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ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Canmore in December

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Canmore in December

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Canmore is one of Alberta’s best mountainside tourist towns (and one of mine and Dan’s personal favorites!) With a range of fun and exciting things to do in Canmore in December, it’s a popular destination for both local and international tourists.

But unlike Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise, Canmore isn’t actually located within one of Canada’s National Parks – making it cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Sitting on the edge of Banff National Park, Canmore boasts some of Canada’s most impressive mountain peaks and is an outdoor playground for visitors.

On top of all of that, in the festive month of December, Canmore becomes the perfect place to enjoy the holiday season with a range of special events and seasonal activities.

If you’re planning on visiting Canmore, Alberta in December then this blog is perfect to help plan your visit and see all of Canmore’s best attractions, accommodations, and more.

Why Visit Canmore in December

the outdoor hot tubs at the Malcolm Hotel in Canmore
This is easily a top choice for a hotel in Canmore in December. Photo Credit: Malcolm Hotel Canmore

Canmore is one of Canada’s best winter destinations and is the perfect location for your December getaway. Located on the edge of Banff National Park and Kananaskis country, there’s no shortage of fun and exciting things to do in Canmore in December.  

Besides the great outdoors, the bustling town’s streets are filled with cute cafes, gourmet restaurants, and of course, boutique shops which make escaping the cold possible too. After a day of winter hiking or hitting the slopes, hanging out fireside with a cold beer or delicious meal is perfect.

Aside from the fun activities you typically can do in the winter in Canmore, when you visit in December you also get fun holiday events! Festival of the Trees is one of the largest events which runs throughout the entire month! There are different special events throughout the holiday season that you can attend with a purchased ticket (ticket prices vary depending on the event).

Canmore is also only a short 20-minute drive from the beautiful town of Banff. During the month of December in Banff, you’ll find many more special events that you can check out. Banff over Christmas is magical, and Canmore is the perfect base for exploring all that Banff has to offer. Plus, you’ll have an easier time booking a hotel in Canmore than you will in Banff during the busy holiday season.

15 Things to do in Canmore in December

1. Dog Sledding

two people are pulled in a dog sled near Canmore, Alberta
Look at us go! Thanks to Howling Dog Tours for snapping this awesome photo of us!

If you are looking for a truly unique and memorable experience, dog sledding should be on your list of things to do in Canmore in December! It’s fast-paced, fun, and the best way to experience the winter wonderland in Kananaskis Country. 

The best way to go on this kind of adventure is through a tour. Howling Dog Tours offers some amazing sledding tours from Canmore. This is who I did my tour through while I was living in Canmore and I loved it. Choosing a great company is so important with any tour involving animals – their care is the most important part of the experience!

On the tour, we took a 10-kilometer trail through Spray Lakes Provincial Park stopping halfway along the way to meet the dogs and play with them. Then after a hot chocolate, we made our way back. I was really sad to say goodbye to our crew!

Pricing starts at $225 CAD/person for a 2-hour tour and increases for a half-day tour. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so savor every moment of it!

2. Ice climbing 

ice climbing near Canmore, Alberta
Ice climbing is easily one of the coolest things to do in December.

If you like rock climbing in the summer months, then you’ll love ice climbing in December! I mean, what’s cooler than climbing up a frozen waterfall with crampons, ropes, and ice axes?!

Well, in Canmore one of the best December activities is ice climbing! The cold temperatures and many frozen waterfalls make for the perfect combination for this extreme sport. You’ll often see locals out and about climbing on their own, but if you don’t have any experience, then a tour is the only way to go.  

Most tours are half-day climbing experiences, but if you want, you can book a full-day or multi-day experience too that’ll really teach you the ropes – quite literally! No experience is necessary for these tours and all of your gear is provided!  

It’s really one of the more unique things to do in Canmore in December that I highly recommend! 

3. Skiing or snowboarding 

Skiing at Nakiska Ski Field near Canmore
Skiing at Nakiska!

It’s no secret that one of the best winter activities in Canmore is hitting the slopes! With long and cold winters, there is tons of fresh powder for anybody wanting to ski or snowboard near Canmore.

