Are you a budget-conscious traveller looking for free things to do in Canmore, or maybe a local just looking for something different to do? If so, you are in the right place. There is a surprising range of free activities on offer, and as long-time Canmore locals, we know that you don’t need to spend money to enjoy the town.
In this post, you’ll find a diverse range of free things to do in Canmore that cater to all interests and ages, from breathtaking hikes and serene nature walks to cultural experiences and family-friendly activities. So, let’s dive in and explore the best free experiences that Canmore has to offer, as recommended by someone who’s lived and loved this town for many years.
Visit The Iconic Canmore Engine Bridge
Discover a piece of Canmore’s history at the Canmore Engine Bridge, a favourite spot for locals and visitors that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll or a photo opportunity. This historic bridge, originally built in the early 20th century for coal trains, now serves as a pedestrian walkway, offering stunning views of the Bow River and the surrounding mountains.
It’s a great place to appreciate Canmore’s natural beauty and industrial past, whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a scenic spot to relax. It’s easily accessible and one of the best spots in Canmore for photos of Ha Ling Peak. Head to the northeastern bank of the river for the best views.
Walk The Bow Valley River Loop
One of my personal favourite free things to do in Canmore is the Bow Valley River Loop, a beautiful 2-km trail with stunning mountain and river views. As someone living very close to the trail, I walk or bike along this trail pretty much every day.
If you only have limited time in Canmore, I recommend walking this short loop. The trail is easily accessible, and it has multiple entry points, including from the western end of Main Street.
This walk is perfect for families, casual walkers, and pet owners. It is also pushchair-friendly. But be on the lookout for wildlife; elk sightings are common, and it’s not unusual to see bears in the spring and early summer.
Hike Ha Ling Peak
If you have reasonable levels of fitness, one of the best ways to experience the Rocky Mountains is to hike one of its peaks. Ha Ling Peak overlooking Canmore is one of the most popular among visitors. It has a well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail, and the views from the top are spectacular.
You can start the trail from Goat Creek car park, which means that some of the elevation gain is done in your vehicle, leaving just 755m of elevation gain to climb! The trail switches back and forth through the forest before opening out towards the top. But be warned, the last section is quite steep and can be very windy.
If you’re uncomfortable hiking this on your own, Freeheelin Adventures offers a guided tour to take you up the trail. This will give you an added level of comfort, and a bonus is that you will learn about the history of the region.
Visit Quarry Lake Park
Quarry Lake is an impossibly picturesque lake on the edge of Canmore. It will take around 40 minutes to walk from downtown, or you can drive there (there is a car park, but charges apply at certain times of the year).
This is probably my favourite spot in Canmore. In summer, I love to bike up here at the start of the day before the crowds take over. It is one of the best places in the area to capture the sunrise.
The lake has picnic benches, washrooms and a shallow area for kids to paddle. But be warned that the water is icy cold, even in summer.
Stroll Along Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk
Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk in Canmore is a tranquil nature walk you can start in downtown Canmore. This serene boardwalk meanders through lush wetlands and offers a peaceful escape from the bustling town.
It’s an easy, flat trail accessible for all ages and fitness levels. As you stroll along, you’re likely to spot a variety of bird species and maybe even some local wildlife. The boardwalk is perfect for a leisurely walk, photography, or simply enjoying the quiet beauty of nature.
Also, look for the Big Head sculpture at the east end of Main Street, and you will see the boardwalk right across the street.
Have A Sunset Picnic At Canmore Engine Bridge
The Canmore Engine Bridge is an idyllic spot for an evening picnic during the summer. This historical bridge, set against the backdrop of breathtaking mountain scenery, is ideal for unwinding and enjoying the sunset. On the bridge’s northeast side, you’ll find several benches, or you can simply sit along the riverbank.
This location is a favourite among locals and visitors for capturing the stunning sunset views, offering a tranquil atmosphere for a picnic as the sun dips below the horizon.
Bring your favourite snacks, a refreshing drink, and a cozy blanket for your picnic (remember, in the mountains, temperatures can drop swiftly after sunset).
Hike Grotto Canyon
For an interesting, easy walk, head for Grotto Canyon, around a 10-minute drive south of Canmore. The start of the hike is pretty unimpressive, but you soon escape into the canyon.
You can visit any time of year, and winter transforms the canyon into a magical wonderland. Walking this canyon in the colder months reveals a serene, frosty landscape that is easily navigable and perfect for a family adventure.
