I’ll let you in on a little secret, we have a small list of places we want to live in the world and Canmore, Alberta makes the list. I won’t lie and say it’s the most beautiful town we’ve visited in all our travels because it’s not. However, what Canmore offers is one of the most gorgeous backyards and access to a spectacular part of the world.
Nestled in the Canadian Rockies Canmore is any outdoor fanatics dream. There are just so many things to do in Canmore and the surrounding region that has us itching to return. It also has managed to retain some down to earth charm that Banff lost years ago as it sees millions of tourists a year.
If you’re heading to the area then read on for our list of favorite things to do in Canmore. Or you can tackle our bigger list of amazing things to do in Canada.
Things to do in Canmore
Take in the Three Sisters Mountains
Faith, Hope, and Charity, the individual mountains that make up the three Sisters Mountain are majestic and easily recognizable icons of Canmore. At nearly 10,000 feet, they’re hard to miss, and that’s a good thing because experiencing these stalwart giants is one of the best things to do in Canmore, Alberta that you won’t want to pass up. The mountain’s bare, rocky peaks make a dramatic contrast with the lush, green pine forests that envelope them at lower elevations.
How you experience the mountains all depends on the season, your physical ability and skill set. My opinion is as a visitor to give a skip the majority of the approach is a slog through a valley until a difficult scramble. These mountains are for locals to sit down with a beer to look up and say yea I climbed that. A great alternative for the adventurous scramblers or hiker is to tackle Windtower the mountain behind the Three Sisters.
If you want to get up close to the mountains you can attempt to summit or ride in a helicopter, which – not surprisingly – is the most expensive but it will give you a unique view that most will never get to appreciate. Or you can always do what people do, snap plenty of photos and enjoy the view. We consider ourselves lucky and we see them every day since we live at their base.
Canmore Christmas Artisan’s Market
As you’ll find out, this town takes its festivals seriously, and they’re one of the most prevalent things to do in Canmore. Occurring at different times throughout the year, you’ll need to time your visit, depending on which you’d like to experience. To many, Christmas is the undisputed king of holidays, imagine how it would feel experiencing it in a quaint town nestled in the scenic Canadian Rockies.
If I’ve piqued your interest, get your calendar out and tell the in-laws they’re on their own this year. For 23 years, Canmore has hosted the Christmas Artisan’s Market, which features nearly 100 artists and artisans who specialize in clothes, paintings and natural body products to name just a few. Plenty of food and drinks will be on hand, and the small admission fee benefits the Canmore Preschool Society.
Hike in Kananaskis Country
Not everything takes places in Banff National Park. Canmore is situated between Banff and the Alberta Park Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis is often thought of as the foothills to the Rockies, but there are some tremendous hikes to be had here. Don’t make the mistake and underestimate them as there are some very big mountains and hikes in the park.
It’s also great for fewer crowds on the weekdays and finding wildlife. On the weekend it is very popular with Calgarians having fun in the mountains, still far from the madding crowds of Banff and Jasper. If you’re looking for a two of our favorite hikes check out Tent Ridge or Wasootch Ridge. You can also check out Sarrail Ridge, Burstall Pass, East End of Rundle – There’s too many to name!
East End of Rundle
East End of Rundle (EEOR) mentioned above is one of the most popular hikes in Canmore. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over Canmore, the Bow Valley, and Ha Ling Peak.
Although, just because East End of Rundle (or EEOR, or “Eeyore” as locals like to call it) is close to town doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb up to the summit.
EEOR trail is a 5.8 kilometer out and back trail. It’s certainly a steep and strenuous uphill battle for almost the entire hike. There are hardly any flat parts and the climb starts right from the car park. There is moderate exposure and some scrambling required, but nothing too scary or difficult for the average to advanced hiker. We are reasonably fast hikers and completed the trail in four hours with a 45 minute summit beer stop at the top and about 15 extra minutes for sunset photos. If we were really moving with no long stops we could have done EEOR in under three hours.
The average hiker will probably be able to summit in two hours and descend in 1.5 hours. If you are slower five hours round trip is probably a safe time to estimate. Read all about the East End of Rundle hike here.
