One of Canada’s youngest, yet largest cities, Calgary is modern and vibrant. Situated within striking distance of the Rocky Mountains and the Alberta Badlands, it also has some of the best Canadian scenery on its doorstep, making it easy to plan exhilarating and awe-inspiring day trips from Calgary.
Get your adrenaline pumping
Calgary put itself on the world’s stage when it hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. One of the legacies of the Games was the WinSport Olympic Park. But don’t be fooled – there’s plenty to do in the park when winter isn’t around.
You’ve probably heard of the Jamaican bobsleigh team who were made famous by Cool Runnings. Well here is your chance to follow in their tracks with a summer bobsleigh run. An expert pilot will guide your group of four down the track as you hit speeds of over 80 kph and whistle through 10 turns.
Eddie the Eagle is another well-known product of the 1988 Olympic Games. Venture to the top of the same ski jump that made him famous – a 90 metre vantage point and Calgary’s highest – before embarking on North America’s fastest zipline. Two other ziplines are included in the experience.
If you want to stay in control of your descent, then the Skyline Luge might be more to your taste. Let a chairlift take you and your cart to the top of the purpose-built track, and then let gravity do the rest as you roll downhill through over 50 twists and turns and 1,800 metres of track, making it the longest of its kind in the world.
Two wheels rather than four may be more your thing on this day trip from Calgary, in which case WinSport Olympic Park also has a number of mountain bike trails. Bikes are available to hire.
Hunt for Dinosaurs
Drive just over two hours east of Calgary and you’ll find yourself transported to another world. The surreal landscapes of the Alberta Badlands are home to one of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world. It’s hard to believe this this barren landscape was once a sub-tropical paradise. Over 150 full dinosaur skeletons have been found at Dinosaur Provincial Park and more than 50 species have been discovered.
To see the best of what the park has to offer, take the Explorer’s Bus Tour and marvel at not only the unique geology of the area, but locations that are otherwise off limits. The bus makes plenty of stops so you can see the fossils up close and personal, and one stop even includes an articulated skeleton of a hadrosaur. Be sure to book your spot in advance as spaces are limited. To fully experience all Dinosaur Provincial Park has to offer, allow yourself at least two days and stay in one of the comfort camping tents on site.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
If Dinosaur Provincial Parks leaves you wanting to learn more about this areas prehistoric past be sure to also visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Located just outside the town of Drumheller, approximately ninety minutes from Calgary. The museum is packed full of dinosaur skeletons, high-tech displays and hands-on activities for all the family.
Outside the museum you’ll find the Badlands Interpretive Trail, a self-guided 1.4 km loop which gives you a taste of this fascinating landscape. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore the museum and take part in the fantastic programs on offer. You’ll have the opportunity to try your hand at searching for fossils, make your own fossil replica, and experience the thrill of excavation in a realistic quarry. Be sure to book programs in advance to secure your spot.
Travel back in time to the city’s birthplace, Fort Calgary, when in 1875, the North West Mounted Police built a fort where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet. But the story started long before then. People have been gathering at this spot to share stories, create communities and build futures for many years. Explore Calgary’s past through interpretive displays about the lives of the Natives, early pioneers and Canada’s world-renowned Mounties. If you’ve ever wondered what you’ll look like in a Mountie uniform then this is the place to go!
The Fort’s location on the waterfront makes it a perfect start or end point for a picturesque stroll or ride along the RiverWalk.
The Canadian Rockies
Calgary is an excellent base from which to explore southern Alberta’s varied landscape, from the Rockies to the west, and the Badlands to the east.
The Rocky Mountains need little introduction. Their foothills can be seen from various locations throughout the city, and in under a ninety minute drive you will find yourself among the mountains and the many stunning national parks.
There is plenty to see and do in Banff National Park. In the town itself, enjoy a short, easy hike such as at Tunnel Mountain; take a cableway ride on the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for stunning views; indulge yourself by soaking in the hot steamy mineral waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs; or enjoy the beautiful view at Vermilion Lakes. Heading north from the town of Banff you’ll come across Lake Louise and its jaw-dropping neighbour, Moraine Lake.
The Icefields Parkway, which runs from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park is one of the world’s most scenic drives. Lined by towering peaks, it’s everything you ever imagined the Canadian Rockies to be, with stunning views at every turn.
Make sure you stop off along the way at the Columbia Icefield where you can get up close and personal with the Athabasca Glacier. Walk up to a point close to its end, or book a tour on the all-terrain Ice Explorer vehicle for a visit onto the glacier itself.
For a special overnight stay, book yourself a Parks Canada oTENTik at Banff National Park. These accommodations will provide you with all the benefits of camping, but with the advantages of being more comfortable and the tent set up for you!
Adventure in the city
You don’t need to go far to enjoy the great outdoors as Calgary is a city of parks. Nose Hill Park is the city’s biggest and also one of the largest urban parks in North America. The real highlight are the stunning views from the top. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic while admiring Calgary’s skyline and the Bow River Valley, and as far as the Rocky Mountains.
On a hot summer’s day nothing beats floating down the river in a raft and watching the city pass you by. There are two main rivers you can float down, Elbow and Bow. Elbow River is for you if you want to travel nice and slow – it’s perfect for families with smaller children and there are many places where you can stand and wade. If you’re looking for something larger and faster, then Bow River is the one. Rafts can be rented from a number of outfitters and some will even shuttle you back to the starting point too.
Cover photo credit: Travel Alberta