Tunnel Mountain is one of the most conveniently located hikes in the heart of Banff – and it’s one of our favourites for good reason.
This short and sweet hike in Banff is easy to access, quick to summit, and with the most incredible views overlooking the centre of Banff, the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, and some magnificent mountains!
If you’ve been to Banff before, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen Tunnel Mountain (maybe without even knowing it). It’s the smaller mountain that’s covered in pine trees right in the heart of Banff.
It kinda looks like the smaller brother or sister to the other mountains since they are all so massive!
Since it is a smaller mountain that also means the Tunnel Mountain Trail isn’t that challenging and can easily be done in a couple of hours! So what do you need to know before you go?
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What you need to know about Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff
In this post, we dive into our experience of hiking Tunnel Mountain. We’ll share the location of the trailhead, lots of photos from the hike so you know what to expect, and we’ve also put together a brief packing list for what to bring on the trail.
We also share some more general information about Banff if you’re looking for some recommendations after the hike such as a place to eat and stay the night.
This is truly one of the easiest summit hikes in Banff. For the effort you need to put into the hike, you get some incredible views and a nice little workout!
This hike is one of the local’s favourites for a quick trail run and tourists from near and far love it as well – so, as you can imagine, the hike can get quite busy!
We’ve hiked our fair share in the Canadian Rockies and even though this is a “touristy hike in Banff” it is a good one! So make sure to add this to your list of things to do while you’re in Banff!
We did this hike with our lovely friend Holly from Little One Explores who lives in Banff. Make sure to visit her site as well for more Banff inspiration.
Also read: 6 Amazing Hikes in Kananaskis You Need to Do
Practical information about the Tunnel Mountain hike in Banff
Distance: 4.3 km return / 2.67 miles return
Elevation: 262 m / 859 ft. elevation gain
Type: In-and-out trail
Length: 1.5-2 hours return (including breaks)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Here’s a picture of the beginning of Tunnel Mountain
We want to acknowledge that the Tunnel Mountain hike is on the traditional territory of Ktunaxa, Stoney, Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina, and Métis.
Starting the hike at Tunnel Mountain Trailhead
For this hike, there are two trailheads. The lower one and then the main one.
The lower trailhead for Tunnel Mountain starts right on Julien Road in Banff. The other trailhead is a few hundred meters up the trail – and the lower trailhead connects to this one.
No matter which trailhead you start at, the hike is the same and both of them are easy to find!
You’ll see plenty of cars around the trailhead if you’re hiking Tunnel Mountain during the summer months!
When you get to the top you’ll see why this is one of the most popular hikes in Banff! The views are so gorgeous!
Despite its popularity (and maybe because of it), the trail is in really good condition and has been fixed up to take on the masses.
You’ll notice right when you start the hike some nice staircases that lead you to where the zig-zags start. These stairs used to not be here. But now they are and they make the trail a lot more accessible and easy!
Hiking Tip: Look up the trail on AllTrails before starting your hike 🗺️. You can find important trail information such as recent wildlife sights and trail closures. Check out the free version here or get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.
Hiking up and enjoying the viewpoints
This is one of the easiest hikes to follow since it’s super well-marked and not that long. There’s a good chance you’ll also be hiking close to people most of the time.
If you go for sunrise or sunset then you may have the trail more or less to yourself but there might still be locals and sun chasers on the trail.
Tunnel Mountain is a classic for locals and there are people who run up and down it multiple times a week as their daily workout!
The Tunnel Mountain trail starts with a gradual incline with some zig zags to help manage that elevation. The zig-zags continue up until you get to the first viewpoint.
If you ever get tired you can easily stop for a second and take in the view behind you. There are multiple openings between the trees where you can see Banff, Bow River, and the Vermillion Lakes.
Every time you take a break you’ll be a little further up the mountain and the view is just that much better. Sooner or later, you will reach the false summit!
Make your way to the false summit of Tunnel Mountain
One of the best parts of hiking Tunnel Mountain is that you get great views throughout the entire hike.
As soon as you make your way past the view zig zags you’ll get closer to what people call the false summit of Tunnel Mountain.
We think they call it the false summit because the views from here are almost better than the views from the actual summit.
From the viewpoints at the false summit, you get to see Bow River split in two, get a cool aerial view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, and admire the magnificent Mount Rundle.
