As Canadians, we are gifted with the ability to enjoy something so majestic as the Rocky Mountains. A monumental mountain range shared between British Columbia and Alberta. Banff, Alberta is one of the best places to see them in all their glory.
There are no bad views or ugly sides with 360 degree mountains to admire, some of the freshest alpine air to breathe in, and sparkling glacier waters to drink.
When planing your next trip to Banff, here are a few things to consider: accommodations, food options, sightseeing, and activities. Here are a few recommendations from our latest trip with Pursuit.
The following recommendations will be helpful in planning your next excursion.
Accommodations & Restaurants
Depending on your preferences, there are two great Pursuit options for accommodations, each with a shuttle that takes you from Calgary’s airport to your chosen Banff hotel.
For those who like a modern boutique look and feel, Elk and Avenue is a great option. Located on the far end of downtown Banff, but still within walking distance to the heart of the city. Clean and spacious rooms with the convenience of a fridge and coffee maker. Hotel amenities include an indoor sauna and hot tub with power jets.
Good Earth Coffee House
This in-hotel cafe not only serves guests staying overnight, but is a popular stop for regulars in search locally brewed coffee, healthy smoothies, and quick bites. Food options include a well-stocked showcase of sweet pastries, savoury sandwiches and pre-made soups and pastas. Visit through the hotel’s gift shop or run in from the street entrance.
Farm + Fire
This farm to table style restaurant specializes in wood fire pizzas and rotisserie prepared proteins, set in a lovely modern farmhouse kitchen setting. For breakfast come early and grab one of their limited number of giant cinnamon buns, accurately named “The Sold Out” cinnamon bun, dressed in a cream cheese frosting. And for dinner we loved the “Late night snack” pizza topped with salt and vinegar chips. The rotisserie chicken was some of the most succulent, and if picking which side to pair with it, it has to be the Thousand Layer Duck Fat Potatoes.
For accommodations with a lot more history attached, direct your attention to Mount Royal. A newer brand built upon upgrades from the first original hotel in Banff. From its facade you can see the transition of renovations and change over the years. And to pay homage to the initial building that once stood and the decades that followed, the hotel has wings set to specific colour schemes: Cascade, followed by 1940’s and the 50’s. Inside, the suites are modernly furnished for a similar bouquet feel to its sister property, Elk & Ave. Hotel guests can enjoy the outdoor roof top hot tub with mountain views, a complimentary tea bar, and a miniature museum chronicling the history of skiing in Banff. The latter most includes an actual wood and leather strap relic of skis on display.
Adjacent to the roof top hot tub, this bar is fairly hidden and you wouldn’t know it was there if you aren’t actively looking for it. It resembles a modern living room with high tops and couches to sprawl out on. Here, they serve a curated collection of locally produced and canned beers and cocktails, as well as Pursuit’s own blend of red and white wine.
With a different menu for each meal you have reason to visit them a handful of times. For breakfast indulge in their peanut butter and chocolate French toast, or go savoury with a stacked croque madame. We recommend the dinner service the most for its theatrical cocktails, and a varied menu with nods to Asian cuisine. This speaks to the restaurant’s name and the Executive Chef’s goal of working outside the box. Dinner service includes Ginger Beef flambé table side with fire and bourbon, mussels in a green tea broth with green tobiko, and a crème brûlée plated to look like an ash tray with white chocolate biscuit cigarettes.
Sight seeing in Banff
There are no bad angles when it comes to Banff. When walking through town you go towards mountains on either ends. Majority of the main streets have been closed off during the pandemic to accommodate more patio seating, and it now allows for groups to linger in the middle of the road for the perfect photo up. And the walk from downtown to picturesque waters and expansive mountains is less than 2 minutes. The trek is as easy as cutting through the park and crossing a bridge. Keep going and there is even a waterfall less than 30 minutes away.
To cover a bit more distance you can rent an electric bike for the afternoon or a day. At Black Diamond Bike and Supplies they have two or three wheel models that take the work out of pedalling. Choose your modes and the amount of propulsion you wish, and steep hills and huffing and puffing are a thing of the past. Some views like the “Surprise Lookout” are only accessible via bicycle, when the walk is too steep and too far, and there is no places to pause a vehicle at.
Take the work out of researching where to go and figuring out how to get there with Top Down Tours, available for booking at Mount Royal’s lobby desk. This is a guided tour in a stretch bus done up in 20’s style with a royal blue body kit and white walled rims. The driver and tour guide is dressed from the same era with a dapper vests, raised pants, and bowler hat. She drives pointing out local landmarks and offering interesting tidbits for visiting travellers, all to a soundtrack from the roaring 20’s. The highlight is being able to stand up on your seats and stick your head out of the moving vehicle to catch the views, that is if weather permits.
For the bird’s eye view of Banff, ascend the Gondola. The carriage fits 4 and the ride is fairly quick. If you miss something on the way, it is okay, as the view on top is what you want anyways. There, multiple floors with ceiling to floor windows and an open roof top deck allows visitors to take in the majesty of the mountains, their way. Many choose to have their packed lunches on one of the limited seats or within the plastic dome, if lucky.
And as you have made it all the way up, extend your stay a little longer with a scenic lunch paired with colourful cocktails. Sky Bistro offers their comfort Canadian menu overlooking the Rockies. Enjoy dressed up classics like chicken and waffles with a maple sriracha drizzle and a gourmet grilled cheese with brie and a roasted pear chutney.
Cosmic Ray Station
For a bit of exercise and a challenge, take the winding wooden walkway up to Sulphur Mountain’s, now inoperable, cosmic ray station, great for a look back at the gondola.
From the mountains to the water, take a guided boat cruise across one of Alberta’s largest glacier lakes. Go end to end with Lake Minnewanka’s beer voyage. Sip on local brews as your guide gives you a history lesson of the natives that once took care of the land and how the topography of it is the way it is today. Most memorable is seeing the “Devil’s Gap”, the corridor where the prairies meet the mountains.