Our skiing had come to an end and I allocated the last full day in Banff to explore some more local attractions while my husband headed into Calgary to do some shopping. We got going at about 11:30 am and Nigel dropped me off at the foot of the Banff Gondola. This historic attraction has been around since 1959 and the gondola was just recently reconstructed and reopened in 1998 and features a state-of-the-art gondola system engineered by a Swiss gondola construction company.
On the parking lot of the gondola you can see a big bus with oversized wheels called the “Ice Explorer”. This is the type of vehicle used to carry tourists onto the famous Columbia Icefields located between Lake Louise and Jasper National Park.
The Ice Explorer is on display at the base station
The gondola takes you from 1583 m (5,194 feet) at the base station to 2,281 m (7,486 feet) to the upper terminal on Sulphur Mountain in just 8 minutes. On the way up I enjoyed the wonderful view of the townsite of Banff, looking down at the Banff Springs Hotel.
A wonderful view over the townsite of Banff
At the top of Sulphur Mountain is a complex of visitor services that includes a restaurant called the Regal View Garden. No doubt this is a rather appropriate name since the panorama from Sulphur Mountain is truly something to behold. The summit gondola station also features a roof-top observation deck that is equipped with a variety of arrows, indicating directions and distances to major world cities.
The interpretive boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak
The one kilometer interpretive boardwalk takes you over to Sanson’s Peak which is the location of the 1903 Stone Observatory. Norman Sanson observed the weather from Sanson’s Peak for every week for 30 years and recorded his observations. Near the observatory is the foundation of a designated National Historic Site: the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station that measured cosmic radiation during the 1950s and 1960s. Along this boardwalk there are a variety of informative panels informing you about local fauna and flora in this unique habitat.
The Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station
The gondola brochure points out that you may actually encounter local wildlife such as Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Golden Mantled Squirrels, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. Although I didn’t run into any major wildlife, I enjoyed the majestic view from the mountain and the peacefulness that surrounds it.
Fabulous mountain vistas
I had a little snack in the cafeteria and sat right next to the picture window and looked down onto the townsite of Banff. It wasn’t a perfectly clear day and Cascade Mountain’s top was covered in mist and cloud, but the view from Sulphur Mountain is one of the most astounding panoramas anywhere.
A look back at the summit station of the gondola on Sulphur Mountain
After my wonderful mountain break, I took the gondola down – although I was debating whether I should take a snowy forest pathway all the way down the mountain which I kept seeing from the gondola. From the base station I walked over to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The Canadian Rockies limestone mountains have all sorts of fissures and hot springs feed geothermally heated water right up through one of the cracks to the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Me all bundled up on the observation deck of the summit station