My Solo Hike Through Canmore
When life gives you lemons, forget the lemonade. I prefer to make limoncello instead. And that is exactly what I did when I went on a solo trip to our home country of Canada for a work conference. Since the event was taking place in Calgary, I knew I had to visit the Rockies. Nature, and mountains in particular, are my happy place. That’s where I love to recharge.
My goal was to see Lake Louise, one of the world’s most photographed lakes. I had been there once before with my husband. But that was many years ago and over time the lake became just a distant memory in the cobwebs of my mind. And if I do still have any photos left of that trip, they are probably collecting dust somewhere in my parents’ attic.
Well in advance to my arrival in Canada, I had booked a tour with a local tour company to Lake Louise and Banff National Park. And I purposely booked my flight to arrive two days before my conference so that I would have a full day to enjoy the mountains.
Long story short, after an entire day of flights and airports, I arrived at my hotel in Calgary to a message from the tour company that my Banff tour was cancelled. I have to say I was rather upset about it, but it was late and exhausted from travel, I turned in for the night.
The next morning, after a restful night of sleep, satisfied and surprised that a jet lag hack I tried for the first time seemed to have worked, I threw myself into a frenzy of figuring out how to get myself to the Rockies.
In the end, the only option available to me, short of renting a car, which I didn’t want to do, was to take a Greyhound bus to the town of Canmore. This gateway to Banff National Park is about 100 kms west of central Calgary. Canmore was established in the late 19th century. Until the late 1970s, its main raison d’être had been the coal mining industry. The 1988 Winter Olympics hosted by Calgary put Canmore on the map and have since been bringing visitors each year to this picturesque mountain town.
Being close enough from the city, a trip to Canmore gave me a good half a day to explore completely on my own. In the end, I had such an amazing time solo hiking through Canmore that I realized that the cancelled tour was actually a blessing in disguise. It meant I didn’t have to get up at 6:00 AM for the tour. Instead I slept in without setting my alarm. I think this action was instrumental in letting my body not get into jet lag. And instead of being part of a rowdy tour, I was allowed to re-centre myself after a long trip and before I had to be “on” mentally and socially for my conference.
How I got to Canmore
I purchased my Greyhound ticket which set me back only $65 CAD both ways (half of what my Lake Louise tour was going to cost me). My bus left at lunch time from the bus station in central Calgary and the ride was only about an hour and a bit.
A word of warning – Greyhound Canada has closed its doors permanently since my visit to Canmore. But other companies have stepped to fill this need. I think taking a bus and doing your own thing is great. You do what you want at your own pace. It feels much more liberating. In the end I was very glad my organized tour hadn’t worked out.
But do not fret, there are plenty of organized tours. However, the big ones book well in advance. And the small ones sometimes have trouble filling their small vehicles. My tour needed four passengers. In the end, it couldn’t fill those four spots in September and that’s why it ended up being cancelled. Of course, you can always rent a car and drive there. But remember, public transportation is the greener option. Another bonus of taking public transport or a tour – you don’t need to buy a park pass. If you end up driving, you can buy one here. Although you don’t need a pass for the town of Canmore itself, as soon as you drive into Banff National Park through the Canmore gate, you will need one.
What I did in Canmore
While on the bus, which had WiFi, I researched hiking trails nearby. I had four hours in Canmore before I had to return, so I chose my trails based on my time constraints. Because I had been to Canmore years ago and had seen the town, and really just wanted to hike and take in the mountains, I skipped visiting the town itself. If you have the time though, you should definitely see Canmore downtown, which is cute as a button and not to be missed. Since my goal was to hike while admiring mountains, that is exactly what I ended up doing. All the hikes I took were easy.
Spur Line Trail
This is an easy and fairly short hike, on flat terrain. This hike only takes about half an hour but it leads to other hiking trails which is what I ended up doing. I did this hike first, because it was the closest from where the bus dropped me off in town. You are technically hiking through town, but if you are coming from a densely populated country, you would never know it. Canmore is in the middle of nature, houses and neighbourhoods shyly popping up here and there. This trail partially follows the Bow River. I hiked it, but you can also bike this trail.
Canmore Creek Trail
The Spur Line Trail eventually led me to a sign from which I could choose other hikes. I ended up choosing the Canmore Creek Trail. This hike, although fairly easy, does involve some elevation changes. If you are biking, there is quite a long climb at one point in time where you would have to carry your bike uphill. There is a waterfall on this trail, but it is so tiny, and not easily perceptible from the trail high above, that I only managed to get one photo and you can barely glimpse just the top of it. See if you can find it in the photos below. Regardless, the hike is still beautiful. The views of the mountains are breathtaking, the smell of the forest is intoxicating.
Quarry Lake Trail
To get to the Quarry Lake Trail, you have to cross the highway from the Canmore Creek Trail at the point when you are above the small waterfall. Be careful when crossing – there is really no proper pedestrian crossing. Luckily, the highway is not busy. Once you cross, you end up in the parking lot for the Quarry Lake beach. From there, you hike for about ten minutes before you get to the lake.
Because September is not a busy tourist month in Canmore, there was almost no one there and I was able to take the most beautiful photos of the lake. Once I walked around the lake and took in the views, it was time for me to march as quickly as I could to make it to my bus. I had to head back to Canmore Creek Trail from where I re-joined the Spur Line Trail and headed back to downtown Canmore to catch my bus back to Calgary.
Let’s Talk About Bears
I’ll get straight to the point. Canada is full of bears. Each year, there are news of human and bear encounters that end badly for the human. It is up to us, humans, to prevent tragedies from happening. There are black bears in the Canmore area and you should be prepared when hiking and heed all warnings. When I was there, the town was peppered with bear warning signs. There had been bear sightings in town in the few days before I arrived. Here are some basic bear safety tips:
- Stay out of the bear’s way. Walk on clearly marked trail paths. Don’t veer off into the bush. That is bear territory.
- Make noise. If possible, hike in groups. If you are by yourself, like I was, try to make noise. A noise maker is recommended but if you don’t have one, make noise in other ways once in a while, especially if you don’t see other hikers nearby.
- If you encounter a bear. If you happen to see a bear, stay calm and slowly retreat away without taking your eyes off the animal. Do not run or make any sudden movements. Talk in a calm voice while backing away.
- Bear spray. This is your last resort defence against a charging bear. Find out if bear spray is legal to use in the jurisdiction you are hiking in. Bear spray is considered to be a pesticide and therefore it is prohibited in some national parks.
For more detailed bear safety tips, check out this article.
As a matter of fact, on my hike back into town while on the Spur Line Trail, I saw bear tracks that weren’t there earlier. I wasn’t scared because I was now getting closer to a more populated area. But let me tell you, I was very glad I saw them on my way back. Had I seen any bear tracks on my way earlier, it’s quite possible I would have turned around and picked a different trail altogether. I have never faced a bear yet while on foot and I don’t ever wish to have that encounter.
Have you been to Canmore or Banff National Park? What time of the year were you there? Did you see any bears? Let us know in comments. I definitely will be back one day and do a proper visit to Banff.