Standing in the center of Canmore, Alberta, you find yourself framed by the jagged, snow-dusted Canadian Rockies. Steeped in peaks visible from every vantage point, simple things like opening your curtains in the morning or walking to get a coffee make you want to break out in song. Every glance is an awe-inspiring vista.
Canmore is a small Canadian community 20 minutes outside of Banff—call it Banff's less crowded and less costly sibling—sporting more Olympians per capita than any other town in the world. An abundance of world-class ski options and land protected by national parks draw the super fit in droves, made up of 12,000 loyal locals plus a whack of weekenders from nearby Calgary. With an aversion to big box stores and packaged products, local rules and passion-driven mom and pop shops proclaiming "locally owned," still run the show.
With biking-slash-walking paths and meandering rivers, this former coal mining town is a place you go to breathe and retreat. The air is so fresh and so pure that every inhale-exhale becomes big in an effort to take in as much oxygen as possible. Having just returned from the still snowy Canadian Rockies, here's where to stay, eat, and play in one of Canada's most eye-catching regions.
Tip: The Canadian Rockies are a one-hour drive from the Calgary International Airport.
Where to Stay
Devoid of any mega-hotels or tall towers—the mountains are the only skyscrapers in town—most Canmore stays range from timber-frame condos to small lodges. Starting with the biggest stay, Solara Resort & Spa is a sharp collection of one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites featuring gourmet kitchens, intelligent layouts, six-jet massage showers, and a 9,500 square foot spa and wellness center.
Right in the center of town, the five-room Paintbox Lodge is seasoned with a dash of post and beam, a smidgeon of ski retreat, and a sprinkle of gourmet cuisine. Dressed up with a shiny red and stainless steel kitchen to host organic chef-prepared meals, the lodge is owned by an ultra sporty husband and wife duo who have competed all over the world in Olympic and World Cup skiing.
Up, up, and one hour away from Canmore, Mount Engadine Lodge is an off-the-grid escape perched high in the Rockies. Secluded from civilization, the nine-room retreat includes all meals, and almost every square inch of the chalet overlooks a high-alpine meadow and a brood of, you guessed it, more mountain peaks.
Where to Eat
In a town fueled by world-class athletes, eating in Canmore is a big affair where sustenance, gourmet, and organic are all main themes. Streets dotted with markets, artisan shops, and 10-table eateries serve the region's best in a community so into food, there are enough restaurants to feed over three times its population.
We love the ever-rotating, seasonal menu at The Trough, a casual-meets-fine-dining restaurant where patrons' jeans and boots match the sturdy tables and worn hardwood floors. At once focused on food and service, this passion project oozes taste, just like the melt-in-your-mouth sticky toffee pudding.
Just as intimate in size, the romantic Tapas restaurant transports you to a Spanish hacienda mingling small plates like beef carpaccio topped with fried capers and lemon aioli with pitchers of sangria. Inside, terra cotta colors and unpolished crystal lights highlight the mural walls and patterned ceiling.
Where to Play
With the Canadian Rockies on full display, you can't help but want to play outside. In summer, hikes and bikes abound—start from town, pick a path, and go. In winter, every snowy sport from backcountry skiing to snowshoeing to biathlon beckons.
Built for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, nurture your outdoorsy side at the Canmore Nordic Center, an all-season park filled with miles of terrain. In the winter a cross-country ski trail pass costs a mere $10, and in the summer, admission to the multi-use trails is free.
If bending and folding is more your bag, go from downward dog to shavasana at the by-donation yoga studio at Gaia Clinic, a health and wellness retreat at the base of the iconic Three Sisters peaks. After all, a little stretching might be just what the doctor ordered after an adventure-filled week in the Rockies.
Photo credits: Solara Resort & Spa courtesy of Solara Resort & Spa; all other photos courtesy of Trish Friesen