Is the Banff Gondola Worth Your Time and Money?

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Is the Banff Gondola Worth Your Time and Money?

Is the Banff Gondola worth your time and money?

Let us introduce you to some much better options…

The Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola is pretty world famous and commonly seen as one of the must-do attractions on a visit to the Canadian Rockies… But is it really worth it?

The Tourist Trap:

Banff locals usually refer to the gondola as a “tourist trap” – a name that implies that only visitors that don’t know any better go there. That sounds pretty conclusive, but then again, they also call incredible places like Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon tourist traps too – two places that really are worth visiting and battling crowds for.

So I suppose it’s fair to say that tourist traps are worth the crowds or extortionate prices when the reputation matches the actual experience.

Is that the case for the Sulphur Mountain Gondola? Here are our thoughts on our recent experience:

#1: The Price

The cost of an adult ticket to ride the Banff Gondola is $49 Canadian.

This might not seem ridiculous to you – but let’s compare that to the cost of some of the other lesser known attractions in the area:

– The Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift $30: Get a view unhindered by a gaudy boardwalk and massive crowds. Plus, experience one of the best views in Banff and have the option of adding the adrenaline pumping via ferrata tour on top.

-The Lake Louise Summer Sightseeing Gondola $32: Not only do you have a very high chance of seeing a Grizzly Bear on your way up. You can also upgrade to a $50 Ride & Dine Package, which includes a delicious buffet with your tour!

Let’s recap: For the EXACT SAME price you would have paid at the Banff Gondola, you get bears, better views AND food. Kind of a no-brainer IMO!

Sell sell sell

Don’t even get me started on the absurd price of refreshments at the new multi-million dollar restaurant facilities at the top of the mountain. We really felt that this place was designed to squeeze every single penny out of its captive audience. You can’t even get back down the mountain without being herded through a giftshop and being forced to pose for a tacky photo (which they later try to sell you). The experience certainly felt like it was less about being closer to nature and more about having you trapped up a mountain with as many gift shops and restaurants close-by as possible.

This is where we really felt like the experience became a tourist trap in the true sense of the word, and we couldn’t help wonder if the goal was to offset the cost of their needlessly expensive new building; certainly the old experience was nowhere near as commercialised.

Sulphur Mountain Gondola banff

#2: The View

If you’re going to come to Banff, you really need to get to the top of a mountain one way or another. And let’s be honest, the view from the Banff Gondola really is stunning. There’s no doubt about it. If time is limited, money is no object, and you’re looking for more of a ‘disneyland’ experience (which sometimes is no bad thing), then this most certainly will tick all the boxes.

view from sulphur mountain Banff

But in my opinion, the view pales in comparison to the views you can find elsewhere in the Park. In the 2-3 hours it takes for you to wait in line, get up the gondola, walk around the boardwalk and wait for your ride down (another major downside, but I’ll get to that later), you could have easily scaled any one of these mountains for a better view:

-The East End of Rundle (EEOR) in Canmore
-Rawson/Sarrail Ridge in Kananaskis
-Sentinel Pass at Moraine Lake
-The Big Beehive in Lake Louise

Check out our top 5 hikes near Banff for more on some of these!

Hikes don’t need to take all day, and some even have tea houses en-route (Big Beehive).

Of course, it’s not fair of us to not consider those visitors that might not be able to hike for one reason or other. Indeed, it was nice at least to see that the gondola was wheelchair accessible, even if the vast majority of the actual boardwalk outside wasn’t. If an actual hike isn’t on the cards then this certainly is the most convenient way to get on top of a mountain, but we would certainly recommend other less crowded gondolas/chairlifts if you’re looking for a less commercialised authentic experience.

#3: The Service

Canadians are known for being extremely polite and friendly, but our experience was that a few of the staff that worked at the Gondola weren’t as well mannered or as well endowed with the polite Canadian attitude. Whilst there were definitely some cheerful staff, our experience of them was pretty negative overall.

Be prepared to deal with snarky staff power tripping over their control of tickets and lines. These guys are fed up with the never ending swathes of tourists, and we felt like they were just waiting for their shift to end so they could go and get wasted downtown. Because why move to Banff if you can’t party, right?

When we asked if we could come back down from the top a little earlier, we were told that if we didn’t like our pre-determined downloading time that we could “walk down the mountain” by an extremely rude (and possibly hungover) Australian scanning our tickets. We weren’t trying to make a big deal out of it, but we were on a time crunch as our friends had a flight to catch. I doubt he would have, or at least I strongly hope that he wouldn’t have suggested an elderly or infirmed person take on that 5km trek through deep snow so flippantly! J (Don’t worry, I’ve lived with Aussies in Banff my entire life – they can take the heat.)

#4: The Experience

Finally, you want to return home and tell people that you experienced the Canadian Rockies, right? Standing in line for hours, overpaying for views and being subjected to sub par visitor service is probably not going to be the cherry on the cake for your holiday. Sure there are cool features like the 3D movie theatre, but did you really just take a gondola to the top of a mountain to sit in the dark and watch a film about being in the mountains?!? I mean.. WHAT?!

