It's the excellent access to outdoor activities that makes Canmore and the Kananaskis such a prime destination. But don't discount Canmore's casual sophistication in town, either. A handful of stylish boutiques like Gingerella (106-721 Main St.; tel. 403/609-3144) carry brand names like Fly London, Kenneth Cole, and John Fluevog, as well as handmade Canadian jewelry; Toccata (108-721 Main St.; tel. 403/678-3800) is more high fashion, with labels like Michael Kors. There's a wealth of galleries, most of them in the three-block stretch of Main Street, and most of them dedicated to images of the mountains that loom above; for more eclectic interests, check out the Canmore Artisan's Market (825-837 Ninth St., Canmore; tel. 403/609-7888; www.art-of-nations.com).
For those in need of a yoga fix, Canmore's Yoga Lounge (200-826 Main St.; tel. 403/678-6687) is an intimate, comfortable second-floor space with gorgeous views and classes for all levels. And if you're craving patriotism and corniness -- as some do -- Canmore's happy to provide the Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Theatre (125 Kananaskis Way; tel. 403/609-0004; www.ohcanadaeh.com), an almost alarmingly rambunctious send-up of all things stereotypically Canadian, packed into a couple hours over dinner. This is high cheese, but it's good for a laugh.
However, the big reason to be in Canmore is to enjoy the glorious outdoors in all its myriad forms. For the outdoors-minded, from its offices in Kananaskis Village and in Canmore at 999 Bow Valley Trail, Inside Out Experience Tours (tel. 877/999-7238; www.insideoutexperience.com) represents most local outfitters. You'll find bike trips, trail rides, rafting, hiking, and sightseeing tours on offer. Mirage Adventure Tours (73B Riverstone Rd.; tel. 403/609-3210) also rents cross-country skis and equipment.
Cross-Country Skiing & Mountain Biking
The Canmore Nordic Centre, south of town off Spray Lakes Road (1988 Olympic Way, Canmore; tel. 403/678-2400), was developed for the Olympics' cross-country skiing competition, though the facility is now open year-round. Today, it's administered as an all-season provincial park (www.cd.gov.ab.ca/parks/kananaskis). In winter, the center offers 70km of scenic cross-country trails, plus the on-site Trail Sports shop (tel. 403/678-6764) for rentals, repairs, and sales. In summer, hikers and mountain bikers take over the trails, and Trail Sports offers bike rentals, skill-building courses, and guided rides.
Kananaskis gained worldwide attention when it hosted the alpine ski events for the Winter Olympics in 1988, and skiing remains a primary attraction in the area. At Nakiska (tel. 800/258-7669 or 403/591-7777; www.skinakiska.com), skiers can follow in the tracks of past Winter Olympians. It offers terrain for every age and ability, and is open from early December to mid-April. Adult lift tickets cost C$49.
Hiking, Caving, Dog-Sledding, Helicopters & More
Canmore is surrounded by mountains and, being on the doorstep of Kananaskis Country, it's an ideal base from which to explore the many, many hiking trails to be found here. You can set out for days or just a few hours, depending on your level of ambition. Inside Out Experience (tel. 888/999-7238; www.insideoutexperience.com) can help set you on your way, with maps and/or guides, as you prefer; so can Canmore's Tourism Office (907 7th Ave. in downtown Canmore; tel. 403/678-1295; www.tourismcanmore.com).
A number of tour operators are happy to take you on interpretive hikes in the area. Mahikan Trails (tel. 403/609-2489; www.mahikan.ca) leads half- and full-day hikes into the mountains all year long, through significant Aboriginal sites with a mind to teaching guests about the natural history of the area and its first peoples.
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (tel. 403/678-4164; www.canadianrockieshiking.com) leads cross-country skiing, mountaineering, and hiking programs in Kananaskis Country, as well as beginner classes for rock and ice climbing. All guides and instructors are certified with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.
