The Tunnel Mountain Hike (..it’s more of a walk, let’s be honest)
The Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park is a ‘must-do’ if you’re visiting the area. It’s Banff’s easiest hike by far, and is something that virtually anyone can do, in almost any weather, with very limited time. The best description I’ve seen is to describe it as “a pretty easy trail for anyone who is moderately able-bodied” – sounds about right.
It’s a very popular exercise spot for locals, and back in high school, Louise had to run up it virtually every week for gym class. If you hate exercise and you’re worried that it might be too difficult, all you have to remember is that it’s so easy they teach it in high school.
Some people love it so much they walk up it every day. A Banff resident called Ann Ness famously hiked it over 8,000 times in her lifetime, so there must be something worth seeing up there!
The hike is 4.8km round trip with 261m elevation (if you park at the lower parking lot by the Banff Centre on St. Julien Road). But if you’re feeling particularly lazy you can skip the first part of the hike/elevation by parking at the upper trailhead on Tunnel Mountain Drive. In total, it should take you between 1 and 2 hours to complete the full Tunnel Mountain hike round trip.
For virtually the entire hike you’ll be hiking relatively short switchbacks. Don’t worry though, they’re over before you barely have a chance to break a sweat.
The Tunnel Mountain area is quite popular with wildlife and whenever we’ve done it we’ve usually seen a deer or an elk or two. The hike is a popular dog walking area, so if you bring your dog make sure to keep it on a leash!
Once you’ve hiked all the way up Tunnel Mountain, you’ll be treated with spectacular views of the town, the Fairmont, Sulphur Mountain and the Bow Valley on one side, and Rundle Mountain on the other. You’re also directly above the Banff Springs golf course, which isn’t really viewable from anywhere else (apart from Tunnel Mountain Drive). Look for the iconic Parks Canada red chairs for a nice place to rest at the top!
Why you should hike Tunnel Mountain
Honestly, Tunnel Mountain is the perfect place to go if you feel like having a leisurely jaunt in the outdoors but don’t really have the urge to do anything too wild or adventurous. It’s also perfect if you don’t have access to transport and still want to go for a nice walk. It’s particularly popular with many locals because you can step out your door and walk there without needing to drive.
As we mentioned, it’s also very easy, so you can rest assured that any ‘moderately abled’ family members will be able to make it. When we did it a few weeks ago we’d just eaten an enormous breakfast at Ricky’s and were still able to waddle all the way to the top without too much trouble.
The only caveat we would mention is that it does get particularly icy in the winter/spring. Tunnel Mountain’s popularity means that any snow quickly turns to ice as it gets trodden in. If you plan to visit from October to April, you should be aware of this and consider bringing ice cleats.
Finally, Tunnel Mountain Road closes during the winter months, so the upper trailhead is only accessible once the snow melts.
The Tunnel Mountain hike is so popular because it’s the quickest and easiest way to get a view of the town of Banff on foot. If you don’t even feel like walking, then some alternatives would be the Sulphur Mountain gondola, the Norquay Chairlift or the Norquay road lookout.
Make sure you check it out!