Canmore, Alberta - Canada
Updated: Apr 21
Can Banff National Park be explored in just four days? Definitely not! This is the first time that we visited Alberta. It was not a planned trip, just a short four days vacation to get away from routine. We didn't plan on hiking on this trip, either, just to visit some of the most popular sites, drive around and walk around towns. We expected the Canadian Rocky Mountains to be somewhat similar to the Colorado mountains. What we didn’t expect is how dramatic Canadian Rockies are. As our Geologist neighbor said, the Canadian Rockies are younger than their American counterparts and haven't experienced the "wear and tear" of time, or what we call weathering.
To start our road trip, we first stayed the night in the town of Cochrane after arriving in Calgary. Reserving a GPS with a rental car makes driving to your destinations easier. We found that out traveling to Portugal and Spain. Hermann studies the maps though just in case. The town of Cochrane is the second largest town (not city) in Alberta, located at the base of the Big Hill in the Bow River Valley (intersected by Highway 1A and Highway 22).
Dining in Cochrane is not a problem, there were several restaurants within walking distance of the hotel where we stayed. We decided on a light dinner, but as you can see (photos below) the meals were not exactly as light as we wanted, but were great. Have you tried pairing wine with tacos? Hermann did and was quite satisfied with it.
The next morning started out chilly and overcast then turned into pouring rain as we drove to Canmore. The town is the ninth largest town in Alberta, located outside of Banff National Park, established in 1884 as a coal mining town. The name Canmore (named in honor of King Malcolm of Scotland) is derived from the Gaelic word, 'Ceann Mór', meaning "Big Head" referring to one's elevated stature or height. We decided to stay here since it was cheaper than staying in Banff, which is only a very short drive away.
Driving to Canmore from Cochrane took only about an hour, but it rained most of the way. When we arrived in town we had plenty enough time to explore. The check-in time at our hotel was not until late afternoon, but we were able to leave our car at the hotel's parking lot.
The rain had stopped but it was still overcast and cold. Before we walked to town we put on our rain jackets - in addition to our fleece jackets, just in case. I put on my hat for sun protection and for extra warmth as well. We expected that it might be chilly, but not cold. At least we could layer our clothes and take some off when it got warmer. One friend said that when the weather is bad, tourists explore the shops and spend money. Indeed, what else can you do? For women its a good excuse to shop.
Canmore is a charming town with plenty of shops and restaurants. You won’t get hungry or thirsty or leave empty handed. Plenty of souvenirs to choose from. Impulse buying? Pretty easy to do if you don't watch your spending.
EATING IN CANMORE
Lunch was at a Japanese restaurant located on the 8th (Main) Street. We usually try something authentically local when traveling, but seeing the bowls of ramen on the sign board decided it was for us. It’s just that kind of day, a hot meal to warm the belly and extremities. So what exactly are authentic Canadian foods and specialties? Poutine and Maple syrup are two of what I know, but as much as I wanted to try Poutine (French fries and cheese curds drizzled with brown gravy), cheese does not agree with me. Besides, we wanted something to warm us up at that moment.
So ramen it was! It was delicious, and the hot green tea gave us extra warmth as well. It was a great lunch, the staff was nice and friendly; it was just what the “doctor ordered” that day. A satisfying and comforting meal. It boosted our energy to explore more of the town, so we headed to the Bow Valley Park.
WHAT TO SEE IN CANMORE
The sun tried to peek out from behind the clouds on and off as we walked our way to the Bow Valley Park. Something we were hoping for since we didn’t want to waste our first day in Alberta indoors. Cloudy and cold is fine, we can take it. Rain? Not so much. Actually, we got lucky that it rained since it washed out the lingering smoke shrouding the town from the forest fires in British Columbia - we were told that visibility was really bad before we arrived.
The clouds were still hiding the mountains as we reached the Bow River. We saw glimpses of them now and then as we followed the river trail, from the Bridge Road to Spur Line Trail. We stopped, admired the scenery and took photos along the way, doing what typical tourists do.
When we arrived in Canmore earlier, the mountains were shrouded with clouds, which added mystery to the landscape, but as the sun appeared and most of the clouds moved away, it revealed incredible mountains; rugged and dark, almost vertical all the way to the top. Canmore is known for the craggy mountain peaks surrounding it. The Ha Ling Peak and Three Sisters (a favorite name for some mountains it seems since we have some of the same name in Colorado as well) are probably the most photographed mountains in the area.
The Ha Ling Peak, previously named “Chinaman’s Peak", is named in honor of the Chinese cook for the Canadian Pacific Railways who won a bet in reaching the summit in 1896. If you plan on hiking, the trail to Ha Ling Peak is said to be popular and it would be best to start early.
The Three Sisters (originally called the "Three Nuns" due to heavy snowfall which caused them to resemble nuns in white veils) were named by George Dawson, head of the Geological Survey of Canada, in 1886. The three peaks are named Faith (Big Sister), Charity (Middle Sister) and Hope (Little Sister). They are also known as Frances, Olive and Grace, daughters of George Stewart, the first superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park - now known as Banff National Park. Three Sisters is the highest mountain in Canmore. Climbing this mountain is said to be difficult - but not so for adventure and thrill seekers I would guess.
The day was not wasted as it turned out. We got some good shots once the dreary weather moved out in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the town and the loop trail. Next on the agenda is Banff National Park - Lake Louise, Vermilion Lakes, Bow Falls & town of Banff.