If you ask us, we really recommend getting off the beaten path, getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing Banff as it’s intended to be. A place to escape the hustle and bustle of normal life and reconnect with nature.

One final plea: please think twice about where your money is going when you pay for these attractions. There are certain corporations that are slowly muscling into Banff and doing their best to turn the park into a monopoly and a theme park. Banff is a national park dedicated to the preservation of the animals that live within it. It’s a privilege to be able to return to nature and see nature as it was thousands of years ago, and we should really consider whether our money should be funding its commercialisation. I would strongly recommend putting your valuable vacation time to better use and spending your hard-earned money elsewhere!

You may not be surprised to hear that all opinions expressed were entirely our own!

 

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Sulphur Mountain Gondola

9 Comments

  1. Stef D says:

    Thanks so much for this info! I’ll be heading to Banff in a few months, and I was dubious about paying so much for the Banff Gondola. Your post has helped me make up my mind to do something better with my time! Cheers 🙂

    • Robin Tuck says:

      Hey Stef, glad this post helped you make your decision! We hate to see visitors getting ripped off when there’s so many free things around the park to enjoy. Hope you fall in love with Banff as much as we have! 🙂

  2. Hattie L. says:

    Hi, I’m so glad I found your post! The info is very helpful as I am planning my trip to Banff in August, thank you so much and keep up the awesome work!

    • Robin Tuck says:

      August is such a great time to come, I’m sure you’re going to love Banff! If you need any more tips on planning your trip just let us know or search our blog 🙂

  3. Lilou says:

    Thanks for the informative post. It will be the Lake Louise gondola for us in three weeks if we have enough energy after the ascent of Mt. St-Prian 🙂

  4. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the info. Especially the prices. I guess we won’t be going up any mountains with 4 kids & a very fixed income. Those prices are nuts.

    It makes me sad. We went to Banff every summer when I was little & it was a bit touristy, but nothing like you describe. And I think the gondolas we’re about $10. Maybe less, I was only about 9 the last time we went.

    I was really looking forward to taking my kids, but I guess that’s out the window.

    • Robin Tuck says:

      You’re welcome, but yes, sorry to disappoint! It is sad. There was a time when locals could ride for free but even that got scrapped in the past few years. I think it’s a product of the ridiculous crowds we get here now. They know they can charge whatever they like and enough people will still pay. There’s always the option of walking up Sulphur Mountain, but it is a 10km round trip. Sometimes they let people come down for free but you might be forced to pay half price.

      There are so many expensive attractions now in Banff but imho, the best things are free! There’s still a whole boat load of free things you can get up to as long as you don’t mind a bit of walking!

  5. Henrietta Abel says:

    Hi,

    This was SO helpful. Thank you!

    My 19 year old son is travelling solo across Canada and is going on a trail ride this week, just outside Banff. He is staying over the weekend (fri/sat/sun) probably at the WMCA as everywhere seemed to be out, before joining friends in Calgary next week. He doesn’t know a soul there so I was looking at interesting stuff and thought the Sulphur Mountain gondola and hot springs, etc, etc. looked good (and I’m sure it’s great for families with younger kids) – until I found your advice…… now I’m going to suggest the Mount Norquay chairlift, and maybe the Via Ferrata, instead.

    If you had any other suggestions for 2 days in Banff without transport (there seem to be a good network of shuttle buses) I’d be gateful.

    Thanks again!

    • Robin Tuck says:

      Hi Henrietta,

      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad it was helpful. We did the Norquay gondola a couple of weeks ago and you still get a fantastic view of the valley and the town with none of the crowds. I would probably advise against paying for any gondola at the minute though as the forest fire smoke is so terrible you won’t be paying for a very good view! With a bit of rain I’m sure it’ll improve. If he’s looking for more explanation and history of the town and a more panoramic view then the Sulphur one is still probably the best bet in Banff, but we prefer the Norquay one because it’s quiet and cheaper (also, yes, you can also do the more adventurous via ferrata there!).

      One pro of the Sulphur gondola for your son is that it’s very close to the YWCA, the Hot Springs and Cave and Basin. He’ll be within walking distance of all of them (if he doesn’t mind a bit of a walk). It’s a bit further to get to the Norquay lift from where he is.

      If budget is the issue, he could just walk up Sulphur mountain! It’s free and he’ll still get to use all the facilities that he’d usually pay for once he’s at the top. Around 5km each way (1.5-2hrs each way).

      Without transport he could also rent a canoe from the Canoe club, go horseback riding, cycle to Johnston Canyon, hike tunnel Mountain, catch sunrise at Vermillion Lakes or do the bus loop to Lake Minnewanka. He could even take a bus to Canmore and do one of the hikes there. Loads of options!

      Hope that helps!

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