Sulphur Mountain Winter Hike {Banff National Park}

Sulphur Mountain Winter Hike {Banff National Park}

Sulphur Mountain Winter Hike {Banff National Park}

  • Distance – 5.5 km one way, 11 km round trip (additional 0.5 km one way to Sanson Peak)
  • Elevation – 665 meters
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Trailhead Location – Upper Hot Springs, Mountain Avenue

Sometimes you just get lucky.

When asked what I wanted for my birthday a few weeks ago, I responded from the heart.

Mountains. I want mountains.

There is nothing quite like being ensconced in a chalet town surrounded by snowy mountains. Winter in the mountains is gorgeous and if the weather and roads permit you to get there without sliding into a ditch, you should go.

Beyond mountains, I wanted a nice winter hike. As much as I would like to pretend to be hardcore and a backcountry adventuress, well, I like my cozy bed complete with fluffy duvet at the end of a long day of adventure. I have been known to camp, but never in the winter.

Back country snowshoeing up to a peak, followed by creating an ice cave to sleep in, and melting snow for water is not in my wheelhouse. Even though I wish it was.

Arriving in Banff on my birthday weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find the weather unseasonably warm and the skies an incredible shade of blue. After a day of frolicking and x-country skiing around Lake Louise, we decided to try our luck with Sulphur Mountain.

Skiing the Great Divide Trail
Freshly groomed trails and trees that looked like they belong in Dr. Seuss book with gorgeous mountains in the background? Yes please!

The previous day, we had 30 cms of fresh power to ski on with temperatures of +3 Celsius which made x-country skiing and exploring Lake Louise downright perfect.

Pulling into the hot springs parking lot and getting what seemed to be the last spot, I put on a few too many layers and crammed my head into a cute toque.

Determined to not slip off the mountain, I put on my most aggressive trail shoes.

Luckily for me, the conditions were perfect for a winter hike. The switchbacks under the Banff Gondola were covered with fresh snow and ice was nowhere to be seen. The corners of the trail gave teasers of what was to come from the top and happiness that only mountain air can bring filled my heart.

Top of Sulphur Mountain winter
It felt like an early spring day, not the middle of winter!

I was feeling confident, and rightly so.

Falling off the mountain wasn’t even a possibility – the conditions were perfect for a snowy tromp up a small mountain.

The infrastructure at the top of the mountain surprised me, but it shouldn’t have seeing how a gondola runs to the top of it and it is a tourist attraction. A network of catwalks from the chalet make up the final push to the summit.

The retired ray and weather stations are interesting stops along the catwalks, but nothing beats the view.

The wind was fierce at the top and I was glad for the additional layers I had put on at the parking lot. Wrapping my coat tightly around my body, I stayed at the top until I lost feeling in all my fingers and toes.

The view from Sulphur mountain winter
It was chilly with the wind, but it was worth taking some time to enjoy the view!
walkways at the top of sulphur mountain
The network of walkways is impressive. I can only imagine how crowded this would be in the middle of summer!

Usually the gondola has a fee to ride down since it is a busy place (half the price of a full ride – 2018 it was $32 per person), but during the dark winter months you can ride down for free if you’ve slogged up the icy mountain. Seeing how I had managed to not fall off the mountain and there was a hot springs waiting for me at the bottom, we opted to not push my luck and took the free ride down.

View from the banff gondola
The view on the way down to the Hot Springs. It was obvious that Banff was in need of a few good snow storms – where is all the snow?

Warming up my icy toes in the hot springs at the bottom was the perfect way to end a birthday weekend of winter adventures.

Looking back, I am glad I chose to do this hike in the middle of winter, rather than summer.

The amount of people on the trail was minimal and the top wasn’t overrun with tourists. Although, it does have the potential to be a good run in the middle of the summer … perhaps one of these days I will find myself intermittently running up the mountain and then flying back down in an effort to keep up with my Speedy other half.

Or I may just soak myself in the hot springs. What can I say? I am a woman who loves options!

What’s your favorite winter hike in the mountains?

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