Canmore Highland Games
The first Highland Games were held in Scotland in the 11th Century, and it’s no small coincidence that they were the brainchild of King Malcolm III, whose nickname was ‘Canmore.’ The games’ strenuous events were used to test the physical prowess of local men to determine which of them would make the fittest and suitable royal mail carriers.
Drawing visitors from around the world each year, the event has been held since 1991 and takes place during the first weekend of September. With a mandate to promote Scottish ancestry and heritage, the event includes lots of kilts, bagpipes, and a caber toss too. You can purchase tickets in advance online, sign up to volunteer, and even apply for a vendor spot if you’re so inclined. Don’t worry if you’re skinny white legs don’t cut the mustard in a kilt, traditional Scottish garb is optional.
Stretch At Wildheart Yoga
Natasha loves to take yoga classes when we travel and has taken lessons in at least two dozen countries. Naturally, when we’re at home she tries to get in as much yoga as possible in between hikes. Her favorite yoga studio in Canmore is Wildheart Yoga. They have a beautiful modern studio and wonderful instructors with a variety of classes and times. You can find more information along with a schedule on their website.
Grab a bear (beer) at Grizzly Paw Brewing Pub
Our favorite post ski ritual is to check out the local brewery, something you can only find in North America. It doesn’t matter the season, but to end any day with a local beer in the stunning Rockies is the perfect day. The drink and food here are great and we loved their Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat and Rundlestone IPA. There are also seasonal draughts on offer, like gose, wheat, specialty IPA, and other guest brewers.
Catch Some Fresh River Trout
The amazing Canadian Rockies are home to an abundance of streams and rivers. All of this means some of the best fishing you can find in North America. It’s one of the best ways to spend some time in the great outdoors. Some of the most popular spots that are easy to visit are Spray Lake, Bow River, Grotto Mountain, Quarry Lake, and Lake Minnewanka. It’s best to verify the local regulations in effect as it changes by season. The upper Bow River in the park is catch and release.
You don’t need to know the area because there are two fishing guide companies to take you to all the best spots and get you outfitted. You can check out Wapiti Sports & Outfitters and Banff Fishing Unlimited both based in Canmore for more information. They also offer ice fishing on Spray Lakes in the winter.
SUP Paddle Boarding
There is no secret that Canada has some stunning lakes, more than any country in the world. Canmore has a wide selection of waterways itself and there are so many water activities that visitors can do in the area.
One of those things that have made its way from the coast is stand up paddleboarding. Bow Valley Stand Up Paddleboarding has been operating in Canmore for the past five years and offers rentals, lessons, and sales.
It’s an amazing way to take in the stunning waterways around Canmore and one of the best things to do in Canmore in the summer. Of course, if you don’t want to risk a very brisk swim in the water you can opt for a traditional canoe from Banff Canoe Club.
Walk Through Grotto Canyon
An easy hike that’s good year-round is Grotto Canyon. Even in the winter, this famous canyon with rock art is possible to walk along the frozen creek. In the summertime, it’s popular for families seeking to enjoy the narrow slot canyon and climbers looking to scale its walls. At only 4km in length, you can check this one off the list in an hour or two.
Canmore Museum and Geoscience Center
With many fascinating exhibits about Canmore’s historical and geologic past, the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Center is a place you should plan to visit. The museum’s most popular exhibit, ‘From Coal to Community,’ will give you an interesting insight into the area’s native people, the expansion of the railway system, and the overall importance of coal to the region.
If you’re game for more after you’ve seen the museum, guided tours of two of the area’s most productive mines are given by a local historian. Approximately four hours in duration, the tours are very popular, so if it sounds like something you’d like to do, book in advance so you don’t miss out. It’s great if you’re a family and looking for things to do in Canmore if it’s raining.
Hit The Trails on a Mountain Bike
Once the snow melts so do the trails and there are myriad of trails for mountain biking that cater to any skill set. That could mean a nice mellow bike ride through a field with gorgeous views or screaming down a ridgeline on a white-knuckle ride.
Mountain biking has caught on all over North America and the opportunities and trails continue to grow every season. For the most current information on trails in the area stop in a local shop or check out the tourism board’s website.
