This was our first visit to Alberta, and we decided to explore, Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise before heading to British Columbia for the remainder of our 20 day trip.
We started our trip in Canmore which is approximately 81 kilometres west of Calgary and is at the southeast boundary of Banff National Park. It is located in the Bow Valley within The Canadian Rockies and approximately drive to Banff National Park. While in the past, Canmore may have been seen as the place to stay if you can't get a place in Banff, it is it's own destination and a better spot to stay than Banff, if you are planning to explore some of the popular sites in the region.
There many reasons to choose to stay in Canmore including better prices, awesome restaurants with stunning views, 360 degrees of mountains, and relaxing hikes at the base of the Three Sisters peak, really the list could go on.
The primary reason for us was most of the excursions are based in Canmore and so the flow from activity to activity was much simpler especially with young kids. If you didn't pick up a discovery pass, then you don't have to worry about having to pay the park fee for Banff National Park every time you drive through.
We rented a condo from Solara Resorts; it was a one bedroom with full kitchen and pull-out bed in the living area. We went based on the location and we got exactly what we wanted.
Where to Eat:
Murrieta's in Canmore is a great spot for dinner. Awesome atmosphere and great service. We tried a few different items from the menu and everything was delicious. I'm glad I opted for the scallops. Hubby had the beef, which when you are in Alberta, how can you not. Great place for families, or a special occasion.
The Range is a great spot for lunch; they make an prepare their all their food, except for the bread. My favourite was the quinoa salad, the kids loved the Alberta Beef sandwich.
Things to Do
There is a wide variety of things to do in Canmore and Banff National Park. Below is my list of family friendly activities that gets you out in nature exploring the beauty of the mountain which are still very safe to do. A good idea is to pick up the Discovery Pass not only is a great price, it also reduces the amount of time you have to spend in the line waiting to purchase a park permit. Everyone entering any of the National Parks needs to have a permit, even if you are just driving through.
We knew we wanted to do a boat tour and researched all the different
options out there. We went with Canmore River Adventures because it's a very easy and safe float trip on the gorgeous Bow River. The tour itself was about 45 minutes on the water, just the right amount of time to hear a bit about the area and take in the beauty without the kids getting bored. The guide was great with the kids and even allowed them to row for a bit.
The morning of our tour it rained a little, but nothing can take away from the beauty of the mountains. I loved that Canmore River Adventures had rain jackets for everyone on board along with the other essentials. A great feature is the pickup and drop off from your hotel that is included in the price. They are very flexible with customers, if we wanted to, we could have changed our tour to a sunnier day, but we opted to keep our original plans. As the say "if you don't like the weather in the mountains, just wait a few minutes." Besides, it's the Rockies, it's gorgeous no matter the weather.
The excursion of a lifetime!
We knew we wanted to do a Helicopter tour while visiting the Rockies, and researched online all the various tour operators, we went with Alpine Helicopter. The have a lot of different options, we did the 30 minutes tour.
The Mount Assiniboine Glacier Tour which rises to 11,870 feet along the great divide is a must-do if you are visiting Banff, Canmore or the surrounding areas. We were treated to an up-close view of the Three Sisters Peaks, Beautiful glacial lakes, and stunning views of the mountain. The colours of the Spray Lakes in the Goat Range are unbelievable . On the way back we got to see views of the Bow River and the Town of Canmore. The highlight of the tour is the surrounding glaciers and icefalls and of course the Gloria Glacier.
We were all in awe of the beauty of the Gloria glacier, and you will be too. Our guide took is close enough to the glacier it felt like we were standing directly on it, you can see the crevices in the rocks, and you get the feeling that you can reach out and touch them.
This tour is great for couples and families alike. Our kids were so excited they kept talking over the microphone. The look of pure joy on our son's face is priceless to us. I'll never forget this experience.
This is a fun excursion and great way to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you can experience six stunning mountain ranges. The Gondola is a modern, fully enclosed four-passenger cabin. Once at the top, you can take the easy ridgetop boardwalk to explore more.
It's an easy and seamless way to get to the top to enjoy the views without the hassle. Highly recommend this excursion if you are traveling with young children, or for anyone who does not want to tackle the 3-hour hike up to the top. Then all you have to do is enjoy the Incredible views and try to spot wildlife. Be sure to say hi to the resident mountain goat when you go.
Banff Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs is a public hot spring located in Banff National Park with reasonable rates. It's an outdoor pool offering beautiful views of Mount Rundle. Combine this activity with the Banff Gondola since they are in the same location.
This is a nice spot to spend few hours with the kids; the water is warm, and they have a nice shallow area for kids. If you are out and about and don't want to bring a lot of things with you, they offer full rental services including towel, swimsuits, and lockers. Because it's a public pool, and a very popular spot, the lines can get long. Consider going during non-peak times.
This place is a gem! You must visit if you are in the area, in fact, even if you are far away you must drive there. It is just stunning. When you get there, be sure to go to the top of the hill and look down on the river, that is the only way to see and capture the stunning colour of the water.
You can either climb the rocks at the front or if you are feeling less adventurous and traveling with little kids, you can take the scenic trail path towards the Consolation Lakes Trail. From the lower parking lot, cross the bridge over the outlet stream and continue to Consolation Lakes. Follow the Rockpile that passes through a quartzite boulder field it's a very beautiful and easy way to get to the top.
If you have to choose between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, I highly recommend the first one. It is a hidden gem.
Known for its turquoise, glacier-fed Lake, and the impressive Victoria glacier, there is something for everyone. From canoeing across the stunning emerald coloured lake to various hiking trails to the beautiful Fairmont Chateau, it's easy to see why so many people flock to Lake Louise throughout the year. A word of caution, if like me, you expected to be out in nature taking in the beautiful view and enjoying a bit of solitude in this area. You will be sorely disappointed. This is a very, very busy destination. It will be difficult to get a parking spot; it might be difficult even to get to the destination. It might be full from the morning, or it may be closed because too many people already there.
One of the easiest ways to actually get in on the day and time that you want is to hop on one of the shuttle busses that they offer. Yes, it's costly. Yes, you have a car and could drive, but to avoid the frustration of driving around and around trying to find a way in, the simplest thing to do is pay for the shuttle bus.
This was the best free fun on our drive from the town of Banff to Lake Louise. There were lots of people lined up along the side of the road waiting for it to pass and snapping pics. It's definitely the longest train we've ever seen. We decided to use this as a perfect spot to stop for a bit and have a snack. The highlight for the 5-year-old was watching this train go by.