As Banff visitors travel west from Calgary, the landscape goes from flat plains to the rolling foothills, and then into the dramatic, sky-piercing Canadian Rockies.
The Trans-Canada highway twists and turns around these mountains, often following the path of the Bow River but nestled closely to the valley bottom. So, what about the views from the top? Well, luckily in Banff, we have two great gondola and sightseeing lift options for viewing the Rocky Mountains. Whether you’re looking for top attractions with all the amenities or a more local experience with fewer crowds, both are just five minutes from downtown Banff.
1. Banff Sightseeing Chairlift
The lesser-known, quaint and quiet sightseeing lift experience is also a favourite among Banff locals. Mt. Norquay’s Banff Sightseeing Chairlift is an experience perfect for couples or families with older children (the minimum age is two years old). Why? At Mt. Norquay, the way to the top is by two-person, open-air chairlift that offers a very unique and quiet perspective of Banff. Unobstructed by an enclosed lift, the chairlift at Mt. Norquay is unique to Banff.
Once up top, the views and perspective of Mount Rundle and the Town of Banff are incredible. Rolling grassy mountainside, roaming wildlife such as Bighorn Sheep, and Cascade Mountain are met with fresh mountain air. Perhaps the best part though is the Cliffhouse Bistro. Serving up mountain-inspired cuisine from a long-time local Banff chef, the food here is complemented with Banff Avenue Brewing Company‘s craft beer on tap. Put all this on your table next to the views from the top of Mt. Norquay, and you have an off-the-beaten-path mountaintop sightseeing and dining experience found nowhere else in Banff.
2. Mt Norquay’s Via Ferrata
Want to get even higher? The Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata is an accessible, rock climbing-like experience that is suitable for anyone who can hike and is offered through Discover Banff Tours. Starting at the Cliffhouse Bistro, you’ll climb up ladders, hike along trails and cable bridges, scale mountainside trails with unbeatable views, and challenge yourself while enjoying the best adventurous way to see Banff and the Rockies from above.
3. Banff Gondola
The second sightseeing lift in Banff is also Banff’s #1 attraction – the Banff Gondola. Recently renovated, this is one of Banff’s most accessible activities that is great for the whole family and the perfect add-on to a Discover Banff Tour’s activity. Our pick? Take the morning Discover Banff Tour with Gondola and we’ll drop you off at the gondola after your sightseeing tour of Banff and then return you to your hotel afterwards! Starting at the base of Sulphur Mountain, the Banff Gondola takes guests to the top of the new, state of the art facility.
As guests disembark their gondola, sliding doors open to a new and engaging experience that provides education, context, and immersion into the flora, fauna, wildlife, and history of Banff National Park. Through interactive activities, the ‘Above Banff’ theatre, Parks Canada interpretation, and active programming during peak periods, kids and adults alike have entertainment rain or shine. Once outside on the viewing deck, enjoy panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains from the rooftop platform of the Banff Gondola and get a picture in the Parks Canada Red Chairs with a sky-high view.
Keen for a little more exercise and views? Walk the interpretive Sanson Peak’s boardwalk which takes visitors to the very top of the mountain where a former weather station stands at the end of the accessible boardwalk. And then, of course, there is the mountaintop dining at Sky Bistro or the café – serving up yet another unique Rocky Mountain culinary experience, enjoy lunch or dinner from the top of Sulphur Mountain (reservations recommended).