For a unique experience underground, you might like to contact Canmore Caverns (tel. 877/317-1178 or 403/678-8819; www.canadianrockies.net/wildcavetours), who will take you deep underneath nearby Grotto Mountain -- so named for the network of caves it holds -- for a full or half day, year round. While it's physically demanding, it's not beyond the abilities of reasonably fit people; those with claustrophobic tendencies might want to give it a second thought, however, as there are tight squeezes to be found on some of the tours. Some age restrictions apply for the little ones. Prices start at C$89 for a full day's underground tour.
If you pass through Canmore in winter, you could contact Mad Dogs & Englishmen (tel. 403/609-3704; www.maddogsexpeditions.com), a dog-sled tour company that works with the British military as part of their survival training program. Your adventure need not be so intense: Go out in Kananaskis Country for 2 hours, half a day, or a full day, with overnighters available on request. A 2-hour tour starts at C$130 per person.
If you'd like to see the beautiful scenery of the Canadian Rockies from the air, contact Alpine Helicopters (tel. 403/678-4802; www.alpinehelicopter.com), which operates out of Canmore. This company's flights over the Rockies start at C$80 per person with a minimum of three passengers. Assiniboine Heli Tours (1225 Railway Ave.; tel. 403/678-5459) offers a variety of flight-seeing trips starting at C$110 per person. (Note that with rising fuel costs worldwide, these prices will likely have risen by the 2009 season.)
There's also plenty of hiking in and near Canmore and Kananaskis that doesn't require guides, all with the same signature Rocky Mountain experience. Heart Creek Trail, an easy 4km (2.5-mile) stroll, can be found east of Canmore, just off the Trans-Canada highway at the Lac des Arcs exit. Signs will point to the trail head. On your journey, take the right fork at the first major junction and follow the wide gravel path along the creek bed. Seven log bridges traverse the creek, offering breathtaking views of Mount McGillivray and Heart Mountain.
The Grassi Lakes hiking trail is one of the region's signature hikes. Rated as a moderately difficult hike, it's 3.8km (2.4 miles) round trip. You reach it by climbing up the Spray Lakes Road past the Nordic Centre; the trail head is just beyond where the pavement turns to gravel. You'll climb 250m (820 ft.) through thick forest to two mountain spring-fed lakes. Here, you'll find rock paintings left by Aboriginals centuries before, and a panoramic view of the townsite below. On the way down, be sure to look back up over your shoulder to catch the waterfalls behind you.
Grotto Canyon is another easy one, at 4km (2.5 miles). The trail head is a 10-minute drive east of Canmore along Highway 1A, to Grotto Pond. You'll see a sign here for the Grotto Canyon hike. Keep to the main trail -- there are several side trails here -- across a dry gulch and past an industrial plant, which might seem odd, but keep going, as the best is yet to come. You'll reach a bench overlooking a riverbed, with a spectacular view of Gap Lake, just before the entrance to Grotto Canyon, with its tall, steep walls. Keep your eyes peeled for Aboriginal pictographs, but look, don't touch -- your hands will help weather away these important artifacts.
Spray Lakes in Kananaskis Country also offers some of the most iconic scenery to be found in the Rockies. All trails are accessed from the Smith Dorrien Trail/Spray Lakes Road. The road climbs sharply south of Canmore, and turns to gravel not far past the Nordic Centre. You'll see trail heads every kilometer (.6 mile) or so. These are the access points to genuine alpine terrain, many of them leading to alpine meadows and mountain lakes.
As you get deeper into Kananaskis Country, you'll find yourself at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, which is centered around Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, about 30km (15 miles) south of town along Route 742, the Spray Lakes Parkway. This is as gorgeous as Kananaskis gets. There's almost no end to trails in and around the lakes to be found here for hiking, biking, and horseback riding; try the Kananaskis Canyon interpretive hike at the north end of the lower lake, or the Upper Kananaskis Lake circuit, about 10km (6 miles) that takes you around this gorgeous mountain lake. Those seeking altitude might choose the King Creek Ridge hike, 5km (3 miles) up the side of Mount Hood, which rises 2,903m above the valley.
