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Which Banff National Park Gondola is the Best?

Banff Gondola car in winter
Banff Gondola Car descending in winter

If you are visiting Banff National Park and love a good gondola ride, you are in the right place. Banff National Park has three gondolas within 40 minutes of the Banff townsite; the Banff Gondola, Sunshine Ski Resort gondola, and the Lake Louise Ski Resort gondola.  So which one is the best? 

My favorite is the Sunshine Ski Resort gondola, but each gondola offers a unique mountain view and experience. It can be a challenge to decide which one to do, but my first recommendation is to ride all three if you can. If you’re strapped for time here’s a quick overview of the three gondolas to help determine which one is best for the experience you’re looking for.

I’ve ridden all three gondolas multiple times and enjoy all of them. Keep reading to see why the Sunshine Ski Resort Gondola is my favorite.

Map of gondolas in the Banff area

Banff Gondola – Best for Location and Time

The Banff Gondola is the best gondola for ease of access and the time-crunched. Located on Sulphur Mountain in Banff, it’s about 2.5 km (1.5 mi) from the town centre making it quick and easy to get to. 

front of Banff Gondola entrance building
Banff gondola car with people inside
Banff gondola car with people

Fast Facts

  • 7,486 feet at the peak
  • 8-minute ride
  • 4 adults per gondola (might be able to squeeze in a kid)

The Banff Gondola is an interactive viewing experience. At the summit is a multi-level complex with a 360-degree observation deck. The building hosts an interpretive centre with exhibits, and themed events as well as a multi-sensory theatre. Check the Banff Gondola website for details on what events will be available during your visit. 

There are several eating options at the Banff Gondola summit from patio pub offerings to a sit-down buffet, and even a fine-dining culinary experience at the Sky Bistro (reservations are recommended for this one).

Outside you can explore the Sulphur Mountain boardwalk which is about one kilometre. The boardwalk contains stairs and could be challenging for people with physical limitations. The boardwalk can get very congested in the summer. 

For the more adventurous, you can hike to the top and bottom of Sulphur Mountain. The hike is a 5.5 km (3.5 mi) switchback-style trail that’s well-marked, and well-trod. A one-way trip up will take 1.5 to 3 hours depending on your fitness level. The trail begins in the parking lot of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. 

If you hike to the summit and take the gondola down you will only be charged half the gondola price. 

If you ride the gondola up and hike down you will be charged the full price – and there’s a good chance you’ll have sore quad muscles the next day. 

How to Get There

The quickest and easiest way to get to the Banff Gondola is to take the ROAM transit on Route 1. It’s about a 13-minute ride, which is as fast as you’re going to get in summer Banff traffic. 

A one-way fare is ~$2. During the summer, keep your Banff Gondola ticket to show to the transit driver for a return ride to town. 

You can drive to the Banff Gondola; however, parking is limited in the summer so you’ll need extra time, patience, and vigilance to maneuver through traffic.

Roam Transit bus in Banff

Tickets and Time

The Banff Gondola is open year-round

The busiest times are between 12 and 5:00 PM. 

Tickets for the Banff Gondola can be purchased online or onsite. It’s highly recommended tickets be purchased online in advance. Pricing is variable and increases closer to the day. Gondola prices can range from ~$58 to ~$67. Kids ride free for the first two hours. Check the website for deals and promotional offers. 

PROSCONS
Quickest and easiest to get toGondolas only carry 4 people so not great for larger groups.
Open year-roundVery busy during the summer
Cool things to do other than hikeVariable pricing system
Most wheelchair accessibleReservation recommended
Can be hiked up or downLimited hiking

Sunshine Ski Resort Summer Gondola – Best for Hiking

The Sunshine Ski Resort gondola is the best gondola for hiking. The gondola provides access to Sunshine Meadows one of Canada’s largest alpine meadows and a World UNESCO Heritage site. 

Fast Facts

  • 7,825 feet at the peak
  • 25-minute ride time to the peak (includes gondola + Standish chairlift)
  • 8-passenger high-speed gondola 

The Sunshine Ski Resort gondola gives summer access to the winter ski resort. The gondola is located at the base of the parking lot and takes you up to the ski village. The village contains all the amenities you would find at a ski resort including multiple eating options from full-service to pub fare, and on-hill accommodations at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. In the summer it also includes an interpretive centre. 

If hiking is your thing, this is where you want to go because there’s tons of it. The vistas include incredible views of meadows (full of flowers if you hit the right season) and three alpine lakes. 

The hiking is rated easy to moderate, with some curated boardwalk trails, and range from 0.8 to 3.5 km (0.5 to 2.2 mi). Trail reports are provided daily on the conditions. Guided hikes are available for 1 or 2 hours, these need to be booked in advance. Bug spray and bear spray are a must. Hiking poles are not required. 

You can hike or run back to the gondola parking lot. The route via the service road is really easy, dusty, and not a pleasant experience. Taking one of the single-track pass options to Healy Pass or Simpson Pass will take you through a scenic alpine, forested route. If you choose to hike down, pre-select a route and use a trail app such as All Trails. 

