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2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

Can you picture yourself soaking in a hot tub minutes after finishing a day of cross-country skiing in the mountains? Or drinking a local beer after an icy walk in a mountain canyon?

If you answered yes head to Canmore, a gem of a mountain town that’s perfect for a winter getaway. It’s only an hour’s drive west of Calgary and just minutes from the gates of Banff National Park. If you have a couple of days you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how much you can do outside  – largely because an amazing number of outdoor adventures are right on Canmore’s doorstep. 

Below I’ve listed a sampling of winter activities and how much time you need to do them. Add in a place to stay for a night or two (see below) and a few good meals. Voilá – a perfect Alberta winter getaway.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

A wintry view of Canmore from the Spray Lakes Road

Do the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk or just an Icy Walk depending on Conditions

Time needed: 1.5 – 2 hours

The Grotto Canyon is a fun, family hike that doesn’t take a lot of time. When there’s been a cold snap the hike is really an icewalk as you follow a frozen creek up a narrow canyon towards a waterfall. Icers are a necessity under these conditions BUT when it’s warmed up – as it did for me, then they are optional. It was still icy in places – but mostly avoidable. Just before you reach the waterfall look for the pictographs down low on the left. Unfortunately I found out about them after I got home.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore - includes an icewalk in Grotto Canyon

Walking up Grotto Canyon towards the waterfall

Don’t stop when you reach the waterfall but continue left and make your way up towards the hoodoos and a cave. You can continue for some time past here on rocky terrain but most people turn back at the hoodoos.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore includes a Gotto Canyon Icewalk

The cave in the hoodoos

Its 1.1 kilometres from the parking lot to the creek bed, another kilometre to the waterfall and then about a kilometre up to the hoodoos. Don’t be put off by the Baymag Mineral Processing Facility you see and hear in the first kilometre because once you turn into the canyon the noise dissipates.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore

Take some extra socks with you in case you get your feet wet crossing the stream

Trailhead Location: The Grotto Lake parking lot is located 3.4 kilometres west of Exshaw and approximately 13 kilometres east of Canmore on the 1A highway past the Baymag plant #2.

Go Cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Time Needed: 1 – 4 hours

With over 65 kilometres of groomed and natural cross-country ski trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre both skate and classic skiers will find a trail to love no matter what type of skier they are. While the trails are frequented by locals because as Olympian Sara Renner says “they’re so convenient and accessible and they give you the most bang for your buck”, they’re also popular with the Calgary crowd.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore

65 kms of trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Tickets can be purchased at the Nordic Centre between 9 AM and 5 PM. Adult pricing is $15. Seniors (55+) can purchase tickets for only $11.25. Skiing is free after 5 PM for everyone. Bonus points – there’s night skiing on 6.5 kilometres of lit trails. Onsite you can rent skis, use a wax room, buy gear and clothes and enjoy a fine mountain view from the restaurant.

Try dogsledding

Time Needed: Allow half a day

Three dogsledding companies call Canmore home; Howling Dog, Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and Mad Dogs & Englishmen Expeditions. All offer a variety of tours that include everything from a two hour outing around the Spray Lakes to mushing under the stars to an overnight camping experience.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

Your heart will melt when you meet the dogs

I’ve only done the two hour dogsledding tour out of Canmore and really it just whets your appetite for more. You’re offered the opportunity to mush the sled yourself – and really you must try it as the fun factor goes way up when you’re in charge.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

These dogs are ready to run!

