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Canmore is my dream town. I’ve been visiting since I was a kid, and hope to retire there someday (if I can afford it!)
Located just six kilometers outside of Banff National Park on the TransCanada Highway, Alberta’s ninth largest town is often touted as a cheaper and less touristy alternative to Banff.
But in so many ways, Canmore is one of the most appealing places to visit in Alberta in its own right. Downtown Canmore is replete with art galleries, cozy cafés, breweries & distilleries, and healthy eating options. Everyone in Canmore seems to be outdoorsy or artistic. There’s a real sense of community and environmentalism, and visitors are greeted with smiles.
Canmore was originally a coal town, but underwent a revival after it hosted parts of the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. Much of the area around Canmore is a corridor for wildlife, and many films have been shot in the area, including parts of Brokeback Mountain.
Canmore also serves as a hub for a seemingly endless number of hiking trails and other outdoor activities in the greater Kananaskis area – see my guides to the best lakes in Canmore, easy hikes in Canmore, and easy hikes in Kananaskis.
The town is also surrounded by iconic Rocky Mountain peaks, including Three Sisters, Mount Lawrence Grassi, Mount Rundle, and Grotto Mountain.
In this article, I’m going to cover a large number of attractions, things to do, places to visit, places to eat & drink, and summer & winter activities in Canmore. I hope this goes to show that Canmore is much more than just a place to stay while visiting Banff, and that Alberta truly is one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada!
Where to Stay in Canmore
Canmore is known for having cheaper accommodations than nearby Banff.
We really enjoyed our stay with our kids at Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), a motel with mountain views, hot tub, and playground for the kids. It is one of the best value choices in town.
For a super cozy experience, try Ambleside Lodge B&B (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), or for true luxury, opt for The Malcolm Hotel Canmore (see on Booking / TripAdvisor / Agoda), chosen by Travelers’ Choice as one of the best hotels in the world.
Things to Do in Canmore Town Center
Canmore is a compact town with numerous attractions that can easily be explored on foot. Park your car and spend half a day uncovering the following downtown attractions:
Explore Downtown Canmore
Downtown Canmore is located west of Highway 1, between Bow River and Highway 1 (the TransCanada).
The downtown core is between 8th avenue and Policeman Creek, and 10th street to 7th street. 8th street is the Main Street of Downtown and is closed off to traffic in the summer months.
Time will slip by as you explore Downtown’s high concentration of shops, cafés, artist galleries, restaurants, and more. I’ll cover each of these more specifically below.
Even when you’re downtown in Canmore, you’ll never forget you’re in the mountains, with stunning peaks ever visible in all directions.
Best Walks in Canmore
You don’t even have to leave Canmore’s city centre to find highly scenic walking and cycling opportunities. The town is crisscrossed with trails. Take a few steps and you’ll be immersed in nature, quickly forgetting you’re in an urban centre.
You can pretty much traverse the entire town from north to south or east to west without stepping off a walking trail.
Here’s are some of the best cycling and walking trails in Canmore town centre; you can find even more options in my Canmore easy hikes guide.
Policeman’s Creek is a north-to-south 4-km boardwalk that follows the creek of the same name. The creek is highly scenic in all seasons, and a fun, easy stroll with kids. You can access the middle of it from Big Head statue on 8th street.
Spur Line Trail to Canmore Engine Bridge
This casual stroll through the forest connects Railway Avenue in the east to Canmore Engine Bridge in the west on the Bow River. The mountain backed bridge is one of the most gorgeous views in town.
From the bridge, you can follow trails in either direction along the river, or cross the bridge to access Canmore Nordic Centre and a number of other trails on the opposite side.
Higashikawa Friendship Trail and West Canmore Park Trail
These trails follow either side of the Bow River just west of Downtown Canmore. Higashikawa Trail passes through Riverside Park, a lovely spot to suntan in the grass or enjoy a picnic. West Canmore Park has a boat launch on the Bow River.
