Tunnel Mountain Hike- Banff National Park

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Tunnel Mountain Trail is a popular short hike that is easily accessible from the town of Banff. The proximity to downtown makes it a favourite among locals who sprint up the mountain for exercise and tourists who come to enjoy the view from the low summit. 

View of Banff from the Tunnel Mountain summit viewpoint.

Some sights you can see from the Tunnel Mountain summit are the Banff townsite, Bow River, and the Vermilion Lakes. However, the journey along Tunnel Mountain Trail is just as scenic as the final destination with views of Sulphur Mountain, the Banff Springs Hotel and Golf Course, and Mount Rundle.

View from Tunnel Mountain Trail of a forested valley with mountains in the background.

The Tunnel Mountain hike also has some historic appeal, as it’s one of the oldest trails in Banff National Park and the summit was visited by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Tunnel Mountain Trail framed by trees and a rocky mountainside.

Tunnel Mountain Hike

Distance: 3.7 km round trip from the upper trailhead or 4.3 km round trip from the lower trailhead

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 198 m (from the upper trailhead)

Surface: Packed dirt with exposed rock

Trail Type: Out and back

Time: 1.5 hr- 2 hr (including a break at the summit)

Trailhead: The lower trailhead starts in a residential area at St. Julien Road (in between Wolverine Street and St. Julien Way). The higher trailhead starts from Tunnel Mountain Drive.

Track log/map of the Tunnel Mountain hike.
Track log/map of Tunnel Mountain Trail

Tunnel Mountain Trail Description

There are two possible starting points for the Tunnel Mountain hike so where you begin depends on whether you want a longer or shorter hike. For a longer hike, choose the lower trailhead at St. Julien Road (about a 15 minute walk from downtown Banff). For the slightly shorter option, start from Tunnel Mountain Drive. Both trailheads have a small parking area.

Tunnel Mountain trailhead and parking lot.

For reference, the following description of Tunnel Mountain Trail begins at the upper trailhead.

After parking in the lot beside Tunnel Mountain Drive, cross the road to reach the upper Tunnel Mountain trailhead. It’s marked by a large sign with some basic information about the hike and a simple map of the area.

Sign and staircase at the Tunnel Mountain trailhead.

Right from the start the trail begins ascending up the mountain, first via a staircase then a series of long switchbacks. The elevation gain is gradual but steady.

Dirt trail in the forest.

For the first part of the hike, the trail makes its way up the forested mountainside, occasionally offering glimpses of the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Forest with Sulphur Mountain in the background.

As you get higher up the mountain there will be some sections of exposed rock on the trail and more views of the surrounding scenery through gaps in the trees. The views of the Bow River and Banff Springs Hotel are worth a quick photo stop, but there will be better vantage points further ahead.

Rocky trail in the forest.
View of the Bow River and town of Banff seen through a gap in the forest.
Trees framing a view of the Banff Springs Hotel.

Continuing through the forest, you’ll soon come to another spot where you can see the Banff Springs Hotel. It’s still partially obstructed by trees, but that’s okay because the best view of this castle-like hotel is still to come.

Tree-framed trail.
View of Banff Springs Hotel surrounded by trees.

As you keep gaining elevation on the switchbacks, you’ll begin to see more rocky mountain peaks. You’ll also start getting some views of the Banff Springs Golf Course down below.

Hiker on Tunnel Mountain Trail.
Forested valley with a mountain in the background.
Sand traps on a golf course seen through a gap in the forest.

It’s just a little higher until you come to some great views of the Banff Springs Hotel and the town of Banff nestled in the scenic Bow Valley. The waterbodies you can see are the Bow River and Vermilion Lakes.

Trail nearing the top of Tunnel Mountain.
Bow River and Banff Springs Hotel seen from above.
View of the Bow River, Banff townsite, Vermilion Lakes, and mountains seen during the Tunnel Mountain hike.

Once the trail rounds a corner to the back of Tunnel Mountain there’s a whole different set of landmarks to feast your eyes on. There are some fenced viewpoints along the trail if you want to stop and enjoy the forested mountain scenery.

Hiker enjoying the view from the trail.
Bow River in a forested valley with mountains in the background.

While hiking this last stretch of trail above Tunnel Mountain’s east-facing cliffs, you’ll get to see wide views of the Bow River and Banff Springs Golf Course down in the valley. Mount Rundle towers above it all.

View of the Bow River and Banff Springs Golf Course seen during the Tunnel Mountain hike.
Mount Rundle towering above the Bow River and Banff Springs Golf Course.

Nearing the summit you’ll pass by a set of Parks Canada’s iconic red chairs. If you want you can take a quick break, but the summit isn’t much further.

Hiker sitting in a red chair enjoying the view.
Bent tree trunk.

Keep following the trail and soon you’ll reach some signs welcoming you to the Tunnel Mountain summit. For 40 years there was a fire tower here but it’s long gone.

Informative sign at the summit.

Walk a few more metres past the signs and around a bend to reach the Tunnel Mountain viewpoint at the end of the trail. Here there are some limestone outcrops where you can sit and gaze out over Banff and its beautiful surrounding scenery.

View of Banff, the Bow River, and Vermilion Lakes from the Tunnel Mountain summit viewpoint.

Once you’re done enjoying the view at the summit, hike back to the parking area on the same trail.

Hiker on a rocky mountainside trail.

Review of the Tunnel Mountain Hike

There’s plenty to enjoy while hiking Tunnel Mountain, from sweeping valley views to historic landmarks.

Mount Rundle beside the Banff Spring Golf Course.

Tunnel Mountain Trail is a great choice for people who want to do a short hike close to town or reach a summit without having to embark on a gruelling, all-day excursion. The trail’s continuous, but gradual ascent makes it suitable for beginner hikers who are interested in training for more difficult trails.

Rocky trail on Tunnel Mountain.

With a lovely mix of forest, mountains, and townsite views, this enjoyable short hike is one of the best things to do in Banff in summer.

View of Sulphur Mountain.

Tips for Hiking Tunnel Mountain Trail

Location: Tunnel Mountain Trail is located east behind the town of Banff starting from St. Julien Road or Tunnel Mountain Drive.

Getting to the Tunnel Mountain Trailhead: You can walk from downtown Banff to the lower trailhead at St. Julien Road in about 15 minutes. If you want to drive to the upper trailhead from downtown Banff take Buffalo Street to Surprise Corner and then round the bend onto Tunnel Mountain Drive. Follow the road until you see the parking lot on your left and the trailhead on your right.

Best Time to Hike Tunnel Mountain Trail: The Tunnel Mountain hike is best done from spring through fall. It can get very icy in the winter so ice cleats and hiking poles are recommended.

Facilities: None

Visitor Guidelines and Safety: This trail is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it.

  • Stay on the designated trail and don’t take any shortcuts to protect the vegetation.
  • The east side of Tunnel Mountain is used by rock climbers so don’t throw anything over the edge.
  • Leave no trace by packing out your garbage.

Gear and What to Bring: Wear comfortable hiking or running shoes. The hike can be done without poles, but you may want to bring them along anyway for the descent.

  • Bring water and maybe a snack to enjoy at the Tunnel Mountain viewpoint.
Trail above a forested river valley with mountains in the background.

Accommodations in Banff National Park

For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK. Please consider booking your Banff accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!

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