Canmore, a Gateway to Banff National Park
Canmore Is the Gateway to Banff National Park
When we decided to spend our vacation in Banff National Park, we already knew that we wanted to stay in Canmore. We stayed there before and wanted to go back to explore the town itself, no only use it as a gateway to the park.
The first time we stayed in Canmore, we rented a small home in the outskirts of town. We had a playground next to the house, and trails leading up to the mountains at the end of the street. We saw deer in the street, and an occasional elk as well. But each morning we left for Banff National Park. After all, that's what we were ther for. The little time we spent around the house it was in the nearby woods or watching our daughter on the playground. We only went in town for groceries, but it was enough to realzie that it has a lot to offer.
We returned exactly a year later. This time, we rented an apartment in the center of town. We had a perfect view of the Three Sisters, three mountain peaks by the town. If we walked out of the apartment, we were either on the main street on one side, or on a trail by the river.
Though we still used Canmore as a gateway to Banff NP, we also had time to explore the town and its vicinity.
About Canmore - A Bit of History
Although Canmore is five minutes away from Banff National Park, it is not yet overrun by tourists. This small town is one of the most beautiful places I've visited, crossed by miles of trails.
Established in 1884, Canmore started out as a mining town. Its first inhabitants named it after a town in Scotland, in honor of King Malcolm III of Canmore. The first coal mine operated between 1887 and 1979, quite a long time. Other coal mines in the vicinity closed down much sooner. Canmore had incorporated the inhabitants of the nearby mining towns by 1965.
When its own mines closed, the town seemed to be in trouble. It was on the way of disappearing, like the other mining towns. But, in the early 1980s Calgary won the honor to host the Olympic Games of 1988. Only about an hour away, the small community struggling to survive cam back to life. They built the Nordic Center, where they hosted the Nordic events of the Olympics. Almost overnight, the number of Canmore's inhabitants more than tripled.
Since then, Canmore became a tourist town, a gateway to Banff National Park. It has great opportunities of both winter sports and summer recreational activities.
River Walks on the shores of the Bow River
Walking on the trails by the Bow River became a daily ritual for us while we stayed in Canmore. After returning from Banff, by dinnertime, we would eat at the apartment then take a stroll by the river. Even on the rainy days, even when we did get wet while walking, which happened a few times.
We had two different routes we would take, depending on how we felt. More often we walked over to the old train bridge, or Trestle Bridge, crossed it, and walked on the far side of the river. When we reached the next bridge, we crossed it back over to the own side and walked back to the apartment.
Sometimes we took the closest trail to Riverside Park. Once there, we spent some time people watching or letting our daughter play on the playground.
Though in the middle of the town, on the trail we felt like we were in the wilderness. The river was flowing by us, the smell of pines surrounded us, and we always encountered a deer or two. On the Bow River Trail Loop, we always had different views of the river and the mountains around it.
On rainy days we were still enjoying our river walks, though we haven't seen many people on the trail. Living in the desert we enjoy rainy days. I love the smell of wet vegetation, the darker shades of green of the trees, the wet ground under my feet.
Drinking Water - It Doesn't Come from the River
Canmore's drinking water is one of the best. It doesn't come from the river, but from underground and from reservoirs upstream. It reflects the health of the forest around it, and at this point it is still very clean and clear.
We learned about it on the trail, strolling by the river.
Walking Away from the Town by the River
A few times we decided to walk away from the town once we got to the old rail bridge, without crossing it.
The rail bridge was built and used when Canmore was still a mining town. Now it is a pedestrian bridge. We used it most of the time as the starting point for our river walks.
The first thing we passed in this new direction was the Veterans' Park. Not a reason to stop, but the background was stunning at that time of the day.
Then we got to the area called the Larch Islands. Due to a high groundwater source, the area is very sensitive, also home to some unusual or rare plants. The ground is always moist. They only allow people to walk on the trail, no mountain bikes and no camping. The town of Canmore put down gravel to protect the trail.
We crossed a very small pedestrian bridge over to the island. The lush vegetation was amazing, and it seemed like we were the only ones there. In fact, we only encountered one other hiker on the way back.
The reason it was so quiet and tranquil might have to do with the mosquitoes. As beautiful as it was, these pests were everywhere. After a while, I could not stand them. They are not only annoying to me, but I am extremely allergic to their bites. Unfortunately, they managed to chase me off this beautiful little island.
Canmore Nordic Center and the Quarry Lake Park
Other days we drove up to the Nordic Center for a short walk.
As I mentioned earlier, the town built the Nordic Center for the 1988 winter Olympics. It was the site that saved the town from oblivion. The center remained a training facility for athletes from around the world. Locals use it as a family playground.
One weekend we saw a running race for school age kids there. We were on the way up to the mountains, but stopped for a while to watch the kids. They, and their families had a lot of fun.
Another day we stopped to watch a mountain bike race that started there. The racers had miles and miles of trails to compete.
As we drove past, we came to the Quarry Lake Park, another favorite weekend destination of the locals. Formed in the place of an old mining area, the lake is very deep (over 100 meters) in some areas. It must be very cold as well, since it is only suitable for swimming in July and August.
The open space park area surrounding the lake is left to return to its wilderness state. The town keeps environmentally sensitive areas protected around the lake. They have designated habitat patches, and a salamander pond. During certain times of the year they close off some areas to protect wildlife.
The park connects to an extensive trail system for hiking and biking in the summer. They use them for cross-country skiing in the winter.
We stopped to check out the off-leash dog park close by. Though we didn't have a dog, we haven't seen anything like it before, so we were curious. Dogs, owners and kids alike, seemed to have lots of fun on this huge grassy area designated as the "off-leash park".
The Grassi Lake Trails
My very favorite hike around Canmore is definitely the Grassi Lakes Trail. No, it is not grassy, the name has nothing to do with grass, like I thought. The lakes got their names from Lawrence Grassi, who built the trail to them.
Grassi was an avid hiker who immigrated from Italy to work in Canmore's coal mines. But he made his mark as one of the most skilled trail builders in the Rockies.
The trail he built climbs up to two beautiful turquoise ponds with some of the clearest water I've seen. It is a bit strenuous, because you are constantly climbing for about a mile, but it is well worth it.
The trail head is not far from the Nordic Center, and it is very popular with the locals and visitors alike.
Two different rails lead up to the top of the mountian where the lakes are. Though the easier trail is wide and smooth, it still climbs to the same elevation. I chose it with our youngest daughter the first time, but came down on the "harder" trail. I realized than that it is the way to go both ways. This one passes through some great scenery, with views of waterfalls.
Canmore is located on the Eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, 55 miles West of Calgary. To get there from Calgary, take the Trans Canada Highway #1; it is about an hour drive from the Western city limits of Calgary. (From the airport it takes about 1.5 hours.)