I had the wrong idea about Canmore. Since Canada 1 brings you to this growing town after 90 minutes of driving, with Banff still 20-30 minutes away, I had it in my mind that Canmore was in the foothills. So while planning for our 2pm arrival (and especially our 5am CST departure), I arranged for our first night at Lady MacDonald Inn and then had us moving on to Banff, Jasper and other places. Canmore was convenient to our dogsledding rendevous, and would do for an overnight.
But even under the thick clouds that Sunday afternoon, we could tell that we’d reached the mountains a lot sooner than expected. Canmore doesn’t lie within the large expanse of Banff National Park (the entrance is about 10 minutes away), but that doesn’t mean that your peak-viewing opportunities are limited. Banff may have Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountains, but Canmore can claim the Three Sisters and a host of other equally impressive mountains that in 360 degrees of Alpine Surround Sound. The town lies in the Bow Valley, along the river’s north shore, bounded on either side by beautiful chunks of the Rockies.
Canmore’s location outside the national park means that the town’s growth is not controlled, while Banff’s growth (and residents) are directly monitored by the park service. Canmore has exploded in recent years (at least relatively), and is the principal site for condo and golf course development, featuring the world-class Silvertip course on the northside of town (no tee times were available in December).
Nonetheless, we found it a very pleasant place to stay. When weather curtailed our plans to head to Jasper, we readily made reservations at the Lady MacDonald for our final three nights. Canmore has a growing number of restaurants, a modest downtown with stores and services, and access to all of the area’s highlights. It’s a short drive into Banff or beyond, and we preferred its slower pace, lower prices, and more down home atmosphere.
From Canmore, it’s easier to head south into Kananaskis Country, the largely overlooked ‘playground’ used by locals for all of their outdoor options: skiing, hiking, fishing, etc. It’s the same mountain range as in Banff, just less populated.
And when you’re back in town, there are plenty of good options for dining, from the simple and basic to some excellent restaurants. Our favorite was Crazyweed Grille, but we also enjoyed the fresh pasta at Luna Blue, tasty bagel sandwiches at Rocky Mountain Bagel Co., and good pub food (and beer!) at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Co.
But the highlight of our time in Canmore was our stay at the Lady MacDonald Inn. Our hosts Peter and Tammy made us comfortable, kept us well fed with delicious breakfasts and evening snacks, and gave us countless tips on how to enjoy the beautiful country around us. We’re anxious to come back and see how Canmore looks in the summertime, and I know where we’ll stay.