Larch Island Walking Path
These easy loop trail begins in a residential area of dream houses, following a few branches of Bow River before meeting the river itself. It’s an easy natural stroll perfect for kids (you can even include a stop at Larch Park Playground), and feels miles away from the city.
You can park at the end of 17th street or 1100 Larch Place to access it, or just walk there from downtown.
Art Galleries in Canmore
Canmore is an artists’ haven, and numerous renowned painters, photographers, craftspersons, and jewelry makers have galleries in town.
For art seekers, here’s a list of galleries that we most enjoyed, located downtown unless otherwise stated:
- Carter-Ryan Gallery: instantly recognizable paintings and soapstone sculptures by an indigenous artist.
- Brandon T. Brown Wilderness Gallery: jaw-dropping wildlife photography
- Avens Gallery: featuring numerous Canadian artists
- Art Country Canada: works by Robert Bateman, Group of Seven, and other famous Canadian artists
- Fallen Leaf Art Gallery: gorgeous paintings by local artists focusing on the beauty of Canmore and Rocky Mountains
- All in the Wild: Stunning photography by Jason Bantle from around the world
- Fireweed Glass Studio: gorgeous glass-blown artworks located east of Highway 1, open Friday and Saturdays only.
Stumble Upon Public Artworks
Besides the many indoor galleries in town, there’s also a wealth of public art on display in Canmore.
Some of the most iconic permanent pieces include Big Head (8th street and Policeman Creek), Touchstone (a 30-foot sculpted pole at Elevation Place), and the Pigs out of Rubble mural (10th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue).
Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre
Canmore’s small museum is housed in the handsome Town of Canmore Civic Centre building between 8th and 9th street downtown.
The museum focuses on the human history of Canmore, including coal mining, immigrants, war-time, RCMP, and more. The museum is quite small, so you won’t need more than 30 minutes to peruse it, but entrance is only $5 and kids are free.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday to Monday.
Canmore NWMP Barracks
The Northwest Mounted Police Barracks is a Provincial Historical Resource in Downtown Canmore. Dating to 1893, it served as lodging for police officers and a jail until 1929. It is maintained by the Centennial Museum Society of Canmore, which also runs the Canmore Museum.
The Barracks is right on 8th street at the eastern end of downtown. Visitors are welcome to take a look around inside, and there are volunteers on hand who are more than welcome to give a free tour.
There’s also a garden in the back and a teepee that you can peek inside.
Besides the usual souvenirs you can expect in any mountain resort town, there are a number of creative shops supporting local arts & crafts downtown.
Here are some of the Canmore shops we liked the most:
- Alberta’s Own Marketplace: Creative locally made crafts & gifts
- Canmore Tea Company: An incredible selection of teas and teaware
- Sugar Pine Company: Quality quilts, yarns, fabrics, and other sewing gear
- Stonewaters: Beautiful furniture and home decorations
- Kavia Fine Jewelers: Beautiful mountain-themed jewelry
- Hello Vintage: huge array of vintage clothing and accessories
Canmore boasts ones of the best recreation centres in the province. It includes a large swimming pool with waterslide, fitness centre, rock climbing, and child minding service.
Elevation Place also houses two art galleries: Canmore Art Guild Gallery and Three Sisters Gallery. Outside, 30-foot Touchstone is an iconic local artwork.
Canmore Mountain Market
Canmore Mountain Market is Canmore’s farmers’ market. It takes place every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., May to October.
You can expect to find loads of produce, meats, jams, baked goods, clothing, crafts, and some of the most impressive jewelry and artwork we’ve ever seen at a farmers’ market.
Normally held in the downtown core, in 2021 the Canmore Mountain Market took place in the parking lot of Elevation Place, with free parking available.
On Railway Avenue and Pinewood Crescent, this tiny nook in the wall houses a rotating museum exhibit. When we visited, it covered Larch Island in town, complete with an informational brochure and recommended walking tour to take away.
