Which Banff National Park Castle Hotel is Right for You?

The snow is falling and the ski season has started in Banff National Park in Canada. Whatever season you want to visit, what better place to stay than in a castle? There are two to choose from: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs. Which of these iconic castle hotels is right for you depends on what you want to do in Canada’s first and most famous national park.

Banff National Park

The national park and, above all, the surroundings Banff and Lake Louise have hot springs, spectacular waterfalls, rivers and lakes (many of those fed by glaciers are Caribbean turquoise in color), wildlife like elk and bears, some of Canada’s most beautiful mountains, as well as hiking and skiing trails galore. Three ski areas – Lake Louise, Sunshine and Mount Norquay – offer some of the best skiing on the continent. Part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site, the east gate of Banff National Park is approximately an hour’s drive from the city of Calgary, AB.

There are many hotel rooms available, but the best two are historic castle hotels originally built to encourage use of the Canadian Pacific Transcontinental Railway which was completed in 1885. So how do you choose? you which one suits you best?

For Lake Louise skiers and for iconic photos of Canada’s most famous lake: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lake Louise is a 40 minute drive deeper into the mountains of the town of Banff. Called the Lake of Little Fishes by locals of the Stoney Nakota First Nation, this glacial lake is turquoise due to rock meal from the glacier that melts in the mountains above the lake (the color is most opaque in spring and the most reflective waters in autumn). Lake Louise freezes in winter, so you can walk or skate on the ice. At other times of the year, stay on the paved path that runs along one side or hike the trees for spectacular views from the lookout. It is even possible to climb 1300 feet up to a tea house serving fine teas since 1905.

A one-story log cabin hotel was first built on the shores of the lake in 1886; after it was destroyed by fire, another was built in 1894 and called Chalet Lake Louise. Popular with rail travelers and day visitors to Banff, the cabin quickly grew in popularity. From 1896, the architects enlarged its size and it took more and more the appearance of a castle. It received the name of Chateau Lake Louise after massive expansion in the 1920s.

Today Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a luxury property with 539 rooms and suites. If you stay here you will have a view of the brightly colored lake or the Lake Louise ski resort and easy access to the region’s spectacular walks and hikes, as well as to the ski resort. Make sure you don’t miss the iconic Canadian afternoon tea experience at one of the huge windows of the aptly named Fairview Bar & Restaurant – while enjoying your pastries you will have a spectacular view of the lake, Victoria Glacier and Fairview Peak. You won’t be disappointed with the view from the other restaurants and lounges at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise either. Even the spa and pool offer views of Canada’s most famous lake.

A stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is ideal for anyone wishing to explore the 160 named ski trails on the four mountain faces of the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Ten ski lifts give you access to the 4,200 hectares of the complex from the beginning of November to mid-May. Hikers and photographers who wish to explore the wilderness will also love the castle. While there are many hikes accessible from the hotel, Moraine Lake – which many say is even more beautiful than Lake Louise – is only a 20-minute drive away.

For Sunshine and Norquay skiers and for those who want to be close to town: Fairmont Banff Springs

Although it is a short drive from the castle to the hamlet of Lake Louise, those looking for a more urban mountain experience will prefer to stay in the town of Banff.

Called the Castle of the Rockies, the Fairmont Banff Springs sits on the outskirts of town and overlooks Bow Falls and the hotel’s golf course where wildlife sometimes roams the fairways. Overlooking the hotel are Castle Mountain, Tunnel Mountain, Mount Rundle and Fairholme Range. It is just a 20 minute walk to the main streets of Banff and its collection of confectionery, restaurants and shops selling mountain clothing and souvenirs.

the hotel first opened in 1888 on a scale then unprecedented in the style of French châteaux. It originally had space for 280 guests and running water from hot springs in its pools. It was enlarged several times but had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1926. Originally it was only a summer resort – Hollywood stars mostly came to golf – and opened its doors for the winter season for the first time in 1969. It is built in the Scottish Baronial. style and was named a National Historic Site in 1988.

Today, the Fairmont Banff Springs has 757 luxury guest rooms and suites. While you take in the views from your bedroom windows, be sure to gaze at them from the heated outdoor pool – it’s open year round. The views from the adjacent indoor pool are almost as beautiful. For a quieter pool with a view, visit the Willow Stream Spa. In addition to its outdoor hot tub, it has a lavish indoor mineral pool and a series of hydrotherapy tubs with powerful waterfalls to combat sore shoulder and neck muscles.

The Fairmont Banff Springs has a range of dining options, but the best views are from the new 360 Dome which sits on a patio above the pool. It’s available for private dinners, but if you choose this location for a proposal, passers-by will likely snap a photo and cheer you on.

The Fairmont Banff Springs is the ideal castle hotel for those who want easy access to the town of Banff, who want to visit the hot springs and those who want to ski to either Village of the Sun Where Mount Norquay.

The Sunshine Three Ski Mountains are a 15 minute drive from Banff. The resort has 30-foot annual snowfall across its 3,300 skiable acres and the longest non-glacial ski season in the country – usually until the end of May, but sometimes until June. Less than four miles from the town of Banff, Mount Norquay was the national park’s first ski resort. Its first opening day was October 24, 2020. Known for its steep vertical, Norquay has 60 runs, half easy and intermediate and half classified as difficult and expert. Norquay is the only resort in the region to offer night skiing.

Which castle hotel is right for you? Many can’t decide and end up booking stays at both Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Then your main decision is to decide which castle to visit first.

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