street scene in Banff
Street scene in Banff via Shutterstock (Photo: David P. Lewis)

What Are the Best Canadian Mountain Towns?

I’d like to head up north for some outdoor fun. What are the best Canadian mountain towns for active, adventurous travelers?

street scene in Banff
Greg Melville

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You’ve picked a great time to go. Your adventure options in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia are even more varied in the summer than in the winter—not to mention that you don’t have to freeze your butt off to do them. There are so many towns in the Canadian Rockies worth visiting that it’s hard to whittle down the list. Here are my three favorites, all of them in the western half of the country (my apologies to Quebec).

Banff, Alberta
Nelson, British Columbia
Canmore, Alberta

The Best Canadian Mountain Towns: Banff, Alberta

Banff via Shutterstock
Banff via Shutterstock (MountainHardcore)

It’s not exactly secret, but any article on the Canadian Rockies has to include this town in the Bow Valley. Formerly a railroad outpost, Banff is now an adventure destination that draws athletes and tourists to the Bow Valley. In the summer, you can paddle the Bow River or a handful of nearby lakes, including famed Lake Louise; mountain bike on hundreds of miles of singletrack; and hike throughout the nearby Banff National Park. Or you can simply stay in town and enjoy cultural events like the season-long Banff Summer Arts Festival.

STAY: At the newly remodeled, log-facade Banff Caribou Lodge near the village center (rates from $150).

The Best Canadian Mountain Towns: Nelson, British Columbia

Nelson British Columbia
Nelson via Shutterstock (Nelson Hanus)

Take a walk past Nelson’s Victorian homes and impeccable 19th-century storefronts, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a movie set. But this artsy former mining and lumber hamlet on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, about 30 miles north of the U.S. border, is 100-percent real. Shaded by Toad Mountain, Nelson is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers and paddlers. You’ll find the best vantage point for getting a look at the town and your outdoor opportunities the top of a short (about a mile and a quarter) but vigorous climb through the trees to Pulpit Rock. The trailhead is only a few minutes outside of Nelson proper.

STAY: Like many of Nelson’s buildings, the Hume Hotel looks plucked from the Gold Rush days of the 1800s (rates start at $110).

The Best Canadian Mountain Towns: Canmore, Alberta

Canmore Alberta
Canmore via Shutterstock (Michael Shake)

The site of the Nordic skiing events for the Winter Olympics in 1988, Canmore has come a long way from its days as a coal-mining depot. Located 90 miles from Calgary, the town rests at the edge of Banff National Park, and serves as a hub for hiking throughout the expanses of parks and preserves. Locals are especially passionate about mountain biking: in the summer and fall, the Nordic Center’s trail network converts to double- and single-track, and hosts a slew of national and local races. The highlight: the 24 Hours of Adrenalin race held every July.

STAY: The cozy, five-room Paintbox Lodge in town is owned by an Olympic silver medalist Nordic skier and her World Cup alpine skier champion husband. Though the rooms aren’t cheap, the modern, outdoorsy vibe—and the chance to swap stories with two world-class athletes—is worth the splurge. Rooms for $250 per night.

Lead Photo: David P. Lewis

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