Canmore, Alberta is a mere one hour drive west of Calgary, but it feels like a whole different world. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, it’s an all-seasons outdoor mecca and the lively mountain town provides a terrific base for all those outdoorsy visitors. If you’re getting tired of the ‘same old, same old’ at home, you don’t have to plan a major outdoor adventure to enjoy a winter weekend in Canmore. Our family had a wonderful weekend during Canmore’s annual Winter Carnival and, despite our less-wintry-than-usual winter, came home feeling refreshed and energized.
Canmore has a wide range of accommodations, catering to its wide variety of visitors. Our suite at the Mystic Springs Chalets and Hot Pools, was the perfect ‘home away from home’ for our family of four and could easily house a larger family. The main level consisted of a comfortable living/TV room and a full eat-in kitchen.
We love having a kitchen in hotels so we can have easy breakfasts, using supplies brought from home or purchased at the local Safeway. Upstaiers were two bedrooms ; king master with ensuite bathroom and the room our kids shared (2 double beds with a full bathroom next door). The whole suite was decorated in a modern-mountain style, which added to the feeling of being away from it all.
Mystic Springs’ eponymous Hot Pools consist of a large outdoor hot tub and, just a few steps away, an all-season heated swimming pool. Hot-tubbing and swimming in the steaming waters under the stars were a treat for the whole family. We grown-ups were a bit wimpy about departing the hot tub for the pool where the kids splashed around, while we watched from our cozy viewpoint. The robes provided in our room were much appreciated for the chilly walk from our room to the pools, and because it’s tough wedging wet feet into snow boots, flip flops are a must! Apparently there’s a heated change room at the pool area, but we just threw on our robes and raced, shrieking and giggling, back to our suite. Dignified? No. Great family memory? Yup!
Canmore has experienced unseasonably warm and dry weather during this year’s Winter Carnival and a result some carnival activities, like dog-sled and nordic ski races were relocated or cancelled. But all was not lost, for Canmore’s downtown area is fun to visit even when it’s not covered in snow. There was a small ‘snow playground’ that the kids enjoyed and the nearby visitor centre offered free hot chocolate and a winter scavenger hunt. As we wandered the shops on main street, we saw a number of ice sculptures that had been created the previous couple of weekends. While the warm temps softened their edges, we had fun guessing what they were.
Canmore has lots of great shops, from the toy store and candy shop (hits with the kids, naturally), to adult clothing, kids’ clothing, hobby, outdoor gear and home decor stores. If you do your best perusing under the influence of caffeine, not to worry, there are lots of places to grab a great cup of coffee too. Don’t forget to look up to the fabulous view once in a while!
Elevation Place, Canmore’s recently constructed recreation centre, is drop-dead gorgeous, inside and out. Housed in a beautiful modern building, the design of which clearly pays homage to the surrounding mountains, the centre houses a beautiful indoor climbing gym, complete with natural light and mountain views. It is also home to a glorious aquatic centre, with lane pools, a family pool with a lazy river, splash and small slide areas, a twisting waterslide, lots of floating toys and a supersized hot tub. The building also houses a cardio/weights gym, the Canmore Public Library, the Canmore Art Guild Gallery and a Good Earth coffee shop.
Our family was incredibly impressed by the facilities (including spacious and clean family change rooms), the lack of crowds on a Saturday and the reasonable admission prices. If you live in Calgary, it’s worth a day trip! Be sure to check public swimming schedules to avoid arriving during a lessons-only time or other event.
Canmore has a well deserved reputation as a foodie mecca. Which is fortunate, because all that fresh mountain air does wonders for your appetite. Spoiled for choice, we settled on dining at Tavern 1883, Harvest Café and Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. If you insisted we make a recommendation at each of those establishments, I vote for the Elk Burger, kids’ Monkey Wrap, and Farmer’s Market pizza, respectively. We enjoyed everything we are and each restaurant had friendly servers (counter service at Harvest Café), an activity to keep the kids occupied (including a play kitchen area at Rocky Mountain Flatbread), and great choices for kid’s smaller appetites.
A visit to Canmore is not complete without going to the the Canmore Nordic Centre to try out nordic skiing. It was a brand new sport for three of the four of us, so while we didn’t make even the slightest dent in their 60+ kilometres of trails, we had fun trying!
Based on a quick online search, I was a little unclear about the available facilities at the Nordic Centre, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that, in addition to the onsite equipment rentals, there was also a large and comfortable cafeteria, with food service (or you could bring your own). It’s worth noting that the Canmore Nordic Centre and Elevation Place each offer a 10% discount on admission/trail fees if you present them with a same-day receipt from the other facility.
We are already planning our return to Canmore next February, when we will likely enjoy a more typical Winter Carnival weekend complete with those dog-sled and nordic ski races down the snow-covered main street. Until then, swimming and climbing at Elevation Place, hiking the area’s trails, exploring the summer farmer’s market and, last but very far from least, trying out more of those restaurants that Canmore is famous for are just a few things that will bring us back again and again! There’s so much to do that I may just need to start a Canmore activity and restaurant ‘bucket list’!