Canmore Uncorked Festival
Celebrating its 6th anniversary in 2019, the Canmore Uncorked Festival runs for more than a week and draws food and drink enthusiasts from all over the world. There are individual mini-festivals too, which are great for those who are specifically interested in a particular type of cuisine, wine, beer, and whiskey – some of which is made right in Canmore.
In addition, local restaurant tours, cooking classes, and over 40 specialized events at local restaurants are held, so it won’t be difficult to fill up your schedule. The festival’s key event is the Long Table Dinner, which features eight courses, eight chefs and 150 guests. What better way to fill your stomach with wonderful food and drink and meet other likeminded epicureans.
Head over to their website for more details and the 2020 dates once they’re announced.
Drive Down Smith Dorrien Trail
The dirt road that leads up past Grassi Lakes and the Canmore Nordic Center is Smith Dorrien Trail. It’s an unpaved road that is open year round, avalanche conditions withstanding. As you make your way up the pass between Mount Lawrence Grassi and Rundle you’ll find some impressive views. Once through the pass, you’ll enter Kananaskis Country an Alberta Provincial Park. Along the drive, you pass some superb lakes and impressive mountain vistas. Keep your eyes peeled as you’ll likely spot some wildlife too, we’ve seen just about everything such as bears, moose, elk, deer, goats, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.
Indoor Rock Climbing at Elevation Place
Though rock climbing isn’t for the faint of heart, you don’t have to put your life at risk clinging to a sheer rock face thousands of feet up to experience it. That’s just what they had in mind when they created Elevation Place – the place to go in Canmore to see what the climbing hype is all about. It’s also a great place for expert level climbers to practice their moves.
There are climbing areas suitable for nearly every age and physical ability; for those who have little or no experience, lessons are available.
If you’re still not game for being strapped into a harness and grasping for an artificial wall while amused onlookers laugh at the terrified look on your quivering face, fear not, because there is a swimming pool and water slide too.
Professional daycare, staffed by fully qualified and experienced employees, is available on site as well. Head to their website to find out their prices and hours of operation.
Have A Sunset Picnic
This is one of our favorite things to do in the evening. After a full day of work or hiking, it’s tough to find a better way to end our day than by one of the many lakes for sunset. We rarely get a great sunset because of the mountains, but it’s tough to complain about sitting alongside a gorgeous lake.
Canmore Folk Music Festival
If you haven’t noticed, festivals are a common theme among things to do in Canmore. As the longest continuously running festival in Canmore – dating back to 1978 – The Canmore Folk Music Festival is held over the long weekend in August that coincides with Heritage Day.
Drawing over 20,000 visitors annually, the festival is held in scenic Centennial Park, wonderfully set against the majestic Rocky Mountains in the background. Though not as inexpensive as many of the other festivals, it’s a must for lovers of eclectic music. If your weak heart skips a beat or two when you’ve seen the prices, don’t fret, because the Friday evening kicking off the event is free.
Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk
If you want to spend a quiet morning or afternoon strolling through nature head to the boardwalk. The elevated walkway presents year-round opportunities without a need for waders, boots, or snowshoes. It’s accessible from downtown and the trailhead is near the intersection of Main Street and Spring Creek Drive.
The four-kilometer trail is well marked, easy to follow, and will bring you right back to your starting point, so you won’t have to drop bread crumbs or call for an embarrassing helicopter rescue. The boardwalk’s pleasant mix of town and country is the best of both worlds, and you’ll think you’re much farther away from civilization than you really are.
Walk To Grassi Lakes
With water clear and mesmerizingly blue Grassi Lakes is remarkable and easy to reach on a short hike. Though there are other trails in the area, they’re clearly marked, and you’ll know to turn around when you’ve reached the impassably steep part.
About five kilometers south of town, the lakes are easy to get to and you may want to consider packing a few some food for a picnic, as it’s one of the most picturesque places around Canmore. Stunning views of a nearby waterfall and the town of Canmore below present plenty of photo opportunities so grab your favorite travel camera.
