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15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Canmore, Alberta

Written by Michael Law
Dec 11, 2020

For many years, Canmore played second fiddle to the world-famous town of Banff, just up the road. Well, those days are over. This thriving mountain town is an attraction in itself, ideally located next to some of Alberta's best outdoor activity areas. You'll run out of energy before you run out of things to do in Canmore.

Views of the Three Sisters and Ha Ling Peak greet you from almost any vantage point in town. There's nothing quite like sitting on a patio on a sunny summer day after a day of exploring and soaking up the view with good friends.

If you are staying in Canmore, one of the most popular things to do is a day trip to explore the sights of Banff National Park and a stop at Lake Louise. This is almost mandatory if you haven't been to the area before, but you'll enjoy retreating from the crowds and returning to Canmore at the end of the day.

Canmore is an exceptionally easy town to walk around, as almost all the main tourist attractions are easily reached on foot. It is just over an hour from Calgary and is reached via the Trans-Canada Highway. Play out your sightseeing and adventures with our list of the top things to do in Canmore.

1. Stroll Down 8th Street

8th Street in Canmore | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The best place to start in Canmore is on 8th Street, the retail heart of the town. Here, you'll find a wonderful assortment of restaurants, galleries, eclectic shops, and other key attractions.

Begin your stroll down 8th Street at the bridge over Policeman's Creek, where you'll find one of Canmore's more unusual works of public art: a giant head partially buried in the sand, just screaming for a selfie or two. A bit farther down the street, you'll pass by the Northwest Mounted Police Barracks.

Beyond this are several restaurants, many of which feature inviting patios that could make your quick stroll down the main drag stretch into an afternoon event if you decide to pop in for a meal. You'll also notice an area of trendy food trucks in the summer, with plenty of outdoor seating.

Don't be afraid to wander off 8th Street — the roads running off the main drag also have interesting shops and restaurants.

2. Go Underground at the Rat's Nest Cave

Rat's Nest Cave | Photo Courtesy of Canmore Caverns

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at spelunking, Canmore is a good place to start. Nearby Rat's Nest Cave is located under Grotto Mountain and exists in its natural state. No walkways or bright lights are here; this is cave exploring in its most up close and personal manner. You'll definitely get a bit dirty, but by the end of the day you may be hooked by the experience.

The best way to see the cave is with Canmore Caves on the Canmore Caving Adventure Tour or the Explorer Tour. These tours range in length from 4.5 to six hours. A moderate level of physical fitness is required, as you'll be doing some bouldering, a bit of scrambling, and a whole lot of scooching.

Highlights of a visit include rare pictographs, a descent down the "Laundry Chute," and making it through the "Challenge Squeeze."

Tours take place year-round, rain, shine, or snow. It's recommended to book well in advance.

Official site: https://www.canmorecavetours.com/

3. Walk the Policeman's Creek Trail

Policeman's Creek Trail | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

The Policeman's Creek trail is one of the best walking trails in Canmore. Covering 3.9 kilometers, the trail follows the creek for much of the distance. One fascinating element is the spring, where the creek bubbles up from deep in the earth.

Other trails branch off the main route, including one to Spring Creek and another to the Bow River. Views along the way are quite spectacular on a clear day, with Ha Long Peak and the Three Sisters dominating the skyline.

Policeman's Creek is perfect for families. The trail is wide and level and can accommodate those pushing strollers. One of the easiest access points is at the Big Head sculpture.

4. Ski or Bike at the Nordic Center

Nordic Center | Eric Lamoureux / photo modified

Canmore is fortunate to be home to Canada's premier cross country and mountain biking center. Just up the road from downtown Canmore towards Spray Lakes, this 4.5-square-kilometer (1.7-square-mile) facility is full of all kinds of activity-based options.

In the summer, the Nordic Center is home to over 100 kilometers of fun, flowy mountain bike trails for various levels of abilities. In addition to the trails, the mountain bike skills park will test your skill and fear levels with its technical features.

An orienteering course is available, along with a disc golf course and a roller skiing/biathlon course. Trail running and hiking are options for those without sports equipment.

In the winter, the center transforms to a cross-country and biathlon ski center with over 65 kilometers of groomed trails, including one that is illuminated at night.

