Monday, 1 April 2013

Hiking with Kids in Banff: Climb Tunnel Mountain and Still Have Time to Go for Ice Cream

It doesn't matter how old you are, there's nothing like the view from the top of a mountain that you reached by putting one foot in front of the other.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies. 

The start of the trail
This year I'm going to introduce my 8- and 13-year-old boys to scrambling, but in the past I've avoided trails with the potential for rockfall. A 5-, 6- or even 7-year-old will be doing good if he realizes he sent a rock rolling down at the hikers below him, never mind remembering to yell "Rock!" to warn them. And at that age, they'll be knocking down a lot of rocks.

So between rockfall hazards and the significant elevation gain required to summit most mountains, the number of peaks accessible to my kids has been limited. One that was perfect for my then 6-year-old youngest son was Banff's Tunnel Mountain. Located directly behind the Town of Banff, its 2.5 km trail switchbacks and winds 250 m up to the summit. Actually, it's more of a flat top than a summit, but then Tunnel Mountain isn't officially a "mountain". Don't tell your kids, and they'll never know. They'll think they climbed an actual mountain. Take them for ice cream after, and they'll be asking to climb it again.

The trail switchbacks and winds up the mountain
From the parking lot on St. Julien Road, our crew of everything from a 4-year-old to a 12-year-old and their parents headed up the short steep section of trail that
leads up to...Tunnel Mountain Drive. After crossing the road the climb really began, as did the moans of "I'm too tired" and "Can we go back to the car?" This is where two of the benefits of leading kids' hikes for my outdoor club came in handy. First, I was leading the hike so we couldn't go back. Second, within minutes Michael went from bored to running up the mountain with another kid. When they weren't racing each other to see who could get to the top first, they were scrambling up slabs on the side of the trail.

Then, suddenly, we were at the top, looking out over the town and the Bow Valley beyond. When I congratulated Mack and Michael on climbing their first mountain, all I got was "Really?" As the realization of what I said sank in, the smiles on their faces grew. They were on the top of something called Tunnel Mountain. They'd climbed a mountain.

The hike up took just over an hour. The hike down took half that. As we neared the parking lot, we noticed small clearings with some of Banff's resident elk grazing in them. I'd say that was the perfect way to end such a great hike, but my kids would probably disagree. In case I'd forgotten, they reminded me that they only climbed the mountain because I'd promised them ice cream after.

Distance: About 5 km return
Elevation gain: About 250 meters
Hiking/Exploring Time: 1.5 to 4 hours
Driving Directions: Drive west on Highway 1 and take one of the turn-offs for the Town of Banff. Find your way to Banff Avenue. Turn east onto Wolf Street. When you reach the T-intersection, turn right onto St. Julien Road, bear left and continue for 0.4 km to the trailhead parking area on the left.

Click here for a driving map


  1. thanks Ken! this is a great little hike when short on time…with spectacular views…and dog friendly too. :)

    1. We had four dogs: one old lab-x, a young coyote mix, and two purebred Belgian Malinois. The kids all took turns holding their leashes.


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