Skip to Content

Is the Banff Gondola in winter worth it?

If you are you visiting Banff in winter you may be wondering if riding the Banff Gondola in winter is worth it. We have good news, you came to the right place.

In this Banff blog post, we will answer every question you may have about visiting the Banff Gondola during the winter months.

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

The Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola Quick Guide

We created this quick guide for those who don’t want to go through the complete article.

Here we quickly answer questions you may have about riding the Banff Gondola in winter. 

Banff Gondola address: 100 Mountain Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1B2, Canada

Is the Banff Gondola open in winter? Yes, the Banff Gondola is open in winter besides the closure for annual maintenance at the beginning of January. You can find more info about the actual opening hours and closing dates on their Facebook page.

Is the Banff Gondola free during winter? Yes, during winter one of the best ways to avoid the ticket costs is to hike up the mountain and take a free ride back down. More about this later in this post.

Unfortunately, this option has been abolished for the time being in 2020 due to COVID-19. Persons without tickets were first no longer allowed inside the upper station which meant hikers could not go inside. It is now again possible to buy a one-way ticket at the upper station for half the price of a normal ticket.

At this point, it is uncertain if the one-way tickets will become free again in winter.

Banff Gondola winter rates:

Below are the regular ticket prices when bought at the counter. Advance bookings might be slightly cheaper. (see below)

  • Adults $64 ( $58 advanced rate )
  • Children age 6-15 years $32 ( advanced rate $29)
  • Children 5 and under: free.

Check prices and availability:
Banff Gondola tickets

View from the top station of the Banff Gondola
The view from the top

How to save on the Banff Gondola ticket prices?

Riding the Banff Gondola is not cheap, luckily there’re a few ways to save a few bucks.

  • For the first hour after opening, 1 child can travel for free with any paying adult.
  • Alberta residents currently receive a 20% discount with Pursuit Rewards, a special staycation savings program. This may change again in the future but there always has been some kind of promotion of Albertans.
  • If you hike to the top you can purchase a one-way ticket down for half the cost of a regular ticket. It’s not possible to do the opposite.

Do you need advance bookings for the Gondola ride?

Tickets bought in advance are usually slightly cheaper. It is a good way to save but you should know that going up is only really worth it if the weather is good.

If clouds are obscuring the views of the mountains surrounding Banff there’s no point of ascending the mountain. You can also check the Banff Gondola webcam to check the conditions at the top.

If you booked your tickets in advance and the weather isn’t good that day you could always exchange them for another day.

In case of a price difference, you will need to pay extra or you will be refunded the difference.

Check prices and availability:
Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola on a snowy day
The Banff Gondola on a snowy day

How to avoid the crowds at the Banff Gondola? You can encounter waiting lines of 2 hours and more in high season. If you’re in Banff in high season you can avoid these lines by booking your tickets in advance or by going early, best before 10 AM, or after 6 PM.

Outside of the summer season there are far fewer crowds.

How to get to the Banff Gondola? You can reach the Banff Gondola by car or by public transport. To get there by car you need to cross the bow bridge from where you can follow the signs towards the gondola station.

Despite the fact that there are 2 large car parks, they can still fill up in high season.

You can use the ROAM transit bus #1 to avoid parking stress. The bus runs from Banff Ave in downtown Banff towards the Gondola.

There used to be a free shuttle but this is no longer operating.

Banff Gondola winter hours:

  • Monday: 11 AM – 4 PM
  • Tuesday – Wednesday: Closed
  • Thursday: 11 AM – 4 PM
  • Friday – Sunday: 11 AM – 8 PM
  • Around Christmas: daily open 11 AM – 8 PM

Opening hours have changed frequently due to COVID-19. We encourage you to check the Facebook page for up-to-date information before booking.

The Gondola always shuts down for 2 weeks in January for extended maintenance.

Is the Banff Gondola pet friendly? Unfortunately pets aren’t permitted on the Gondola.

How long is the Banff Gondola ride? The Banff Gondola ride takes 8 minutes each way.

What to wear at the top of the Banff Gondola? Banff can get extremely cold during winter and it can even get colder at the top of Sulphur mountain.

Even when temperatures in downtown Banff are comfortable it can be cold and windy at the top.

Dress appropriately in layers. Wear warm boots and a warm jacket. Bring a hat, a scarf, and gloves. The boardwalk is kept ice-free but other paths can be slippery.

