Banff Springs Hotel Review :
As a resident of Calgary, I have had the opportunity to stay at the Banff Springs Hotel a number of times. I have visited on family trips, conferences and for weddings. One of my favourite memories is bringing my daughter to the Banff Springs Hotel for her fourth birthday so she could have her birthday at a ‘castle’. She was pretty into Elsa and Disney’s Frozen at the time. Still is actually.
The Banff Springs Hotel is an exceptionally located property. You may not find another hotel that is located as beautifully or has a more fantastically beautiful mountain view. Not only are the expansive views of the mountains incredible but you are steps away from the Bow River and the famous Bow Falls.
History of the Banff Springs Hotel
The Banff Springs Hotel was conceived as one of Canada’s luxury railway hotels which were built in regions across the country by the railway companies. These hotels were intended to be significant national landmarks and serve passengers along the recently complete national railway system.
The Banff Springs Hotel was constructed in Scottish Baronial style and opened to the public on June 1, 1888. Since 1988, the Banff Springs Hotel has undergone a series of reconstructions and additions. These ‘renos’ have taken a wooden structure to the massive stone monument that it is today. In fact, the Banff Springs Hotel was only winterized in 1968 and prior to that it was not open during the winter. What…no skiers at the Banff Springs Hotel? That’s right.
Every Castle has its Stories
Like other historic hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel has its stories. Really, the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shinning has nothing on the Banff Springs.
The Banff Springs Hotel’s Lost Room
One of the more interesting stories is the lost room. This tale has been related in many ways but the story can be summarized briefly. Legend has it that the contractor for the original hotel, Bruce Price, built the hotel backwards as a result of an error reading the plans. As a consequence, one of the rooms was built without a window and so it was boarded up and forgotten about. Apparently, Price wasn’t interested in making this mistake common knowledge but after the discovery of the room following the 1926 fire everyone was in the know.
Banff Springs Hotel Ghosts
The history of the missing room might not be so interesting if not for the more macabre story of murder and the haunting of room 837. Apparently, room 837 and the missing room are one and the same.
Following the hotel’s reopening after the 1926 fire a man killed his wife and daughter in room 837. Later, guests staying in the room experienced unexplained sounds, screams and shadows, and terrifying bloody handprint of the little girl that would reappear on a mirror. Finally, hotel management closed the room and had it disguised as hallway space. Apparently, hotel staff and guests continue to report ghostly disturbances in the halls outside room 873.
Perhaps Bruce Price had the room ‘forgotten’ for reasons other than a construction mistake. Maybe he experienced something that would have been better off forgotten.
There are many other ghosts at the Banff Springs Hotel, including Sam the Bellman, the very famous ghost bride, the ghostly bartender and the headless bagpiper, as well as another haunted room. Personally, I haven’t experienced any ghostly phenomena at the hotel but there is always the next visit! You should consider one of the Banff Springs Hotel heritage tours where the staff will take you on a historical journey of this amazing hotel.
Staying at the Banff Springs Hotel
The Banff Springs Hotel is a fantastic place to stay. The staff are amazing. The doorman gave my daughter a tiara when she said she was there for her birthday. On the occasion of a wedding, a salon stylist did my daughter’s hair and spent the entire time going over spelling and math with her. Wow!
Food at the Banff Springs Hotel
There are many options for food and children of registered guests five and under eat free from the kids menu while in the hotel restaurants (but not with room service). Despite all the foody options, the Banff Springs Hotel is just one of those places where you want to walk down to the common area, casually find a couch or a patio spot and sit back and relax with food and a drink. However, the Hotel is so popular with guests and tourists who aren’t staying at the hotel that it can be impossible to find a table unless you book reservations in one of the more formal restaurants. If you are traveling with kids, this is just not workable.
Whenever I am staying at the Banff Springs Hotel this has been my greatest frustration. I think the Banff Springs Hotel needs to prioritize guests over unregistered visitors when it comes to restaurant access. Given the cost of a room at the Banff Springs, this is a small thing to ask for.
Rooms at the Banff Springs Hotel
Because the Banff Springs Hotel is an older property, many of the standard rooms are small and oddly shaped. If you want a larger room without paying more than the standard price then consider asking for a room in the Stanley Thompson wing of the Hotel. The Stanley Thompson wing is connected to the main Hotel by an enclosed walkway so you are not in the main building. It’s just a little further to walk to the pool in that big comfy white robe and those cozy slippers.