We hiked Tunnel Mountain mid-week at the end of August so we got lucky and didn’t really have to queue to take in the views. Depending on when you come there’s a chance that it may get a little busy up here.
Thankfully at the actual summit, there’s plenty of room to sit back, relax and take in the views overlooking Banff!
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The final stretch to the Tunnel Mountain summit
Once you’re ready, you can make your final push to the top of Tunnel Mountain (it’s not far now!) – and then you can officially say you’ve conquered Banff’s most popular hike.
Between the false summit and the actual summit of Tunnel Mountain, it’s probably only about 5 minutes.
This is the last ascent of the hike and soon enough, you get to a big opening where you’ll (hopefully) have tons of sunlight shining on you while you take in this awesome view of Banff.
There are a few of the famous red chairs that you can sit on and enjoy the view as well. They were occupied when we went so we just found a good spot on the big rock, took in the view, and enjoyed some snacks.
Once you’ve enjoyed the views, it’s time to head back down. Since it is an in-and-out trail you’ll simply just hike back the same way you came in.
We found the descent to be quite good and we were way faster going down than up. Next thing you know you’ll be back at the trailhead for Tunnel Mountain – and then you’re done!
What to bring on the Tunnel Mountain hike
What’s so nice about Tunnel Mountain is that you’re not far from town so you really don’t need to pack that much for this hike.
However, since it still is a proper hike, trail or hiking shoes are recommended! That being said there are definitely tons of people who do it in their everyday shoes but we would still recommend proper footwear.
The other two must-bring items on this hike are water and bear spray. Regardless if it’s busy or not on the trail, you’re still in bear territory. Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
Below is a full list of the things we recommend you bring on this hike!
Packing list for the Tunnel Mountain hike
- Water! We always fill up our LifeStraw bottles before hikes or day trips and even during them when we can.
- Sunscreen!! Please pack sunscreen for this hike. If you hike mid-day during any of the summer months you will be completely exposed for the majority of the hike up to the Tunnel Mountain Summit!
- A power bank is nice to bring because you never know when you’re going to run out of battery. Banff is basically right there but it’s still nice to have a charged phone just in case.
- Hiking poles are great to have on this hike! They aren’t a necessity but there’s a decent amount of elevation so having your hiking poles with you is a good idea.
- Bear spray! Never go without in bear country.
- Bring some food to enjoy during the hike and you can even hang out at the summit and enjoy the view overlooking Banff while you eat some snacks!
The best affordable camera for beginners
If you’re looking for the best and most affordable camera for beginners, check out the Sony Alpha a6000 Camera.
This is the camera we’ve been using for years and still use to this day.
It’s perfect for travelling and super easy to use – even if you’re a beginner.
Before you go hike Tunnel Mountain
Check the weather in Banff
As a rule of thumb, you should always check the weather before you go hiking. It’s always good to be prepared!
Even though the weather is pretty consistent during the summer months in Banff, the weather can always change quite quickly in the mountains.
Wear hiking shoes
We always recommend wearing hiking shoes or trail shoes on almost every outdoor adventure we do!
The beginning of the trail is well maintained but there are a lot of loose rocks. There are roots and uneven surfaces as well.
So if you have hiking shoes or trail shoes then it’s best to wear them.
If you don’t have any hiking shoes, we highly recommend the Newton Ridge hiking shoes from Columbia. Jo just got these recently and she loves them!
Leave no trace
When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of others.
When is the best time to explore Banff & Tunnel Mountain?
In general, it’s best to visit Banff during late spring through early fall if you want to go hiking!
The summer season is a great time to visit Banff and hike in the area because the days are long, warm, and the weather is pretty consistent.
Even though summer is the busiest time to visit Banff, it’s probably the best time to hike Tunnel Mountain too. The main things you want to consider during this time are forest fires and the weather…
You want to go on a nice sunny day to be able to enjoy the area and make the most of the hike and being outdoors – but you don’t want it to be too hot either!
And if there are forest fires and smoke in the area, consider doing something that requires a lower fitness level such as the walk to Bow Falls.
In terms of the time of day, it’s a good idea to do the hike earlier in the day or later in the afternoon because of the heat and also the crowds of people (especially during the summer).
There are people who hike to the summit of Tunnel Mountain during the winter months as well. It’s definitely more technical but since it’s such a popular hike the snow does get pretty compact from all the people walking on it.
