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Canmore, Alberta: A Hiking and Biking Destination

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.

Riverside multi-use trails in Canmore

Riverside multi-use trail in Canmore

Elk having a drink of Bow River water

Elk having a drink of Bow River water

View down the Bow River from the Engine Bridge in Canmore

View down the Bow River from the Engine Bridge

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.

The counter at the start of the Legacy Bike Trail

The counter at the start of the Legacy Bike Trail

Assorted bike repair tools and an air pump with a universal valve at the start of the Legacy Trail in Canmore

Assorted bike repair tools and an air pump with a universal valve at the start of the Legacy Trail

Cycling the road to Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park

Cycling the road to Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park (shorts and T-shirts in April!)

Looking back towards Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park

Looking back towards Cascade Mountain

Kayakers out on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

Kayakers out on Two Jack Lake

Bighorn sheep don't seem to mind cyclists or cars - Banff National Park

Bighorn sheep don’t seem to mind cyclists or cars

Bighorn sheep strutting right by me - Banff National Park

Bighorn sheep strutting right by me

Look for red chairs in Canada's national parks

Look for red chairs in Canada’s national parks – accessible from the Legacy Trail

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.

Looking down towards Canmore from the Grassi Lakes trail

Looking down towards Canmore from the Grassi Lakes trail (photo taken in September)

The emerald green Grassi Lakes near Canmore

The emerald green Grassi Lakes in summer

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.

Treeline on Ha Ling Peak

Treeline on Ha Ling Peak

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.

Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore

Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore

Morning glory muffins hot out of the oven

Morning glory muffins hot out of the oven

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.

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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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • You got me right away with thee Bow River Valley Trails — perfect for me. I love riding a bike, but I like to keep the terrain pretty flat. Along with awesome scenery, wildlife spotting and starting the day with morning glory muffins — sounds perfect.

  • Gorgeous photos, Leigh! I’m still hoping that we will be able to get out to Alberta this summer but not sure it’s going to work out.

    • @Lisa It was such a treat to bike and hike so early in the season. Now I’ve heard of more hikes in Canmore I’d liek to do so have my fingers crossed the good weather continues.

  • Jody Robbins says:

    You nailed it. Canmore is a great destination for hiking and biking. I like the low line trail in the Three Sisters area and with my daughter, we enjoy the trail from Three Sisters all the way into downtown. Have never heard of that B&B – will have to check it out. Thanks for sharing.

  • jaklien says:

    I’m so jealous of the scenery that you have access to in the USA. Absolutely stunning. I love hiking, and the UK has some nice spots to go, but nothing like this.

  • Jaillan Yehia says:

    This is so useful – coming from England I’m always completely overwhelmed by the vastness of the Canadian countryside and the options for hiking and biking and don’t really know where to start. I’ve been meaning to check our Canmore for ages and I’ll be sure to refer to this post when I do!

    • @Jaillan Staring off in anew place with no idea is a bit over the top. Between Banff and Canmore you have lots of options and they are close enough to Calgary – if that’s where you live, that you can visit repeatedly and keep discovering new activities and adventures.

  • A Cook Not Mad (Nat) says:

    This post really makes me want to explore more of our great country. Your photos are awesome!

  • Vanessa says:

    Typical bighorn sheep – thinking of no one and nothing but themselves! I would love to do the figure 8 loop one day and I think it’s fantastic that there are little air pumps/ “service stations” on route – how cute (and handy!)

  • Meg Jerrard says:

    Wow, stunning photos Leigh! I would have loved to have witnessed Elk having a drink of Bow River water; we’re big on traveling for the wildlife opportunities and I’ve never seen Elk before! Will have to add Canada to the list!

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