The Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff Town

BySteven I. Green

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The Tunnel Mountain hike is an excellent walk of easy to medium difficulty that can be hiked from downtown Banff. This is a perfect activity for families. Tunnel mountain is Banff’s smallest peak to summit with an elevation gain of about 300m, some moderate switchbacks lead up the mountain.

Tunnel Mountain Canada Parks red chairs
Tunnel Mountain summit – sitting on the Red Parks Canada chairs

At the summit there are two red Parks Canada chairs, that is great for a break and makes nice photos sitting looking at the great view.

Tunnel Mountain has no tunnel, the Canadian Pacific Railway had plans to blast a tunnel through the mountain in the 1800s. The tunnel was never built, but the name stuck. The mountain is also known as ‘Sleeping Buffalo’, since that is what it resembles. Seen from a distance the mountain is shaped like a sleeping buffalo. From the summit of Tunnel mountain there are nice views of the surrounding Spray and Bow river valleys.

Tunnel Mountain Hike Details

  • Distance – Distance 4.8 km (2.8 miles) return hike from the trail head.
  • Walking time –The return hike takes 1.5 to 2 hours depending on fitness.
  • Total ascent/descent – 270 meters (885 feet)
  • Difficulty. Easy to Moderate.
  • Trailhead. Tunnel Parking Lot

This is a fairy easy hike close to Banff town center, suitable to do with kids. It is not a flat hike, you do climb a mountain, with about 300m increase in altitude. See our Guide to Hiking in Banff National Park for a range of hikes from easy flat trails to more challenging routes.

Tunnel Mountain views Banff National Park
Beautiful scenery from the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.

Getting to Tunnel Mountain Trailhead

There are three options to get to Sthe Tunnel Mountain trailhead from downtown Banff; drive, take a public bus or walk.

  • Walk – The trailhead is very close to the center of downtown (1km) so you can easily start hiking in town.
  • Drive – There are two parking areas at the trailhead, an upper and lower parking area, they are less than 5 minutes drive from Downtown Banff.
  • Bus – Take the Roam Transit Route 2 bus from downtown to Tunnel Mountain.
Tunnel mountain trailhead
Tunnel Mountain Hike Trailhead in Banff National Park.

The Tunnel Mountain Trail Description

The Tunnel mountain trail is a busy trail that is easy to follow and it is a relatively safe route to hike alone because there are so many other hikers. A variety of animals including; black bears, wolves and cougars are sometimes seen on the mountain (rarely), so for safety it is recommended to carry bear spray and a bell and keep it somewhere where you have easy access.

view from Tunnel Mountain Banff
Fantastic views from Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.

 The Tunnel Mountain trail is well marked and heads up the eastern slope of the mountain with moderate switchbacks all the way to the top of Tunnel Mountain. The trail starts in the forest but there are some nice views of the town from break in the trees on the trail. On the way enjoy views of the Banff Springs Hotel and Bow Valley. Closer to the summit there are some nice viewpoints with excellent views of Mount Rundle. From the summit there good views of surrounding mountains including Sulphur Mountain and Cascade mountain.

At the summit there are 2 red chairs placed by Parks Canada, the Tunnel Mountain Red Chairs. 11 Red chairs were placed throughout the national parks, including the Banff red chairs as a way to get people to to connect with their surroundings.

Tunnel Mountain Parks Canada Red Chairs
Enjoying the view from the Parks Canada Red Chairs at the summit of Tunnel Mountain. There are 11 sites with these chairs in Canada National Parks

Best Time to Hike Tunnel Mountain

The Tunnel Mountain trail can be hiked all year round. The trail gets very busy in summer. It is possible to hike here in winter, but ice cleats are recommended when the trail can be frozen and very slippery. Since this is a very popular trail I would recommend you start hiking early in the day to avoid heavy traffic.

Hiking in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park, with more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of well marked and maintained hiking routes it is a dream location for hiking enthusiasts. See our guide to hiking in Banff National Park.

Most trails in the park are easily accessible from 2 different towns, both located inside the national park, the Town of Banff and the village of Lake Louise 57 km apart by road. The Regional Service is a quick and cheap bus service that runs 5 times per day between Banff and Lake Louise for $6. 

Banff Town is surrounded by plenty of easy accessible hikes of varying difficulty. Easy low elevation strolls on boardwalks next to the river to more strenuous full day hikes through beautiful alpine passes in the Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of easy hikes that start inside the town and you can also combine several trails. The Sulphur Mountain hiking trail is a popular 11 km hiking route around Banff town if you want a bit more of a challenge.

Packing to hike around Banff

Ice crampon/cleats  important for walking on ice on cold days (when the snow freezes).

My Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch a fantastic hiking tool; measuring speed, elevation, heart rate, mapping and more.

Hiking in the snow, waterproof gaiters  keep snow and mud out of your boots and keep your feet dry!

My Salomon X Ultra Prime gortex boots, great pair of boots, all seasons. Keeps mud, snow and rain out. Comfortable, light and completely waterproof.

Ladies model, Alya loves her Ladies Salomon X Ultra boots .

I always carry a light rain jackets in my daypack, the North Face for ladies or North Face Resolve for men

BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – for sun and wind protection (doubles as a face mask).

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