CANMORE, AB - We reach a point where the nature trail we’ve been following intersects with the frigid glacial waters of the Bow River and the man leading us on this Tour de Canmore suggests we stop and admire the stunning Canadian Rockies view.
There’s lots of other cyclists, hikers and joggers enjoying the trail that runs along the fast-moving river and they all stop and say hello to our leader, Darren Cooke, a.k.a. Mr. Canmore.
Cooke, the congenial General Manager and Director of Golf at Canmore Golf & Curling Club, greets each of the passersby and seems to know all by their first name.
Someone suggests the attention Cooke is getting must be because he’s the most popular man in town but he humbly points out, “no, Canmore is just the friendliest place in Canada.”
After spending a day enjoying all Canmore has to offer visitors, it’s hard to argue with Cooke’s comment. The people who live in this natural beauty welcome strangers like friends. And because of its major investment in tourism in recent years, Canmore is no longer just a pit stop between Calgary and Banff - it’s Canada’s hot new tourist destination.
Dare we say, Canmore is Alberta’s equivalent to British Columbia’s Whistler - with a Happy Face.
Left: Thanks to its network of nature trails, Canmore residents qualify as the fittest in Canada. Right: In Elvation Place, visitors can scale rock walls and feel like a kid.
No matter the season, Canmore has something that appeals to all tourists. A stunning town that sits nestled in the shadow of some of the Rockies’ most impressive peaks - the Three Sisters being the most beautiful in our opinion - Canmore is now a four-seasons resort destination that has something to offer everyone.
In late spring, summer and early fall, for instance, Canmore is a golfer’s paradise, offering an amazing array of courses that rank among the best in Canada.
In town, there’s Silvertip Golf Resort (a stunning layout that’s as challenging as it is beautiful), Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club (if God has a golf course, it’s probably a duplicate of Stewart Creek it’s simply heavenly), and Canmore Golf & Curling Club (it’s the granddaddy of local courses - circa 1926 - and its traditional valley layout is a joy to play).
A short drive from Canmore, golfers can choose from a Who’s Who list of courses with two Fairmont beauties topping that list. In Banff, The Fairmont Banff Springs course, which sits in the shadow Fairmont’s legendary castle-like resort, and its jaw dropping surroundings still makes my heart pound with excitement on every tee. And if there’s a better resort golf course in Canada than The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, well, we haven’t found it. The drive to get to Jasper from Canmore is all part of the thrill of playing Rockies golf - the winding road takes you on a roller coaster ride through Rocky Mountain canyons and thick wilderness where bears, wolves and elk roam the highway.
And soon nearby Kananaskis Country Golf Course will rejoin the impressive group of courses in and around Canmore - the two magnificent courses that make up the Kananaskis experience were severely damaged when the mighty Bow spilled its banks in 2013. Now, a promise by the club’s owners, the Alberta government, to invest $18 million to restore Kananaskis it to its former glory already has some golf tourists packing their bags in anticipation of its reopening in 2015.
Left: Flying over Canmore and its glacial rivers and mighty peaks in helicopter is the ultimate thrill. Right: Not far from Canmore is the world famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
In winter, Canmore offers skiers some of the best hills on which to perform - Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay, Lake Louise and Nakiska, a wonderful legacy of the successful Calgary Winter Olympics, are all within a short drive of Canmore and each is equal to any ski resort in North America.
The Rocky Mountain majesty that surrounds tiny Canmore is on display for tourists to enjoy all seasons.
But the one area in which Canmore stands out from the rest of Canada’s tourist meccas is the way it welcomes families. Being one of the youngest communities in Canada, Canmore knows the importance of keeping kids amused and happy on vacation and that was no doubt the inspiration behind Elevation Place, a community centre like non other.
Cooke, who helped spearhead the building of Elevation Place, insists we make it a stop on our bike tour through Canmore and within minutes of entering the multi-task facility with the awesome Rocky Mountain view, the kid in all of us comes out - even the most senior among us are scaling the centre’s popular climbing wall.