5. Hike to Grassi Lakes

Grassi Lakes

The impossibly clear and slightly green Grassi Lakes are a must-see when visiting Canmore. The 3.8-kilometer trail was originally constructed by Lawrence Grassi, hence the name of the hike.

The hike is one of those rare hikes that has an easy route and a more difficult route, and as a bonus, both routes are almost the same distance. The split in the trail is about 200 meters from the trailhead.

Families with small children and those with mobility issues should take the easier route to the right, called Grassi Lake Upper. This route follows an old road and is wide and suitable for all.

Everyone else should take the slightly more difficult but much more interesting Grassi Lakes Interpretive Trail, which branches off to the left. Along this route, you'll come across interesting signposts providing information on Lawrence Grassi and the trail itself. Eventually, this route emerges from the trees with fantastic views out over the lakes with Canmore off in the distance.

The elevation gain for the trail is a manageable 125 meters.

6. Paddle the Bow River

Photo Copyright: Nick Wieler

The Bow River flows right past Canmore, making the town a good base for river-based activities. Some of the more popular options include canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding (SUPing). A boat launch is a short distance from downtown, where you'll also find outfitters offering equipment rentals.

The river is fast flowing, and the water is very cold, so this is something that only experienced paddlers should undertake. For a more sedate outing on calm water try the Canmore Reservoir, or take a raft tour from one of the local operators.

7. Go Golfing

Silvertip Golf Course in Canmore

Canmore is lucky to have not just one but three golf courses —not bad for a town of 14,000. The golf courses here are both challenging and beautiful at the same time. The thin mountain air is reputed to make your drives go farther, however that may be tempered by your loss of concentration due to the amazing mountain views.

Two courses, Silvertip and Stewart Creek, are 18-hole courses designed by world-famous golf course architects and will test your every skill set. Silvertip was designed by Les Furber and does an incredible job of incorporating the local topography into each hole. The men's slope rating is a challenging 153. Stewart Creek is equally as beautiful and owes its inception to Gary Browning. The men's slope rating here is a bit more manageable 128.

The Canmore Golf & Curling Club is a shorter course but still offers challenges to all golfers, especially from the back tees. Although it does not have the pedigree of the other two courses, it more than makes up for this with ease of access and a more relaxed environment. The men's slope rating of the course is 121.

8. Ride Your Bike from Canmore to Banff

Scenic bike trail in Banff National Park

One of the most popular things to do in Canmore is to ride the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff. The one-way distance is 26.8 kilometers. The trail runs from the visitor center at the west end of Canmore right through to the Bow Valley Parkway. Bring your own bikes or rent one at any one of Canmore's multiple bike shops.

The route is paved the entire way, and the elevation gain is only 30 meters. Strong cyclists can do the trail in under three hours return. The scenery along the way is quite spectacular, with Tunnel Mountain looming in the distance as you head west.

Pack a lunch or, even better, stop at a patio in Banff and grab a bite to eat, something to drink, and let your muscles recharge.

To make an even longer trip, consider continuing on past the terminus of the trail at the Bow Valley Parkway. Pedaling the length of this highway will take you all the way to Lake Louise. This will add another 50 kilometers one-way to your trip.

Another option open to mountain bikers only is to take either the Rundle Riverside Trail from Canmore to Banff (advanced only) or the Goat Creek Trail from Canmore to Banff. After completing either one, take the easy, mostly downhill ride along the Mountain Legacy Trail back to Canmore to make a complete loop. If you take the Goat Creek Trail, be sure to start in Canmore or you'll be riding uphill the entire way.

Parking for the Mountain Legacy Trail in Canmore is at the Travel Alberta Visitors Center. Parking for the Mountain Legacy trail in Banff is at the Cascade Ponds Picnic Area, Fenland Picnic Area, and anywhere in the townsite.

9. Visit the North West Mounted Police Barracks

NWMP Barracks in Canmore | Photo Copyright: Michael Law

The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Barracks are easily combined with a visit to 8th Street and the Big Head sculpture. This fascinating attraction allows you to step back to 1917 and get a feel for what it was like to be in law enforcement at that time.