There are a few ski resorts near Canmore including NakiskaLake LouiseMt Norquay, and Sunshine. Dan and I have been to all four many times. Here is some info about all of them:

  • Nakiska Ski Area – About a 40-minute drive from Canmore. This resort is located in Kannanaskis country and is generally less busy than the other ski resorts (especially true during the week!) Nakiska is also one of the cheapest at about $100 CAD for a day lift ticket. However, it has fewer runs than the others with 71 trails with 59% of those being marked as intermediate.
  • Lake Louise Ski Resort – The furthest away from Canmore at about an hour’s drive. This ski resort is well worth the drive though with over 160 named runs in addition to plenty of off-piste ones. The views from here are spectacular too! There is a large chalet with restaurants , shopping, and even hotel rooms at Lake Louise. You’ll also find various mountainside chalets to stop in for a beer or lunch. You’ll pay for this premium ski resort at about $130 CAD for a full day lift ticket (the most expensive out of all of the ski resorts near Canmore.)
  • Mt Norquay Ski Resort – Mt Norquay is very close to Banff town or about 30 minutes form Canmore. I love this ski resort for beginners since it us the cheapest and easiest to navigate. It is a smaller resort with limited runs, however, at only $75 CAD for a lift ticket, it is worth it if you are new and just getting your legs on skis or snowboards. There is also snowtubing here which is a super fun activity to try out after a day on the slopes.
  • Sunshine Village – Last, but certainly not least, is Sunshine Village. This ski resort is (as the name suggests) a village! You take a huge gondola from the parking lot up to the village where there are several restaurants and faciltities. From here, the runs you can explore seem endless. There are lots of awesome runs for advanced skill levels. Seriously, Dan and I still get lost when we visit. Sunshine is about a 30-minute drive from canmore and you can expect to pay around $125 CAD for a lift ticket.

Related Read: Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village are closest to Banff, and as such, some of the popoular places to visit in Banff in the winter!

4. Cross-country skiing

woman cross country skiing in Canmore, Alberta
Me, cross country skiing at the Nordic Centre in Canmore

If downhill skiing isn’t your thing, or you want to try something new, cross-country skiing is a lot of fun! It’s a great way to enjoy the scenery and get some exercise, but much cheaper than the downhill mountains. 

There are a few popular spots to go, but my top recommendation is the Canmore Nordic Centre. Here they have 65km of groomed trails that make it easier, especially for beginners. It costs $15 CAD for a day pass to use the trails. Rentals are available as well and cost around $35 CAD for the day.

I cross country skied for the first time in Canmore and with the groomed tracks on the runs, it’s really easy. Take a few drinks or a hot thermos with you and stop along the way to enjoy the views. It’s really a fun day out and a community-orientated sport in the winter months in Canmore. 

5. Enjoy Premium Cocktails at Wild Life Distillery 

Bailey drinks a cocktail at Wild Life Distillery in Canmore
Yummy!

Everyone knows Canmore has locally brewed craft beer, but did you know that there is also a local distiller making everything from Gin to Vodka to Whisky?! That’s right, you can buy locally made spirits right from the distiller here in Canmore.

Wild Life Distillery has become famous among locals for its premium spirits. You can often find their bottles in small liquor stores around the province, or if you’re in Canmore, you can stop by the distillery and buy directly from the storefront.

However, if you’re more like us and prefer to get cocktails made for you, then you’re in luck too!

There is a small cocktail bar out the front of Wild Life Distillery where they have a menu of unique (and delicious!) cocktails to enjoy made from their own liquor.

When Dan and I visited it seemed like the only other people in the bar were locals. Since the distillery is tucked away in an industrial area it is often missed by tourists. But let me tell you, this little gem is well worth the drive and if you love cocktails as much as we do – you can’t miss it!

6. Visit the Canmore Museum

If you have a free afternoon and want to learn more about Canmore’s history and culture, the Canmore Museum is a great place to visit! It is only $5 CAD to enter and has a series of collections that showcase life in Canmore and the Bow Valley. 

Exhibitions rotate but feature the coal mining history, Indigenous art and culture, and the Canadian Pacific Railway. The museum has a number of educational programs for visitors to engage with and learn more.

