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Anyone traveling from Calgary to Canmore will soon find themselves admiring the stunning Rockies. While the scenery itself is beautiful, there is actually a lot to do along this route too, and with the right stops, you can easily turn this short drive into an epic road trip adventure.
Canmore is located just outside of Banff and is often overshadowed. Some tourists may be tempted to skip Canmore, but that would be a huge mistake as it’s one of the most beautiful places in Alberta!
But it isn’t just the destination that should have you excited, if you’re heading to Canmore from Calgary then there are some pretty cool places to visit on the way too.
This guide will walk you through the best stops on your drive from Calgary to Canmore, as well as a few other handy tips to know before you hit the road!
Note: This road trip also works perfectly in reverse if you’re driving from Canmore to Calgary as well.
About the Drive from Calgary to Canmore
The road trip from Calgary to Canmore is actually pretty short and only takes around 75-90 minutes to complete. You have two options to choose from for routes of getting there:
- 105 km (65 miles) on Trans-Canada Highway 1 – this route is somewhat faster and should take an hour and 15 minutes to complete.
- 116 km (72 miles) on Highway 1A – this is the more picturesque route and only adds approximately 15 minutes to the driving time.
Highway 1A, which passes through Cochrane and the Kananaskis area, is my preferred route. Along this drive, there are some really neat places to check out, and for that reason, this blog focuses on that route specifically. From towering mountain peaks to stunning lakes, you’ll really experience it all if you follow my road trip itinerary below.
While this road trip is somewhat short, I encourage you to take your time and spread what could be a 90-minute road trip into a multi-day adventure! Or, at the very least, give yourself a full day. This guide will walk you through the best stops on your drive from Calgary to Canmore, as well as a few other handy tips to know before you hit the road!
Related Read: Leaving from Edmonton instead? Check out our guide for driving from Edmonton to Canmore!
Tips for Driving from Calgary to Canmore
First and foremost, fill up on gas before leaving Calgary, it will be much cheaper than Canmore.
This drive from Calgary to Canmore can be done in any season, but if you plan on doing it in the winter be aware of the weather forecast and road conditions.
To handle any ice and snow you may encounter, make sure your car has winter tires or at the very least all-season tires. If the weather changes or the roads are bad, there are locations to stop and spend the night between Calgary and Canmore that I have mentioned throughout the post.
On this drive, keep an eye out for wildlife, especially if you’re traveling at sunrise or dusk. Deer and other large animals may be lurking in the ditches. Because Highway 1A includes a few more twists and turns, it’s better to travel it during the day if at all feasible.
12 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Canmore
Don’t rush off on your road trip too quickly and be sure to enjoy Calgary before you go. Despite being a major city in the plains, Calgary offers plenty of fun things to do.
Also, since you’re going to be in town, you may as well spend some time seeing the city, checking out one of the top tours in Calgary, and taking advantage of the city’s lower lodging costs than the adjacent Rocky Mountain resorts.
Calgary is especially a sight to see in the winter. While they may be cold, you’re still likely to have plenty of sunny days! Calgary actually has the most days of sunshine out of any Canadian city at 333 days a year! Even if you’re trying to dodge the cold or rain, there are plenty of fun indoor activities to keep you busy too.
One of my favorite activities is the Calgary Tower. You get the best city views, plus it’s the highest 360-degree observation deck in the world! I also recommend grabbing a bite at Sky 360, their revolving restaurant.
To see the top sights of the city from ground level check out this 2-hour city scooter tour. The best part is that it only costs $55 CAD per person which is a lot cheaper than many of the other Calgary city tours. At each stop, you’ll learn some history from your guide.
Art and beer lovers, listen up! Instead, you could opt for this 3-hour craft beer and street art tour. You will navigate the streets and learn the stories behind the artist and art that you are seeing while making stops for some local beer samples! I can’t think of a better way to do two activities at once!
You can’t talk about Calgary without mentioning the Calgary Zoo. It’s open year-round and has nearly 1,000 different animals and exhibits. If you want to see something extra adorable, make sure you’re there at 10 am to witness the penguin walk! It’s literally the penguins taking a 15-minute walk through the zoo for their daily workout.
Where to stay in Calgary
Within the central city area, the Wicked Hostels Calgary is a good choice for budget travelers. The hostel is clean, comfortable, and located in a good area. Find the best deal on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com!
If you can spend a bit more the Coast Calgary Downtown Hotel and Suites is perfect. The suites have a full kitchen which is perfect for homemade meals which can save you a lot of money.