Elevation Place, which welcomes visiting families, too, offers an aquatic centre that is Olympic Games worthy and keeps kids happy with a leisure pool that simulates a beach edge, a lazy river, water slide and children's play area. Older kids can enjoy the 25-metre pool or the 25-person hot tub for a group soak.
Cooke says that a third of Canmore’s population - about 12,500 permanent residents - are members of Elevation Place, which accounts for why everyone in this community qualify as the fittest people in Canada.
The centre’s state-of-the-art Climbing Gym is just as popular as the aquatic centre and since mountain climbing is such a popular activity in these parts, the vertical walls are always occupied with expert climbers honing their skills and newbies testing their courage.
Left: The golf courses in Canmore, like Stewart Creek pictured here, sit in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Right: The Skywalk near Canmore is the latest thrill in the Canadian Rockies.
Cooke says kids as young as 4 (they must be accompanied by an adult) scale the walls without fear and the gym is a wonderful training ground, especially in the winter.
Climbers enjoy 1,000 square metres of climbing surface that rise as high as 15 metres above the padded floor. There’s over 40 climbing lines, six automatic belay systems that require minimal training or experience, 100 colour-coded climbs and extensive bouldering terrain. What an exciting way to spend a day.
Elevation Place is also home to the Canmore Public Library and this is one place kids won’t mind coming to read and learn, even on vacation.
Accommodation comes in many forms in the area - with Fairmont’s luxury Banff and Jasper properties right on its doorstep and with a number of family-friendly properties right in town, there’s lots of choices for every budget in Canmore.
The Stoneridge Mountain Resort and Blackstone Mountain Lodge, for example, are especially accommodating to families with spacious condo-style suites that come complete with full kitchen and laundry facilities. The views one gets of the Rockies from both these properties is simply stunning.
For good food and good times, may we suggest the Grizzly Paw Pub and Brewery restaurant, located in the heart of downtown Canmore. Lots of dishes here are accented with beer - the beer marinated chicken legs are yummy - and the brew is made at the company’s plant in town.
For the ultimate thrill in Canmore, though, many people elect to take a helicopter ride over the Rockies and the experience is truly remarkable. From the copter’s window you fly over the tallest peaks and marvel at the emerald coloured rivers and pencil straight trees below. It’s an expensive thrill - a 12 minute ride costs about $120 - but the experience is priceless.
The golf, accommodations, activities, restaurants and especially the people of Canmore are sure to bring a smile to your face.
Canadian Rockies Golf can arrange golf stay and play packages at courses and resorts throughout the Rockies. The well-respected company offers great deals throughout the year at courses in Canmore, Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper. Contact them at www.canadianrockiesgolf.ca / For information on The Fairmont Banff Springs or The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, go to www.fairmont.com / Canmore’s Elevation Place offers many single day pass options for families starting as low as $4 for kids 3-11. For more information, go to www.elevationplace.ca / The Grizzly Paw restaurant is located at 622 8th Street in Canmore: thegrizzlypaw.com / For information on Alpine Helicopters, go to www.alipinehelicopter.com / Just outside Jasper, you can enjoy another thrill - the Glacier Skywalk where you’re suspended over a Columbia Ice Field canyon on a glass floor skywalk with lots of waterfalls beneath your feet. It’s a thrilling experience and one you should not miss. Info: www.glacierskywalk.ca/ / For information and rates on the Stoneridge Mountain Resort and Blackstone Mountain Lodge, both members of the Clique Hotels & Resorts chain, go to www.clique.ca/ / Several companies in Canmore rent bikes so you can explore the town and the well marked trails. Rebound Cycle in downtown Canmore is one of the best. Info: www.reboundcycle.com / For information on all the tourist attractions and activities Canmore has to offer, go to www.tourismcanmore.com