I Love This Place: Canmore, Alberta

We’re continuing our series, I Love This Place, by heading a bit north (for me, anyway—and for our writer). Brooke is based in Sydney, Australia, so I was surprised she didn’t want to start with her iconic city. But then I read about Canmore—basically the area around Banff National Park—and then I understood.

If you’ve been to this area, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. Or if you’re like me, you’ve now added another place to your bucket list. Enjoy. -Tsh


After graduating from university in 2002 and working full-time for a year, my now-husband (then-boyfriend) and I decided to take a gap year. Most of our friends were heading to London, but we decided to try living and working in Canada instead – the mountains were calling.

So we packed up and headed to the Rocky Mountains, and never having seen snow before, naturally decided to work at a ski resort as lift operators. While the work was fun, the place and the people have left a mark in us that has never faded.

In fact, the older we get, the more like home this part of the world feels, and when we had the opportunity to take our family back there recently it felt like a homecoming.

We spent our time based in the beautiful town of Canmore, just outside the Banff National Park, and from there were able to explore some of the most incredible places in the world.

The Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, the impossibly pretty town of Banff where we spent some of the best times of our lives.

But Canmore? That’s a place I could live.

I Love This Place: Canmore

On Canmore’s most obvious must-see landmark:

The Rocky Mountains. Anywhere you go, you’re accompanied by the grey stone, green pines (and usually white snow caps) of the soaring mountains and it’s genuinely breathtaking.

Canmore sits in the Bow Valley in the Rockies, so anywhere you find yourself you’ll be surrounded by the most incredible mountain peaks stretching out as far as you can see.

On eating out with family and friends:

Communitea Cafe is pretty delightful. Whole foods menu, great coffee and an insane number of teas, plus a sweet little play area for the kids. I love that the outdoor seating is full of locals and their dogs, and there’s a real sense of community as you watch people catch up with friends.

Tavern 1883 is a great place to have a lazy afternoon on the patio – craft beers, good food and a great vibe. Plus kids are more than welcome and the people watching is outstanding.

On a great date in Canmore:

Depending on the season, but if it’s winter (or spring) my husband and I would head to Sunshine Village and spend the day snowboarding. Hot chocolate breaks (of course) and lunchtime beers and burgers at Trappers on the hill.

Springtime means the beers and burgers are outside, winter might see us indoors; either way there aren’t too many other places I’d like to be.

On Canmore’s attitude, demographic & style of its residents:

Mountain-town chill. Outdoorsy and active and laid-back and family-friendly and pretty much perfect.

I Love This Place: Canmore

On a morning or afternoon entirely outdoors in Canmore:

It really depends on the weather, but if we had our 5 and 7-year-olds with us and it was warm, we’d either do an easy hike like Grassi Lakes, or cycle some of the Legacy Trail that runs between Canmore and Banff.

If it was wintertime, we might go for a walk and ice skate on the pond near Main Street or find a hill to toboggan down.

On how to spend $20 here:

Quickly! But probably by buying some traditional poutine and steamies from La Belle Patate.

On a great holiday to spend in Canmore:

As an Australian whose Christmases have always been stinking hot, I can’t go past a white Christmas in the Rockies.

Drive out to Lake Louise, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the shore and go ice skating in one of the most amazingly beautiful places in the world. Then visit the Chateau Lake Louise, listen to the carolers in the foyer, head in to the Lakeview Lounge, have a French onion soup and pretend I could actually afford to stay there.

I Love This Place: CanmorePhoto source

For families, there are also a lot of fun activities – both indoor and outdoor. Indoor rock climbing is great fun, skiing, skating, tobogganing, walking in the snow and marveling at just how beautiful it all is (can you tell I didn’t grow up with long, northern winters?)

Even just walking around Banff and Canmore that time of year is magical.

The decorations and the cozy pubs and coffee shops are so inviting, and the lights lend everything a storybook quality that’s so magical to me. Snuggling in with hot chocolates and a movie when the winter chill gets too much… It’s the perfect place to be both active and slow.

I Love This Place: Canmore

On a great place to shop in Canmore:

Mountain Mercato is a cheese lover’s dream and a great place to pop in and grab some bread, a French brie and some other goodies to go with a red wine in the evening. Great coffee too!

