Golf Course on the other.
Surprise Corner FAQs
Where is Surprise Corner?
Surprise Corner is actually very easy to find and is signposted virtually from the minute you leave town. From Banff Avenue, turn left at the CIBC and follow the road until you get to Surprise Corner. It’s super easy!
When is the best time to visit Surprise Corner?
I’ve done a number of photoshoots at Surprise Corner, and if you’re looking for the best lighting there I’d recommend the morning. In the afternoon, the sun sets behind Sulphur Mountain, so you’ll either have the sun beaming down behind the Fairmont, or it will disappear behind the mountain way before actual sunset.
In the morning, the lights up the Fairmont Banff Springs perfectly.
In terms of season, there’s nothing more magical than seeing the Banff Springs Hotel covered in a dusting of snow, however the stairs can be a little treacherous at that time of year. If you have any sort of mobility issues, I would recommend visiting in the Summer.
How much does Surprise Corner Cost?
Hopefully it comes as no surprise that this view point is free. The only downside is that it can often be packed with tourists during the busy season. This is a very popular spot for tour buses, so if you time it badly, expect to share the viewing platform with 50 others.
Overall, there’s not too much more to say about Surprise Corner, other than it’s an absolute must visit if you’re trying to check off all the major sights in Banff. It takes just a few minutes and is well worth that first ‘Surprise’ as you come up the hill.