Alberta / BC Rate
If you are an Alberta or BC resident you can save a significant amount of money by booking your room using the Alberta / BC resident rate. And when I say significant I mean 30%. You have to look up the code and book your room directly on the Fairmont website so forget about using a travel website for this one.
So Should you stay at the Banff Springs Hotel?
The Banff Springs Hotel is an amazing hotel and a fantastic place to stay when visiting Banff. As I mentioned, the staff are great and the hotel as all the amenities you want in a luxury property. However, the Banff Springs Hotel is not an inexpensive place to stay, particularly for Canadians who can’t take advantage of the exchange rate to lower overall costs. If 10 days at the Banff Springs Hotel is not in the cards, it is worth booking 2 nights here and the rest of your trip at another hotel closer into the centre of the Banff town site. And if you can’t do that just drop by and wander the hotel, get a drink and enjoy the view from that amazing patio that overlooks the Bow River valley.
Photographing the Banff Springs Hotel
Since this is also travel photography blog, it’s probably time I got to the point where I discuss photography at the Banff Springs Hotel.
The hotel is situated in a location that makes it difficult to photograph its exterior. It is surrounded by forest and the vantage points at the hotel are fairly limited. One rally good place to take photographs from is the stairs up to the conference centre across the traffic circle from the main building.
The best location, however, is actually at Banff Surprise Corner on Buffalo Street. To get to Banff Surprise Corner you cross the stone bridge on Banff Ave on your way into town but take your first right on Buffalo Street as if you were going to the Banff Centre. Follow Buffalo Street up to a little parking lot that provides access to views from a raised platform across the street but also views from alongside the road. This is a great view particularly at night when the hotel is beautifully lit up.
Inside the Banff Springs Hotel there are many locations to shoot, including the lobby, the various sitting rooms as well as the well-appointed hall ways. Don’t forget to walk over to the event rooms even if you aren’t attending a conference, party or wedding. The ballrooms and Mount Stephen Hall in particular are quite beautiful.
Once you have dodged the local ghosts and photographed the hotel then you need to take advantage of the amazing landscape photography opportunities in Banff National Park before you leave. Check out my guide on landscape photography opportunities for the non-hiker to get some ideas.
Getting to the Banff Springs Hotel
If you have booked a tour and you are being delivered right up to the doors of the Banff Springs Hotel then you don’t need to read this section. However, if you are, driving out to the Banff Springs Hotel whether in your own vehicle or in a rental car, then the following brief directions will get you where you need to go. Of course, you can always use a GPS and then enjoy the views!
The drive from the airport in Calgary is about 1 hour and 45 minutes. You can either drive right through Calgary or take the Stoney Trail (the ring road) around to the Trans-Canada highway.
Whether you go through Calgary or around it, you leave the airport and turn right (west) onto Airport Trail NE and head towards Deerfoot Trail. You take Deerfoot Tail south to head into Calgary and Deerfoot Trail north to bypass Calgary. .
- Take Deerfoot Trail South to 16th Avenue
- Exit west (right) onto 16th Avenue
- Eventually 16th Avenue becomes the Trans-Canada Highway (No. 1) and this will take you directly to the gates of Banff National Park
Ring Road route
- Take Deerfoot Trail north and exit onto westbound Stoney Trail. Your exit is on the right hand side of Deerfoot Trail and is quick after the exit to Country Hills Blvd NE.
- Follow Stoney Trail andexit west (right) onto Trans-Canada Highway (No. 1)
- Trans-Canada Highway will take you directly to the gates of Banff National Park
For those of you who prefer to avoid city driving, I recommend taking the Stoney Trail around the north side of Calgary.
Once in Banff National Park you are required to obtain a Park Pass at the entrance. You can also pick up a pass in the town itself if the line up at the park gates are massive, i.e. every long weekend in summer.
Continue on the Trans-Canada Highway until you reach the Banff / Lake Minnewanka exit. Turn left onto Banff Ave. Follow Banff Ave right through the main shopping street in the town of Banff until crossing a very picturesque stone bridge. Turn left after the bridge and follow Spray Avenue right to the hotel.
Photographs created using the incredible Olympus OM-D system.