Things to do in Canmore, Banff, Alberta, Canada: 20 reasons to visit Canmore

1.Take Alberta's second best road trip 

The gravel road that winds up the mountains behind Grassi Lakes, The Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail is one of the most spectacular mountain drives in the Rockies. Filled with hiking trails, magnificent alpine-blue lakes ringed by mountains capped with snow, this drive is made all the more pleasurable by its astounding lack of other people. Head up mid-morning to catch the mist before the heat from the sun lifts it, and watch for bears, moose and other wildlife. And don't forget your camera. canmorekananaskis.com

2. Hike to lakes of jewelled hue

Straight up the mountain behind Canmore and off the Spray Lakes Road are two hour-long walking trails leading to Grassi Lakes, below the looming Ha Ling Peak; two lakes of a sublime emerald and turquoise colour. Choose between a gentle ascent or an uphill hike that that weaves through forest alongside a waterfall; stop along the way and drink in the spectacular views across Canmore and the Bow Valley to the mountain range opposite. tourismcanmore.com

3. A wild experience with Alberta's wolf dogs

Dog lovers should not miss Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary, which offers the opportunity to hand feed these mysterious, broody but beautiful animals, who are varying degrees of wolf and husky. Abandoned by their owners as pups when they realised they were not pets, the rescue centre allows visitors to feed the animals while learning about wolfy genetics, unaffected by human interaction. They will approach for snacks – skulking forward, nimbly stealing food from your hands, before quickly darting away. They will not be petted or approached – some, like the spectacular white Arctic wolf – won't come anywhere near. The wolves, having been reared by humans, can no longer fend for themselves in the wild, having never been taught to kill for food; they also like to sleep in the open no matter how cold, and if kept in captivity escape (the centre has plenty of room, and fencing). facebook.com/yamnuskawdsanct​

4. Take a ride in a sled

And at the opposite end of the scale when it comes to man's best friend, the other species of animal close to Canadian's hearts are sled dogs. As the sound of barking approaches, you know you are coming close to the kennels that hold around 100 friendly bitzers, excited to hear the approach of humans. With six adorable puppies to greet us too, it's hard to share the love amongst these energetic animals, each with their own distinct personality, and Manc owner Russell Donald cannily describes each one as we wander through their enclosure. Monikered after booze, mountains or reindeer, the animals rest in summer while the owners run educational tours through their kennels; but winter is for sledding, taking tourists for joyrides, or even the enjoying odd bit of limelight in a movie (Klondike was filmed here, although trouble brewed after the dogs ate the artificial, rise-based snow). It's Donald's aim to take the best dogs on the Yukon Quest – a legendary 1600-kilometre stint stretching from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska in an international sled dog race. maddogsexpeditions.com/

5. Stay in luxury condo-style accommodation

Beautiful Solaris Resort and Spa is a ten-minute walk from downtown Canmore. One-bedroom condos have floor-to-ceiling windows looking straight across to the Three Sisters, Canmore's infamous mountain range backdrop. Immaculately designed and furnished, the serviced accommodation is roomy and comfortable with leather couches, and a large, fully self-contained kitchen with floating bench, Euro laundry, and gas fireplaces in the lounge and bedrooms. Perfect for an extended stay, guests can pay a small fee for use of the pool, spa and gym areas accessible through a heated carpark. solararesort.ca/

6. Eat bagels and turtle bars

Rocky Mountain Bagel Company in downtown Canmore may not be the most upmarket joint you can head to in the vicinity, but its long opening hours, hot coffee and reliably great bagels baked on site make it a must-do for visitors looking for a quick stop for breakfast or lunch. Do not miss the turtle bar – a Canadian speciality of delectable caramel with pecans and chocolate on a biscuit base. thebagel.ca

7. Investigate Canmore's craft brews

A tough day's hiking earns a good craft brew, and Grizzly Paw Brewing in downtown Canmore offers 12 microbrewed beers as well as typical pub fare in a convivial atmosphere, where you can people-watch from the heated patio off the main street. Across town, The Iron Goat Pub & Grill boasts two patios and 'the best views in Canmore' across the Bow Valley to the Three Sisters. The pub has a hearty selection of beers and wines plus top-notch Canadian fare in a casual atmosphere. irongoat.ca/thegrizzlypaw.com/

8. Brunch

If you're in serviced accommodation in Canmore, you'll need to head out for breaky and Chez Francoise is touted as Canmore's number one breakfast joint, serving French-inspired cuisine in a homely atmosphere. The ridiculously extensive breakfast menu includes anything from duck liver pate with your croissants, to crepes served with strawberry cream cheese or apple and cheddar, as well as a long lists of omelettes, eggs, and french toast choices. restaurantchezfrancois.com/

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9. Fine dine

Hidden off a backstreet in downtown Canmore, Tapas has a spotless reputation for fine food. Tiny, low-lit and atmospheric, this surprising Spanish restaurant is not only one of the best restaurants in town, but in Alberta – and a must-stop for foodies, with an extensive list of tapas and pinxtos​ to choose plus an impressive wine list to match. Whatever you do, say yes to dessert. tapascanmore.ca/

10. Scout Canmore's movie locations

If Canmore is famous for anything its amazing scenery, which has provided a stunning backdrop for a host of movies including The Revenant– featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in his first Oscar-winning role. Part of the movie was filmed off Spray Lakes Road – see if you can spot where scenes were shot. Other movies famed for their Canmore backdrops include Brokeback Mountain, Interstellar and The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford. Marilyn Monroe stayed at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel while filming River of No Return during the 1950s.

