HOW TO HIKE TUNNEL MOUNTAIN ALL YEAR ROUND

Girl at the top of Tunnel Mountain viewpoint.

If you are looking for an all year round easy hike in Banff National Park, then Tunnel Mountain needs to be number one on your list. Known to the indigenous people as the sleeping buffalo, this hike is a favourite amongst locals and tourists.

Tunnel Mountain is easy to access from Banff Town and can be completed within 2 hours.  

Even though it is the smallest mountain in Banff National Park, the views overlooking the town and the Bow River would make you think differently.

This hike is one of my favourites, due to its accessibility and its easy to moderate level of difficulty. 

How to hike Tunnel Mountain in every season 

Trail information about the hike up Tunnel Mountain

  • Distance: 2.7 miles (4.3 km) round trip
  • Duration: 2 hours (with short legs and plenty of photo stops)
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate (depending on fitness level) 
  • Elevation: 859 ft.
  • Tunnel Mountain hike rating: 4.6/5

As the seasons change, so do the conditions of the hike, and even though it is an all round trail, you will need to be prepared for different circumstances. 

View of Mount Rundle, Banff springs golf course and bow river from Tunnel mountain viewpoint.

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How to prepare for Tunnel Mountain 

This hike doesn’t require walking boots, but I do suggest a sturdy trainer the Vessi stormburst low tops, which are waterproof, making them the perfect shoe for the snow season.

Summertime or warmer weather 

  • Bear spray: Although this is a popular hike and carrying bear spray isn’t necessary, it is a National Park, and wildlife is roaming freely within Banff. Therefore, regardless of its business, I still recommend having it on you.  
  • Sunscreen 
  • An extra layer as the conditions can change quickly in the mountains.
  • Water, snacks, and a celebratory drink for the top 
Two girls and a guy with the view seen from tunnel mountain in the background

Winter time 

  • Crampons (you can buy these at several places in town or rent them at Banff Adventures)
  • Gloves 
  • Hat 
  • Ski poles/hiking poles if you want some help with balance 
  • Water, snacks, and a celebratory drink for the top
  • Another layer
  • Hand/toe warmers 
Crampons on shoes to grip the trail in snow and ice.

How to get to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead 

As the Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff is easily accessible, you can reach the trailhead by bus, car, or foot. 

Walking to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead 

If you decide to walk to the beginning of the Tunnel Mountain trailhead, you will be adding 20 minutes to your journey.

As Banff is a small town, you can access the road in several different ways.

If you are on the far side of town (near the Moose, Caribou, Samesun, or International Hostel), your best route would be: Moose Street, which becomes Grizzly Street, and then you go onto Julien Road. 

From there, you will be at the Tunnel Mountain trail head (lower car park). Take the route up to the upper car park, and that is the official start line.

If you are starting from Hi Hostel, Hidden Ridge, or Tunnel Mountain campsite, you’ll want to follow the Tunnel Mountain road all the way to the trailhead.

If you are in the centre of town and closer to the Bow River, you will go from Banff Avenue to Buffalo St. Then onto Wolverine Road and that will bring you onto Julien Road, where the lower car park trailhead begins. 

Deer in Banff town chewing on someones garden plants.

Getting the bus to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead

Normally, I would say preserve your energy for the hike and take the bus. But the number 2 Roam transit tunnel route, ironically, doesn’t go past the trailhead. Which makes walking a better option.

Parking for the Tunnel Mountain hike 

If you decide to take the car, you will be driving about 5 minutes from Banff town. 

There are two car parks to choose from. The lower car park has around 30 spaces with a 10 minute trail leading to the beginning of the hike. The upper car park has significantly fewer spaces with approximately 10 spaces to choose from. 

If you are lucky enough to secure yourself a spot, you will be able to start the trail immediately. 

Lower car park at the tunnel mountain trailhead.

Tunnel Mountain Hike Map 

This is by far the best hike to do in Banff Town, with an easy to follow and well maintained trail.

This hike has switchbacks and some steep elements at the start, but it mellows out the further up you go.  

The Tunnel Mountain views will not disappoint, with amazing lookouts over Banff National Park, the Bow River, and the mighty Mount Rundle.

Map of the Tunnel Mountain trail.

What to expect on the Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff National Park

How the Tunnel Mountain Trail starts

Personally, I think the hardest part of this hike is the trail leading from the lower to the upper car park. Arguably, I would also say this is where the hike starts for most people. 

Before embarking on this hike, make sure you read the notice board for any wildlife activity or trail closures.  

Right from the start, the trail takes you up a long, steep hill with well-graded switchbacks and an easy to follow route. As you are walking in the trees, keep an eye out for wildlife, as deer like to roam around on the lower to upper car park trail. 

After about 10 minutes, you will walk up some stairs to a clearing. Which is the Tunnel Mountain road, where the official starting point for the trail begins. 

The way up is a consistent, steady incline with openings through the trees overlooking Banff. The long switchbacks do narrow in certain areas with some uneven terrain. 

Make sure you have crampons on in the winter, as the trail can get icy. 

Getting to the Summit

At around three quarters of the way to the top, the terrain will mellow into a relatively flat trail. There are rails that will help you down to the viewpoints, as it can get icy near the top. 