And not to sound too much like a nerd, but the public library is beautiful—the kind of place you could curl up on a lounge by the fire and write for an hour or two.

On spending only 48 hours in Canmore:

Spend a day exploring some of the Icefields Parkway if the road is clear, keeping an eye out for bears, mountain goats and elk in the spring and summer, and a day exploring the pretty town of Banff.

You could head up to Norquay and either go snow tubing or for a hike, or visit the Upper Hot Springs for a touristy soak in the water. Also add in a wander around the Fairmont Banff Springs and make sure you take in the views from the back patio area. It’s incredible.

I Love This Place: CanmorePhoto source

Then back to Canmore in the afternoon for a walk along Policeman’s Creek, a drink or two at Where the Buffalo Roam (try the Whiskey Sour and the Old Fashioned – they’re both outstanding), poke around the second-hand bookstore, Cafe Books, and finish with dinner at Tapas, or one of the great pubs in town.

On sharing favorite memory:

When we visited Canmore in April of this year, one of my favourite bands happened to be playing at the Canmore Hotel the same night our old friends were in town (they filmed this video that night!) It was a complete coincidence and one of the most fun nights of my life.

Old friends, amazing music, hours of dancing and one of the most beautiful places in the world—it really doesn’t get much better than that.

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19 Comments

  1. Karen

    How have I missed this series? I will have to catch up!

    THANKS

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      It just started, so you haven’t missed much, Karen! 🙂

  2. Sarah M

    Oh well this is fun! We just went to Canmore for the first time in late Spring as well. I had never been to Alberta, and we stayed in Canmore and Calgary for 7 days. We had an awesome air bnb (that slept 6, 4 adults and 2 children) for about $125/night, which was SO cheap for how nice (and close to town) the accommodations were. We, unfortunately, missed the Jasper drive but we will DEFINITELY be back. And I totally agree about the library! So cool! (there’s a climbing wall, cafe, art gallery, gym, and library all in one shared building.)
    We went mid to end of June and had great luck with the area (including Lake Louise & the must-do hikes in that area) without too many tourists just yet. The weather was perfect, as well. Also must do in Canmore if you’re a horse lover–take a 2-4 hour horse trail. The tours are unbelievable gorgeous and it was one of our entire group’s favorite days (and totally worth the high price) because the views are just incredible. We also loved hiking up Sulfur mountain (you can take the gondola if 29 switchbacks don’t sound fun!) and then right after check into the natural hot springs to relax those muscles…SOOO lovely!
    We also did the Tyrell dinosaur museum (biggest site in Canada for dino bones), visited the Hoodoo land formations, spent a few nights tooling around Calgary, and took our kids to Telus Spark there (one of the best kids’ STEM museums I’ve ever been to) and all of this is within 90 minutes of Canmore. It was definitely one of our family’s (including my parents’) favorite vacations. SO Much to see out there!

  3. Jamie Watkins

    Brings back memories from when I was just dating my husband and his family invited me on their vacation: taking the Rocky Mountaineer Railroad through the Canadian Rockies. The journey ended in Banff. It was a beautiful vacation and we saw all kinds of wildlife and gorgeous views. We event did high tea at the Fairmount in Lake Louise. Loved it.

  4. Breanne

    What a fun series and I’m so glad to see Canmore (and Canada!) getting some love. We spent the first part of our honeymoon in Banff and my family spends a week in Canmore every autumn. This post makes me want to travel back there as soon as possible, I’m on the other side of the country in Nova Scotia.

    Can’t wait to read further cities, this is a great idea!

  5. Tiffany Seright

    So awesome to see such a sparkling review of Canmore! As a native Calagarian, its a frequent getaway place for my family, the mountains call several times a year hehe. I wanted to mention an event that happens at the very end of august/begining of september {depwndinf how the weekend lays}, its the Canmore Highland games, right in the middle of town, such a wonderful double experience of scottish tradition and canadian mountain setting! Heres to, hopefully, a few more canadian settings in the series, cheers!

  6. Adrianne | The Shelton House

    Breathtaking! My best friend is a photographer and attended a workshop in Banff and can’t say enough good things about it– which is saying something since we live in Alaska! I love this series 🙂 This will be a vicarious antidote for my wanderlust!

