Tunnel Mountain

January 29, 2021

Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park is a cute little button of a mountain. It is accessed from the heart of the Banff townsite. In fact, you can park anywhere in town and wander on up. What Tunnel Mountain lacks in height, it makes up for in views. I was very impressed with the great view of the surrounding rock mammoths, plus we got a bird’s eye view of Banff.

While most tourists will find their way to Tunnel Mountain (camping and accommodations are also up here), it is also a favourite for locals. Many locals come here for their daily walk, including Banff local Anne Ness who hiked it over 8,000 times!

It is called Tunnel Mountain because the Canadian Pacific Railroad surveyor’s wanted to build a railway tunnel through it, instead of going around. The tunnel was never built, but the name stuck. The Stony people called the mountain “sleeping buffalo” because it resembles one from certain angles. The mountain might soon be officially renamed Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain.

Gear

In the summer, light hikers or sturdy running shoes should be okay. There is no food or water available on the trail, so ensure you have something with you.

In the winter, winter boots are a minimum. I would also recommend micro-spikes because the trail will be icy in spots. While we had nice conditions, I can see this trail being a block of ice, depending on conditions.

Hiking poles and a small daypack with extra sweater/jacket, food and water is always a good idea.

Overview

From the trail head, start up the wide and well-defined trail. Cross the road, and continue hiking up. At the top, there is a small loop for views. Return the way you came.

Trail Etiquette

I believe I read that Tunnel Mountain is Canada’s most hiked mountain. As such, a mountain like this takes a beating from everyone trampling it. It is vital that everyone stays on the main, marked trail. Please do not take short-cuts between the switchbacks, or unduly trample vegetation. The trail is wide enough for everyone to pass single file safely.

Please stay on the designated trail. Do not take short-cuts. This erodes the trail, kills the plants, and makes for an ugly scar on this beautiful landscape.

Downhill hikers have the right of way. Uphill hikers can simply move over to the side closest to the mountain.

These people have moved over to the side of the trail closest to the mountain to let the other group pass.

When passing or overtaking someone going in the same direction, say “on your left/right” so the person ahead can move over to the side closest to the mountain. When passing, you take the side of the trail furthest away from the mountain.

Parking and Trail Head

There is a small parking lot on St. Julien Road in Banff. This is the start of the Tunnel Mountain hike. If that lot is full, drive further up to the second trail head on Tunnel Mountain Drive. Please note that Tunnel Mountain Drive is CLOSED in the winter.

I parked at the lower St. Julian Rd lot. The trail head is very well marked, and is found at the north end of the parking lot.

The start of Tunnel Mountain trail off St. Julien Road. You can walk up here from the centre of Banff.
The start of the Tunnel Mountain trail.

Main Trail

Once on the trail, simply follow the trail through the forest.

The trail is fairly wide. Easy to walk two people across. Please keep dogs on leashes at ALL times.

After about 500 m, we crossed Tunnel Mountain Drive.

This is the where the trail crosses Tunnel Mountain Drive. In the summer, watch for traffic before crossing.

We then hiked up a series of low angle switchbacks. There were great views of the Banff townsite and Sulphur Mountain across the valley as we hiked.

Sulphur Mountain dominates the view as we hiked up Tunnel Mountain. Below on the left is the iconic Banff Springs Hotel.
We were almost at the top when we could see Mount Rundle poking out above the trees.

Once we hit the ridge, we found several lookout areas where we could enjoy the views looking east into the Bow Valley.

The ridge line has several lookout spots. Stay back from the edge. Do NOT throw anything over the edge. The mountains have several users. Technical mountain climbers may be below you.
These are the cliffs below the look out spots on Tunnel. This draws mountain climbers so please do not kick or throw anything off the ridge as you might hit or kill someone below.
View of the Bow Valley heading east from the look out.

Once we had our fill of that view, we continued the short distance to the top of Tunnel Mountain. From here, we had a lovely view of Banff and the surrounding mountains to the west.

Distance to the top of Tunnel Mountain is about 2.5 km. The elevation gain is 260 m or 858′. Time to summit was about 50 minutes. It’s not a race to the top, so go your own pace and enjoy the trip.

