Disclosure: I was provided these opportunities in exchange for a blog post. As always, opinions and photos are my own.

Having lived in Calgary for the past 14 years, I’ve been to Banff a lot.  And why wouldn’t I? It’s one of the most well-known and beautiful places in the entire, maybe the world, and it’s a 90 minute drive from downtown Calgary.  Add in the fact that no matter the season and the temperature, there’s always something happening in Banff, from festivals to concerts, even though I’ve been to Banff a lot, it never seems like enough.

Another reason I go to Banff a lot is visitors.  One of the things maybe we Calgarians take for granted sometimes is just how much people want to see something that is right in our backdoor.  I’m lucky enough that my mom loves to come out to Alberta to visit from New Brunswick, so on a recent visit I happily took her out to Banff for a few days of relaxation.

I was particularly excited about this trip, because it had actually been six months or so since I had gone to the town of Banff, and truthfully, I was starting to miss it.  

The impetus for this particular trip to Banff was to check out the newly renovated Mount Royal Hotel, which was ravaged by a fire in 2016. Now, after a $45 million renovation, the iconic hotel in Banff is rejuvenated with a modern mountain-feel that definitely brings a different energy and experience to staying in right downtown Banff.

Having been to Banff a bunch of times, I’ll be honest, I don’t think I had ever been into the Mount Royal Hotel. The building is so big and iconic, features stores all along its base, that I think in a weird way, I didn’t notice it. But staying right in the middle of Banff for the first time ever, brought a completely new experience for me and my mom. And when you’ve been to a place dozens of times, a completely new experience is always surprisingly welcome.

On top of the modern and renovated rooms, the crown jewel of the Mount Royal Hotel is without a top its rooftop deck, which features outdoor hot tubs and a lounge with stunning views of the Rocky Mountains in any direction.  Banff has always had a great selection of rooftop patios, but to have a year-round one, that you can enjoy while soaking in a hot tub, well now that’s rare and welcome.

If it’s been a while since you checked out the Mount Royal Hotel, you’ll be amazed at the changes. The location makes a perfect spot to enjoy the best of Banff has to offer, and then when you need to relax and rejuvenate, you can head to the rooftop for a glass of wine and take in some of the country’s best views from a hot tub. Not sure you could ask for anything more.

Another Banff classic that has undergone a massive renovation is The Vermillion Room in Banff, which you might know formerly as The Bow Valley Grill.  The Bow Valley Grill was definitely iconic. How many of us have enjoyed a Sunday brunch there after a wedding celebration that went way too late into the night or a trip to the mountains with our grandparents.  But the Bow Valley Grill has been given a new life. Don’t worry, the buffet is still as amazing as ever, but now The Vermillion Room is a classic French brasserie, but sized to be able to handle the busy and many demands of the Banff Springs clientele. The renovations are so impressive that I had to ask the server a few different times which room we were in again. “This used to be the Bow Valley Grill?! Wow!” is something I uttered more than a few times.

Mom and I were there during the week, so we didn’t get to try the buffet, but I’ve had it enough to know that it’s so good, that the mere thought of just thinking about it gets my stomach growling. So while we missed the buffet, were able to enjoy a nice French-inspired lunch, including sandwiches and French onion soup.  Now, as someone who eats gluten-free, I must tell you that The Vermillion Room has some of the most delicious gluten-free bread I’ve ever enjoyed. It was so good, that I actually had the chef confirm that it was indeed gluten-free. It turns out they make it in-house, which means that they’ve put the time and energy into developing a recipe that’s as good as the rest of the food at the Banff Springs Hotel. On this particular trip, we weren’t staying at the Banff Springs Hotel, but visitors are always welcome to dine and enjoy the simply majestic hotel, with historic nooks and crannies that are just waiting to be discovered.

If it has indeed been a while since you’ve visited Banff, you might not have seen that the world-famous Banff Gondola has also undergone a major renovation.  And since Alberta residents always get a discount, it’s well worth the trip to see what’s going on on top of Sulphur Mountain, because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

When you get to the top of the Banff Gondola, you’ll be greeted to a completely renovated visitor center. It’s a state-of-the-art building that you’ll spend a lot of time wondering how they even built it. Remember, you’re on top of a mountain!  As you explore the multiple floors, you’ll find numerous ways to take in the six spectacular mountain ranges that are visible from any direction you look.

Feeling hungry or need to warm up with something warm, no problem.  There’s three restaurant menus available, including the mountain’s crowning jewel: Sky Bistro, which not only offers views you’ll talk about for the rest of your life, but a beautiful menu featuring local dishes with a truly rocky mountain flare.  This your chance to enjoy a truly incredible meal at 7,510 feet. Now how often can you do that? Be sure to take advantage of the Sky Experience Package, which allows you to enjoy the Banff Gondola, as well as a meal including an appetizer and entree from Sky Bistro for $89 a person. Then top it off with some star-gazing using ultra-modern telescopes. This is available every friday and Saturday until March 9th from 6 to 8pm and it’s included with your Banff Gondola admission.

With all these changes happening in Banff, you might not even recognize the place.  But one thing that has never changed is the luxurious comfort of the Willow Stream Spa in the Banff Springs.  That’s where my mom and I finished up our rocky mountain retreat. And after mountain-top adventures and delicious dinners, an afternoon lounging in one of the Canada’s most iconic spas did the body and mind good. It was actually mom’s first time ever going to a spa. One of the first things she asked was “Are all spas this beautiful?”  

No mom, they’re not.   

After about two hours of napping, sipping tea, dipping our toes in the pool filled with mineral water and soaking in the outdoor hot tub, she also asked “Now what?”  Which is fair. In a busy world, it’s hard to just relax. But before we stepped out into the cold, we managed to squeeze in a few more hours of warm towels, steam rooms and saunas.  That’s one of the things I love about the Willow Stream Spa, is that you don’t have to book an appointment to enjoy it, Daily spa access without a treatment is $79 and you’re able to come and go as much as you want during the day.  

For Calgarians, I think we can sometimes take for granted just how amazing Banff is. We live 90 minutes away from a place that people all around the world dream of seeing even once.  So the fact that we can basically go whenever we want, and see something new, that is truly one of best thing about living here in Alberta.

Mike Morrison