Our last morning in Banff was a sad one; I’m never quite ready to go home. After packing and checking out at 11am, we drove out to the Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot where the Sulphur Mountain trail begins and ate our packed lunch in the lot.
After beginning the hike, we quickly realized this “easy two hour round trip hike” (according to the lady at the tourist office) was a bit harder than we thought. I think the lady judged me for being a more extreme hiker, when I’m just a student/writer who sits on my behind a lot. But we made it to the top in two and a half hours, after slipping on the snow near the top, wishing we had better hiking shoes. If you are not prepared to go for a hike, I would highly recommend just taking the gondola to the top. The elevation angle at the start of the trail does not get better near the top, and there are a lot more switchbacks than it looks like on the map.
Once at the top, you realize that the climb (or paying for the gondola ride) was worth it. From here you can see 360 degree views of the mountains surrounding Banff, all of which are in Banff National Park. We looked over and saw steps which continued up to the summit where the Cosmic Ray Station sits.
First we climbed down the rocks towards the Cave and Basin Historic Site, which can be reached below following a trail from the top, but we just took a few pictures and I had a few chipmunks approach me. In Banff (and in any natural environment) you should NOT try to touch the animals or even approach them, but one of the chipmunks was cute and friendly so I pet him. Oops.
The steps to the Cosmic Ray Station were easy, and the view from the summit was even better. I urge everyone to check out this view for themselves! I loved looking down at the little town of Banff, and Tunnel Mountain just looks like a hill from Sulphur Mountain.
After making good use of the photo opportunities, we walked back to line up to take the complimentary gondola ride down. I am told though, that this is just free for the off season; in July and August you have to pay to ride down. I believe it is $40 round trip for adults wanting to take the ride in peak season. The ride down the gondola was between five and ten minutes long and the view was incredible. Barely skimming over the treetops, it gives you a really neat perspective of the mountainside and the valley.
Overall, I would allow an afternoon to do this, especially if you want to hike up and really explore the summit like we did. Also dress warmly because it can get quite windy I would imagine, except the weather was beautiful for us, especially considering it was only May.
As our park pass was expiring, we headed out of Banff as soon as we ate a few more of our packed sandwiches, gassing up in Canmore, and realizing Derek’s wallet was missing! After doing some thinking and a quick phone call to the gondola, we headed back into the park to pick up his wallet from Sulphur Mountain. Thankfully someone had brought it to the front desk there.
We headed out of the park for the second time, and decided stopping in Calgary on the way home for Peters’ Drive-In was a must. The old drive-in along the TransCanada Highway makes good quality old-fashioned burgers and shakes, just like they did in 1964 when they opened.
My favourite milk shake is oreo, and their special burger sauce is the best. There’s always a line up, but you can get through really quick because their service is fantastic. They have a lot next to the drive-in where you can park your car and eat your meal at picnic tables there, as well as get out and walk to the counter to order. It’s worth the detour into Calgary, even though you can bypass it with the newer ring road on your way to Edmonton.