Ice cleats or crampons are essential for safe navigation in the winter, and if you are uncomfortable doing this on your own, a hiking tour, such as the Canyons & Cave Paintings tour, is a safe, hassle-free option.
Cycle the Legacy Trail
The Legacy Trail is a 22km paved trail between Canmore and Banff. It follows the main highway but is set back from the road. One of its main features is that you have wide-open views of the surrounding mountains for most of its length. It is a smooth trail with gradual gradients and a good choice for those uncomfortable tackling the area’s mountain biking trails.
If your fitness levels aren’t up to cycling to Banff and back, there is a picnic area halfway along the trail, which is a great point to stop and enjoy the views. Another option, if you don’t like the idea of cycling into the busy Banff centre, is to cycle to Cascade Ponds on the edge of Banff. This is an attractive spot for a picnic with tables around a small lake.
Visit Canmore Skating Pond
Nestled in the heart of Canmore, the Skating Pond transforms into a magical winter wonderland once it freezes over. It’s a local favourite and the centrepiece for annual festivities like Skating with Santa and New Year’s Eve celebrations. A great free thing to do in Canmore at night.
The ice is well-maintained throughout the winter, making it a go-to spot for skating enthusiasts. While you can enjoy skating here anytime, evenings hold a special charm. Gliding over the ice under the starlit sky is a serene experience. It’s also quieter at night, allowing you to truly soak in the beauty and tranquillity of this picturesque town.
This is one of the best free things to do in Canmore at Christmas.
Discover The Enchanting Grassi Lakes Hike
The Grassi Lakes Hike is one of the most popular in the area and with good reason. This is a moderately 4.5km hike to two small but stunning emerald green lakes and probably one of the best free things to do in Canmore.
You have two paths: the more leisurely ‘Grassi Lakes Interpretive Trail’ for a more gradual ascent and the ‘Upper Grassi Lakes Trail,’ which is steeper but offers more of a challenge. I usually walk up the steeper route (take the left fork after around 50 metres) and return on the gentler trail.
The Grassi Lakes hike begins at the Grassi Lakes Trailhead, just off Spray Lakes Road. Parking is available at the trailhead but can fill up quickly, especially on weekends and during peak seasons. Arriving early is advisable to secure a spot. The trail is family-friendly and particularly beautiful in the summer and fall before the lakes freeze over.
Enjoy A Picnic At Riverside Park
Riverside Park in Canmore is another idyllic spot for a relaxing picnic. Nestled by the Bow River, this is a picturesque little park with a stunning backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. It’s a perfect place to unwind with family or friends.
The park has several picnic benches, or you can bring a blanket and spread out on the grass. The park is easy to find, located at the west end of downtown, and one of the most popular free things to do in Canmore in summer.
Three Sisters Viewpoint
The Three Sisters peaks are a widely recognized symbol of Canmore and probably the most photographed of the mountains in the area. The Three Sisters Viewpoint is one of the best spots in the area to capture these spectacular mountains and one of the most popular free things to do in Canmore.
One of the reasons for the popularity of this viewpoint is the small pond, which allows you to capture the mountains reflected in the water.
The viewpoint is just a 10-minute walk from the off-leash dog park in south Canmore. There is a chance that you may encounter wildlife here, especially if you arrive early for a sunrise; I always take my bear spray when I am here.
If you are looking for free things to do in Canmore with kids, then this is the perfect winter activity. In Canmore, you are spoilt for choice of location. Here are a few of the popular ones:
Canmore Nordic Centre: For Mountain Views
Here, you’ll find a dedicated, free tobogganing area. Nestled in a scenic bowl next to the Wax Room Building, it offers a gentle slope with stunning mountain views – ideal for sledding.
Eagle Terrace: A Favourite With Locals
In this residential area, the tobogganing hill is a local favourite. It caters to children of various ages, offering both thrilling and milder slides. Located in a picturesque park on the town’s eastern side, it’s near a playground and easily accessible from the Eagle Terrace parking lot.
Cemetery Hill: For A Longer Run
For a longer tobogganing run, head to Cemetery Hill on the eastern side of town. You’ll find a small parking area on the right side of Benchlands Trail, just past the highway.
Riverside Park: Beside The Water
Situated along the Bow River, this spot has a short and gentle slope, making it ideal for young children.
