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The Tunnel Mountain Hike In Banff National Park

The Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park

It took me six years of living in Calgary to do the Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff. Now that I’ve done it I wonder why it took so long. This short must-do hike delivers a workout if you go fast enough, panoramic views of Banff and the valley including the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel from above and red chair moments on the summit. And you can do it in spring, summer, fall or winter. 

The return hike will probably take you between 90 minutes to two hours. In theory you can easily access it on foot from downtown Banff (add extra hiking time of about 15 minutes each way) but you can also drive to a large parking lot. To get there take Banff Avenue to Wolf Street and go east until you reach the end of the road. Turn right onto Grizzly and then almost an immediate left onto St. Julien Road. Follow it to the Tunnel Mountain Trailhead – lower parking area.

Tunnel Mountain: Banff's Must Do Hike

Tunnel Mountain is a popular year round hike

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Hike details

The Tunnel Mountain hike is a popular year round hike with both locals and visitors alike. The trail is only 2.4 km one way with a total elevation gain of 260 metres (853 feet). The first 0.5 km switchbacks up a trail from the lower parking lot to a signed trailhead on Tunnel Mountain Road. This part of the road is closed in winter – but there is the option of adding to your hike by walking up or down it.

As you can see in the photo below the grade of the trail is moderate.

Tunnel Mountain: Banff's Must Do Hike

This is the kind of grade you can expect

Once you reach treeline the views unfold. Looking west over Banff you can see the Mt. Norquay ski area along with the walking/biking/snowshoeing trails through the marsh and along the Bow River.

Climb a little more and you get a glorious view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel along with the skating rink – not pictured.

Tunnel Mountain: Banff's Must Do Hike

Great views of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

A few minutes later the views of Mt. Rundle unfold – along with the valley looking east towards Canmore. On a bluebird day this would be an incredible place to be.

Awesome views of Mt Rundle

Awesome views of Mt Rundle

On the summit (elevation 1,690 meters/5,543 feet) you’ll find some of Parks Canada’s red chairs. Sit back and enjoy the panorama – at least on a warm day.

This young couple are learning about the endangered limber pine – a relative of the whitebark pine. According to the sign “the population is in serious decline due to the effects of white pine blister rust (a fungus that attacks the tree) along with reduced wildfire and climate change.”

Young couple reading up on the endangered limber pine from the summit of Tunnel Mountain

Young couple reading up on the endangered limber pine from the summit of Tunnel Mountain

From there you can loop around the summit – sticking to trails to prevent erosion. On the east side there was noticeably more snow on the trees, a veritable winter wonderland.

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It’s a winter wonderland on the summit of Tunnel Mountain” width=”870″ height=”582″> It’s a winter wonderland on the summit

Exceptional views of Mt Rundle and the valley

Exceptional views of Mt Rundle and the valley

The descent can be speedy especially if it’s icy. Consider bringing some icers if it hasn’t snowed in a while.

Tunnel Mountain: Banff's Must Do Hike

It’s another 0.5 km walk to the lower parking from Tunnel Mountain Road

Large parking lot at the bottom of Tunnel Mountain

Large parking lot at the bottom of Tunnel Mountain

Tunnel Mountain hiking record

One of the signs you’ll come across on the hike describes the accomplishment of Banff resident, Anne Ness. Reportedly she climbed Tunnel Mountain more than 8,000 times over 40 years. Sometimes she’d do it twice in a day!

History of Tunnel Mountain

Originally called Sleeping Buffalo Mountain by the Stoney Nakoda people because its shape resembles a buffalo sleeping on its side, its name since 1882 has been Tunnel Mountain. (There is some talk about changing the name back to a traditional name.)

The Canadian Pacific Railway proposed blasting a route through the mountain and while that never happened the name Tunnel Mountain stuck.

I recommend every visitor hike to the summit of Tunnel Mountain, not only for the experience but to get the lay of the land from above. All the Banff landmarks can be seen and you’ll have a better visual map.

Further reading on hikes in the Banff area

What to take on the hike

Use a dose of common sense and take water, a bar or two and extra clothes or rain gear if the weather looks cold or bad. It’s not a long hike but you should still go prepared. If it’s winter the one thing that will make the walking easier if there is any ice is a pair of trail crampons. I swear by the ones made by Hillsound that I have now used for four years.

Where to stay in Banff

The following are suggestions across all price points.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is always a beautiful place to stay – even if it’s on the pricey side.

I’d suggest The Mount Royal Hotel if you want to be in the thick of things. Also they have an outdoor hot tub on an upper floor with a great view.

The Buffalo Mountain Lodge never fails to impress. Enjoy an outdoor hot tub and a great onsite restaurant. Free bikes for guest’s use are available in summer.

On the hotel strip I like the Moose Hotel. If you’re traveling in a group or as a family then the cheerful and relatively new Canalta Hotel is a superb choice. 

For a hostel experience check out Samesun Banff.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff

 

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Great article Leigh. I’m totally in the same boat as you, I’ve never climbed Tunnel Mountain. I’ve done a lot of hikes in the area but Tunnel Mountain never really appealed to me I have no idea why. I’ll make sure I do it in the summer. I find it hard to believe that Anne Ness climbed it 8,000 times though, 40 years is 14,610 days which means she’d have to do it twice almost every day. I think it may be one of these old wives tales that has been exaggerated by Chinese Whispers.

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