This humble Canadian town has become the go-to mountain destination

One of the main reasons you wanted to come to Canada was to witness Banff, but whether its for just a few hours, or maybe even a few days, leave the tourists in Banff whilst you live more like a local.

Canmore is about 25km from Banff and 100km from Calgary airport, nestled in the Canadian Rockies on the edge of the Bow River. With it’s extreme location, the people who live here all seem super-outgoing. Cross-country skiing, ice hockey and snowshoeing are big in winter with hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking leading the way in the summer. And yoga is popular all-year round.

Two of the most popular and spectacular hikes in town are Grassi Lakes and Ha-Ling Peak. Grassi Lakes is an easy, 4km round trip hike taking you past a waterfall to two vividly turquoise lakes. Ha-Ling Peak is double the distance, at a total of 8km, and starts as a hike, before becoming a scramble for the last section. If you want a great view of Canmore and the Bow Valley, but don't want to spend all day out hiking, Grassi Lakes is the trail for you! 

Grassi Lakes hike Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Grassi Lakes hike Canmore, Alberta, Canada.png

Stand-up paddleboard yoga is the newest craze with classes being offered on the Canmore reservoir. I don’t know how people can balance in a headstand whilst on a paddleboard but I’d like to see someone try! If you’re visiting in the winter to ski at Sunshine or Lake Louise, stop off in Canmore on your way back to the airport to mush through the snow on a dog-sled tour.

If you’re staying in Banff but don’t have a car, there are two ways to get to Canmore; on the bus or by bike. Or both. The Legacy Trail is a mostly flat 22km cycle path between Banff and Canmore that runs parallel below the breathtaking Rocky Mountains.

Once you’ve made it to Canmore, grab lunch and wonder around town for a few hours before taking the bus back to Banff. The buses are equipped with handy bike racks so there’s no need to pedal the journey back to base for the night.   

In downtown Canmore, there are very few chain restaurants and instead lots of independent, local establishments. The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company is famous for its beers throughout Alberta. At their bar and restaurant you can try 4 different beers, totaling a pint for $10! If you are looking for respite from the meat-centric menus of Alberta, definitely eat at Communitea Café. Specialising in vegetarian and vegan food, options include organic rice bowls, whole grain avocado quesadillas and delicious beet burgers. Some of the best Quebecois cuisine in the Rocky Mountains can also be found in Canmore. Rumour has it, La Belle Patate serves up authentic poutine (an indulgent combination of chips, cheese curds and gravy!)

There’s plenty of accommodation options too, with more resort-style stays compared to the town of Banff. Space isn’t at such a premium compared to within the national parks and so you tend to get a much bigger room, and can even get a suite with a fully kitted out kitchen, giving you the option to cook and save some money.

If you like browsing vintage stores around the world, check out Hello Vintage. Retro-ski jackets, retro sunglasses and retro Levi shorts can all be found here. Basically a lot of retro goods! Just across the road is Switching Gear, selling used adventure equipment whether you’re camping, climbing or just want some cheap outdoor gear. And if you’re looking for rustic, Canadian-made gifts and keepsakes, stop in at Stonewaters Home Elements on Main Street. You could kit out your whole cabin with their rustic woodwork signs and décor.

Even if you need to rush on to your next destination and are not interested in staying a night or exploring the town, Canmore is the place to stock up on supplies before you enter a corridor of national parks. There’s a Save On Foods in Canmore (one of the better, cheaper supermarkets) and a Canadian Tire that is ideal for getting any practical outdoor bits.

Canmore viewpoint, Grassi Lakes

Canmore also hosts several seasonal festivals and events so check the town’s events calendar to see what’s on when you visit. The most notable is Canmore Uncorked, an award-winning food festival offering cooking courses and lots of set-price special menus from local restaurants, normally held in the first two weeks of May.

If you’re yet to plan a visit, then waiting a few more years may work out well. The city of Calgary is bidding to host the 2026 Winter Olympics with Canmore a possible co-host. Find out who will be hosting the games in 2019.