For ‘cityslickers’ a day in the mountains can sometimes be just the therapeutic thing to counteract urban angst. Getting back to nature, enjoying fresh air and outdoor pursuits can give a wider perspective on life, promoting healthy recreation habits, especially for our offspring. Heading for Canmore, just an hour west along the Trans-Canada Highway, means 100 per cent change of pace and environment but not too much frustrating, “Are we there yet?” car time.
But, out of our urban comfort zone with kids in tow, what should we be doing to make the most of this mountain playground? Well, the journey itself abounds with wildlife. Divert your kids’ attention from the man-made delights of Calaway Park for once, to point out bald eagles invariably circling the adjacent fields where coyotes slink and deer nervously poise on hilly horizons. Break the journey at Chief Chiniki’s restaurant indulging in a hearty breakfast whilst imbibing the First Nations’ atmosphere.
Once in town, check out Tourism Canmore’s up-to-date information at their 7 Avenue office opposite the new Civic Centre which houses the fascinating mining museum. Get safety advice regarding predator activity in the area plus weather forecasts. Tourism Director, John Samms says Canmore is intrinsically a family town. He advises parents to check the website (tourismcanmore.com) for the ‘Events Calendar.’ Coming up on May 20 is the town’s Children’s Festival, featuring interactive events, crafts and games with magicians, jugglers, storytellers, comedy, puppets and theatre.
Unlike Banff, parking is free with no time limits in Canmore. Once parked, take the time to walk along the undulating hiking paths, through town centre, past the eclectic mix of cabins, million-dollar mansions and new condos, traversing woods, crossing creeks and flanking the Bow River. Buggy-friendly, the trails cover 60 kilometers, linking the town’s myriad recreational facilities. Whilst your kids emulate their simian ancestors in Centennial Park’s rustic playground, you can reflect on life in the serenity of Hollywood’s favorite mountain backdrop. Wear sturdy footwear, though, as well as rainproof layers with a pocket for bear spray.
Picnicking at idyllic Quarry Lake, the town’s swimming, sunbathing and sand-castle sanctuary, is a welcome respite from physical exertion. Bring an inflatable boat and fishing gear but check local regulations first. Jog ‘round the Emerald Lake or take the dog to the nearby off-leash area. Grotto Pond, near the Grotto Canyon trailhead, is another perfect setting for fishing forays. The one-and-a-half hour return hiking trail is also very kid-friendly, with boulders facilitating climbing and jumping and shallow tributaries ensuring you get your runners and pant legs nice and wet.
The two-hour return hike to turquoise-toned Grassi Lakes is suitable for kids, although under-three’s may need a piggyback ride. En route the views over Canmore and the Bow River are uplifting as is a plunge into the glacial pools. At trail end, you can watch hardy climbers scaling flinty rock walls.
Caving under Grotto Mountain will jolt even the most laconic teenager out of the automatic, “It’s boring” response. Families can explore the underground labyrinth of Rat’s Nest Cave with Canmore Caverns’ guides who combine learning, adventure and basic rappelling in their full-day tour. The Nordic Centre makes Canmore a mountain biking Mecca for all standards. You can also bike all the way to Banff on the challenging Goat Creek Trail. The best venue for family golfing is the Par 3, nine-hole course at Kananaskis Guest Ranch which has special half price days for juniors. For an adrenalin rush, try rafting in the relatively tame Kananaskis River. You can get basic kayaking skills in the pool at Canmore’s Recreation Centre or take flat water tuition in early season. Float trips may suit less intrepid families. Trail riding and western barbecues are fun at scenic Cross Zee Ranch which offers pony rides for the under seven’s.
Canmore Recreation Centre is a refuge from sudden downpours. Check out family swim times with play equipment, slides and Tarzan ropes provided, as well as the large hot tub. There’s a skateboard park right outside, complete with jumps and rails. The climbing centre is great for rainy days, too.
Canmore’s cuisine is topnotch nowadays with restaurants for every pocket and taste. With children dictating your choices, though, opt for those with obvious kids’ menus or family rooms. My sons’ favorite is the fireside family room at the Drake Pub - cozy on a chilly day and great for nachos, burgers and fajitas. The Rocky Mountain Bagel Company offers the perfect carbohydrate injection after strenuous activities and is often littered with strollers. For gourmet food choices, try Tapas’s Mediterranean delicacies, Zona’s Eastern food served on exquisite pottery platters or French Quarter Café’s succulent Cajun dishes. After 8 or 9pm Canmore’s nightlife can turn more adult but most places are family-friendly for lunch or early dinners.
With its metamorphosis from modest mining town to sophisticated, outdoor-lifestyle hub, Canmore is no longer Banff’s poor relation. It’s great for a shopping spree, too, with its diverse collection of art galleries, unique furniture and home accessory stores, and stylish boutiques. Best to indulge in this on a school day, though, or you may spend most of your time agonizing over individually-picked sweets in the old-fashioned Candy Store.
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