By Yvette Morrissey.
Yvette is a digital nomad and has a blogs about vanlife on her blog, Wayfaring Kiwi. In 2017 she lived in her van, Betty, for several months in Canmore, Alberta. Here Yvette shares her advice for how to make the most of vanlife in one of the most scenic destinations in the world.
I never expected to be living in a van in the Canadian Rockies. In fact, I never imagined I’d be living in a van full stop. It wasn’t until I started travelling Canada that I came across the vanlife lifestyle; I met two girls who had spent the previous summer living and travelling in their van across the USA. This lifestyle made complete sense.
I purchased my van and headed to Banff, Alberta for the summer to live in one of the most glorious places on earth. I soon realised that it was, in fact, illegal to live/camp/sleep in a motor vehicle in a national park in Canada, so in an effort to make the Rockies my home, I moved to Canmore- the nearest town outside Banff National Park.
Here is my guide on how you can live the vanlife in Canmore, Alberta!
Where can I park?
There are two popular locations in Canmore for vanlifers:
Save On Foods
I spent most of my time living in the parking lot of Save On Foods. This is a very popular spot for vanlifers, and there was always a variety of campers parked up whenever I stayed there. Save On Foods is a great place to meet other vanlifers and I actually met my favourite vanlife couple there! I lived in the Save On Foods car park for three months and I never had any issues. It felt very safe there, but I used my common sense and locked my doors every night and parked in areas where that I felt were visible but private enough for me at the same time. The great thing about parking here is that you can literally walk out your door to do your grocery shop! Location coordinates: 51.091617, -115.354107
The Information Centre car park doesn’t have any facilities, but it’s free to camp overnight. It can be quite noisy because it’s close to the train tracks and road. I would only suggest parking here if you’re desperate, as the Save On Foods parking lot is more convenient. The car park is actually next to the start of a back country hike, so people will often leave their cars in the carpark and venture off. I used to park here before I knew about the Save On Foods parking lot and never had any issues, aside from being stuck for a toilet late at night! Location coordinates: 51.106274, -15.366112
The washroom at Save On Foods is open from 7am until 11pm each night. The ladies washroom contains two toilets and one sink with a mirror, and is usually a bit on the dirty side. Nonetheless, it’s handy if you’re sleeping in the parking lot and it’s a lot nicer than using a bush to do your business.
Where can I shower?
The Nordic Centre has a fantastic shower, and is located only a short drive from the town. The shower is coin operated and only takes loonies. One loonie should get you a five minute shower. Don’t forget to bring a towel.
Canmore also has a few gyms, although it costs $8-$15 for a day pass. It is better value for money to go for a hike for some exercise and then shower at the Nordic Centre.
Got van problems?
While I never had any issues with my van, I did some research on good places to take your vehicle if you do have any problems.
Little Garage is very well-priced, locally owned and operated auto repair garage. This is the auto repair that many locals agreed was the best place to go! You see their vast range of services and prices here.
Location coordinates: 51.083642, -115.319232
Canmore Lube and Muffler
Canmore Lube and Muffler is another locally owned and operated business. They are capable of all repairs on almost all vehicles, and offer express oil changes and tyre repairs. They also have two of the best Journeyman Techs in their employ. You can vie their services they offer here.
Location coordinates: 51.095462, -115.358425
Where can I find free Wi-Fi?
If you are a digital nomad (working on the road) the best place for a good Wi-Fi connection is the Canmore Nordic Centre. They actively encourage people to use their facilities and are very welcoming! They are open 9am-5pm from Monday to Sunday.
If you require a good Wi-Fi connection out of these hours, Tim Hortons, Wendy’s or McDonald’s are open late and are fairly quiet.
Save On Foods also has a free Wi-Fi network which can still be accessed if you are parked outside the building. The connection isn’t that strong however, and dips in and out. It is fine for checking emails and Facebook, but don’t expect to be able to stream video or work sufficiently with this connection.
Things to do in the area
Canmore is a great place for all outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from (Ha Ling, Lady Macdonald and Grassi Lakes are three I highly recommend) and you can also hire a bike and cycle the Legacy trail to Banff.
The town of Canmore is also a lot bigger than the town of Banff, and most Banff locals will head to Canmore to do the majority of their shopping.
Banff is a very close 20 minute drive away and there is a lot to do here! I have written a list of 50 things to do in Banff, click here to check it out.
Extra tips for living the vanlife in Canmore
It can get cold living in Canmore as the altitude is quite high. It got as cold as -8 degrees when I was living in my van in September and October- and that wasn’t even winter!
To survive I purchased a subzero sleeping bag and a nice thick blanket to go over that, which allowed me to stay warm and snug!
Because it can get so cold it can be tough on van batteries. I purchased a Portable Jump Starter which was great because I could also use it to charge my mobile phone, Go Pro, and laptop. It saved my life on a few occasions when my van wouldn’t start due to the cold!