Rat’s Nest Cave at Canmore Caverns
If spending a few hours of your vacation groping around in a dank, subterranean cave named after rats, then a Rat’s Nest Cave tour may be just what you’ve been seeking.
The nice people at Canmore Cave Tours will gladly guide you through the pristinely natural and undeveloped cave regardless of the season or weather, and your knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide will give you a fascinating glimpse into Canmore’s geology.
In all likelihood, you’ll be happy, tired, and a little more enlightened when the tour is over; you’ll get dirty too, so bring some quality outdoor wear.
Banff National Park
Though not technically in Canmore, Banff National Park is a must for anyone in the region. The park is world famed and easily considered one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s one of the most majestic parks you’re likely to set foot in your lifetime.
With more activities to occupy your time than could possibly be listed, Banff is a natural wonderland that will take your breath away, regardless of the season in which you visit. The town is noted for its gourmet cuisine, world-class golf, fishing, hiking, and even a hot spring that will soothe your soul when you ease your weary bones into the balmy, therapeutic water after a long, activity-filled day.
If you want to learn more check out our article on things to do in Banff in the winter. If you’re keen on hiking, snowshoeing, climbing, or backcountry touring then Banff National Park has your name all over it.
Spot the Bunnies of Canmore
Ask any resident of Canmore and they’ll likely have an opinion on the town’s most controversial residents, bunny rabbits. For the last four decades, a population of feral pet rabbits has hopped around town. Many speculate the rabbit is easy prey and draw predators such as cougars, coyotes, and bears into town. In recent years the town council and mayor have waged an expensive war on the rabbits at a cost of $300 per rabbit. Judging by the number of young rabbits we’ve seen this year it’s having mixed success.
Check out Canmore’s Art Galleries
For some strange reason, beautiful and quaint towns nestled into breathtaking mountains attract artists. Perhaps it’s the natural majesty that inspires them to dig deep and create works more memorable. Whatever the case may be, you’ll get the point when you stroll through the many galleries located within Canmore’s town limits.
Though not a place to pick up works on the cheap, you’ll be amazed at the things human hands are capable of creating. If you’re an artist yourself, struggling with motivation or inspiration, then a trip to where successful artists display their work will work wonders.
North West Mounted Police Barracks
One of the best ways to get an idea of what makes the town you’re visiting tick is to put your itinerary away, put on your walking shoes, and head out and see where you end up.
If you try that in Canmore, one of the gems you may run into is the North West Mounted Police Barracks, located on Main Street in downtown Canmore. The barracks were constructed in the 19th Century from logs, mud, and straw.
One of the oldest and best-preserved buildings of its kind, it originally housed the brave men whose job it was to keep law and order in a rough and tumble town full of tired and inebriated roughnecks who worked the local mines.
Canmore Nordic Center
The Canmore Nordic center is what put Canmore on the map for tourism. For the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the center was constructed and brought in international visitors from around the world. The center still operates today with trails for cross country skiing, mountain biking, and hiking. The trail system for cross country skiing is world class ready to hold international events with 60km of trails and 6km that have lights for night time skiing. They offer rentals in both the summer and winter for whatever sport you’d like to try.
Canmore Winter Carnival
Every winter in Canmore a carnival takes place in the first two weeks of February in celebration of the coldest months. The carnival is a wonderful and quirky mix of events, games, races, and activities, all of which are somehow associated with winter.
There are lots of activities to participate in. If you’re not in the mood, you can take a casual stroll, eat and drink to your heart’s content, people watch, and take in events like hockey, ice carving, the lumberjack competition, and even the dog parade.
Dog Sled Tour
Dog sledding is a quintessential winter experience and will easily be a highlight of any vacation. It’s been a highlight of our winter. Bundling up in a sled as a team of dogs rushes through the woods is sensational.
Or if you feel like doing it yourself, you can even be a musher! Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours is an experienced and small family operation that’s been in operation since 1983. If you want to book a dog sled tour, you definitely should, head over to their website for their contact details.
Nakiska Ski Area
This was our first introduction to the Canadian Rockies and we are happy we made the stop. Many people skip over Nakiska for it’s bigger and more intimidating counterparts of Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine. While the surrounding region of Kananaskis may not be as world-renowned as Banff, it is every bit as stunning and with far less tourism.