For luxury travelers, check out the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire. This hotel overlooks the river valley, comes with an indoor pool (with waterslide), hot tub, fitness center, hair salon, and gift shop.
2. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Once you’re done exploring Calgary, your next stop is Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. This hidden gem is a non-profit that cares for rescued wolfdogs. You have the opportunity to learn about the wolves and see them in their own environment.
The sanctuary is located about 45 minutes away from Calgary as you make your way toward Canmore (right outside of the town of Cochrane.) If you do decide to go be aware that no children under 6, no dogs, and no faux fur or real fur clothing items are allowed in the sanctuary. If you’re unsure about any rules or restrictions check their visitor rules on their website or call before you go.
You can visit the sanctuary Thursday through Monday for $13 CAD for youth, and $28 CAD for adults. They offer a variety of tours and it is a really unique experience that comes highly recommended.
Cochrane is a cute town that has an old western feel to it. It’s pretty much the middle point of your road trip from Calgary to Canmore so it’s the perfect place to take a break.
I suggest visiting the Historic Cochrane Ranche which is actually where Alberta’s first large cattle ranch was located in the 1880s. If you visit today you’ll see a large public park with walking trails, fire pits, a quaint museum, and a reconstructed corral.
Once you’ve experienced some of the history, check out the downtown area. MacKay’s Ice Cream is locally made and serves up over 50 flavors including some unique ones like Haskap berry which is even made with local berries!
If you’re more into drinks than desserts, we’ve got something for you too! There are a few cool local breweries in Cochrane. Half Hitch Brewing Company is the perfect place to try out locally-brewed craft beers paired with delicious appetizers and smoked meats. The Papa Bear Prairie Ale is a must-try!
If you’re a little worn out from exploring the last few places, Cochrane is a great place to stay. Hotels here are typically cheaper than in Canmore and Calgary. The Days Inn and Suites Cochrane is a nice option that’s just off the highway, perfect for a road trip stay. The hotel has an indoor pool, free breakfast, and is close to some nice walking trails if you need to stretch your legs.
4. Ghost Lake
The name “Ghost Lake” comes from Indigenous legends about a ghost that haunted the neighboring Ghost River.
The beach offers a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains, but be cautious that the water may rapidly become dangerously deep! The typical depth of Ghost Lake is 18-27 meters (60-90 feet), this makes it ideal for fishing and it is home to a variety of freshwater fish, including Bull Trout and Rainbow Trout.
Because of its location at the base of the Rockies, the lake has consistent breezes, making it an ideal area for sailing. Here at the marina, boat rentals are available. You may swim here as well, however, the water is usually rather chilly!
5. Brewster’s Kananaskis Ranch Golf Course
This course is worth a visit even if you’re not a great golfer. Brewster’s Golf is an 18-hole course located at the base of Yamnuska Mountain on the Bow River’s north bank. Enjoy the sights of the mountains, wildflowers, and trees while playing… Just don’t get too carried away with the landscape and lose your golf ball in the water!
It costs $55 CAD on weekdays and $72 CAD on weekends and holidays to play all 18 holes, plus the cost of renting a golf cart. A sunset special is also available at a discounted price to play later in the day but in general, the earlier you book, the better the pricing.
Keep in mind that you can only reserve up to 30 days in advance during high season which typically runs from mid-May through the end of September. Be sure to see their website for specifics.
6. Kananaskis Village and area
Explore Kananaskis Country by taking a short detour onto Highway 40 toward Kananaskis Village.
The Nakiska Ski Resort is also located here. It was built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics meaning the ski resort has Olympic-sized groomed runs and a state-of-the-art snowmaking system! With its excellent snow coverage, Nakiska is typically one of the first ski resorts to open in the country and the last to close.
If you get the opportunity to do some hiking while you’re in the area, be sure to do Troll Falls. It’s my favorite hike, partially because of the stunning waterfall at the end. The waterfall is beautiful no matter the season you do the hike, even when it’s frozen in the winter it’s a sight! The hike is around 3.2 km (2.1 miles) round-trip.
Be sure to bring ice cleats or spikes if you do trek this hike in the winter, it can get slippery.
Important note: A Conservation Pass is required for any vehicles stopping in parks or public places in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley Corridor. A daily pass costs $15 CAD and may be purchased online or at any Kananaskis Visitor Information Center.
Where to stay in Kananaskis
If your itinerary allows, stay a couple of nights at The Crosswater Resort – a very family-friendly resort that won’t break the bank with a large indoor pool in the heart of the Kananaskis. Staying here also gives you access to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, which is famous for its innovative hydrotherapy treatments. Here there are several hot and cold pools with epic mountain views.