Girls hiking near a lake

Getting to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is Complicated!
Download our FREE PDF

Guide includes shuttle, bus, and tour options as well as reservation windows

How to Get There

The Sunshine gondola is located 17 km (10.5 mi) west of Banff

Self-driving is an option. From Banff take the TransCanada 8 km (5 mi) west and take the right-hand Sunshine Village exit. There’s plenty of parking and it’s free.

There is a free shuttle service from Banff that doesn’t require reservations. 

Tickets and Times

Gondola hours are from June to September between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Check the website for the most up-to-date times. 

Tickets can be purchased online or at guest services at the base of the mountain. 

Ticket Prices range from ~$65 for adults to ~$32 for youth. 

Click here for current ticket prices

PROSCONS
Show up and go. No reservations or pre-planning required.Not much to do other than hike.
Large gondolas to accommodate families and larger groups.Not 100% wheelchair accessible
Lots of free parking.

Lake Louise Ski Resort Gondola – Best for Wildlife Viewing

The Lake Louise Ski Resort summer gondola is the best for wildlife viewing. It turns out it’s not just people who love to visit the Lake Louise ski hill, so do animals. 

Fast Facts:

  • 6,893 feet at the peak
  • 14-minute ride
  • 6-passenger gondola
  • 4-passenger open chair

The Lake Louise gondola is another ski resort that operates its gondola in the summer. Expect all the amenities of a ski resort, including shops and several eating options at the base of the mountain and the top. 

Lake Louise gondola with mountains in the distance

At the Lake Louise gondola, you have two viewing options; the enclosed gondola or the open chairlift – both take you up Whitehorn Mountain. Children under the height of 42” can only ride in the enclosed gondola. 

The chairlift is recommended for wildlife viewing for unobstructed use of binoculars and cameras. Animals that have been reported in the past are: grizzly and black bears, cougars, lynx, mountain goats, wolves, elk, deer, moose, big-horned sheep, and wolverines. There’s a wildlife sightseeing calendar on the gondola website that tracks wildlife sightings.

Near the top of the gondola is a small interpretive centre with life-size animal displays and various exhibits where you can learn about the local wildlife. 

Also at the top are great easy hiking options ranging from 1.7 to 2.5 km (1 to 1.25 mi). Some areas of the mountain are closed for hiking, which is why the upper mountain trails can only be accessed by lifts – no hiking up or down. There are guided hikes, in the range of 2 hours, that will take you into areas restricted to the public. These can be booked and reserved online.

How to Get There

The Lake Louise gondola is located about 60 km (37.25 mi) west of Banff.

You can drive as there’s plenty of free parking. From Banff take the TransCanada west and take the right-hand exit to Lake Louise.

In the summer, take the Roam bus (route 8X or 8S) to Lake Louise village then either the Parks Canada or the Lake Louise shuttle to the gondola.

People getting onto shuttle bus to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Banff

Tickets and Time

The gondola is open from May to early October, however, if you’re interested in winter views it’s also open in the winter for sightseeing. 

Tickets can be purchased online or at guest services at the base of the mountain.

Ticket prices range from ~$60 for adults to ~$13 for a child.

Click here for current ticket prices.

PROSCONS
Lots of free parking.Not much to do but hike.
Convenient to visit if you’re using the Parks Canada shuttle.Not a lot of amenities at the top of the mountain.
Easy to pair with a visit to Lake Louise/Moraine Lake.No hiking up or down option.
High probability of wildlife sightingsNot 100% wheelchair accessible.
More ticket price options.

Which is the Best?

There is no best as they all provide an amazing experience and it depends on the experience you’re looking for. 

When I have the urge for mountain views and vistas my first choice, based on my personal preference is the Sunshine Ski Resort gondola for the following reasons: 

  • Little to no planning is required. Reservations and pre-purchasing of tickets aren’t required so I can decide in the morning if I want to go. 
  • As a longer gondola, the view is more varied and there’s more time to enjoy it.
  • As a ski resort, it’s able to handle large volumes of people efficiently. While it may get busy on the trails, and there could be lines for food and the gondola, in my experience, it has never felt crowded. 
  • Due to the extensive hiking options, I can make a day-long excursion out of a trip so I feel there’s more value for my dollar based on how much time I can spend on the mountain. 
  • The mountain wildflowers and lake views in July are spectacular and make me feel like I’m in The Sound of Music
  • The trail run down Healy Pass is a favourite; rugged without being (too) dangerous.    

Regardless of which gondola you choose, there is no wrong choice. Here are a last few things to know before your ride:

  • No pets are allowed on any of the gondolas. 
  • The gondolas are at high altitudes and are NOT heated
    • Dress for the weather to be cooler at the top and expect that it can change quickly.
    • If you’re not used to being at high altitude, you may feel a bit sluggish and winded, especially while hiking, so keep all your efforts easy. 

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Banff is crowded!

Need a game plan to avoid the crowds? Check out our itinerary

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times.

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO
BANFF

BANFF TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Banff National Park, check out our Banff Homepage

THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Banff has to offer including Lake Louise, Banff Hot Springs, the Cave and Basin Historical Site, and shopping downtown

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out how to get to Banff and what reservations
you may need

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Banff National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Banff YouTube Playlist

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