We personally would try and get out early in the morning around 8 am to try and beat the crowds up to the summit and enjoy the views before it gets too busy!
Where to stay in Banff
Banff has some incredible accommodations with comfortable beds and beautiful mountain views – and then there’s some epic camping as well!
Below we have a few suggestions for accommodation in Banff that is located within walking distance to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead.
(Even though everything in Banff is basically within walking distance from the trailhead since Banff is relatively small!)
Below we have included the hostel we stayed at during our time in Banff, a great hotel we recommend, and a cool campsite in Banff!
Budget: HI Banff Alpine Centre
We stayed at the HI Banff Alpine Centre for 2 nights during our latest trip to Banff and found it to be one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in!
Everything about the hostel was really good. The place is always super clean, the staff is friendly, there are always fun activities to do, and they even have an in-house restaurant that makes some pretty delicious food!
The views definitely help the cause because there are stunning mountains all around.
Another plus is you can walk from HI Banff to the upper Tunnel Mountain trailhead in about 15-20 minutes.
Mid-range: Brewster Mountain Lodge
The location is great, and for the price you pay (Banff is pretty expensive) it’s quite affordable!
You get a nice breakfast included so you can fill your belly up before you make your way up the mountain.
The interior design and the way the rooms are set up are great plus the views of the mountains for when you’re back hanging out at the hotel are amazing.
It’s definitely one of the top hotels in Banff for a reason and the price is very fair for what you get!
Camping: Tunnel Mountain Village Campsites
There are plenty of campsites in and around Banff but Tunnel Mountain Village is the place to be!
They have two campgrounds and a trailer court – and one of the campgrounds is actually open year-round! (The other one is open primarily during the peak season).
Campsites tend to book up quickly in the Canadian National Parks so it’s good to book in advance if you know when you’re going.
How to get to Tunnel Mountain in Banff
From Calgary to Tunnel Mountain
- It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from the centre of Calgary to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead.
- The directions from Calgary to Tunnel Mountain can be found here.
From Canmore to Tunnel Mountain
- It’s a short 30-minute drive from Canmore to the trailhead.
- The directions from Canmore to the Tunnel Mountain trailhead can be found here.
- You can also take the Roam Transit from Canmore to Banff and Tunnel Mountain.
Anywhere from Edmonton to Tunnel Mountain
- It’s just over a 4-hour drive from the centre of Edmonton to Tunnel Mountain.
- The directions from Edmonton to Tunnel Mountain can be found here.
Other related questions about Tunnel Mountain
How long of a hike is Tunnel Mountain?
Tunnel Mountain hike is roughly 4.5 kilometres long and takes anywhere between one to two hours to complete depending on which trailhead you start at and your fitness level.
Going at a regular pace, taking pictures, and enjoying the views, the hike will take you around 2 hours in total.
Is Tunnel Mountain worth visiting?
Tunnel Mountain is absolutely worth visiting if you want to do a shorter hike in Banff.
There are plenty of flat and easy walks in Banff but if you’re looking for a shorter hike near the town centre then Tunnel Mountain is your best option.
How hard is Tunnel Mountain?
Tunnel Mountain is rated as a moderate hike. There is a bit of ascent and it takes around an hour to get to the top. Even though it’s not a difficult hike it’s also not an easy hike. Make sure to come prepared.
Are there bears in Tunnel Mountain?
It is quite common to see bears around Banff and in Banff National Park. Even though bears aren’t usually up on Tunnel Mountain it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see one.
Make sure you’re bear-aware and have your bear spray handy.
You may also like…
- The 5 Best Hotels in Banff, Alberta (2024)
- Staying at the HI Banff Alpine Centre (Review)
- How to Hike up to Yates Mountain Lookout from Barrier Lake
- A Grizzly Bear Encounter in The Wild – Lake Louise
- 6 Amazing Hikes in Kananaskis You Need to Do
Recap of hiking the local Tunnel Mountain Summit in Banff
We hope you have the best time hiking up Tunnel Mountain in Banff and that this post helped prepare you for the hike. It is a local gem and we absolutely loved it!
It’s great if you’re planning on just staying in Banff and don’t want to drive anywhere.
The hike is easily accessible by foot and perfect if you want to get up early in the morning before everyone and summit a mountain!
If you have any questions about the hike or Banff in general, feel free to send us a DM on Instagram or leave a comment below.
We hope you have the best time in Banff and enjoy this hike!