Hike to the Top of Tunnel Mountain in Winter

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As I drove down 1A towards Banff, I was once again wondering what to do with the remainder of my day.  It was my last evening in Canada, and I wanted to do something memorable — but I feared I had already done everything that could be done in winter.  Then, I heard a trail report on Banff’s radio station.  It mentioned the Tunnel Mountain Trail, a hike that I had skipped on my previous, warm-weather visit to Banff, and one that I hadn’t even considered on this trip, due to the snow.  But, the report made the trail seem hike-able, even though it was covered with some ice and slush.  So, I resolved to make it to the top.

There are two places where you can hop onto the Tunnel Mountain Trail — but only one is a good option in winter.  The lower trailhead is located on St. Julien Road (from downtown, take Wolf Street east, to the end, and turn right).  From there, the trail climbs the hill to Tunnel Mountain Drive, about 500 meters away (.3 miles).

During the winter months, Tunnel Mountain Drive is unmaintained, and used as a cross-country ski and snowshoe trail.  In the summer, you could start your hike here, but parking is limited, so the lower trailhead might be your only option.

A map at this second trailhead lays out the path ahead.  You have another 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) to the summit of Tunnel Mountain.

Cross the road, and continue hiking uphill.

Yes, the key word there is “uphill”.  It’s a moderate climb, not difficult if you take a few breaks to enjoy the scenery.

As you can see, the trail is still snow-covered, during my hike on April 1, 2012.  Throughout the trail, the snow was trampled down, so I didn’t have to worry about sinking down with every step.  I did have to worry about ice, though.  The trail was slick in a few places, and sometimes slushy — which is worse, because the ice cleats on my shoes weren’t as effective in slush.

After about ten minutes of hiking, you’ll come upon a clearing, that provides a great view of downtown Banff, and the mountains to the west.  This view would probably be better, earlier in the day, since the afternoon sun makes it a little too bright.  But, no matter what the time of day, you’ll still be able to enjoy quite a nice view.  In fact, I think this is the best spot on the trail for viewing the town of Banff — even better than the summit.

 

Keep trudging uphill, through the trees…

… and before long, you’ll reach a big curve.  Here, Mount Rundle starts to peek through the trees.  Just a bit further…

… and you’ll reach the best viewpoints on the Tunnel Mountain Trail.  Now, you’re on the opposite side of the mountain, looking east…

… towards Mount Rundle…

… and the Fairholme Range.  These are the mountains that run along the east side Trans Canada 1, between Banff and Canmore.  The tallest peak is Mount Girouard, at 2,995 meters (9,826 feet).

The views really don’t get any better than at these railing-guarded viewpoints along the side of the trail.  But, no doubt, you’ll feel compelled to keep climbing to the top of Tunnel Mountain.

There’s a clearing at Tunnel Mountain’s high point.  The trail comes to an end here, with a “congratulations” sign positioned just below the summit.

The top of the mountain could use some park benches.  When it’s snowy, there’s no place to sit, so I leaned against a tree, and took in the view for a while.  The town of Banff is straight ahead of me, although the trees partially obscure a good view.

If you zoom in, however, you can get a nice look at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, at the base of Sulphur Mountain.

Mount Rundle can also be seen, though it’s once again partially hidden behind trees.

Since I was making this hike late in the day, I was determined to do it quickly.  It took me about one hour to get to the top, and about 45 minutes to get back down to the lower trailhead, for a round-trip time of about 2 hours.

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