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Close to the emerald waters of Lake Louise and the scenic views of Banff National Park, Canmore is the perfect place to start exploring Canada's Rocky Mountains
There’s spectacular scenery around every corner along the Rocky Mountaineer train ride to Banff
Only 20 minutes from Banff and about an hour from Lake Louise, Canmore was settled as a coal mining post in 1884 after the Canadian Pacific Railway was built. While Banff, with its hot mineral springs, developed as a playground for the wealthy, Canmore became home to the working class railway men, miners and their families. Historical buildings, such as the North West Mounted Police Barracks, Canmore Hotel and Miner’s Union Hall now stand among quaint shops, cafes and restaurants in the centre of town.
Spend a peaceful morning window shopping along Main Street with a stop at The Old Tyme Candy Shoppe for Gold Mine Gum, Pink Elephant Popcorn and a Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. Then, to work off the calories, head to the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park to hike or bike the 100-plus kilometre trail system.
Built for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, the Centre has undergone major renovations and now offers an assortment of outdoor pursuits, including a 6.5-kilometre paved rollerski trail, 18-hole disc golf course and orienteering programs.
Taking a day-trip to the Banff National Park is a must while in Canmore. Opt for the scenic Bow Valley Parkway one-and-a-half hour drive to Lake Louise for some wildlife spotting.
The winding two-lane road has a maximum speed of 60 kilometres an hour, which is the perfect pace to take in the jagged mountain peaks, crystal lakes and colourful wildflowers. There are plenty of lookout points with interpretive information boards along the way to learn about the park’s flora and fauna.
The aquamarine Lake Louise bordered by lush greenery, beautiful Fairmont Chateau hotel and towering Victoria Glacier is absolutely magnificent. For a relaxing afternoon, rent a canoe from the hotel and paddle on one of Mother Nature’s finest accomplishments.
In the Valley of the Ten Peaks, 14 kilometres from Lake Louise, you’ll find the visually stunning, glacial-fed Moraine Lake. The turquoise hue of the water is so intense it could easily be mistaken for the Caribbean Sea, although the icy breeze and snow-capped peaks of the 10 surrounding mountains will quickly bring you back to the reality of the Rockies. There are hundreds of hiking trails in the area and canoe rentals are also available on the lake.
It’s amazing how the great outdoors can stimulate one’s appetite, and with the variety and abundance of quality cuisine it will be impossible to hold back.
There are many culinary gems for discovery in the great Canadian Rockies, including the French toast with caramelized gala apples and maple syrup at The Georgetown Inn in Canmore.
Pizza lovers should definitely check out Bear Street Tavern in Banff for thin crust pies with imaginative toppings, such as The Bison (smoked bison, caramelized onions and edamame beans) and The Donair (lamb, onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and garlic sweet sauce).
Best patio is awarded to The Iron Goat Pub & Grill where you can watch the sunset over the famous Three Sisters peaks while indulging in the fall-off-the-bone Alberta baby back ribs or award-winning game meatloaf made with bison, elk, lamb and a hint of maple syrup.
In the province famous for beef, dinner at a steakhouse is essential. Rustica, overlooking the 18th fairway of the Silvertip Golf Resort, serves only 100% Canadian Prime (the top 0.3% of Canadian graded beef) and has proudly made the steak knife obsolete.
The Solara Resort & Spa is an all-suite hotel within walking distance of downtown Canmore. The cozy rooms with mountain-inspired décor, large gourmet kitchens and fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom are perfect for a weekend getaway or longer retreat.
Recent additions to the resort include two indoor relaxation hot pools, full-service spa and 96-seat entertainment theatre. The property is offering a Summer Stay Preferred program that starts at just $149 for a one-bed suite (valid for stays from May 22nd through September 4th, 2012, if booked by April 23rd).
The surreal aquamarine colour of glacier fed Moraine Lake near Canmore (Image: Credit Woohall)
Taking the Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff is a fabulous alternative to flying. The two-day journey kicks off with a gourmet breakfast followed by Caesars and beer from the comfort of the GoldLeaf glass-dome cart. Throughout the journey you’ll see glacial-fed rivers with emerald water, rugged mountain peaks, lush swamplands, turquoise blue lakes and dense forests. All the while, Rocky Mountaineer onboard attendants will share scenic and historical facts while keeping your wine glass topped and belly full. Vancouver to Banff services run May through September.
The sheer magnitude of the Rockies is astounding, and it seems as if everything, from architecture to cuisine, is intent on competing with the area’s grandeur. Visiting in the spring or summer is sure to peak your curiosity for a winter adventure when the beauty of Banff National Park sparkles under a veil of snow and ice.
Mhairri Woodhall is a travel writer at Arrivals Travel.