Despite its splendid location between rows of towering mountains, youthful and outdoorsy Canmore was long considered just a gateway to the parks. But recently, it’s begun to compete with Banff, 28km away, for visitors and provides a decent, less touristy alternative with cheaper accommodation – ideal if you can live with the smaller selection of restaurants and shops.
Canmore began life in 1883 as a railroad supply point, before booming as a mining centre. It lived off mining for almost a century until 1979 when the last mine closed. Things looked bleak, but not for long, as it was soon decided that the town would host all the Nordic skiing events for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, which gave the town the impressive Canmore Nordic Centre.
Outside the tight restrictions of the national parks, the town has grown to 12,000 and it’s expected to perhaps double again in the next twenty years. Occasional references to it as the “Aspen of Alberta” exaggerate, but certainly many young adventurous types and artists have relocated here to escape cities. It’s a good place to visit too, with good hiking, climbing, biking, skiing and fishing on the fringes of town – and opportunities for many more activities, including caving and rafting, not much further away.
Canmore straddles the Trans-Canada Highway, with the usual mix of motels and diners, while its more atmospheric downtown lies to the southwest and gathers around laid-back Main Street (8th St). At the southwest end of the street is a spur of the extensive network of local bike paths, which leads down to and alongside the Bow River. Parts of it are reasonable for fishing for bull trout, brown trout and whitefish.