Warm Up to Winter: A Weekend Getaway in Canmore, Alberta

Hike, dine and marvel at the mountain scenery in this relaxed town near Banff

View of mountains

I have a deep disdain for winter. There is no sugar-coating it: I hate the cold. I hate the slushy streets and the harsh, biting winds. I hate hats and gloves. And I have never been known to go out of my way to participate in any type of outdoor winter activity.

On a recent trip to Calgary, though, a friend and I took a short and stunningly gorgeous drive through the Rockies. Snow-capped and proud, the mountains are the epitome of winter in Western Canada. As we drove, winding our way under tremendous, jagged peaks, past icy glacier-fed lakes of rich, beautiful blues, my contempt started to defrost—a little.

We drove to spectacular and oh-so-popular Banff for brunch, turned around and ended up in Canmore, about 20 minutes away. Quaint and calm, Canmore is surrounded by mountains that are so close you feel like you can reach out and touch them.

At Mystic Springs Chalets and Hot Pools, our temporary townhouse-style home fit for a family, we dropped off our bags and (mentally) prepared for our outdoor adventures. We considered forgoing the wintry outdoors to hit up the spa, but instead ended up renting ice cleats at a shop around the corner.

There are tons of places to hike around the area, which boasts hundreds of kilometres of trails. We chose the ice walk through Grotto Canyon, because if we were going to do this, we might as well do it right (plus, the difficulty level is rated family-friendly).

It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We walked up the frozen creek, laughing at how amazing and smart we were to rent ice cleats for our shoes (we were the envy of hikers slipping and sliding by). I felt like a kid, giddy at the adventure of going deeper through alleys of rock, walking up hills of frozen-solid stream and arriving at the magical icicle spears of the waterfall, stopped in time.

Feeling completely satisfied with ourselves after our two-hour hike, we headed back to town for a vitamin-rich pick-me-up at Communitea Cafe, which serves bright vegetarian bowls, salads and sandwiches.

If you have the luxury of staying for a few days—or if hiking is not your thing—the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park has cross-country skiing, tobogganing, ice-skating and even something called winter disc golf (which I found out later is like golf played with Frisbees instead of balls, using eight “holes” or targets).

For dinner, we went to Tavern 1883, a cozy, pub-meets-cabin restaurant. To start, we had the stick-to-your-ribs risotto balls made with duck and served with pine-nut aioli. Next, we had the lamb burger, prepared sous-vide before it’s quickly grilled to a perfect, juicy medium rare. Stuffed after the main course, we took a pecan pie to go. So much for our brief health kick.

To top it all off, we sat for a quick half-pint of local brew at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company (which also makes delicious hand-crafted sodas) in the centre of downtown Canmore. The mountains were dark, looming shadows against the night sky. 

It wasn’t until we returned to the chalet, donned our bathrobes, filled up on warm pecan pie and got ready to sit in the outdoor hot tub in the cold, starry night, that I came to terms with winter. I could get used to this.

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