Norman Bethune Sanson has likely summited Sulphur Mountain more times than anyone else. The former curator of the Banff Park Museum first climbed the peak in 1896 to record weather observations from an elevated position. He subsequently trekked to the summit more than one thousand times over the next thirty years to record weather data for his job as the federal government’s official weather observer. If not for the sulphur-rich thermal springs (which are the basis for the entire national parks system in Canada) located near its base the whole mountain would likely be named in his honour. Instead the northern end of Sulphur Mountain carries the name Sanson Peak in recognition of the man who spent more time than most perched high above the town of Banff. Today you can walk in Sanson’s footsteps and follow the Sulphur Mountain Trail (six-kilometres one-way and 750m gained in elevation) that switchbacks its way to the summit or you can opt to ride the Banff Gondola, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the park.
In just eight minutes you can travel from parking lot to mountain top inside a fully-enclosed gondola cabin. The original gondola was opened to the public in 1959, making it the first bi-cable gondola in North America and the first gondola of any kind in Canada. Over the ensuing years the gondola and summit complex have gone through various reconstruction and rejuvenation projects in order to keep up with demand, offer world-class visitor experiences, and to maintain minimal impact on fragile alpine environments and wildlife. After easily accessing the summit you’ll be awarded with breathtaking views of six different mountain ranges and experience an entirely new perspective on the town of Banff. The summit facility also features restaurants, interactive exhibits in the Above Banff Interpretive Centre, a multi-sensory theatre, and a 360-degree rooftop observation deck, so there’s more than enough to keep everyone entertained.
From the summit complex there are a couple of trails waiting for you to explore. The most popular is the one-kilometre Mountaintop Boardwalk, which is a self-guided interpretive trail that leads to the Sulphur Mountain Weather Observatory. The historic stone structure was built back in 1903 and was in operation until the mid-1930s. The observatory is still perched atop Sanson Peak allowing visitors to peek through the windows and catch a glimpse of a time gone by. The more ambitious will likely tackle the South East Ridge Trail that runs south past the complex and eventually leads to Sulphur Mountain’s true summit.