Related Read: The best museum in Alberta is the Royal Tyrell Museum located in Drumheller. Read all about the other things to do in Drumheller!

7. Visit Lake Louise 

A lady poses for a photo at the Lake Louise Ice sculptures
Lake Louise is a winter wonderland!

Lake Louise in the winter is magical. It absolutely must be a stop on your itinerary while in the Canmore area in December.

For those who don’t know, Lake Louise is a small village located around 80km from Canmore in Banff National Park. It’s easily one of the most popular places to visit in Canada.

During winter, the lake freezes over and becomes one of the most beautiful places to ice skate in the world. The ice skating area is maintained by the Fairmont Château Lake Louise – one of the most beautiful hotels in the Rocky Mountains, so the ice is usually in great condition. The best part is that if you have your own skates this activity is completely free! If you don’t, be sure to rent them in Canmore prior to leaving or at Alpine Social Rentals at Lake Louise. The ice skating rink usually opens in mid-December until mid-April.

Another popular reason to visit Lake Louise is to visit the Ice Castles. These beautiful ice sculptures are made every year and sit on the frozen lake. Kids love them and they are also completely free. On top of that, you can cross country ski around the lake (also free), enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride ($45 for adults and $35 for children), have a coffee or meal at the hotel, or just enjoy the magnificent views!

It takes around an hour to reach Lake Lousie from Canmore but the drive itself is beautiful so be sure to stop along the highway at all the pull-over bays and viewpoints. There is a lot of paid parking available at Lake Lousie foreshore, though it can fill up during busy times (weekends and public holidays). My advice is to arrive early in the morning (around 8 am). This will ensure you get a parking spot at the lake.

8. Drink local craft beer

Nachoes and beer at Grizzly Paw Brewing in Canmore
The nachos at grizzly paw pairs perfectly with the beer!

One of my favorite things to do in Canmore is to drink the local craft beer. There are a couple of really outstanding breweries in Canmore that keep me coming back for more.  

Grizzly Paw and Canmore Brewing Co are the two local breweries in town and they both serve incredible craft beer. Pop into their taprooms to relax with a pint or two, or grab a couple of packs to go. Tank310 is the restaurant operated by Grizzly Paw and it makes for a nice place to enjoy a meal and beer (pictured above!)  

Alternatively, Canmore Brewing is located just off Railway Ave and serves pub-style snacks, and Grizzly Paw on the main street has delicious burgers (and an outdoor patio complete with heaters perfect for winter!)  

Related Read: There are a few other breweries in Banff that any beer lover shold check out too! For more breweries, head to Calgary where there are dozens! Exjoying breweries is one of the best indoor activities in Calgary!

9. Go tobogganing

No list of the best things to do in December is complete without tobogganing! So, gear up and grab a sled for some fun sliding down the hills around Canmore.

Most people head to the Nordic Centre to go tobogganing. They have designated tobogganing hills that are actually free to use! Otherwise, there are a few other places you can go tobogganing around Canmore.

Just swing by Canadian Tire and Canmore and pick up a couple of sleds. You can find some for pretty cheap here!

10. Go ice skating

A lady ice skates on Vermilion Lakes, Banff
Ice skating on vermilion Lakes

December in Canmore provides a great opportunity to go ice skating. Around Canmore, there are a few places to go ice skating that include rinks set up by the town of Canmore. These include Rundle Crescent Ice Surface, Larch Outdoor Ice Rink, and the Pond Natural Ice Surface. These are maintained by the town so the ice is really smooth.

However, for a more Canadian experience why not head out to a frozen lake to skate! During my last visit to Canmore, we went ice skating on Gap Lake, Lake Louise, and Vermilion Lakes. Out of the three, the only one that is maintained is Lake Louise and the others are “wild” ice skating lakes. This means they can be covered in snow and you need to make sure the ice is thick enough (usually by mid-December.)

The best part about ice skating is it’s completely free providing you have your own skates. If you don’t, you can rent them in town at Gear Up and even some of the ice rinks.

11. Hike Grotto Canyon

A lady walsk through Grotto canyon in winter in Canmore
Grotto Canyon is so beautiful in December!

