I went to Banff for the first time recently. As this year is the 150th anniversary of Canada, and as the entrance to every national park in the country is free for the occasion, I decided it was probably the perfect year to explore my country a bit more.
My brother and I therefore flew to Calgary, rented a car and drove to Banff National Park where we would stay three nights. We didn’t have any clear plan, we knew only one thing: we wanted to go hiking. We were, after all, in one of Canada’s best known national parks, a park that has been recognized as part of the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Our only problem was that May isn’t the best month to enjoy the Rockies. There is still snow at higher elevation and we had no idea of the trails that would be accessible.
A short visit at Banff Tourism Office helped us to learn more about the trails around Banff. We immediately decided to hit Tunnel Mountain, for which the trail-head is in the town itself. The hike was short and easy, it took us less than two hours to get to the top of the mountain and come back. The round trip is less than 5 km and the summit gives nice views of Banff, of Bow Valley, of Bow River, and of the surrounding mountains.
From the top of Tunnel Mountain, we could see another mountain where we intended to go hike on the following day: Sulphur Mountain.
I must explain here that it is rather easy to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain via a gondola. It might actually be one of the most popular activities in Banff. You just have to jump in the gondola and up you go, you find yourself at an altitude of 2,400 meters, drinking coffee while enjoying the magnificent scenery.
But the gondola isn’t cheap. During the summer, going up could cost you almost $80 CAD. And you sometimes have to book your spot in advance, or be prepared to wait in line.
And personally, I have much more pleasure in being at the top of a mountain knowing that I got there by myself…
So my brother and I walked laughingly along the long line of people waiting for their gondola ride and headed to the beginning of the trail that would bring us to the summit: a hike up of nearly 6km.
I consider myself as being in good shape, but I struggled a bit for the first kilometres on the trail. My cardio had some difficulty to adapt itself to the altitude. My brother, a fit runner who run races and marathons, had less trouble than I, but kindly agreed to us taking more breaks than we initially planned so I could catch my breath.
The hike goes steadily up. The trail is well marked and well maintained. The climb is done mainly in the forest, so it is sometimes hard to see the progress made, up until you arrive to a place where there are less trees…
After the third kilometre, the trail began to be covered with snow. I was expecting this, and that’s why I was wearing my winter boots, but snow made the trail slippery, which slowed us down. The more we were going up, the more far-off the summit seemed to me. I almost started to regret not having taken the gondola…
Finally, after less than two hours of hiking, we arrived at the top. The trail to get there had been quiet, but the summit definitely wasn’t. Tourists were pouring out continuously out of the gondola. But we didn’t mind much. The view on the surrounding mountains was amazing. And we were proud of the fact that we got to the summit by ourselves.
We still had some energy left, so we continued our walk on the boardwalk leading to a Cosmic Ray Station (the station was built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year). We could have stayed there longer to contemplate the importance of cosmic rays, but we had a mountain to climb down.
The descent was faster than the climb up, even if the slippery snow created some difficulties at the beginning. We were a bit exhausted when we finally got back to our car, but there was still a long waiting line for the gondola, and we congratulated ourselves on our decision!
Sulphur Mountain :
Altitude : 2 256m
Ascension : 700m
Trail (return) : 11km
Access : Banff Upper Hot Spring parking lot