A few steps north of downtown, there’s a lovely pond with a gazebo. In the morning, mountains reflect on the water. You can park on 7th avenue beside the pond to access downtown or Spur Line Trail.
In winter, the pond is one of the best spots in Canmore for ice skating.
Eating & Drinking in Canmore
You will be spoiled for choices when it comes to dining in Canmore. The city also has some excellent breweries, distilleries, and cafés. I can’t cover everything, so I’ll stick mainly to the places I’ve personally tried.
I especially enjoyed my lunch at Communitea, which does health and vegetarian focused bowls, noodles, and an assortment of teas.
For dinner, we really enjoyed the food at Tank310, the Grizzly Paw Brewery (see more on that below). I loved the vegetarian Yumbo Gumbo. We also loved the noodles at Ramen Arashi, a good budget choice right downtown.
Although we didn’t go, The Sensory is a top-rated upscale restaurant in town, while Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon is popular for its quality food and cocktails. Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. is also a popular choice for pizza.
Café culture is big in Canmore, and there are numerous choices on offer. Beamer’s has been around for a quarter of a century and has two locations in town. Besides the usual, they’ve also got kombucha, nitro cold coffees, booze, and even a turmeric latte!
Ice Cream, Juices, & Sweet Treats
For your ice cream fix in Canmore, grab a cone from a bus at Old School Bus Ice Cream, especially if you’re looking for fun things to do in Canmore with kids. The kids size was only $2.50 and was big enough for me! Scoopin’ Moose is another popular choice right on Main Street.
For artisanal ice cream, including several non-dairy options, try Scratch Rare Ice Cream at PD3 (watch for the silver double decker bus), an outpost of Blake Restaurant right on Main Street.
If you’re visiting from abroad, you may want to try BeaverTails Canmore. It’s a typical tourist treat, and you can find the same shop in Banff and Jasper, but they are undeniably tasty.
Chocolate lovers can’t miss Cacao 70, a Montreal-based expanding chain that does everything chocolate, from fondues & waffles to creative hot chocolates and mochas.
Breweries in Canmore
Canmore is blessed with three excellent breweries.
We were especially impressed with the facility and beers at Canmore Brewing Company. Over a dozen draft beers are on offer in the sparkling clean taproom, with cozy seating overlooking the actual brewing facility.
There’s an excellent patio too, and on weekends food trucks offer snacks in the parking lot. You can even order in your own food if you’d like. The Rye IPA, dry cider, and peach sour were notably delicious.
Grizzly Paw’s brewery-restaurant, called Tank310, was a close second for us. The facility itself is gorgeous, making us feel we were in an oversized mountain lodge that looks down on the brewing area.
They’ve got four staple beers plus the summit series (named after local mountains) and rotating seasonals. Grizzly Paw also has a pub downtown.
Sheepdog Brewing is a more casual operation on the east side of the highway. Bring your dog, and prepare to make some friends. If you make the trip, then also check out the distillery around the corner (see below).
Distilleries in Canmore
Wild Life Distillery is a local spirits distillery is run by two passionate locals. Their spirits make use of local ingredients and are gaining attention across the province.
We stopped in at Wild Life to sample their offerings. Our favorites were the rhubarb gin, purple-hued Rundle Bar Gin, and the unique Wildcat Amaro. They also create bitters and syrup, and there are creative cocktails on offer.
BLAKE is a restaurant just east of the railway line that makes their own vodka and rum, as well as a small line of beers, house-made ice cream (including non-dairy options), and scrumptious bites for pairing.
Places to Visit in Canmore Beyond Town
Canmore is the perfect base for visiting nearby Banff National Park, as well as Kananaskis Country, a vast region encompassing more than 10 provincial and wildland parks, and many more regional parks.
Kananaskis surrounds Canmore, with the bulk of it lying to the south. It is one of the most visited regions (by locals) in Alberta, with countless outstanding hikes and opportunities for outdoor activities. For even more ideas than I present below, see my more detailed guide to the best things to do in Kananaskis.
