Fairmont Banff Springs & Tunnel Mountain

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The start of Day 3 was just as gloomy and rainy as the end of Day 2.  I started my day of exploration witha visit to downtown Banff, and a stop at at Bow Falls, but all the pictures I took were a bit lousy, thanks to the grey skies.  I re-visited Bow Falls and downtown Banff on the final day of my trip, so you can jump ahead to Day 10 if you’d like.

Before finding a trail to hike, I decided to spend some more time driving around the Banff area.  In order to get a better look at the Fairmont Banff Springs resort hotel, I headed for Tunnel Mountain Drive.

From downtown Banff, turn east on Buffalo Street (the last street before the bridge across the Bow River).  Buffalo Street turns into Tunnel Mountain Drive, which eventually turns into Tunnel Mountain Road, and runs all the way to the east end of town, near the Highway 1 interchange.

Tunnel Mountain Drive gains some elevation, as it leads towards a spectacular viewpoint of the Bow River, and the Fairmont Banff Springs resort.  Bow Falls is directly below the hotel.

The Fairmont Banff Springs sits at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, across the valley from Mount Rundle.  The Banff Springs Hotel is one of several grand hotels built in the Rockies by the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  It first opened in 1888, however the original hotel burned in 1926.  The current building opened in 1928, and was winterized in 1968, which allowed it to stay open year-round.

After the viewpoint, Tunnel Mountain Drive makes a sweeping turn, and circles around the north side of the mountain.  Along the way, there’s access to a trail that allows you to hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain.  I considered this hike, but decided to put it off until later, then never got back to it.

The hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain is about 3.6 kilometers round trip (2.2 miles) and requires slightly less than a 1,000 foot (300 meter) elevation gain.  At the top, you’ll find a good view of just about everything: downtown Banff, Mount Rundle, and the Bow River. Check it out here.

There is no tunnel at Tunnel Mountain.  The mountain received its name from the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s original plan to blast a tunnel through the mountain.  Eventually, the CPR engineers figured they could simply go around the mountain, instead of through it.  By then, the name had stuck.

Bow River Hoodoos

There are two ways to see the odd formations called Hoodoos that stand alongside the Bow River.  You can either hike out to them (it’s about 5 kilometers or 3 miles, one way), on a trail that begins at the Fairmont Banff Spring viewpoint (where I took the pictures of the hotel), or you can drive further out Tunnel Mountain Road, and take a short, paved trail to several viewpoints.  The longer trek takes you down to the Bow River, and provides closer access to the hoodoos, while the shorter option only gives you the option of looking down on the hoodoos from above.  I chose the shorter path.

The Bow River Hoodoos are oddly-eroded columns of glacial material.  They look a lot like what you’d find much further south, in Utah’s Bryce Canyon.  Whether you view them from above or below, they’re impressive — but I imagine the longer walk along the Bow River would have been very rewarding.  I’ll put it on my to-do list for the next visit to Banff.

At the end of the short trail to the hoodoo viewpoints, there is also a nice view back towards Tunnel Mountain, the Fairmont Banff Springs Resort, and Sulphur Mountain.

The Banff Gondola is also worth checking out.  It’s a bit pricey ($28 CAD per person in 2009), but it takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain for an incredible view of all of Banff.  Be sure to check out the Banff Gondola’s Webcam here

After following Tunnel Mountain Road all the way to its eastern end, I wasn’t far from my next stop (and my biggest effort of the day): the hike to C-Level Cirque, in the Lake Minnewanka area.

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