Most of us who have come to know and love Banff would have heard about Canmore, maybe even stopped there for a bite to eat, but never gave it much thought past that. Being situated just east of Banff National Park, it’s hard to compare it to its much popular and much bigger sister. But the truth is, Canmore is a mountainous oasis of its own! This cute and well-rounded town is engulfed by mountains from all sides and its surrounding areas have some of the most picturesque lakes, creeks and rivers. Staying in Canmore also makes it worlds easier to access the ski hills, and in the summer, there are countless of popular trailheads in and all around town.
This blog post is written in collaboration with Solara Resort & Spa where we stayed two consecutive nights while we ventured around Canmore and Kananaskis Country. A huge thank you to Bellstar Hotels & Resorts for providing a beautiful stay and amenities!
Okay, so you’ve made plans to come to Canmore: where are you coming from? The town is just a quick 1 h 15 min drive from downtown Calgary and a 20 minute drive from Banff town! Jason and I love the scenic drive from Calgary by taking Highway AB-1A from AB-1X (exit 114 going west on Highway 1). We left Calgary around 1 pm and took this route with the intention of making more stops at places we’d yet to have visited. We never knew that there were so many beautiful lakes accessible from this road! Some of which people love to skate on in the winter, but it’s been a warm February for us so my skates sat in my trunk this trip, unfortunately!
Continuing west on 1A will get you right into Canmore. You also have the option of merging back onto Highway 1 to head straight for Banff or back towards Calgary. Instead of stopping in town, we decided to continue our drive and check-in to the hotel later, so we actually looped around to go east on the Trans-Canada Highway and took the next exit (93) onto Three Sisters Parkway/AB-742 for yet another scenic drive. Our next stop was Quarry Lake Park, an off-leash dog park that is quite popular for wedding photos. On our drive up, we were greeted with winding roads and gorgeous lookouts of Canmore; also a closeup view of the Three Sisters, undeniably the most iconic peaks of this area.
Quarry Lake Park is massive and there’s a reason why so many come here for their photos, family fun and to take their dogs for a run. If only we had a pup to take out here! But the sun was setting and we still had a ways to go before returning back to town at the Solara. We got back onto Three Sisters Parkway, drove past the Rundle Forebay Reservoir, past the Grassi Lakes trailhead, and started up on a steep, rocky and bumpy road. Major suggestion: if you’re driving up this road in the winter, make sure you have four-wheel drive and winter tires!
Driving up this narrow mountain side road was so worth it with the views we got! If you’ve done the Grassi Lakes hike before, the road actually comes so close to the lakes and you get the same valley view of Canmore at Whiteman’s Pond. We continued on past the Ha Ling Peak trailhead (one of the most steep and popular switchback hikes in the area) and towards Spray Lakes. Three Sisters Parkway is now called Smith Dorrien Trail and there was a noticeable difference in climate once we passed Ha Ling. The road was still quite covered in snow and so were the trees We drove across a narrow bridge on the north side of Goat Pond and kept driving till we got to the first bit of the massive Spray Lakes Reservoir. There was no one here! It was just us and the mountains as we walked on the snow packed lake.
We were getting hungry and it was time to get to the hotel! Solara is located right on 1A/Bow Valley Trail so it made for easy access to and from the resort. The check-in process was quick and simple and we got to park in their underground parkade. The resort is made up of three buildings: Aurora, Bow and Chinook. Jason and I were ecstatic to find out that our place in Aurora was a 2-bedroom suite! (Lots of room for the two of us!) Solara is actually made up of only full-kitchen suites, something that we highly appreciate when staying for long periods of time. In fact, most of Bellstar’s locations are focused on providing full suites for their guests.
As soon as we walked into our suite, we noticed a lovely romance amenities package just for us! Solara included three of the best local brands for their gift, which included a bottle of rosé, chocolates and bath products from Rocky Mountain Soap! We cracked open the bottle and indulged in the bag of premium chocolates after dinner but saved the other items for the next day!
For this weekend trip, we wanted to hit up Nakiska Ski Resort as it is one of the best ski areas in Kananaskis! The chair lifts open at 9 am so it was a fairly early morning for us as the drive was about 45 minutes (actually ended up being 1.5 hours due to road conditions and an accident). When we opened the door to the suite’s balcony, we noticed the fresh powder that fell overnight and got excited about the snow waiting for us at Nakiska! Also, just look how breathtaking that balcony view is of the mountains!
Skiing was beyond fun! Nakiska is definitely one of our favourite ski spots, especially since it’s much closer to home. Calgarians, take note of this! The weather was quite perfect: we had pockets of sun, it was around 0°C, but there were gusts of wind at the top of the hills that made the ride down all the more fun. We definitely spotted a number of snow tornados during the day. After about 6 runs (we’re not exactly pro skiers/snowboarder), we packed our sweaty and iced up gear and headed back to Canmore. For those of you who love the spa especially after a tiresome day skiing/snowboarding, the renowned Kananaskis Nordic Spa is just around the corner of Nakiska and is definitely a place to consider visiting! I, however, reserved my spa time for when we got back to the suite as I had premium amenities waiting for me.
Jason and I took an hour to recoup at our suite before heading out again for a drive, walk and photos. Our first stop was the Engine Bridge, where trains used to go through when they used to transport the coal they mined here. It’s now a beautiful place to enjoy a stroll, picnic and even splash around in the Bow River during the summer months.
Spot number two was the pedestrian walkway on Bridge Road in a residential community, just across from downtown Canmore. It’s about a 10-15 walk from the Engine Bridge, and you just follow the river. This is where we can start to see more of the Three Sisters! In view are Faith (Big Sister) and Charity (Middle Sister).
A short drive or walk will get you back to the main avenue (8th Street), Canmore’s food and shopping hub. Check out the local shops and eateries while you’re here! We’ve dined at a number of places here before like Rocky Mountain Flatbread & Co., Tavern 1883 and the Grizzly Paw Pub, but a little further down past the railway back on Bow Valley Trail, are our favourite places so far: BLAKE and Le fournil Bakery.
By this time we were exhausted so we went back to our place to take it in for the rest of the night before we had to head back home. We grabbed some extra food for dinner and enjoyed quite a meal! If you’re too tired to cook, do yourself a favour and check out Valbella Foods. It’s a deli with an amazing assortment of gourmet foods for entrées as well as platters for entertaining.
After a long day, we ultimately had to sleep in as much as we could the next day, which we certainly did before checking out our final stop before heading home. If you’re planning to stick around for longer, make sure to check out the Stay Well amenities at Solara’s reception to see what they have complimentary or for rentals. There for complimentary Fat tire bikes, snowshoes and yoga mats for rental, as well as binoculars for birdwatching (my dad would love that), Banff park passes if you’re planning on going to the National Park and so much more for each season!
Our weekend trip was coming to a close but we had one final place to see: Policeman Creek. If you’ve seen that crazy photography reflection shots of Three Sisters before, this is the area they’ve taken those from. This part of Canmore is a new development. New shops and condos are going up but currently, you can enjoy a quiet drive or walk to grasp the gorgeous view of Faith, Charity and Hope.
A big thank you again to Bellstar Hotels & Resorts for sponsoring this post! Make sure to check out our video too for some cinematography and hilarious moments!