Grotto Canyon Trail is another popular hike near Canmore. It is an 8-kilometer (5-mile) return trail that is fairly easy as it only gains 390 meters (1,280 feet) in elevation. Along the hike, you’ll see a waterfall, the Grotto Canyon, as well as a cave if you tackle the scramble up to it! 

In December Grotto Canyon turns into a winter wonderland with frozen waterfalls and ice that covers the entire canyon floor in some places. Personally, I think that the best time to hike Grotto Canyon is actually in December. In the summer there are other hikes around Canmore that I would recommend over Grotto. But in December, it really is something special as you navigate through the frozen canyon.

You can explore the canyon on your own but there is also a Grotto Canyon ice walk tour you can do!

I highly recommend this tour if you’re visiting in December. First of all, the tour supplies crampon/ice cleats which are 100% needed. Second of all, there are some really neat pictographs along the trail that you will most definitely miss without the help of your guide.

12. Explore Kananaskis Country

A lady poses for a photo with Troll Falls
Me at Troll Falls in the Kananaskis.

If you’re up for a bit of a road trip, head out and explore Kananaskis Country. This is a region of Alberta that encompasses a whole bunch of parks – more than 10, to be exact. There are provincial parks, wildland parks, ecological reserves, and a ton of provincial recreation areas. It’s a beautiful region and worth exploring!

To get there, head to Highway 40 out of Canmore. You can check out attractions like Troll Falls, or Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to hang out at Lower and Upper Lakes. 

If you’re not into hiking consider visiting the Kananaskis Nordic Spa – a beautiful day spa set in one of the most idyllic locations.

Note: It is now required to hold a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to explore this region. The pass costs $15 CAD per vehicle for a day, or opt for the annual pass for $90 that covers two vehicles. You must purchase the pass online beforehand or at the visitor center before yo park at any attractions.

Related Read: Heading to Calgary? Check all the best events and thngs to do in Calgary in December too!

13. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway 

Morant's Curve on the Bow Valley Parkway
The stunning Morant’s Curve on the Bow Valley Parkway

Scenic drives are one of my personal favorite activities. With the cold weather in December in Canmore, a scenic drive is the perfect way to enjoy the scenic views in the warmth of your car. The Bow Valley Parkway scenic drive is just that – beautiful views while staying warm and cozy in your car!

The Bow Valley Parkway is 48 kilometers long (30 miles) and starts about 35 minutes from Canmore. Along the way, there are tons of viewpoints including Morant’s Curve and Castle Mountain. The road goes all the way to Lake Louise which is worthwhile checking out too.

Johnston Canyon is also located on the Bow Valley Parkway and it’s definitely a place you’ll want to explore in December.

14. Walk Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon in the winter
Johnston Canyon is such a neat place to explore in December.

While you’re driving the Bow Valley Parkway, you might as well head to Johnston Canyon! The canyon is explored via a short hiking trail that leads to lower and upper falls. It’s a short 1.2-kilometer-long walk (0.7 miles) to the first falls and another 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) to the upper falls. In December, Johnston Canyon turns into a winter wonderland with frozen falls, icicles everywhere, and incredibly beautiful scenery.

Like Grotto Canyon, you’ll need crampons to safely complete Johnston Canyon in December. Guided tours are also available that include this gear. 

From Canmore, it is a 45-minute drive to Johnston Canyon. Allow a couple of hours to complete the trail, and then consider continuing to drive along the Bow Valley Parkway all the way to Lake Louise before returning. This makes for a really fun and scenic day trip!

15. Go fat biking 

Tw people go fat biking through the snow
The best way to ride through the snow!

Fat biking is the newest winter adventure sport, and in Canmore, it’s never been more popular than it is now. With hundreds of bike trails in and around Canmore, it’s no surprise that summer cyclists have now found a way to ride in winter too! Making this the perfect December in Canmore activity.

Fat bikes have large tires that to put it simply, are fat. Sometimes up to 4 inches wide! These tires allow for riding on snowy trails where traditional bikes would sink or slip around.