If you plan on hiking you may also bring ice cleats if you have them. If you are looking for the best winter leggings for hiking, click here.

The Vista Trail on Sulphur mountain
Picture taken along the Vista trail which leads from the top station to Samson’s peak

Is the Banff Gondola a tourist trap?

Some locals and visitors refer to Banff Gondola as Banffs worst tourist trap.

With a sky-high ticket price of $64 it’s not hard to understand why.

Everybody’s definition of a tourist trap will be different so it’s hard for us to make a clear-cut statement about it.

Instead, we will try to describe what you can expect in this post.

The mountaintop station has changed a lot over the last years. It has turned into an impressive building with a complete interpretive center and a 3D movie theater. We thought both were very informative.

Food at the top isn’t cheap. The top station houses both a fine-dining restaurant as well as a bistro. We’ve heard from many people that the food is really good but eating with your family at the top will cost an arm and a leg.

Don’t let the food prices stop you from going though. Enjoying a break while taking in the views doesn’t need to be expensive. We just warmed up with a hot chocolate from the Castle Mountain Coffee company and didn’t feel it broke the bank.

Obviously, the building is not the main reason why you make the ride to the top. You are mainly here for the view and there is certainly no lack of it. If you have good weather you will get incredible 360-degree views of the valley and the surrounded mountains.

There’s a well-maintained boardwalk around the station. The staff ensures it’s snow and ice-free in winter.

For the most stunning views, you should hike the Vista Trail which leads to the meteorological station at Samson’s peak. It’s a short hike which only takes about 15-20 minutes.

After your visit, to get back down on the gondola, you have to walk through the gift shop, an experience that reminded us of visiting theme parks.

It’s obvious that pursuit is a very commercial company and tries to make the most out of the Banff gondola.

Continue reading to find out for yourself it the Banff Gondola is a waste of time and money or an experience you will actually like.

How many sightseeing Gondola’s has Banff

Although people often refer to the Banff Gondola when speaking about Gondolas in Banff, there are actually 4 gondolas and chairlifts open to pedestrians in the Banff Lake Louise area in winter. 

The most famous are the Banff and Lake Louise Gondola but you also can ride the Banff Sunshine sightseeing Gondola or the Norquay sightseeing chairlift. 

Which Gondola ride is better in Banff during winter?

Riding each one of these gondola’s will be an unforgettable experience packed with excellent views.

Here are the main differences:

The Lake Louise Gondola in summer
During summer the Lake Louise gondola offers great opportunities to see grizzly bears

Lake Louise Gondola vs Banff Gondola

Lake Louise Gondola is popular in summer and one of the best ways to spot Grizzlies during these months.

It is however originally designed to take skiers and snowboarders to the mountain top and that is its main function during the winter months.

Hikers can buy a sightseeing ticket during the winter months to ride to the top and back down but will find nothing of infrastructure at the top.

You can get out to take a few pictures but you will need to wait until you’re back at the base station before you can warm up with a hot chocolate.

Temperatures can be cold at the top so make sure to dress warmly.

The Banff Sunshine sightseeing Gondola

The Banff Sunshine sightseeing Gondola takes you to the Village Area of the Sunshine Ski resort.

There you can continue further up with either the Standish or the Angel chairlifts. The first will take you to the top of Mt. Standish.

At 2.398 meters this is the highest viewing point in the wider Banff and Lake Louise area.

Both the gondola and the lift are primarily used for skiers and there are no facilities at the top.

Facilities, foods & drinks can be found in the village area.

Bottom station of the Sunshine Sightseeing gondola
Bottom station of the Sunshine Sightseeing gondola

The Norquay sightseeing chairlift

The Norquay sightseeing chairlift takes you to a height of 2.103 meters where you can enjoy top-of-the world views and warm up with hot chocolate or a hearty meal in the cozy Cliffhouse bistro, a former teahouse transformed in a cozy bistro.

The Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola to the summit of Mt. Sulphur is the only one that offers a complete experience with an interpretive center, a theatre, and a choice of several restaurants.

It’s also the closest to Banff and the only one reachable by public transport.

Skiers will have a blast with the other gondolas but pedestrians might have the best experience with the Banff Gondola which is specifically designed and completely reserved for them.