  7. Mandi

    This all sounds wonderful! I was especially excited by this post because we will be traveling in that area next summer. We can’t wait to experience this loveliness!

  8. Monica Deskins

    OH my goodness! Banff has to be my favorite vacation spot we have ever been to. We enjoyed Icefields as stated in the post, great hikes and as someone mentioned the photo ops are insane! Lake Louise, kayaking and exploring in Banff was like a dream for me…..can’t stop talking about it!

  9. Amanda

    Love this series so far! I’m a Canadian, from Calgary, so it’s great to see this beautiful area included. Canmore and all the areas mentioned are great, although definitely can be crowded at certain times of the year (I think there’s been an increase in international attention as well as more Canadians sticking close to home). Thus, lodging prices have increased in recent years. There are some great vacation rental options to check out. I’d add that one of our fave family restaurants in Canmore is Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co., so yummy and child-friendly. I would also recommend checking out the Kananaskis Provincial Park area, lots of skiing, hiking, and a bit more remote than Canmore or Banff.

  10. Tracy Alsterlund

    I have such great memories of Banff. Our family went to Banff and Jasper when my brother graduated from high school and I graduated from college. Lake Louise is a beautiful wonder. My brother was set on spotting a moose and we went to several places to try to spot one (very Northern Exposure). We never found one, but the first day we got to Banff there was a bull elk that seemed quite content to wander through town.

  11. Marci

    Shh, don’t tell anyone about Canmore. We’re lucky enough to live only a few hours away. It’s one of our favorite places for a get away.

  12. Paula Remple

    This was so great to read as a Canmorite…22 years and I agree, it’s not just a place to visit, it’s a place to aspire to live. My husband & I feel like we have lived a wonderful “pre-retirement” life while working and wouldn’t change it for anything! Love your description of “Mountain Town Chill”, you are bang on!

  13. Beth

    Yes! Canmore and Banff are just so breathtaking. It’s a magical place! I was lucky enough to live a couple hours away from 2010-2012, and you can be assured we spent weekends in Banff as often as possible! We even had my grandparents (from New Brunswick) and my parents (from Toronto) out for a 2-week visit, and we all spent a weekend in Banff together. One of the prettiest places in the world.

  14. Erin

    Love, love, love this area! Our first visit was a ski trip with 3 other couples and Canmore was a great, easy spot to access the ski resorts around Banff! The last day we drove over to Lake Louise and toured the house built of ice on the lake and the many ice sculptures. Our second trip was in early June with two of our kids, age 6 and 7. We rafted the Kananaskis river, hiked all around Banff and made our way up to Jasper for a few days. We saw so many animals, waterfalls, toured a glacier and breathed in all the fresh air. Too many highlights to name but one was hiking up to the tea house at Lake Louise for some hot chocolate and cookies and also watching the bears hop on the train in Yoho National Park (to eat the grain.) It was a great time to visit before the high summer season prices and crowds arrived. We can’t wait to go back!

  15. Kristin S

    We stayed in Canmore on our way to Banff. We loved it so much we stayed there on our way back to Calgary! Honestly, I could have done fewer days in Jasper and Banff and more in Canmore – but I hesitate to say that because I don’t want it to get all ridiculous and touristy like Banff.
    Just go, get outside, and have a blast. It’s a delightful area.

  16. Louisa

    Wow, I loved Banff. We spent a winter there (well over a month, do not all winter) back in early 2004. As Aussies we too marveled at the beauty of the snow capped peaks, and the quaintness of the town. Brooke you’ve painted a beautiful picture of a great family holiday there, with some fantastic tips to experience it like a local!! I think I’ll be saving up for a trip to take my boys and go to Canmore.

  17. Anna

    We lived in NW Montana for about 4 years. We never made it to Banff, but I really want to go sometime. The things we did in the area (NW MT as well as Alberta, in the Waterton area) were all beautiful. l love the outdoors and the mountains. Unfortunately, we are on the other side of the world now, and I miss it!

  18. Melissa Rank

    We went there for our honeymoon. We really enjoyed white water rafting (in July), hiking, and the food scene in Canmore is amazing. I had the most amazing lobster bisque at a French restaurant and the next day enjoyed a fabulous burger and then pizza. Lots of options! We went in 2009 and I can’t wait to go back someday!

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