A storied past meets modern touches at this iconic Alberta lodging
At 2 a.m. on December 29, 2016, fire broke out on the roof of Banff’s much-loved Mount Royal Hotel. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the century-old building sustained extensive water damage in the battle to douse the quickly spreading blaze. Fast forward to 2018—and some $45 million later—and the 133-room hotel on bustling Banff Avenue is once again open for business.
1. Sleeping with history
Dan ToulgoetFirst opened in 1908 as the red-brick, 60-room Banff Hotel, the property has seen numerous expansions, renovations and more than one fire over the years. All the while, it has drawn adventurers, travellers and nature lovers to its mountain town setting.
Dan ToulgoetOnce a community hub, the hotel also hosted public events, gatherings and visiting artists. Explore the colourful backstory in the Mount Royal’s new lobby museum, brimming with artifacts like souvenir plates, wooden skis and original blueprints. Learn even more by curling up with a local guidebook in the homey second-floor library.
2. Design through the ages
Weaving the past into the present is the theme here, metaphorically captured in the eye-catching red-navy-and-white quilted guest room headboards. Hallway colours and hangings subtly change as you walk through the hotel's four wings, each a nod to an expansion in the past. Street side, the exterior still boasts the original building fronts.
Throughout the hotel, archival images and contemporary photography pay homage to local mountain lore and adventure. Bears, antlers, snowy landscapes and backpacking figures reign. Meanwhile, minimalist furnishings, sleek tiled bathrooms, soft beds and fluffy robes keep everyone comfy in the rooms. (Tip: the junior suites are best for families, offering a bit more space.)
3. Rooftop hot tubs... oh, yeah
Mount Royal HotelTaking full advantage of expansive mountain views, the hotel smartly tucked its two outdoor hot tubs on the family-friendly top floor. Start by sitting a spell on a cozy couch in the adjoining Cascade Lounge, and choosing from the short-but-sweet drinks and bites menus. Then step outside with bevvies in hand for an end-of-day soak. Gape at cotton-candy clouds drifting past craggy Cascade Mountain, ski run lights twinkling on Mount Norquay and tourists strolling the shop-lined street below.
4. Good eats just steps away
Chuck's SteakhouseAcross the street on the south corner, Chuck’s Steakhouse serves up more mountain eye candy and delicious in-house dry-aged beef. Named after an Alberta rancher, the casual, wood-accented room on the second floor prides itself on sourcing local grass-fed cuts. Begin with steak tartare, then try the Brant Lake Wagyu bone-in rib eye—the Japanese breed’s intense marbling amps up flavour and tenderness—or the succulent Benchmark Angus strip loin. Pair them with shareable sides like corn crème brûlée, potato gratin, candied beets or mac ’n’ cheese croquettes. Leave room for salted caramel cheesecake or coconut chamomile panna cotta. Winner of a 2017 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, Chuck’s is no slouch when it comes to drinks either.
Hit the side streets for other things sweet and savoury. Go to the Bear Street Tavern for thin crust pizzas like the Big Bird (pesto chicken) and the Wheeler (B.C. mushrooms and pine nuts), best enjoyed dipped in chili oil and honey—that’s how they roll here! And Magpie & Stump for their braised bison Banffo Burrito or Salsa Verde Con Porko (pulled pork) enchilada, washed down by a Corona or mezcal margarita.
5. Sightseeing up the road
Make tracks to the nearby base of Sulphur Mountain, where the Banff Gondola will whisk you up to the 700-metre summit in just eight minutes. Thanks to a $26-million renovation two years ago, you can stroll the new summit building’s 360-degree rooftop observation deck for an eagle’s-eye view of the town below, and six stunning mountain ranges that surround.
Continue along the wooden boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak and the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station, a national historic site. Back at the summit building, learn about local legends and mountain life in the Above Banff Interpretive Centre. (Did you know that blue-eyed Bill Peyto was a wild-but-wise early trail guide and warden in these parts? And that rock flour—tiny grains of rock ground up by moving glaciers—gives glacial lakes their deep turquoise colour?) Then settle in for regionally sourced fare and floor-to-ceiling Rocky Mountain vistas at the airy Sky Bistro. Tuck into the Sunrise Farms Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich or Sanson’s Pork Stew with, of course, a Ten Peaks Pale Ale from Canmore Brewing Company.
Dan ToulgoetA 15-minute drive from Banff along the Lake Minnewanka Loop, Lake Minnewanka beckons with emerald waters, sloping forests and peaks aplenty. Hop aboard for a one-hour guided boat tour that recounts the lake’s history, including why it harbours a 1941 resort town in its depths. On the edge of town, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site tells the story of how Banff National Park became the birthplace of Canada’s national parks. Follow the short rock tunnel to the basin and its bubbling, mineral-rich, thermal water.