If you want something super affordable there is actually a hostel called HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel with bunks starting at 41 CAD and private rooms for around 100 CAD.
7. Bow Valley Campground/Many Springs
Along the Bow River, the Bow Valley Campground is my favorite spot to stay inside Bow Valley Provincial Park. The campsites here are densely forested, with spectacular views of the valley, mountains, and river. There are several great trails here, which are especially lovely at sunset. Reservations are required (no walk-ins), and reservations may be made up to 90 days in advance.
Even if camping isn’t on the agenda, I recommend visiting the day-use sites, such as the short hike at Many Springs. This 1.3-km (0.8-mile) loop features breathtaking scenery, including springs that pool in a wetland basin near the trail’s finish. The mountains mirrored in the mirror-like basin are a stunning sight to see. At the end of the loop, there’s a dock with an unimpeded view!
Note: Many Springs/Bow Valley Campground is located within the Kananaskis, so you will need a Conservation Pass to visit here too.
8. Jura Creek Trail
Looking for a nice hike on the drive from Calgary to Canmore to stretch your legs? Jura Creek Trail is located just outside of Exshaw on Highway 1A. The path begins in the northwest corner of the parking lot, across from the Graymont gravel factory.
This trek is best done in the winter! The Jura Creek slot canyon entry is less than a kilometer into the climb. When the stream is frozen and you may walk on it, this tiny canyon is extremely enjoyable to explore. Have a camera handy since there are some wonderful photo ops here. Bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet if you’re going to attempt in the summer!
You may either turn around and return through the canyon or continue on the trek. There’s another slot canyon around 3.5 km (2.2 miles) in, so hikers frequently tour both canyons before returning. Nonetheless, the trail proceeds for those who wish to continue.
Exshaw is just a brief stop on your drive from Calgary to Canmore. You may notice the Lafarge cement plant as you drive by which is now the largest in Canada.
If you need gas along the way Exshaw is going to be a cheaper option than Canmore. Heart Mountain Store is a great one-stop-shop as it’s a gas station, store, and restaurant. Fuel up your car, then yourself with one of their famous burgers!
Related Read: Up for a challenge? Hike Heart Mountain Loop located near Exshaw.
10. Grotto Canyon
Just a little ways further up the road you’ll come to Grotto Lake and the trailhead to Grotto Canyon. This is the perfect easy hike on this road trip to break up your drive and one of the top hikes around Banff!
Grotto Canyon Trail is a beautiful trek that can be done in the summer as well as the winter. If you are planning a winter hike, this complete guide to the Grotto Canyon Icewalk will be helpful! The path begins at the day-use parking lot at Grotto Mountain. The stream bed is approximately a kilometer away, and it gradually narrows as the granite cliffs surrounding you grow higher and more magnificent.
Take a right at the creek’s split to reach Grotto Canyon Falls. But don’t ignore what you’ll see before you reach the breathtaking waterfall! Just before you reach the falls, keep an eye out to the left… you should witness 500-1,000-year-old pictographs drawn directly at eye level.
11. Gap Lake
Gap Lake is a beautiful lake where you may go ice skating in the winter. The ice clears up to the point where you can actually see all the way to the bottom! There’s plenty of room because the wind keeps the lake generally snow-free. Just keep in mind that ice thickness might vary due to subsurface streams that make certain portions of the ice thinner than others.
If you’re visiting in the summer, Gap Lake is a wonderful lakeside area to unwind and fish!
Canmore is one of Canada’s best mountainside tourist destinations. Located on the edge of Banff National Park and Kananaskis country, there’s no shortage of enjoyable and thrilling things to do in Canmore.
You’ll have access to tons of epic tours, outdoor activities, and the bustling town’s streets are filled with cute cafes, gourmet restaurants, and of course, boutique shops. After a day of hiking or hitting the slopes, you can hang out fireside with a cold beer or a delicious meal.
Grassi Lakes is one of the best hikes in Canmore. Just a 5-minute drive from Canmore town you will arrive at the trailhead. It’s a 4 km (2.5 miles) trail that takes most around 2 hours to complete. You’ll love this trail because it’s family-friendly, great for hikers of all skill levels, and you get to explore some of the brightest-colored lakes you’ve ever seen!
One of the best places for stargazing in all of Canada just so happens to be in Canmore! Due to the absence of light pollution, you’ll be able to see thousands of stars and galaxies on a dark night. For an even better experience sign up for this Nature by Nightfall Tour. This $68 CAD 2-hour tour starts just before the sun sets and you be taken to all the best spots around town.