The path does become more uneven with rocks jutting up from the ground, so be careful with your footing.

The higher up Tunnel Mountain you get, the better the view points become. With several little lookouts along the way showcasing the Bow River, the Banff Springs golf course, and the incredible Mount Rundle in all its glory. 

In my opinion, these views are better than the actual “peak” itself. Do not be fooled; though this is not the end of the trail, you need to venture further up to complete it.

Although it is the smallest mountain in Banff, it has jaw-dropping views that match, if not beat, some of the other local mountains. 

Girl looking over railing at Mount Rundle.

At the Summit

Continue further up the path, and you will see two red chairs perfectly placed to sit and take in the view.

Around the corner, there is a placard congratulating you for completing the Tunnel Mountain. Then you will see an opening where you are shown the whole of Banff. 

This rocky area is where you will see locals and tourists sitting and appreciating the view.

In the summer, you will see the resident chipmunks do not feed them; they are chunky enough!

Sunset at the summit of Tunnel Mountain.

Way down

As this is an in-and-out trail, you will follow the path you came up. As the trail is well maintained with plenty of places to cross, the gradual decline is easy on the knees.

Why are there red chairs on Tunnel Mountain?

According to Parks Canada, the red chairs became a thing in 2011 when Gros Morne National Park had the idea to add red chairs to lesser-known viewpoints to encourage more visitors. 

The project was such a huge success that there are now red chairs in over 100 locations in Canada.  

With 11 sets in Banff National Park. 

Two people sitting on the red chairs and enjoying the tunnel mountain view.

Why is it called Tunnel Mountain? 

Back in the 1880s, when they were building the railway tracks, they were planning to blow a hole into Tunnel Mountain. This was so the train would go through it like a tunnel. Luckily, they found another option, but the name stuck.

The stoney people call this mountain the sleeping buffalo because that is what it resembles if you view it from the north and east.

Do I need bear spray to hike in Banff? 

As Banff is a National Park and wildlife is allowed to wander freely within the area, I highly encourage you to carry bear spray when hiking. Although the Tunnel Mountain day hike is popular and the likelihood of seeing a bear is unlikely, it is better to be safe than sorry.

I do know plenty of people who walk up there often and do not carry it, but that is a personal preference. 

If you would prefer not to buy bear spray, you can rent one for $10 a day at Skibig3, Snow Tips Baktraxx, Atmosphere, or the newsagents next to Whisky Jacks. 

Berry season bear warning poster

Is Tunnel Mountain safe to hike alone? 

Due to the heavy foot traffic on this hike, I think it is very safe to hike alone.

The path is easy to follow, and as long as you practice bear safety, you will be fine to do this hike solo. 

In Banff Town

After the hike is over, I highly recommend treating yourself! 

In the summer months, I recommend heading to the Rose and Crown or the Elks patios for a drink in the sun.

In the winter, I recommend Anejos for happy hour (3-5) or St. James Gate.

Check out the Banff Advisor for all the happy hours in Banff Town.

Two girls drinking happy hour drinks at the Rose and crown.

Where to stay in Banff 

Samesun Hostel:

The Samesun Hostel is one of the best hostels in Banff. This is due to its central location and its social environment. The Samesun has friendly staff that puts on group activities to help you get to know your fellow explorers. The Beaver bar that is linked to the hostel offers trivia nights and cheap food and drinks. There’s also a free breakfast.

Samesun Hostel logo on the front door.

International Hostel:

The International Hostel is one of the fancier hostels with curtains and private plug sockets. It is the ideal hostel for digital nomads needing to get some work done. They have several little spots to sit and work, as well as a free breakfast. 

Hi Hostel:

Hi Hostel is further out of town and requires a bus to get into Banff Centre. The hostel does provide a free bus pass. The hostel is all about cosy cabin ibes with hammocks outside in summer and bars on site to socialize.    

Moose Hotel:

If you are looking for an upgrade from a hostel, then I recommend the Hotel The Moose. This hotel has the rocky mountain charm, with the backdrop of Mount Norquay behind. The hotel is a short walk from the town centre, has a spa, two hot tub roof pools, and an indoor pool. This is the perfect place after a day of skiing to sit back and relax. 

Fox Hotel and Suites:

The Fox Hotel and Suites is a little further out of town, but a 10-15 minute walk and you are in the centre. Everything in Banff is very close. This hotel has heated underground parking (which is a big deal in the Rockies), a pool, a sauna, and a free roam bus pass to get you around Banff. 

Final Thoughts   

If you are planning a trip to Banff, I highly encourage you to add the Tunnel Mountain hike to your itinerary.

This easy-to-follow trail is fun, with beautiful views all the way up and well maintained terrain. 

This is one of my favourite hikes in Banff National Park, and how often do you get to say you climbed a mountain?!

As Always, Happy Exploring!

Mount Rundle in the dark.
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1 Comment

  1. Lita
    May 31, 2024 / 6:20 am

    Ohh I’m going back to Banff this summer, so I may have to do this one! Thanks for the great detailed guide and I love that selfie with Jo and Dom 🙂

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