What’s the Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola, also called the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, is one of the 4 sightseeing Gondolas you can find in the Banff Lake Louise area.

It is one of the most visited attractions in Banff, Canada.

The vista trail on Sulphur mountain, view towards the gondola station
View towards the gondola station from the Vista Trail

How to get to the Banff Gondola

The Banff Gondola is located 2,5 km from downtown Banff town. Getting to the base station only requires about 5 minutes by car. 

Banff Gondola Address: 100 Mountain Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1B2, Canada

By Car

The Gondola is easy to find. From Banff Avenue, the main street traversing Banff, you should head south towards the Bow Bridge.

After the bridge, make a left onto Spray Avenue. Stay in the right lane to merge onto Mountain road.

Continue on this road until the end where you will arrive at the parking lot. 

The parking lot is free. 

By Public transport

You can take Banff Roam Transit #1 towards the Banff Gondola. The bus runs every 40 minutes. A one-way ticket for adults costs $2. Children between 6-13 and seniors (65+) pay $1 one-way.

Fare boxes on the buses no longer provide change. A more convenient way to pay is to use the Token Transit app or you can buy you transit pass in advance from one of the vendors in downtown Banff.

You can find more info about Banff Roam Transit here.

Is the Banff gondola open in winter

Yes, the Banff Gondola is open during the winter months with the exception of 1 or 2 weeks in January when it is closed for annual maintenance.

This maintenance usually lasts from the 6th of January until the 17th or 18th of January. It may differ from year to year. The exact days are announced on their Facebook page. 

When the Gondola is closed you can still hike to the top to enjoy the views from the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk and Samson’s peak. The buildings at the top are however closed so you will not be able to use any of the facilities. 

The boardwalk at the upper station of the Banff Gondola
The boardwalk runs completely around the station

What’s the best time to visit the Banff Gondola?

Peak season may have you fighting with hundreds of tourists to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Bow Valley.

Here are our tips if you prefer to enjoy the stunning surroundings a little more peacefully:

  • Come early: The first hours at the top are the most quiet. Be there when the gondola opens. In addition to fewer crowds you will also save because a child can ride for free with every paying adult during the first hour.
  • Come late: The gondola runs until 8PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Starting 6 PM the crowd starts to thin out. Don’t forget the check the sunset time, mid-winter the sun already sets at half past 5 in Banff.
  • Avoid the winter holidays (if you can): Banff is a popular winter destination and gets crowded around Christmas and New Year (not to speak of the rush on the town in summer) but we discovered that the crowds outside of this winter holiday season are actually very manageable.

What to wear at the top of the Banff Gondola?

Where we live we have not had real winters for a long time. Temperatures barely drop below 0 and snow has almost melted before it hits the ground. We had instant smiles on our faces when we saw the thick layers of snow in Banff.

Snow of course only stays when it is cold. So to really enjoy it comfortably, you need to dress appropriately.

The average temperatures in Banff in winter hover around -6 degrees Celcius but days of -15 Celcius are common. Temperatures at the top of Mt. Sulphur can be much colder due to windy conditions.

It can be pretty cold at the top of the Banff Gondola. Wear winter boots, a warm jacket, a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf. Do not forget to bring your sunglasses.

The boardwalk is kept ice-free by the staff but other paths can be slippery, so you may also want to bring ice cleats if you have them.

Rooftop observation deck at the Banff Gondola
On an overcast day the views are very limited

What is there to do at the top of the Banff Gondola?

There is plenty to do at the top of the Banff Gondola. Enough to keep you busy for a couple of hours.

Stroll around the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk

The Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk surrounds the upper station and offers stunning views in all directions.

Most of it is accessible for wheelchair users, but unfortunately, a few steps prevent them from going all the way around.

Do not worry, the rooftop observation deck is completely flat and is another excellent spot for 360-degree panoramas.

This is a great spot to start exploring the summit.

Hike a little further to Samson’s peak

Next, you can make your way to Samson’s peak along the Vista trail. It’s a very short trail that leads from the gondola station to a former meteorological station.

This hike, which only takes about 15 to 20 minutes each way, is probably the part with the best views.

We saw how staff were busy keeping the stairs of this path free of snow and ice.

Ice cleats will certainly help you get more grip on other parts of the trail with packed snow. We recommend that you bring them if you have them.