There are several designated fat biking trails in Canmore, with some being easier than others. For beginner trails, check out Bow River Loop, Quarry Lake Recreation Area, and the Canmore Nordic Centre. The more advanced riders should try Cougar Creek / Horseshoe Loop or the Highline Trail.

If you consider yourself an experience fat biker try the Goat Creek Trail. It travels from the Goat Creek Parking lot (where Ha Ling Peak starts from) through the valley to Banff finishing at the Banff Springs Golf Course. All up, it’s a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) journey.

Head to Rebound Cycle in Canmore to rent your own fat bike and explore for the day. They only charge $75 CAD for a full-day rental.

Hot tip: When you rent the bike ask for advice on the best trails at the moment, the workers will definitely be able to help you out.

Where to Stay in Canmore in December

Bailey jumps on the bed at the Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre
Our room at the Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre

The truth is that there are so many hotels in Canmore that it can 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

The views from the Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre
The views from the Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre

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!

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 as well as private rooms, and a social atmosphere perfect for meeting other backpackers.

You can book Canmore Downtown Hostel on Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Copperstone Resort – Luxury Escape

If money isn’t an issue, then Copperstone Resort may be the luxurious option you’re looking for. It is located a 10-minute drive outside of Canmore that makes for a peaceful escape from the town. There is an outdoor hot tub and many of the rooms are full suites with kitchens and multiple bedrooms. However, rooms here don’t come cheap and are often up to twice the price of most hotels in Canmore.

You can check the prices and book Copperstone Resort on Booking.com.

Check prices and availability for all hotels in Canmore here!

Canada Winter Travel Essentials

A lady all dressed up in winter gear in Canada
All rugged up and ready to explore!

If you’re planning to visit Canada in winter then there are a few things you should pack – things we never travel without. Some you may already have, but others you may want to pick up before you leave. This is especially true if you want to enjoy some of the best outdoor activities!

Here are some of our must-have winter essentials:

Crampons/ Ice Cleats: This is the one item I have that I use so much. If you love the outdoors and enjoy short walks and hikes, crampons are a must! The best part is, the pair that I own is only $29 CAD. They aren’t the best pair out there but they’re perfect for the everyday explorer/traveler.

Insulated water bottle: In the summer you want to keep your water cold but in winter, you want to keep it from freezing. That’s why I always carry an insulated water bottle. This Iron Flask Water Bottle is perfect because it doubles as a thermos so it’s great for carrying hot water for those winter hot chocolates! I have the 32-ounce bottle in pink but I wish I had one of the multi-colored bottles!

Merino wool socks: Cold feet can ruin your time exploring the great outdoors during winter. Please do yourself a favor and get a good quality pair of socks. Even just one pair with come in handy but I myself carry three of these COZIA Wool Socks. They’re 80% Merino wool and really warm. The best part is they are only $15 each! When I’m skiing I can even double them up if it’s -30 °C.

Thermal layers: Staying warm begins from your first layer. Life outside during the Candian winter is much more comfortable with thermal layers. There are a lot of great products in this space but look out for Merino wool products – they’re the best in my opinion!

Ski Gloves: Did you know ski resorts in Canada don’t rent gloves? That means you’re going to need to bring your own. I get really cold hands so I love these new heated rechargeable gloves. They keep your hands warm in the coldest temperatures. Although expensive, you’ll never wear another pair of gloves again.

Polarized sunglasses/ ski goggles: People often forget that on a sunny day in the mountains, the sun can really hurt your eyes when it reflects off the snow. For around town, check out these polarized sunglasses and for in the mountains these ski goggles.

Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. During the winter though, it’s perfect for keeping my nose and cheeks covered from the cold especially when skiing or hiking. 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.

Renting a Car in Alberta

The Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park
The Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park

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 the best attractions within them requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.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 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!

Before you go…

woman showshoeing through a pine forest
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you love Canmore in December as much as I do!

I hope you enjoyed this ultimate guide to experiencing Canmore in December! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and we will get back to you!

Be sure to also check out the rest of our Canada-related blog articles and some of our most popular below:

30 EPIC Things to do in Jasper

How to Spend Christmas in Banff

27 Things to do in Calgary in Winter

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Fernie in December
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