I could live in Canmore, a mountain town located an hour west of Calgary, and only minutes from Banff National Park. It’s truly an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. What I particularly love about the town is the fact you can walk out your door from just about anywhere in town and within minutes be hiking or biking on some amazing trails.
Cycling in the Canmore area
Bow River Valley Trails
If you’re looking for an easy, scenic and family friendly bike ride you don’t even need to leave Canmore. Over twenty kilometres of well-marked trails beckon. Made up of a mix of pavement and gravel, they wiggle through the woods, take you over bridges and meander along the river; at frequent intervals you’ll find a bench where you can sit and ponder the state of the universe. Also look for wildlife. In my case, I saw a number of elk, seemingly just hanging out in the Bow River.
Cycling the Figure Eight Loop
Locals in the know call it the Figure Eight Loop. Starting in Canmore, head off on the well-used and very lovely Legacy Trail; follow it for 26 kilometres to reach Banff. Take a run up Tunnel Mountain (which I didn’t do), and continue on the road to loop past Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. This section is my favourite. You almost always see Bighorn sheep and the area around both lakes is very pretty. (They are both excellent lakes for kayaking.) Until mid-April, a section of the road is closed to cars, but open to cyclists. Return to the Legacy Trail and cycle back to Canmore.
On the Legacy Trail east of Banff look for a parking lot – and two red chairs. Parks Canada is putting red chairs in various scenic spots in national parks throughout Canada. My friend said she’d also seen them in Gros Morne National Park last summer. The fellow seated in the chair thought it was a brilliant idea. I concur.
A nice touch that’s been added to the Legacy Trail is a set of bike tools and an air pump. You’ll find them across from the parking lot at Travel Alberta’s Tourist Information Centre in Canmore.
Hiking in the Canmore area
There’s a hike for every level of hiker in the Canmore area.
The Grassi Lake Trail
You can’t beat the 3.8 kilometre Grassi Lakes Trail for a family-friendly hike. It’s also perfect if you only have a limited amount of time. Accessed via the Spray Lakes Road, it takes you up past a waterfall to a couple of emerald-green/turquoise coloured lakes. Allow some time to watch the rock climbers play on the cliffs.
Ha Ling Peak
Ha Ling Peak reminds me of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, without the lattes at the top and the ability to take a tram to the bottom. It’s like a stair stepper on the way up and the descent is no easier. But the views are amazing once you break out above treeline and it’s a perfect early season hike, especially this year. Most of the snow is gone but I would recommend icers to negotiate the slippery sections of trail.
Over the four kilometre one way hike, you ascend 700 metres. The top is a scramble which we decided to omit yesterday but if the warm weather continues, it should be clear going all the way to the summit in the next few weeks.
Park in the Goat Creek Parking Lot at the top of the Spray Lakes Road; walk across the dam and you can’t miss the trail. It’s popular so chances are even on a weekday you won’t be alone.
There are a number of other early season hikes in the area that would be worthwhile.
If you’re looking for a long hike/scramble, the seven hour trip to Mount Lady Macdonald should fit the bill. It’s free of snow right now.
For an easier hike try the combination of the 1.5 kilometre Stewart Canyon Trail and the 6.4 kilometre Lake Minnewanka Trail, accessed from the parking lot beside Lake Minnewanka. You can go as far as you want and turn back when you’ve had enough. Or if you’ve got the energy, continue on the Aylmer Pass Trail for superb views of the area.
Where to stay in Canmore
There are lots of B&B’s and hotels in the Canmore area – really something for every budget. I stayed at the Grandview Chalet B&B – a bike friendly B&B run by a couple who love the outdoors. If you’re looking for a comfortable bed for the night, great hospitality, a delicious breakfast and advice on what to do when it comes to outdoor activities in the area, you’d do well to choose this place.
Canmore is an exceptional base for outdoor adventures – no matter what the season.
Thank you to Travel Alberta for help with this trip. All thoughts and opinions are my own – and I do highly recommend you spend some time in the Canmore area.
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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