View of Banff and the Bow Valley from the top of Tunnel Mountain.
#ShareTheChair! This is just one of many spots in our National Parks where you can visit these iconic red chairs. Birthday girl Rosalie is on the left. Sonya is holding Sizzle and Pyro, and Aura is on the right.
There are a couple of interpretive signs at the top of Tunnel Mountain.

Tunnel Mountain Return

After you get your fill of the views, and take your photo in the Red Chairs (#ShareTheChair), then return the way you came.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip up Tunnel Mountain. If you are in good shape, and wanting some more, then go across the valley and hike up Sulphur Mountain.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date: January 29, 2021
Group:  Four (Alisen, Sonya, Rosalie and Aura)
Distance:  5 km
Elevation:  235 m (775′)
Time: 1.5 hours

We started at the lower trail head on St. Julien Road, but you can walk up there from anywhere in Banff. We crossed the Tunnel Mountain Road that is only open in the summer.
For such a small mountain with not much elevation gain, we had surprising excellent views. I would highly recommend Tunnel for the casual tourist, or someone who wants a more strenuous walk.

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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
27 comments on “Tunnel Mountain
  1. I agree, the views are excellent – of the river, Rundle mountain, and Banff Springs hotel.

    • alisendopf says:

      Yes, I was pleasantly surprised with Tunnel!

      I didn’t realize how much I needed the views until this week. We hiked up Mount McNab and nary a view was to be found. I was rather disappointed. I didn’t realize I needed that “reward” so much!

  2. I did this hike in the summer, great views!

  3. Ness climbed it over 8,000 times? She’s totally and unbelievably addicted!

  4. A really beautiful post. We’ve been to Canada several times and loved it. We haven’t been to the mountains yet though.

    • alisendopf says:

      Really? What parts of Canada have you been? A lot of people start in Vancouver, and then take road trip east through the mountains. I imagine there are similar itineraries in Central and eastern/maritime provinces.
      If you do come back, then please do visit the mountains. They are gorgeous.

  5. Mizou says:

    Great views, indeed! I’d love to visit one day 😉

  6. denise421win says:

    A good way to enjoy the great outdoors, awesome photos

  7. No wonder all you people out west are so fit when your daily walk consists of climbing up a mountain! I’ve hiked up Tunnel Mountain before and have such fond memories of eating my lunch on one of those Parks Canada red chairs.

    • alisendopf says:

      Oh, what a great memory 🙂 I heard about the red chairs, but had never found any until Tunnel Mountain. I can say I really enjoyed the experience.

      Yes, there are a lot of hard bodies around here. My friend Sonya (the one with the dogs) used to do IronMan, and the birthday girl (on the left) WINS bike racing events through the mountains. I’m just happy to be there LOL!

  8. Great post! Beautiful country !

  9. Cheryl Jackson says:

    Thanks for all of your great posts – I learn so much from you. I was surprised tho to read that you recommend uphill hikers yield to downhill hikers. In my approx 15 years of hiking, I have always heard, read, been told – that uphill hikers have the right of way. The reasons given are that it is harder for uphill hikers to stop and re-start, and because their forward vision distance is less than downhill hikers who have more time to adjust where they need to be when meeting hikers coming up. In reality of course, common sense has to prevail, and sometimes you just have to do what works best.

    • alisendopf says:

      Huh, that’s interesting. I think of it like downhill skiers – whoever has the momentum can just keep on going. I think with a sport like mountain biking, the downhill biker has momentum and speed, but the uphill biker definitely does not want to stop. It’s rare that I find an uphill hiker that doesn’t welcome a reprieve 🙂

  10. We go to Banff every year to see our family in Alberta.. but not this year. ..due to our lockdown. I don’t think we ever saw Tunnel Mountain..love to see it ..someday.

    • alisendopf says:

      So glad you get to come visit every year. Covid has really hampered travel, but it’s a small sacrifice for trying to stop the spread.

      Do you hike when you visit Banff? If so, where have you been already?

  11. rulookingforjesus says:

    Like the post

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