Go snowshoeing off of the Spray Lakes Road

Time Needed: Allow 2 – 6 hours depending on how far you have to drive

Canmore itself doesn’t get a lot of snow so unless there’s a big dump plan to head out of town. There are lots of nearby options in both Banff National Park and off the Spray Lakes Road.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

You can also walk the High Rockies Trail but bring icers

At the top of the Spray Lakes Road you’ll find the Goat Creek parking lot and trailhead. While you can cross-country ski the 18 kilometres on the Goat Creek Trail to the Banff Springs Hotel (you’ll need to shuttle a car to the far end) you can also head in the other direction along the High Rockies Trail – the westernmost section of the Trans-Canada Trail. This trail runs for 80 kilometres but beware as there are no facilities. Plan on an out and back snowshoeing excursion for as long as you have the energy.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

Snowshoeing a section of the High Rockies Trail

If you drive another 35 kilometres south on the Spray Lakes Road from Goat Creek you’ll reach the large parking lot for Chester Lake. Its here you can experience one of the premier snowshoeing experiences in the province via a five kilometre trail to the lake. After about 40 minutes of climbing at a moderate grade you reach a large meadow and the going gets easier all the way to the lake. If you’ve got the time make the side trip to Elephant Rocks – the scene of massive boulders dropped helter-skelter. The views on a bluebird day enchant.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

On the way to Chester Lake

How about some caving?

Time needed: Allow 2-6 hours depending on the tour

If tight spaces under tons of rocks don’t scare you then you must try the Canmore caving experience. I did the six hour tour of Rat’s Nest Cave just outside of town and survived. While much of the caving is straightforward and I actually liked rappelling in the dark, I’d have to pass on another slide down the laundry chute. But if you’re into adventure and it’s a freezing cold day outside (don’t forget caves stay at a comfortable 5°C) then sign up for a tour (some are as short as two hours) with Canmore Cave Tours.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

I’m still smiling and alive!

Eating in Canmore

For the best coffee in town head to Mountain Mercato on Main Street. If it’s a nice day you can sit outside. Breakfast, lunch and dinners (Thursday – Sunday) are served too. While you’re waiting check out the extensive gourmet food selection in their retail space.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

If I lived in Canmore I’d be a regular at Mountain Mercato

If you’re into eggs benny or great pancakes (try the raspberry) head to Chez Francois. Too bad their coffee is only so-so. I’m never in Canmore when its lunch time but I’d probably just head back to Mountain Mercato or over to Communitea Cafe where they’ve got a beautiful, bright space and lots of local, organic offerings. For beer check out the Grizzly Paw Pub. High end diners should check out Crazyweed Kitchen; romantic diners will want to visit the Tapas Restaurant. For a view try Murietta’s Bar & Grill. And if you love Mexican head to kid-friendly Aroma Mexican.

Where to Stay in Canmore

You’re spoiled for choice in Canmore as they really do offer the full gamut of accommodations.

Inexpensive: The Canmore Clubhouse run by the Alpine Club of Canada is located 4.5 kilometres out of town. Members pay only $30/night, non-members $40/night.

Bed & Breakfast: Try Grandview Chalet B&B. Their location close to the Nordic Centre is superb and so are their breakfasts!

New Kid on the Block: Basecamp Resort offers well-appointed rooms with thoughtful touches like local coffee and Rocky Mountain soap along with a washer and dryer (soap provided), a fully equipped kitchen and an awesome hot tub. The downside in my books as I just stayed there, is the lack of a personal touch as you’re given a code to your room so you don’t have to talk to anybody. Ever. But maybe that’s just me. Prices are reasonable.

2 Perfect Winter Days in Canmore, Alberta

A decorated Christmas tree outside of our room at the Basecamp Resort was a nice touch

Boutique Hotel: The Paintbox Lodge in downtown Canmore offers five comfortable, well-appointed suites and a mountain breakfast. They are well known for their onsite cooking classes too.

Resorts: If you like a full service hotel with spas, pools and lots of amenities check out Solara Resort and Spa or the Stoneridge Mountain Resort.

Bookmark: From February 2 – 11, 2018 the Canmore Winter Carnival is on.

The view down the Bow River from the Engine Bridge

The view down the Bow River from the Engine Bridge in Canmore

Thank you to Travel Alberta for making this post possible.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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