A Beginners Guide to Canmore
One of my favourite towns in the world, under an hour and a half from downtown Calgary and a five minute drive from Banff National Park east gate, Canmore has the heart of a small town with nearly every outdoor activity to offer as well as amazing food and great local shops . There are over 71 kilometres of multi-use trails within the town limits, it is home to the World Class Canmore Nordic Centre, 5 major ski resorts within a one hour drive, hiking, scrambling, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, rafting (the list really goes on and on…) combine to provide a near endless array of outdoor activity options. But sometimes where to start is the biggest question to answer. So I have put together a list of five unique activities at nearly any skill level for your first trip to the Canadian Rockies!
Go Heli Hiking in the Charles Stewart Wilderness
Earlier this week I was invited out with White Mountain Adventures to visit and entirely new part of the Rockies only accessible by helicopter. Paired in small groups with a guide after a short safety demonstration, gear check and loading up on snacks we popped into the helicopter for a short ride through the Bow Valley landing up in a high alpine meadow virtually untouched by humans. With 360 degree mountains views and nearly deafening silence we spent just shy of three hours meandering through the valley surrounded by marmots, ptarmigans (even a few babies) and some friendly mountain sheep (pictured below) before the helicopter picked us up. This trip was perfect for people visiting the Rockies for the first time and looking for a once in a lifetime experience. Being paired with a local guide who can answer any and every question you may have (and I always have questions) as well as ensure everyones safety made it much easier to relax and enjoy our time in the mountains worry-free.
Hike to West Wind Pass
Just outside of Canmore along Spray Valley Road, this 4.7km out and back trail with 356 meters of gain is well maintained and offers unparalleled views of Spray Lake. Starting along the Spray/Smith-Dorrien Highway (742) at the northern end of Spray Lake this trail winds through the forest offering little views until you near the pass. Once at the pass you are rewarded with views of Spray Valley (pictured below) to the West as well as Canmore, Exshaw and the Bow Valley to the East. One of the best “bang for your buck” hikes in the rockies - and please remember that there are bears the frequent the area so don’t forget to bring your bear spray and brush up on your Bear 101 before heading out. More information about this hike can be found here.
Note: There is a seasonal closure from December 1-June 15 each year for West Wind Valley (north of West Wind Pass) and West Wind Ridge (north-west of West Wind Pass), but not Wind Pass, so please respect the closure and stay on trail and return the way you came.
Bike, hike or snowshoe along the High rockies Trail
The High Rockies Trail is an 80 km section of hiking, snowshoeing and mountain biking trails. It part of the The Great Trail - a 24,000 kilometre long trail across all ten Canadian Provinces and three territories and the longest multi use trail in the world. You can find more information about the High Rockies trail here. This section of the trail parallels the west side of the Spray/Smith-Dorrien Highway (742) and has a multitude of access points - arguably the most picturesque section being from Mount Buller to Chester Lake trailhead. Portions of the trail are relatively wide and flat with little elevation gain/loss whereas others are better suited for adventurous trips out to the mountains, upon its completion in 2018 a new suspension bride was installed (see below) also Black Prince Creek. You may want two vehicles when setting out on this trip or be prepared for an out and back hike and remember that if you are hiking that this trail is shared with mountain bikers.
Watch Sunrise Overlooking the Three Sisters
The Three Sisters, officially named Hope, Faith and Charity Mountains are an iconic view in the Bow Valley and this little lookout located on the south end of town along the banks of Policeman’s Creek is one of the best places to watch the sun rise in the Rocky Mountains. This slow moving section of the creek offers a reflection of all three mountains on any clear and calm morning (unless the neighbourhood ducks stop by to put on a show).
have a cup of Coffee at Eclipse
(formerly Rave Coffee)
There are few things that I love more than a hot cup of coffee after a cold sunrise hike and the best place in town for that is at Eclipse. Being a coffee roaster first and cafe second the staff are friendly and extremely coffee knowledgeable and as a bonus the cafe smells of the fresh roast of the day. They also offer extremely fast wifi and a variety of snacks prepared for either in-house consumption or to take with you on your next adventure. If anyone is looking for me on a Sunday mid-morning, sitting in the corner of the cafe sipping an oat milk latte is probably your best bet!