11.Camp out like a cowboy

Head to Banff for a true Canadian Rockies cowboy experience. An easy trail ride with a group of would-be cowboys led by a couple of affable Aussies leads through the back roads of Banff on muddy, well-trodden tracks, past a turquoise blue river picturesquely strewn with fall foliage. Get your legs working as those horses plod up and down hills before settling at the campsite for a 'cowboy cookout'. Dinner is a barbecue of steak, coleslaw, baked potatoes and salad – vegetarians are catered for if you let them know in advance. Those adventurous types who want a real cowboy experience can opt for overnight camps; and if you're not game to get on a horse, you can hitch a ride on their old-school wagon. http://horseback.com/package/cowboy-cookouts-dinner-ridewagon/

12. Pretend you're camping out at Park Distillery

Is the newest pub in town also the best? We think so. Park Distillery is a massive two-story venture with a camp out theme serving dishes you'd imagine knocking up over a campfire like wild tinfoil trout, plus a selection of spit-roasted and wood-fired meats. They also distil their own vodka and whisky – work your way through the delicious cocktail menu or sample craft beers within the atmosphere of a large woodsy cabin. Take a seat at the bar with its magnificent tree-trunk backdrop making you feel like you're sitting in a forest, gaze at the impressive portrait of Captain Conrad O'Brien, a multitalented British secret service officer who is thought to have inspired Ian Fleming's James Bond after the two met. 

13. Hike around Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lake

At the end of Spray Lakes Road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, this twin set of lakes have an easy hiking trail the loops around. One route leads to the lower lake, the other takes you through densely forested areas leading to hidden waterfalls. Both routes provide stunning mountain scenery for all fitness levels. www.tourismcanmore.com

14. Take a photo at Vermillion Lakes

A four kilometre scenic road circles the Vermillion Lakes, just outside the township of Banff. Mount Rundle is reflected in its still waters, making it a photographer's paradise – particularly at sunrise and sunset – and if you're really lucky, and a night owl, this is a good viewing spot for the northern lights. pc.gc.ca

15. Cruise on Lake Minnewanka

Of course the numerous Aussies working in tourism here love to pronounce this lake's name as it's written, but it's actually pronounced Minne-wonka. Either way, the lake is a huge, 21 kilometre L-shaped monster, making it the longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies – and as such, it's best seen by boat. One hour tours run on the hour. brewster.ca

16. Ride the Banff Gondola

With a bird's eye view of six mountain ranges and observation decks offering views from all angles the Banff Gondola ride is not to be missed. A short twelve minute ride will get you to the top of Sulphur Mountain; from there you can reach the easy, one kilometre summit walk to the national historic site of Sanson's Peak. It's chilly at the end of summer, so one can hardly imagine what it must have been like for Norman Sanson, who used to walk to the peak every week for 30 years to check the weather – you can see a replica of his modest accommodation at the summit.

A $26 million redevelopment of its upper terminal building is currently underway and slated to open in summer 2016, with interpretive experiences, theatre and cafe. brewster.ca

17. See waterfalls, hoodoos and fairytale castles

An easy loop around the township of Banff will take you to some of its best sites. Watch thick torrents of water roaring down the heavy rock face at Bow Falls. From Surprise Corner, you get the best views of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, whose turret-like towers poke through a sea of douglas firs on the mountain side like a fairytale castle, then head across the road to the Hoodoos Trail for a quick hike. Like those that fill Utah's Bryce Canyon, these peculiar white towers protrude from the landscape like needles. banfflakelouise.com

19. Lodge in old-school woodsy cabins in Banff

Staying a night in Banff? Then Buffalo Mountain Lodge is a gorgeous, old-school lodge style accommodation, designed to feel just like a log cabin. Warm and cosy, rooms come with an open fire and ready-chopped wood piled up outside, with a television neatly hidden away in the free-standing wardrobe which can be easily ignored for full atmospheric effect. There's also a claw-footed bath in the bathroom – don't let inclement weather put you off a long soak, as the bathrooms have heated floors. Breakfast is not to be missed; held in a room off the lobby which hosts a huge, roaring fireplace with an enormous bison head over the mantle. The tiny bar here is inviting at night; and for breakfast, the light, fluffy French toast with maple cream fraiche and caramelised banana can't be beat. buffalomountainlodgebanff.com/

21. Take a hike along the Policeman's Creek boardwalk

Walk off your turtle slice from Rocky Mountain Bagels with a bit of shopping in downtown Canmore followed by a short stroll on Policeman's Creek boardwalk. Across the street from the town's controversial Big Head sculpture (designed in Canmore, made in China) which is sometimes decorated by pranksters with funny hats. The boardwalk follows Policeman's Creek up around and back into the main drag - and provides magnificent views of the surrounding mountains reflected in its water. Envy the locals that live alongside. tourismcanmore.com

The writer was a guest of Destination Canada

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