Just on the outskirts of Canmore are a couple of caves that are really incredible to explore if you’re up for an adventure! Canmore Cave Tours offers a couple of different tours with different lengths of time and prices. This Canmore caving adventure tour is what I recommend that you book! It’s actually one of the most popular tours in Canmore.
You will start your experience underground with a 59-foot (18-meter) rappel into the cave – how cool! You then spend an impressive 4.5 hours exploring underground. The full 6-hour tour costs $179.49 CAD for adults.
This is truly just skimming the surface of all of the fun things this destination has to offer!
Related Read: Planning on exploring Banff National Park from Canmore? Check out our blogs about the best things to do in Banff, the best things to do in Lake Louise if you’re driving from Canmore to Lake Louise, and the best places to visit between Lake Louise and Banff (another worth road trip!)
Essential Info About the Drive Before You Go
- The drive from Calgary to Canmore is short at only about 1 hour and 15 minutes or about 105 km (65 miles).
- For a more picturesque trip take Highway 1A through Cochrane and the Kananaskis!
- Before you hit the road, fill up your car with gas in Calgary. If you need fuel during the trip Exshaw is usually less expensive than Canmore.
- When traveling along this roadway at any time of year, keep a look out for wildlife, especially in the early morning and late evening.
- Drive this trip during the day if you can — it’ll be easier to admire the beauty!
- If you’re driving this route in the winter, check the road conditions first and make sure your car is equipped with winter or all-season tires.
- You’ll need a Conservation Pass for the Kananaskis area if you plan on exploring the area. If you’re just driving through and not stopping, it isn’t required. However, this is such a beautiful area, it’s worth paying the $15 CAD per vehicle.
- Don’t forget your camera! This road trip from Calgary to Canmore is full of beautiful scenery and moments you’re going to want to be sure to capture.
Where to Stay in Canmore
The truth is that there are so many hotels in Canmore that it can be hard to know which one to choose for your stay. Well luckily for you, Dan and I have stayed in a lot of different hotels in Canmore and have been able to narrow it down to our absolute favorites!
Here are the best places to stay in Canmore including our personal top choice, a budget option, and one for those looking for absolute luxury!
Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre – Our Top Choice
Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre is our absolute favorite place to stay in Canmore. It is affordable without sacrificing any of the comforts you’ll need for a relaxing and enjoyable stay – suitable for almost all travelers and budgets. They have an onsite pool, hot tub, and fitness center along with a delicious bar and restaurant (Table Food + Drink.)
Coast Canmore Hotel is located right in the heart of downtown Canmore walking distance from 8 Street (Main Street in Canmore), and just across the road from the Canmore Shops where you have a selection of restaurants, cafes, and takeaway places.
Oh, and did I mention the views from the hotel windows are breathtaking?
On top of that, they have a variety of different rooms to offer and even have some that are pet-friendly! A queen room with two beds costs around $146 CAD.
You can book this hotel on Booking.com. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible because these guys are usually fully booked!
Canmore Downtown Hostel – Budget Backpackers Option
If you’re a budget backpacker and looking for a hostel then Canmore Downtown Hostel is your best choice! These guys offer clean and comfortable facilities, dorm beds for around $37 CAD as well as private rooms averaging around $107 CAD, and a social atmosphere perfect for meeting other backpackers.
Ambleside Lodge Bed & Breakfast – Luxury Escape
If money isn’t an issue, then Ambleside Lodge may be the luxurious option you’re looking for. It is still located in Canmore but right across the bridge near the Bow River which makes for a peaceful escape from the center of town.
It is a bed and breakfast so you can expect the hosts to be caring and enjoyable to talk with over a homemade breakfast. Their rooms are beyond cozy with plush mattresses and pillows. In the common lounge, there is a shared kitchen, seating, a fireplace, and a terrace.
However, rooms here are a bit more pricey than elsewhere in Canmore with an average nightly rate of $220 CAD.
You can check the prices and book Ambleside Lodge Bed & Breakfast on Booking.com.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter, crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $37 CAD and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part, though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment, so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in handy so many times, especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $25 CAD and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
I hope that this guide got you excited about your road trip from Calgary to Canmore! This is definitely one of my favorite short road trips in Alberta. There are so many fun things to do and see in just a short distance. Whether you’re looking to hike or relax by a lake, your trip is sure to be filled with plenty of enjoyable stops.
As always, if you have any other questions about the drive from Calgary to Canmore feel free to reach out and ask! Before you go be sure to check out some of our other guides: