One of the tourist highlights in Banff is to take the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views of Banff, the Bow Valley and the surrounding Rockie mountains afforded from the summit.
However any thoughts of stunning vistas and breathtaking scenery were put to one side as Banff was blanketed for our entire visit in the smoky haze drifting from an enormous wildfire burning some distance away in the national park beyond Lake Louise.
However we were only in Banff for 3 nights, had no idea when we might be back again and it seemed a pity to miss out completely on such a treat – well for me anyway. Monsieur hates heights and so he left me and one of our travelling companions to go up in the gondola on a hot, smoky August morning whilst he headed back into town with the other.
It definitely pays to get there as early as possible in the morning before the crowds arrive. Even on a day when visibility was poor and warning signs were in place about the lack of views and the possible smoke effects, there was a surprisingly large number of people at the summit. Children also go free before 10 am so it is well worth it for families to take up that option as it certainly isn’t cheap. Also a 10% discount applies if you book 48 hours or more in advance.
At the summit there are a number of retail outlets and cafes including the Northern Lights Cafe where we had a late breakfast before setting out on the self-guided Banff Skywalk. Despite the reduced view, the walk was actually very interesting in itself. Up a series of interconnected boardwalks, regular information signs tell you about the flora and fauna of the mountains. For example the increasingly rare Whitebark Pines still grow here, an endangered species since 2012.
Wending your way to the top of the walk you reach a craggy cairn known as Sanson’s Peak. The name commemorates Norman Sanson, curator of the Banff National Park Museum from 1896 to 1932, who not only collected a myriad of specimens for the museum during his lifetime but also recorded meteorological data for many years, regularly climbing up the peak to obtain data. Sanson’s Peak is also the home of the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site , a scientific station set up as part of International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. Canadian scientists were an integral part of the data collection studying cosmic rays and space particles entering the atmosphere. The station was closed in 1978 and so this rocky memorial perched above Banff is all that remains today.
I did hesitate whether to include the Banff Gondola in my Banff series of posts (see here and here for the others) as it was hardly the best day to see the usually stunning views. However travelling doesn’t always go to plan – there will be delays, inclement weather and other glitches. The photos hopefully still give you a flavour of what Sulphur Mountain would be like on a clear day. In addition to the boardwalk trail there are also hiking trails criss-crossing the mountain. It wasn’t really the day though to be lingering outside too long – we started to get itchy eyes and tickling throats from the effects of the smoke so headed back down the mountain again after a short while.
Later that day we drove out to the other side of the valley near the site of the Banff Centre (an arts and creative centre affiliated with the University of Calgary) where you can look back towards Sulphur and Rundle Mountains and normally enjoy a wonderful view. In the late 19th century hot springs were discovered in the area and today there is a large hotel and spa complex in the valley, which you can just about make out in the haze!
Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved