We swing out from the platform, suddenly over open air.  I brace my left foot gently against the seat across from me, and feel my toddler’s arms tighten around my neck.  My six year old grins and grabs my husband’s arm.  Within seconds we are on our way, and none of us can keep from smiling.

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We are on the Banff gondola ride in Banff National Park, looking out over the gorgeous Canadian Rockies.  We thought we’d seen all there was to see in the area – and then we bought our tickets for a ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain.  With a climb of nearly 2,300 feet to the maximum elevation of 74,86 feet, there’s no better way to see the mountains.

Things to do in Banff: Banff National Park

Banff is a much-loved Canadian destination with a resident population of less than 9,000, yet tourism increases that number exponentially.  Banff National Park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an estimated 3 million people visit the park every year.

Things to do in Banff: Experiencing the Banff National Park gondola ride

If you decide to take the gondola ride, it’s a good idea to go earlier in the day as we did – there were many more cars jockeying for parking as noon approached.  Many people took advantage of the Starbucks coffee shop conveniently located at the base of the mountain.

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Anyone making the excursion would be wise to pack hats, sunscreen and water in a backpack or other easy carrying bag.  Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk for the best experience!  Another suggestion I would make for families is to either eat before going or after as the food served up top is expensive and more convenient than quality.  Bring snacks along and it will be enough to fuel you and get you back down the hill so you can eat in town or picnic nearby.

There aren’t enough good things one could say about the staff manning the ride.  Smiles, greetings and helpful exchanges were consistent as they assisted us in boarding and getting off the gondola.  The eight minute ride is seamless, the gondola cabins clean and well-kept.

Once you get to the Summit Upper Terminal, you can choose to sit and eat, or gaze out at the view from the wraparound observation deck.  Note: the complex and the main observation deck are accessible to those less mobile, though other parts become less so.  The Banff Skywalk will take you one kilometre along a wooden walkway full of great viewpoints, and if you go the entire way, you reach the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada, and the Sanson’s Peak Meteorogical Station.  There is even a giant interactive compass for visitors to find the direction of their home!

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Things to do in Banff: Making memories on the Banff gondola ride

The views from the top of Sulphur Mountain are spectacular.  I will treasure not only the proudly posed mountaintop pictures but also the wide-eyed photos of my kids as they rode up the mountain for the first time. Although it doesn’t compare to being there in person, you can see live views from the Banff Alberta webcams.

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There is a gift shop at the top of the mountain with all kinds of Banff souvenirs, and I was pleased to find the prices were quite reasonable.  We let our kids choose a stuffed animal for about twenty dollars each (a moose and a fawn.)  Our toddler picked out a small plush backpack for about ten dollars, and our six year old a tube of plastic wildlife figurines for about the same.  All got plenty of play during the remainder of our holiday, and later at home.

Smile!  You can have a photo taken of your group in the gondola as you leave the mountaintop.  The photos are ready for your viewing by the time you reach the bottom of the mountain, at which point you can purchase them, or pass them by.  Note that you exit through a gift shop, so if your kids have chosen souvenirs in the shop up top you may want to warn them ahead of time that shopping is done for the day.

The Banff gondola ride is probably the priciest thing we did during our holiday, other than dinners out, there’s no doubt.  But what created the most memories for our kids, and what did they talk about the most?  The gondola ride, hands down.  You do the math – we did, and went twice.

I know if we return to Banff National Park, both kids will clamour for the Banff gondola ride.

We wouldn’t miss that view, or watching our kids experience it, for the world.