Sunday, 21 October 2012

Canmore: Tourist for a Day

            It’s damn hard to travel and not be labeled as a tourist, but some of us are better at concealing our voyeurism than others. Sometimes, it’s just better to hide your camera pack and pocket the ‘Welcome to Lagos’ guide you picked up in the airport for $34. Sticking out like a dirty welt in the middle of a city that wants to steal your money and use your passport to smuggle 400lbs of cocaine overseas isn’t always a great idea, but luckily there are places that tend to be much less brash when trying to rip you off. All of Canada can be included in this list.

Looking down on Canmore from the Bow Valley
            Bottom line here is that there are times when it’s okay to be a tourist. Take the small city of Canmore, for instance: nestled in the very Southeastern edge of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and only an hour and a half due West of Calgary, Canmore offers a little oasis without digging an endless hole into your bank account. Last spring, while en route to a job in Northern BC, my partner Nikki and I decided to vacation in Canmore instead of emptying our wallets in nearby Banff National Park. Mixed in with a little creative thinking, we found we could have just as much fun being tourists in a place that didn’t want to rape us of our future mortgages and unborn children. Here’s how it went down:

1) The Grizzly Paw Brewery

Main Street Canmore. In between the litter of tacky souvenir shops there exist some pretty great bars offering a diverse range of your favourite fermented beverage. Front and square is the famous Grizzly Paw Brewery, Canada’s oldest brewpub and a common meeting place for locals and visitors alike. Now a microbrewery, the Grizzy Paw bottles and sells three of its own home brews outside of its establishment. Still, your best bet is to experience for yourself the many seasonal and in-house selections, including six different ‘sodas’ perfect for mixing into your favourite brew to add a unique personalized twist.

The Grizzly Paw is a must see while staying in Canmore, if only for its significance to Canada’s rich history in beer crafting. Don’t forget the ‘Paw’ also offers a full menu with a large patio to enjoy great food and drinks during those gorgeous summer nights that don’t happen anywhere else but the Canadian Rockies.

2) Grassi Lakes

          Minus any encounters with the four legged furry type, Grassi Lakes is an easily accessible and unforgettable destination within the Canmore city limits. Hire a cab or drive yourself up the short jaunt just beyond the Canmore Nordic Centre to the trailhead parking lot, then leave your car and your worries behind as the old growth high mountain forests envelop you along the 4km uphill trail to the lakes. Two options for hiking are available, but I suggest the ‘more difficult’ route as it is not very difficult anyways and offers incredible views of the Bow Valley and Ha Ling Peak.

            The payoff is at the summit where two pristine lakes await your arrival. Both lakes are fed by a fossil reef resting high above the site, adding a magnificent emerald and clear colour to the water. Rock climbers can be found traversing the cliffs behind the lakes while the less adventurous explore the trails that weave around each reservoir. Grassi Lakes ended up being the nature highlight of our trip and is pure paradise for the outdoorsy type.

3) Policeman’s Creek

            The great thing about being in the Bow Valley/Banff area is how constantly accessible nature becomes. Forget about taking long drives out of the city for some solitude with the untamed; in Canmore you don’t even have to look beyond Main Street. Policeman’s Creek flows right through downtown and is complete with boardwalks and small beaches for your enjoyment. For those less able bodied, the creek also includes a paved trail and plenty of benches, bridges and look outs to the towering mountains above.

            Policeman’s Creek is an excellent way to see Canmore as many interpretive signs identify popular locations and attractions. Wildlife viewing is also common along the creek, especially when spotting birds and waterfowl. Whether you’re going for an afternoon stroll or looking to link up with the other network of trails in and around Canmore, Policeman’s Creek is the place to go. Mother Nature never looked sexier.

4) Spray/Kananaskis Trail

Peter Lougheed Park
             Speaking of connecting to the ‘great outdoors’, why not rent a car and spend some time in the jaw dropping bounty of Kananaskis Country? A mere 45 minute drive South on the Spray Trail takes you into the heart of the Spay Lakes Reservoir and Spray Valley Provincial Park, part of the Kananaskis Country Park System. Endless low impact activities are available including hiking, camping, canoeing and sightseeing. Use restrictions in the area were imposed to preserve the ecological integrity of the parks, allowing for complete protection of all things non-human and awesome. But the adventures aren’t over yet.

            Drive the Spray Trail to its Southern endpoint and link to Highway 40, or the Kananaskis Trail, for more encounters with wild things via the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Elbow-Sheep Wildland and other ridiculously named yet beautiful places. After all, you aren’t visiting CanLESS. 

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