Story by Jody Robbins
CANMORE, ALBERTA — Canmore often gets the shaft in favour of the more famous Rocky Mountain resort town just up the highway — Banff. But spend a weekend here, and you’ll find the same impressive array of wildlife, access to world-class adventure activities and less crowds too boot.
It’s easy to see why this quaint, alpine town attracts Calgarians in droves come the weekend. With more than 70 kilometres of multi-use trails within its limits — plus options for climbing, horseback riding and rafting — Canmore’s backyard provides a non-stop array of options for all levels of adventurers. Here are a some tried and true ways weekend warriors shift gears.
Saddle Up in the Rocky Mountains
When you’re in cowboy country, you might as well pony up and experience the old west just as the early explorers did. One of the prettiest places for horseback riding is at Cross Zee Ranch. Trail rides ($45 for 60 minutes) wind through the ancient stomping ground of the Nakoda First Nations, where the Bow Valley benchlands are filled with Douglas fir trees and critters such as elk, deer and, yes, the occasional bear.
Ride the Rapids in Kananaskis
Kananaskis Water Rafting lets thrill seekers choose between a scenic float ($49), or barreling down the Kananaskis River on Class 3 rapids ($75). With the more extreme option, you’ll start off at the Widow Maker, a break in the river, that’s notoriously tippy. Admittedly launching off from here doesn’t sound promising, but there’s no reason to fret. All riders receive safety drills and paddling instructions from the guide, before plopping into the raft and surfing the eddies. Since you’re in Western Canada, they’ll even let you sit “rodeo,” straddling the front of the raft cowboy-style, over dips that will get you sufficiently drenched.
Spa Vacations in Alberta
If by chance you’re sore after all that activity, you have the perfect excuse to recover at the newest spa in the Rockies. What sets One Wellness Spa apart is that it elevates traditional treatments into something more holistic. Pathways to Engagement massages ($195/90 minutes) and facials ($245/90 minutes) are designed around your current level of energy and desired outcome. Just don’t expect a passive experience here. Guided imagery and breath work ensure you release all tension by bringing the mind into the bodywork.
Eat in Style in Canmore
Locals and weekenders alike are spoiled for choice when it comes to Canmore’s food scene. Thanks to innovative chefs and lower rents than in Banff, Canmore has some of the best dining available in Alberta’s Bow Valley.
After an easy hike up the riverbed at Cougar Creek, you’re perfectly positioned to replace any lost calories at Iron Goat. This family-friendly gastropub boasts some of the best views in the valley from its three-storey windows and two elevated patios. Albertans come here for upscale pub grub like chipotle mango duck wings ($13.75), and fun drinks such as the Iron Goat Rock Slide ($6.75) concocted with Irish cream, vanilla vodka and ice cream. There’s also an impressive array of gluten-free options and a noteworthy kids menu.
The poshest spot on Main Street has to be Murrieta’s, a place where you can really sink into the surroundings. Located on the second floor, with vaulted ceilings and a bank of windows, it seems as though you could reach out and touch the peaks of Rundle Ridge. It’s also one of the few restaurants in the region that serves CA (certified angus) steak. Choose from tenderloin, strip loin, or ribeye ($32-$34), and pair it with a big, bold red from Murrieta’s robust wine cellar.
Then there’s Zona’s, a former after-hours disco-cum-restaurant. Serving more than 20 of the best international brews, including La Fin du Monde ($16/375ml) from Quebec’s Unibroue brewery, it’s tempting to travel around the world via beer. Fortunately, Zona’s unique spin on classic dishes such as chicken coconut lime lasagna ($16) and avocado caesar salad ($8.50) will ensure your stomach is well lined. Travel Tip: The ongoing six-ounce AAA sirloin steak special ($19.50) is likely the best value in town.
PS: Do me a favour and don’t tell any of the locals you now know their favourite haunts. They don’t give up these gems easily.
MORE ABOUT CANMORE IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
Distance from Calgary: Canmore is about 110 kilometres west of Calgary. Take Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) into Canmore, which is 24 kilometres south of Banff.
For more about visiting Canmore: Check the town’s website.
MAP WITH DIRECTIONS FROM CALGARY TO CANMORE AND THEN TO BANFF
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NOTE: Photos courtesy of Tourism Canmore, Kananaskis Whitewater Rafting and One Wellness Spa.