While not as famous as Banff National Park, Canmore and Kananaskis Country offer a unique pivot for those looking for a true Alberta winter experience.
Canmore and Kananaskis Country, located about an hour from Calgary on route to Banff, are two of the less-famous-yet-just-as-stunning gems of the Canadian Rockies. Canmore is a charming mountain town and Kananaskis, or K-Country as the locals say, is an ideal respite for those craving nature, thinner crowds and mountain adventure.
The pair’s proximity to Calgary make them an easy weekend getaway. Here’s how to spend an unforgettable 48 hours in Canmore and K-Country. Mix and match at your leisure and enjoy! Don't forget to pick up a Kananaskis Conservation Pass online which is now required for each vehicle in K-Country.
Tip: Pack plenty of layers and warm gear. Winter weather in the Rockies changes quickly, and you will want to be prepared so you can make the most of the great outdoors.
Day 1 – Canmore
Get an early start from Calgary and head west along the Trans-Canada Highway. The scenic drive winds through the rolling foothills before the snow-capped mountain peaks rise around you. Viewing areas are set up along the highway where it is safe to stop and take it all in.
Start your day in Canmore with some cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Here, you can rent skis and try out some of the expertly groomed trails for beginners and experts (this is where the 1988 Olympics were held) – plus fantastic views. Try the Banff Trail, which stretches up to 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) one way and offers an enjoyable trek for all abilities. Just save some energy for the trip back!
Next, head back to town for lunch at Communitea Café. The cozy spot is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. It serves fresh, locally sourced fare that is as healthy as it is delicious – think colourful meal bowls, crunchy salads and hearty sandwiches and wraps. If you’re a tea-drinker, this is the spot for you. The back wall is lined with varieties, and you will have trouble choosing just one.
Now that you are fueled up, it is time to head back outside. But you’ll get to take a break and let some adorable sled dogs show you around. Dogsled tours must be booked in advance, but there are several operators in Canmore and K-Country who offer tours of varying length, ranging from an hour or two to multi-day expeditions. Check out Mad Dogs & Englishmen or Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours in downtown Canmore. All you have to do is climb under a warm buffalo rug and get ready for an unforgettable ride.
Wrap up your day in Canmore with a delicious dinner at Crazyweed. It has been a Canmore staple for more than 20 years, and its laidback atmosphere means you can come straight from the outdoors or get dressed up for an evening out – the choice is yours. The eclectic menu features small and large globally inspired plates that taste just as good as they look.
Finally, relax at the Malcolm Hotel before another day of outdoor activities. Give yourself time for a soak in the heated rooftop pool and hot tubs – the views of Mount Lawrence Grassi and the Three Sisters are unbeatable.
Day 2 – Kananaskis Country
Time to play in K-Country. First stop: Troll Falls. From Canmore, venture east on the Trans-Canada Highway toward Calgary. Exit the highway onto Kananaskis Trail and follow it to Stoney Trail, which will lead you to the Troll Falls trailhead. It is a popular, easy hike, and you will quickly see why. The 3.4-kilometre (2.1-mile) out-and-back hike is a must-see in winter. The trail leads to a stunning frozen waterfall that is a perfect photo op – you’ll want to stick around for a little while. The trail can be icy in the winter, so cleats for your boots are recommended. They can be purchased or rented at any outdoor gear shop in the area.
After your hike, which will take about 90 minutes, make a stop at Kananaskis Outfitters in Kananaskis Village and rent a fat bike. It is just like riding a regular bike, except you have got extra-thick, squishy tires that can expertly navigate snowy terrain. It is easy to get the hang of and lots of fun. Kananaskis Outfitters also offers an evening snowshoe and stargazing tour if you still have some energy left at the end of the day. There’s little light pollution in K-Country, so the stars shine extra bright –you may even spot the northern lights.
If skiing is on your bucket list, some quality time on the slopes at Nakiska Ski Resort is another option for Day 2. You’ll find it along the Kananaskis Trail near the Troll Falls trailhead. Nakiska hosted numerous ski events during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and today it is known for impeccably groomed slopes, accessible terrain, and a family friendly vibe.
Either way, a day spent outdoors calls for time to rest and recharge. The Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is a Rocky Mountain retreat that’s got just what you need, plus delicious options for dinner – like fresh pasta at Forte Restaurant or locally sourced Canadian dishes at the Cedar Room. The hotel’s neighbour also happens to be the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, which is the ultimate relaxation destination. The spa is the first of its kind in Alberta, offering 5,000 square metres (50,000 sq ft) of indoor-outdoor space to enjoy – whether you are in the mood for a dip in the hydrotherapy pools, relaxing in winterized hammocks or a snack at the Two Trees Bistro. Just remember: hot, warm, cold, rest, repeat.