If you don’t have toboggans, you can pick them up for very little at Canadian Tire. You may also consider buying helmets if you don’t already have them, and always ensure your path is clear before you head down a slope.
Build A Snowman
One of the easiest of the free things to do in Canmore in winter is to build a snowman (well, not quite free; it will cost you the price of a 🥕😀). This is a classic winter activity for kids that never gets old, and with its abundant snowfall, Canmore is the perfect setting. Here are a few suggestions for places to roll up some snow and create your frosty masterpiece with the family:
Riverside Park: By The Bow River
This small park is close to downtown Canmore; it overlooks the Bow River and has stunning views of Ha Ling Peak and the Three Sisters Mountains.
Quarry Lake Park: A Tranquil Spot
Quarry Lake Park is a local favourite just a short drive from the town center. Its wide-open spaces are perfect for rolling the biggest snowballs and breathtaking surrounding views.
Lions Park: Join The Locals
Located just north of the downtown area, Lions Park is a large park in a residential area. It is popular with the locals and has the added benefit of a playground.
So, grab your mittens and a carrot for the nose, and head to one of these spots in Canmore for a snowman-building adventure with your kids!
Every year, Canmore comes alive with an annual Canmore Winter Carnival. This weekend-long celebration includes ice carving displays, skating, street hockey, competitions (such as kid and mutt races) and an all-ages party.
The Canmore Winter Carnival usually takes place on the last weekend of February and is free of charge. However, the dates vary yearly, so watch the town website for the latest information. As of now, the dates for next February are still to be announced.
Head For An Outdoor Ice Rink
Skating on Canmore’s outdoor ice rinks is a winter highlight, especially for the local kids. Living close to one of these rinks meant our children often spent hours enjoying the ice with their skates, helmets, and hockey sticks after school.
Canmore has four outdoor rinks, each tailored to different skill levels and preferences. Rundle Crescent and Peaks Park Ice Surfaces are perfect for younger children, including toddlers. These rinks provide a smaller, safer environment that is ideal for beginners.
For those with older kids or an interest in ice hockey, the Cougar Creek and Larch Ice Rinks are the go-to spots. They are larger rinks equipped with boards, lights for evening skating, and onsite washrooms. Plus, their ice is maintained daily.
For visitors without their own gear, local sports rental shops like GearUp are great for equipping you with skates and helmets.
Browse Canmore Art Galleries
Canmore is a magnet for artists, and the town has more than its’ fair share of galleries. Many of these are on Main Street, where you will find a range of paintings, sculptures and photography. From contemporary works by local artists to traditional Indigenous art.
Each gallery has its unique charm, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the local art scene. Whether you’re an art lover or simply looking for inspiration, Canmore’s art galleries provide a delightful and enriching experience.
Take A Selfie With Big Head Canmore
If you are looking for unique free things to do in Canmore, visiting the Big Head sculpture is a must. This isn’t your average statue; it’s a larger-than-life piece that captures the attention of everyone passing by.
The intrigue of the Big Head sculpture lies in its distinctive and imaginative design. This striking piece of art, resembling a giant, abstract human head, stands out with its bold features and artistic expression.
Its somewhat surreal appearance makes it seem like it’s been lifted from the pages of a fantasy tale. The Big Head is a unique backdrop for photos, adding a touch of the extraordinary to downtown Canmore.
Visit Canmore NWMP Barracks
For another photo opportunity, head across Main Street and slightly towards downtown, and you will find Canmore’s North West Mounted Police Barracks. This small white log building is one of the oldest in town (built in 1893) and makes for a great picture.
If you visit Canmore in July or August, you can also check out the small museum inside.
Final Thoughts On Free Things To Do In Canmore
In wrapping up, Canmore is a haven for those seeking memorable experiences without spending a penny. Whether you’re a visitor, a local, or a Calgarian looking for free things to do in Canmore this weekend, the range of free options is impressive.
The beauty of Canmore lies in its simplicity and accessibility. Hiking Ha Ling Peak, strolling around Quarry Lake, or cycling the Legacy Trail offers a direct connection with nature. For families, activities like tobogganing or building a snowman provide fun, engaging experiences that won’t break the bank.
Canmore’s charm extends beyond its natural beauty to its cultural offerings. The town’s art galleries and historical sites like the engine bridge and the NWMP Barracks add a cultural dimension to your visit.
In essence, Canmore proves that the best experiences don’t always come with a price tag; there are plenty of free things to do in Canmore!