The interpretive center at the Banff Gondola
The interpretive center at the Banff Gondola

Explore the Banff Interpretive Center

The interpretive center gives some background about Banff National Park and the local wildlife.

It has some interactive displays to entertain the young ones and even we learned some new facts about the predators active in the park.

Watch a short movie in the Banff theater

Being surrounded by picture-postcard views a dark movie theater is probably the last place you want to be.

But you may have to make an exception for this once. We loved the movie as it showed the Bow Valley from another perspective.

We wouldn’t go to the top if the skies are overcast but there may be reasons you have to.

If you find yourself at the top with limited views this short feature-film can give you an idea of how it would be if you were luckier. I admit that it is not the same experience but it is better than nothing.

Enjoy lunch or dinner at a Banff gondola restaurant

The top station houses 3 restaurants and eateries.

If you want to grab a quick bite, head to the ground floor where you find the Castle Mountain Coffee Co.

If you have something to celebrate, want to spoil yourself or surprise your spouse you can enjoy a fine dinner in the Sky Bistro.

Although not cheap, this award-winning restaurant gets raving reviews on Tripadvisor.

At the time of writing it holds the top spot of best restaurant in Banff.

If you are looking for a more casual lunch or dinner take a look at the Northern Lights Alpine kitchen.

If you know in advance you will be having lunch or dinner at the Sky Bistro you can save by booking a combo package which includes a two-course meal and entrance to the gondola.

An Igloo hut at the top station of the Banff Gondola in winter
A comfy igloo hut up at the rooftop observation deck of the Banff Gondola.

Enjoy amazing views from the rooftop observation deck

The rooftop observation deck offers 360-degree views of Banff, the Bow Valley and the surrounding impressive rugged mountain ranges.

During our visit you could warm up by various fire pits and shelter from the wind in a comfy furnished igloo.

Buy souvenirs at the Banff Gondola gift shop

For the sake of completeness, we will also include the souvenir shop. There’s no need to look for it, you will be going through it before you board the gondola.

It does make the experience feel very commercialized.

Banff is an amazing national park, it never stopped to surprise us. If you want to take a souvenir home why not buy it from small local businesses or the national park service who do their best to preserve the experience for future generations.

Although Pursuit did a great job redesigning the top station I can’t help but feel that such a commercial experience is a little misplaced in a national park where the focus should be on preservation and closeness with nature.

View from the old meteorological station at Samson's peak. It is definitely worth visiting the Banff Gondola in winter if you have nice weather
The old meteorological station at Samson’s peak

How long do you need at Banff Gondola?

On average you need two hours but it depends on what you want to see and to do.

If you want to explore all areas of the station and make your way to Samson’s peak you may want to preserve a little more time.

Half an hour to an hour is enough if you just want to take some quick photos at the top.

It is best to preserve half a day. If you’re back down early you can head to the nearby hot springs to relax or warm up.

Is the Banff Gondola safe

Yes, the Banff Gondola is completely safe. There haven’t been any accidents over the course of it’s existence and it is tested regularly so you don’t need to worry about your safety.

So is the Banff Gondola worth it?

Now that we have shared all the facts, we are back to the question of whether the gondola is worth the money.

I guess this depends on a few factors.

We hiked to the top because we like hiking. We haven’t spend the $69 because we have the time and the fitness level to hike to the top at our own pace.

If you are looking for more winter hikes in Banff, click here.

I know that not everyone is able to hike its way to the top so this gondola is a good solution for those who would otherwise never be able to enjoy this beautiful view as well as for those who don’t like to hike or don’t have the time for a 2-hour hike.

Are the views from Sulphur mountain in winter so much better than those you see from the Sunshine or Norquay gondola that they are worth paying double for ? Probably not.

You pay extra for the convenience that the gondola is closest to the city and for the full-blown top station with an interpretive center and several dining options.

If all you’re after is the view and you don’t mind riding a bit further and mingling with a pack of skiers you could use the other gondolas instead.

But even when it sometimes felt like being in Disneyland, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience. We truly enjoyed the interpretive center and the 3D movie.

If you love hiking and want to save a few bucks our advice would be to hike to the top and take the gondola back down. We absolutely didn’t regret doing this.

Have you ever taken the Banff Gondola during winter? How was your experience?

Here you can find more posts about Banff: