Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley.
Due to it’s proximity to Banff town, and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up to the peak instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain becomes very busy. Here is all the info you need to know about hiking Sulphur Mountain.
How Long Does Hiking Sulphur Mountain Take?
Sulphur Moutain trail is a 10.1 kilometer out and back trail. We hiked up the Sulphur Mountian switchback trail in about 1.5 hours in the winter. We had a hiking pole and a few members of our party had crampons on which definitely helped with the sliding.
In the summer I think ascending Sulphur Mountain is doable in one hour, and you could descend in about 45 minutes. We spent about one hour enjoying the views from the top of Sulphur Mountain.
If you are really taking your time this whole circuit could be completed in four hours with a nice coffee at the Sky Bistro at the top.
There aren’t any WOW views on the hike until you reach the top, but if you like to take a lot of photos like us then factor in an extra 10 minutes.
How Hard is the Sulphur Mountain Trail?
AllTrails has rated this hike as moderate, and I would have to say I agree with them. There is nothing technical or challenging about this hike, but it is a steady incline the entire way up with little to no flat spots.
If you’re in reasonably good shape this will be no problem for you and is one of the easier hikes that you can do in the park. Don’t think that means it’s a complete walk in the park! You’ll still gain an elevation of 744 meters through what seems like neverending switchback trails.
Which Way Should I Hike Sulphur Mountain?
There is only one trail up! You’ll find it off to the left of the parking area right near the Sulphur Mountain and Hotsprings sign. You’ll take this way down too if you decide to hike.
In the winter anytime or after 7 pm in the summer the Banff Gondola is FREE to take down. So if you want to hike up for sunset and have a breezy way back down you can plan on taking the gondola for absolutely no charge. Make sure to pay attention to the times of the last ride. In the summer this means 10:30 pm, while in the offseason it is generally 9:30 pm.
Any other time the ride down will cost you $30.
When Can You Hike Sulphur Mountain?
Sulphur Mountain is doable all year! If you decide to tackle this in the winter you will need crampons to get you through. It’s steep and slippery. Hiking poles are never a bad idea either. See my section at the bottom for what to wear hiking.
We hiked Sulphur Mountain in early May and there was still plenty of snow on the ground (if you can’t tell from these photos!). While crampons weren’t necessary at this time they definitely were helpful for a few members of our group!
Hiking Sulphur Mountain in the winter means that you won’t find many other people on the trail. We saw maybe 10 other people in May. During peak summer season this trail is heavily trafficked given its ease and proximity to Banff.
How Busy is Sulpur Mountain Trail?
AllTrails rates this as a heavily trafficked trail, and it is. It’s a moderate hike that is exceptionally close to the town of Banff and offers breathtaking views over the Bow Valley.
Don’t come here expecting to be along, except on a mid week winter day.
What About Dogs and Kids on Sulphur Mountain?
Bring the dogs and the kids! Sulphur Mountain is a doable trail for all. Remember to keep the dogs on a leash and make sure the kids don’t slip in the winter.
Wildlife Awareness On Sulphur Mountain
If you’re on any hikes in Banff you should practice proper wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars. They all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
Before any hike or walk in Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hip.
The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is rare. It’s heavily trafficked and there is a loud gondola floating above the trail the whole time. Undoubtedly scaring away most wildlife. Still – you need to be prepared for any situation in the Canadian Rockies!
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners, which there are many at the start and end of the Tent Ridge hike. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re on the ridge, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.
As always while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly.
Summiting Sulphur Mountain
Once you reach the top of Sulphur Mountain, you may be in for a treat, depending on what kind of person you are.
The views are breathtaking, but there is also a well-built viewing and walking platform. The Sulphur Mountain boardwalk takes you across the summit comfortably and safely.
You’ll also find an interactive interpretive center for families, a small theatre, rooftop viewing platform, a mountain restaurant, and a coffee shop to relax at after your hike up. It’s fully wheelchair accessible and great for the elderly who want the views without the strenuous climb.
The way that Sulphur Mountain is built up at the top is certainly not for every adventurous hiker, but it is great for many visitors to Banff who want to learn more!
The Banff Gondola
The Banff Sightseeing Gondola is located just five minutes from the Town of Banff. It’s really one of the most popular things to do in Banff all year round.
The Banff Gondola is there for you if you want to get those amazing six mountain range views from the top of Sulphur Mountain without the climb up or down.
The Banff Gondola runs year round and provides the chance to relax and hang over the trees.
The Banff Gondola is not a cheap experience at $62 Round trip. In my opinion, the gondola is great for those that are not physically able to do the hike. This may mean people with disabilities, the elderly, or large families.
If you are able, I highly recommend hiking up Sulphur Mountain. The beautiful view will feel much more rewarding!
What To Wear On A Day Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post!
Here is exactly what we take on hikes in the Canadian Rockies
Fjallraven’s Keb Pant
Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not excellent for quick dry properties yet extremely durable. They kept me warm throughout this entire hike and are windproof. When I was too hot at the base of the mountain, I was able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite pants to hike in the Canadian Rockies.
If you think it’s going to be a cold day you can easily wear long johns under these as well.
Cabela’s Vintage Hiking Shoes
These are my favorite hiking shoes, not only because they provide ankle support, but because they are so darn cute for photos. At only $100, these are a third of the price of Danner’s which they are modeled after. They are just as cute and just as comfortable. I love them.
Outdoor Research Shirt Echo Series
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking it traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on. It’s a just in case jacket that I usually end up wearing when I reach the summit, and it gets cold. Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
I also always have a water-resistant windbreaker/rain jacket in my hiking backpack. This is for if it rains (which it did on this hike) or if it gets windy. I have never regretted having a windbreaker in my back. Again, it’s another piece of clothing that is super light and could save your life. The one I wore on this hike is by one my new favorite companies – Topo Designs. They make a Global Jacket that is waterproof, with a structured hood, and venting pockets.
I bring a Buff on everytrip in case my ears get cold or I want to have one to cover my face (which I did on this trip). We have a collection of buff headbands and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer.
We always have one in our suitcase or backpack no matter the destination and consider it one top travel accessories. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now!
I have a pair of Outdoor Research gloves in my hiking pack at all times. They are great for when you are scrambling and I always end up using them. I never want to come back with bloody hands and they protect against that.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
If you’re not on a long hike a large multiple day hiking backpack may not be necessary. Expect to still carry several pounds of gear on your pack so it’s important to have a backpack that sits well on your back with good suspension. However, you don’t need a 50L+ backpack instead opt for a size around 35L that should be enough to carry all of your necessities.
We have a large number of hiking backpacks and they range in sizes. If you have plans for other short treks that may or may not have a porter you can go with a 50L that will lend more versatility without being so large its unnecessarily cumbersome on the trail.
We personally like to use between a 30-40L pack for most day hikes in the mountains as it allows for us to carry everything we could need. Major plus side is a large bag means we can bring things like a stove to make coffee or a hot meal for a nice rest. As far as our recommendation on smaller backpacks we love the Traverse from REI and the Exos/Tempest from Osprey.
While I like having a water bottle on my hikes I like having a bladder even more. A bladder keeps me drinking regularly since I never have to stop hiking and take out my bottle. It’s always readily available for when you need it.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the mountains, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows for you to carry extra water if needed.
Most hiking backpacks and even daypacks designed for hiking have a sleeve for carrying your extra water.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
I always have a baseball cap in my bag in case the sun gets too intense. I’ve been out too many times without one and my forehead gets too toasty for my liking – even with sunscreen. A baseball cap protects against that and I highly recommend having one in your bag.
Unless I am hiking in leggings I need a belt to secure my pants. The newest one I just got is a Jelt Belt. Jelt is a women-owned social enterprise that produces belts made from 100% recycled plastic bottles with an innovative patented flat buckle that won’t show a bump under tops or tees. Both Cameron and I have a few of these bad boys and they are SO much better than regularly clunky belts.
If you have plans to take part in a long day or multi-day hikes a pair of hiking poles are a great way to save your knees and prevent injuries. If you’re on a full day of hiking in the mountains you’ll gain and descend a lot of elevation. So, it’s easy for your legs to get tired so a pair of hiking poles will pay off. Although I don’t always need hiking poles, they are always in my pack. I ended up using them while hiking the ridge and descending on this hike.
Black Diamond is a company dedicated to mountain sports and has worked hard to craft wonderful products. I personally use the Black Diamond FLZ Hiking Poles, but there are some other great poles out there produced by companies like REI and MSR. “Z” poles are fantastic as they’re lightweight and can be stashed inside a backpack should you not need them.
These are gold when you are hiking (or even walking) while in the Canadian Rockies in the winter. They are affordable and worth the price of not slipping.
Peak Design Capture Clip
This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt.It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.
The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.
It’s super handy and a must for anyone who want to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.
Camera (We have the Fujifilm X-T3)
This beautiful and reasonably priced camera is both weather resistant and mirrorless. It is easily the best ASP-C camera on the market and gives a serious run at many of the full frame cameras. After all, is a full frame camera really a necessity? In my opinion, not at all! We love photography, posting to Instagram, and posting on this website so we always have a camera on us on any hike.
This is a non-negotiable item if you’re in bear country and in some parks, it’s actually required by law. Bear spray should be on your person and not in your pack. We each have a neoprene sleeve that holds our bear spay on our belt pocket. It’s easy to reach in case of emergency which the most important detail.
It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in bear country whether that is singing, ringing a bell, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail.
On any trip where we’ll spend time outside, almost every trip, a headlamp is on our packing list. I typically don’t plan on using it on a day hike, but it’s always there just in case.
We have several, but one of our new favorite is the Black Diamond Spot. It took several recommendations online before settling on this one because of its affordable price and durability. It delivers 325 lumens, costs $40, and will likely last a decade or longer sweet deal if you like to spend time outdoors.
Skin cancer is for real! Not having sun protection can lead to sunburn and in the long term skin cancer/skin aging. You will spend a lot of time outside and therefore under the sun. We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our natural bodies of water. If you’re not going to swim just go with a reliable name brand — granted runoff often still ends in our oceans and lakes.
High Calorie Snack
Pack some high calorie snacks for your hike on the trail. Popular options are energy gels, bars, or balls, jerky, nuts, or even a Snickers. Hiking at elevation can burn a lot of calories so it’s important to maintain your glucose levels.
It’s advised to eat as much as 200-300 calories per hour of exercise. If it’s a long day on the mountain you can always bring a packed lunch with a sandwich and high calorie like dried fruits. (I’m pretty much a kid and still love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).
Speaking of a chill it’s a good idea to bring a small mat to sit on during breaks if you’re in the mountains. The stone and ground can often be much colder than the air so it conducts heat and will make you cold. A pad can serve a lot of purposes to like back rest, pillow, cooking surface, or a place to change your clothes. We had it on this hike and came in handy when we wanted to just relax and enjoy the view. They are light though so make sure they don’t blow away.
This is where preparation for spending a night out in the wilderness comes into effect. If you’re on a short loop around town it’s probably not necessary, but any significant hike in a national park or wilderness area presents the risk of spending the night outside. When temperatures drop at night it presents the very dangerous threat of hypothermia or frostbite.
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