Canmore's calmness today belies an earlier time when this town was a rough and ready coal mining outpost. The NWMP were stationed here to keep the troublemakers in line and to stop the bootlegging of illegal liquor.

The building is Canmore's 3rd oldest, and the gardens in behind are the original ones planted by the wife of the corporal stationed here. Tours are available and are led by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers. The building is open from mid-May through until late September.

Address: 609 - 8th Street, Canmore, Alberta

10. Explore the Canmore Museum

Canmore's fascinating history is on full display at the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Center. Located inside the modern and beautiful Civic Center, this local museum provides great insight as to how Canmore has evolved over the years.

Don't miss the permanent exhibit called "From Coal to Community," which traces the nearly 100 years of the town's growth and evolution. Another exciting exhibit is "Inside the Mine: A Virtual Reality Experience," where you can travel deep into a mine without having to get wet or dirty.

The museum charges a modest fee to enter and is open Thursday to Sunday during normal business hours.

Address: 902B 7th Avenue, Canmore, Alberta

Official site: https://canmoremuseum.com/

11. Stop by Studios at the Artists of Elk Run

For those less interested in the heart-pumping activities that Canmore is well-known for, and more interested in artistic endeavors, a trip to see The Artists of Elk Run is in order.

Whether you are looking to fill the white space on your walls or looking for a signature piece, the Artists of Elk Run have you covered. Located in the industrial part of Canmore, the nine studios of the various artists are all within easy walking distance of one another.

The artists occasionally hold open studio days and other special events. Be sure to check their website to see the latest news.

The Elk Run Industrial Area is located on the eastern edge of Canmore.

Official site: https://www.artistsofelkrun.com/

12. Shop at the Canmore Mountain Market

Fresh produce at the Canmore Mountain Market

For the freshest produce and some of the best baking in the Bow Valley, head to the Canmore Mountain Market each Thursday. The market has been operating for more than 20 years and is the place to wander among over 60 vendors, or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee and a sweet treat.

In addition to the fresh fruit and vegetables, you'll find vendors selling clothing, home décor, jewelry, and other unique crafts.

The Canmore Mountain Market takes place in the parking lot of the Canmore Recreation Center and runs from May right through until October.

Official site: https://canmore.ca/residents/mountain-market

13. Get Active at Elevation Place

Young climber on the climbing wall

If the mountain weather is not cooperating, and you are looking for a good indoor diversion for your family, head to Elevation Place.

This state-of-the-art fitness facility has everything you could ever need to help every member of your family burn off excess energy. A large pool, complete with a waterslide, will provide endless hours of enjoyment for the kids.

For those interested in something a bit different, consider trying the climbing wall. Rentals and instruction are provided, and even non-climbers will be up on the wall in no time at all.

If mom and dad just need some time to have a workout on their own, all the latest cardio equipment is here, and the best part is that babysitting is available.

Official site: https://canmore.ca/recreation-facility/elevation-place

14. Wander through the Spring Creek Area

Spring Creek

The newest area of Canmore is Spring Creek. This vibrant community features walking trails, restaurants, and other interesting retail outlets. Approximately 50 percent is built at the moment, and the final neighborhood will be truly spectacular.

This new development is easily reached by strolling down the Policeman's Creek Trail and walking over the first bridge on your right. The Spring Creek area is, or will be, home to a collection of beautiful mountain homes, condos, shops, galleries, and more. If you are driving, just turn down Spring Creek Drive off 8th street.

15. Go Camping near Canmore

Three Sisters Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The draw of the mountains is strong. There's something unexplained in the way those huge piles of rock call to you and make you want to explore. One of the best ways to heed that call is to go camping.

Canmore has several in-town campgrounds that give you the best of both worlds: urban and rural. Slightly further afield, you'll find wonderful campgrounds set in towering pine trees with the Bow River flowing by. You can enjoy nature and still enjoy the best of what the town has to offer.

One of the most popular areas for camping near Canmore is in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Here, you'll find Bow River Campground and Three Sisters Campground, both of which are set in beautiful areas.

Camping near Canmore can be a good alternative to camping in Banff National Park, where the campgrounds are large and usually full during the peak season.

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