Below I’ll introduce some popular hikes and other attractions just outside of Canmore town. I won’t even get into all the things to do in Banff and further afield in Kananaskis; that will be whole other future article!
To visit anywhere outside of the Canmore town centre, including all the below sights, you’ll need to purchase a Kananaskis Pass. Here’s a map showing exactly where the pass is needed. For Banff National Park, you’ll need a separate Canada National Parks Pass. Both have options for one day or one year.
Canmore Nordic Centre
Canmore Nordic Centre was first constructed for the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. Today it is a provincial park encompassing a huge network of hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and biathlon trails.
Various programs are on offer throughout the year, and general membership or day passes are required to make use of the trails.
Because parts of Canmore are wildlife corridors, it is essential to carry bear spray wherever you go. Also, never leave trash behind, and always keep dogs on a leash.
The popular 22.3-km Legacy Trail connects Canmore to Banff village. It is a multi-use trail running parallel to the highway.
Quarry Lake Park
Quarry Lake Park is one of the few lakes around Canmore for swimming. A short trail leads to the spring-fed lake and around it. There is a rocky beach, and the park is a popular spot for families and dog-owners.
Because Quarry Lake has become so popular in recent years, there is now a steep $20 parking fee. If you’ve got the energy, you could walk here from town. A Kananaskis Pass is not needed for visiting Quarry Lake.
Grassi Lakes Trail
Grassi Lakes Trail is an extremely popular easy walking trail to a set of gorgeous, blue-green lakes. Because the trail is easy, it’s a good choice to go hiking with kids in Canmore. A K-Pass is required.
Ha Ling Peak Trail
A more challenging but also extremely popular hike is the trail to Ha Ling Peak, a sheer vertical peak overlooking Canmore town. It is relatively easy as far as summits go. The trailhead is at the back of the mountain and takes around 4 hours return. It’s especially popular for sunrise.
Grotto Mountain & Canyon
A difficult, full-day loop trail leads to the summit of Grotto Mountain just east of downtown Canmore.
Grotto Mountain is also famous for its caves, which are some of the deepest in Canada. Canmore Cave Tours runs guided cave tours year-round.
On the other side of the mountain, Grotto Canyon Trail is another high-traffic trail to a waterfall on Grotto Mountain. Walking the trail to the frozen waterfall is one of the more popular things to do in winter in Canmore. It’s accessed on Bow Valley Trail, and the parking lot is often overflowing.
Three Sisters Creek (Highline Trail)
For a less trafficked hike in Canmore that is totally doable with kids (there’s also a fun community playground just below the trailhead), try Three Sisters Creek. The trail begins in Three Sisters Mountain Village, a small suburb of Canmore, and follows a creek at the base of the mountain.
The trail technically begins in Canmore town, but halfway up it enters Kananaskis, so whether you need a K-Pass for this one is a gray area.
Other Canmore Activities & Events
Here are even more ideas for things to do in Canmore this weekend, whether you’re visiting in winter or summer.
- Join for the Canmore Winter Carnival, Canmore Uncorked (a food & drink festival in April), Canmore Folk Music Festival (August long weekend), or Canmore Highland Games (September).
- Try one of Canmore’s three scavenger hunts with Cluesolvers.
- Try one of several spas, wellness centres, or yoga studios in town.
- Go stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). Here are the best locations around Canmore.
- Perfect your cycling moves at Benchland Trail Bike Skills Park.
- Practice climbing at Canmore Climbing Gym.
- Try rock climbing or ice climbing with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.
- Take a sightseeing tour by helicopter with Alpine Helicpoter Tours.
- Create and paint your own pottery at Crock A Doodle.
- Go fishing with Canmore Fishing Adventures.
- Go golfing at one of Canmore’s three golf courses.
- Go horseback riding at Cross Zee Ranch.
- Go for a dog sledding tour. There are several operators in the area.
Well, that brings us to the end of this Canmore travel guide! I hope that you’ve found more than enough ideas for things to do in Canmore. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any other feedback, please let me know in the comments below!