To get to Nakiska you will most likely start in Calgary, only an hours drive away. The drive into Kananaskis Country instantly makes you feel small as the Canadian Rockies making you even forget you were just in a major city.
Ski At Banff Sunshine
Ski or Snowboard should be at the top of your list of things to do in Canmore in the winter. Of all the ski resorts within driving distance of Canmore, Banff Sunshine is our favorite. If you want more variety you can read our post here. We’ve been to Nakiska, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, Panorama, and Kimberley all located around the area. We’re pretty big on snowboarding if you didn’t know, so check out ski and snowboard guide to learn more.
It all hit me when I was stood in the middle of a massive chute watching Natasha’s snow rain down on me from the slope above. The run below me looked like a straight cliff and while standing I could touch the mountain, at least it felt that way. Banff Sunshine is a mountain that truly offers something to everyone from professionals right down to beginners. You can easily find yourself smack dab in freeride terrain that would be considered a strict out-of-bounds in other resorts.
If you want to find a mountain with some seriously humbling terrain in-bounds then Banff Sunshine is the place to head. Jagged peaks loom high above alpine trees and the views are unparalleled.
When you first arrive in the parking lot the mountain does not look like much as the base is simply a gondola station and one restaurant. In fact, to reach the true resort base guests must take a 15-minute gondola that delivers them into a sprawling resort that looks like it belongs in the Alps, not North America.
Canmore vs. Banff
Canmore and Banff are both popular tourist towns, but have very different vibes and things to offer. Canmore is a town of nearly 15,000 while Banff is around 8,000. Banff is located in Banff National Park and thus has more building and development regulations.
Banff is geared more towards tourism with more shops, hotels, activities, and sights. The town is surrounded by the National Park and provides amazing access to outdoor activities. Of course, all of this draws in a massive crowd and there are a number of kitschy things like Starbucks, cheap souvenir shops, McDonald’s, Ruby Tuesdays, Chilis, and candy shops. There are also some great independent retailers, restaurants, and they have some big brand name outdoor shops hard to find like FjallRaven, Patagonia, The North Face, and Helly Hansen.
Canmore is the more liveable town with two large grocery stores, drug store, Canadian Tire, and more independent retailers. Many also prefer the food scene in Canmore as it geared towards locals and Calgarians. Downtown Canmore is popular on summer weekends, but it’s much more manageable with far fewer crowds. If you want a low key vibe than Canmore is a great choice. Also if you like to self cater Canmore is where you can find a number of apartment rentals on Airbnb.
Where to Stay in Canmore?
Aparthotel that has a kitchen so you can do all your own cooking (eating out in Canmore can become expensive). Also has a hot tub on the roof and is only 18 km from Banff.
Solara Resort – Bellstar Hotels & Resorts
I love any place that has a fireplace I can enjoy in the winter. Solara is one of the top reviewed hotels in Canmore, each unit comes with a fully equipped kitchen. We love to choose self-catering as eating out every meal can become a pain. Especially breakfast when you want to get out the door and explore the mountains.
This is a really good budget option for exploring Canmore. Also, each booking offers free breakfast in bed! They have the best location right in the center of downtown and along the Policeman’s Boardwalk. It’s a converted motel and all of the rooms are modern and up to date.
Kananaskis Mountain Lodge
Although, not in Canmore this mountain lodge is where Natasha and I stayed our first time in the area. It’s a fantastic property that is deep into the Rockies surrounded by the wilds. It’s a full-service five-star resort with activities, a Nordic spa, gym, tennis court, pool, bars, and five restaurants.
Plan Your Trip to Canmore
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Canada. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Skin cancer is for real, even in the mountains! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Jasper. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on in the Rockies. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything in the mountains. Even in July, you may still find yourself reaching for a jacket!
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of those tourist that buys plastic water bottles in Jasper. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in the mountains. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding even traveling in the desert. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
The best way to get all around Alberta is with your own rental car. See all our tips on how to rent a car in Canada here.
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