Bear Country -- You're not in Banff yet, so you'll not have been handed the pamphlet at the park gates warning you that "you're in bear country." But you are -- Kananaskis is as wilderness-oriented, if not more so, than anything Banff has to offer, and that means the big omnivores are likely on the prowl. They don't want to run into you any more than you do them, but still, it's best to be prepared. So follow some simple rules: Try to avoid surprise encounters by traveling in groups. Make noise -- talk loudly, sing songs, or clap your hands to let the bears know you're coming. Keep your eyes peeled for tell-tale signs you might not be alone, like tracks, droppings, or freshly clawed tree trunks marking the bear's territory. If you see a bear, don't approach it and definitely don't offer it food. Don't run. Don't turn your back on the bear; rather, back away slowly. Appear as passive as possible; you don't want the bear to see you as a threat to his or her territory. Keep your voice down, and don't make eye contact. Remember, the chances of this happening are extremely remote; bears are generally tolerant of humans. Your best bet is to make sure you don't surprise it.
Kananaskis features four championship golf courses and one of Canada's premier golf resorts. Kananaskis Country Golf Course boasts two 18-hole, par-72 courses set among alpine forests and streams, and featuring water hazards on 20 holes, 140 sand traps, and four tee positions. It's rated among the top courses in Canada. For information, contact Golf Kananaskis, Kananaskis Country Golf Course, P.O. Box 1710, Kananaskis Village, AB T0L 2H0 (tel. 877/591-2525 or 403/591-7272; www.kananaskisgolf.com). Greens fees are C$80.
Near Canmore, the 18-hole Canmore Golf Course is right along the Bow River at 2000 Eighth Ave. (tel. 403/678-4785; www.canmoregolf.net). Greens fees are C$65.
The Les Furber-designed Silver Tip Golf Course (tel. 403/678-1600; www.silvertipresort.com) is an 18-hole, par-72 course high above Canmore, off Silver Tip Drive. You'll look eye-to-eye with the Canadian Rockies here. Boasting a length of 7,300 yards, the course has sand bunkers on all holes, and water on eight. Greens fees range from C$119 to C$145. Also at Canmore is the Stewart Creek Golf Club (tel. 877/993-4653; www.stewartcreekgolf.com), with 18 holes, 32 bunkers, and a beautiful location below the Three Sisters peaks. The course measures 7,150 yards and incorporates natural lakes, streams, and even historic mine entrances. Greens fees range from C$145 to C$165, and include use of a golf cart.
The Kananaskis is noted for its dude ranches, which offer a variety of horseback adventures from short trail rides to multiday pack trips. A 2-hour guided ride will generally cost C$50 to C$60. In addition, Boundary Ranch, just south of Kananaskis Village on Highway 40 (tel. 877/591-7177 or 403/591-7171; www.boundaryranch.com), offers a variety of trail rides including a horseback lunch excursion.
Then there's always an old classic, white water rafting. The Kananaskis and Bow rivers are the main draw here. In addition to a range of half-day (C$45-C$79), full-day (C$115), and 2-day (C$259) white-water trips, there are excursions that combine a half-day of horseback riding with an afternoon of rafting (C$139). Inside Out Experience, above, can provide more information.
The Canadian Rockies Rafting Company (tel. 877/226-7625; www.rafting.ca) is among the most established rafting tour companies in the area, with a range of different trips -- the more gentle ride along the Kananaskis River, to the white-water rush of the Bow River's Horseshoe Canyon (with rapids as high as Class IV). These are mountain rivers, so bear in mind: it's cold. Chinook Rafting (tel. 866/330-7238; www.chinookraft.ca) operates out of the Nakoda Lodge in Kananaskis Country, and offers very similar adventures.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.