What a delight the Pigeon Mountain hike near Canmore turned out to be. Once you…
I’ve put together 25 plus suggestions for day trips from Calgary you can do in all the seasons with the hope that some of these recommendations are completely new to you. I think there should be something for everyone on this list no matter what your age or fitness level. There’s a lot to explore nearby from prairies to mountains, lakes to rivers along with a fine selection of provincial and national parks to visit.
Spending time outdoors in all seasons does so much for your mental and physical health! Have fun and try out a selection of these day trips from Calgary. Some are educational, some family-friendly and many are just plain fun.
Visit the Ellis Bird Farm near Red Deer
The Ellis Bird Farm is one of the best day trips from Calgary or Edmonton – especially with kids. In just a few hours you will get excited about the cutting edge research done with geolocators that indicate where each bird has flown around the world. You’ll come away impressed with the relationship with MEGlobal Canada and the beauty of the gardens will lure you back for another visit.
There’s also a café on the property that serves delicious food- so make Ellis Farm into a half day trip from Calgary.
Hike or gondola up Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park
It takes just 8 minutes to be whisked up Sulphur Mountain by the gondola. At the top you can expect to be wowed on a clear day by six mountain ranges. There is also the option to hike 5.7 km one way to the summit. Be prepared for about 700 m of elevation gain.
From the Banff Gondola station, walk the 1 km section of boardwalk to the summit ridge leading to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Observatory. You’ll need about 30 minutes return and more if its sunset. I heartily recommend a meal at the Sky Bistro. The views are sublime from the restaurant, especially on a clear, summer evening and the atmosphere wonderful.
Drive to Drumheller and visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is considered to be the finest dinosaur museum in the world. But before you get there, get out and walk through Horseshoe Canyon, a beautiful spot at any time of the year. If you’re hungry in Drumheller stop at Café Italiano (35 3rd Avenue West) for a grilled panini or at The Whistling Kettle (109 Centre Street) for a slice of pie.
And did you know you can do a short but interesting walk behind the museum on an interpretative trail?
Visit the Okotoks Erratic
You can visit the Okotoks Erratic – otherwise known as Big Rock at anytime of the year. Located near Okotoks, about an hour’s drive south of the city, is a massive rock dropped by glaciers during the last ice age.
The erratic is a huge hunk of quartzite rock measuring 41 m long by 9 m high by 18 m wide. The erratic, which is now split in two, weighs 16,500 tons. The rock comes from an area near Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park. It holds spiritual significance for the local First Nation People. While you can touch and photograph the rock, be respectful and don’t climb or boulder on it.
Stay in a caboose at Aspen Crossing
The cabooses at Aspen Crossing are open year round and are fun to visit as a family or for something like a girlfriend’s getaway. They have a fire pit and a kitted out kitchen.
Depending on the season you can enjoy a special train-themed getaway with scenic rail tours along with unique dining. There is also camping for RV’s, a garden centre, escape rooms and educational tours.
Visit Bar U Ranch National Historic Site
The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site is 70 minutes south of Calgary off the Cowboy Highway. There are lots of things you can do here from hiking to mountain biking to riding in a wagon pulled by Percheron horses. This is where you’ll discover what it was like to live the life of a ranching cowboy in the late 1800’s. This is a great family-friendly outing.
Go for a paddle on the Red Deer River
You can paddle the Red Deer River from Dry Island Buffalo Jump to Drumheller over a weekend or just enjoy a day’s outing out of Drumheller – either in a canoe or on a raft. On a hot summer’s day, this is a fantastic way to cool off and have fun.
Check out Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
Learn about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO site about two hours south of Calgary near Fort MacLeod. The buffalo jump is one of the best preserved and the oldest. There is evidence suggesting that the buffalo jump was used for 6,000 years.
The site of the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump may be underwhelming to those of you who prefer mountain scenes. But it’s a fantastic story – and a compelling one at that. Also the Interpretative Center is a five story architectural gem built into a hillside. You could easily spend a half day inside and out wandering the grounds.
Check out the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Just 40 minutes northwest of the city is the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Here you can do a self-guided walk through the sanctuary to see the wolves at a pace that is comfortable for you – though kids need to be 6 years or older. Or you can choose from either an intro or interactive tour. After my experience walking with wolves in Golden, BC, I would definitely recommend the close-up experience. You’ll learn a lot no matter what tour you end up doing.
Visit Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake has become so popular that it’s hard to get near the lake anymore, especially on a summer weekend or during larch season. In fact beginning in April 2021, you will be able to make reservations for shuttles – from a large parking lot accessed from the Trans-Canada Highway. That will be the only way you are guaranteed to get in.
The road to Moraine Lake is closed for much of the year as it traverses avalanche country. The road usually opens sometime in late May, depending on the amount of snow and closes around Thanksgiving weekend. There is one hotel on the lake – Moraine Lake Lodge.
The lake is gorgeous – a scrummy colour of turquoise-blue with an incredible backdrop. Some of the most beautiful hiking in the Rockies starts from here – another reason why it’s so busy.
Head to the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs are open from 10 AM to 10 PM Sunday to Thursday and to 11 PM on weekends. For only $8.30 you can have a hot soak in a historic setting. They even rent bathing suits. Coldest days are the best in my opinion.
Go for a gorgeous walk within an hour’s drive of the city
You don’t have to go far out of Calgary to find some lovely walking, no matter what the season. Suggestions include the Cross Conservation Area off of Highway 22X, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park – and the Bragg Creek area, especially off of Highway 66.
Enjoy a soak in the Kananaskis Nordic Spa
One of the recent additions that falls under the relaxing day trips from Calgary category, is a visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. Fashioned in the Nordic tradition, the spa stimulates your senses with temperature changes (hot, warm and cold pools). Don’t miss an aromatherapy stop via the steam room. The spa’s location is set against a beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop, only an hour away from downtown.
The Kananaskis Nordic Spa is very popular now so be sure to make a reservation – well in advance of your planned visit.
Drive to Rosebud, home to the famous Rosebud Theatre
The drive to Rosebud takes you through rolling countryside filled with small valleys and streams. Back in the 1940’s, Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson came here to sketch the area’s farms and ranches – so that should give you an idea of how pretty it is. Plan a stop for something to eat at the Rosebud Country Inn.
Take a walk up Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots no matter what time of year it is
As one of the most popular activities in Banff, no matter what the season, you can be sure you’ll have company on this fantastic day trip. The walk up Johnston Canyon is a perennial favourite. And you’ve got the stamina, I highly recommend continuing to the Ink Pots.
As you slip-slide up the canyon in winter or merely walk the rest of the year, you’ll be treated to views of waterfalls or icefalls and perhaps the odd ice climber or two in the winter.
You can go to the lower falls – just 1.2 km each way or if you’re more ambitious, hike 2.7 km one way to the upper falls. The trailhead is less than 20 minutes from Banff.
Day trip that are best in winter
Go downhill skiing in winter
Out of Calgary you have numerous options. The closest resort to Calgary is Nakiska in Kananaskis Provincial Park. In Banff National Park you have the choice of Sunshine Ski Resort, Mount Norquay or Lake Louise.
To the south, about 2.5 hours away you’ll find Castle Mountain Resort in the Westcastle Valley of the Rocky Mountains, the site of the 1975 Winter Games. To the north and just 10 minutes east of Red Deer look for Canyon Ski Resort, Alberta’s largest non-mountain resort, as they bill themselves. Prices here are only $40 per adult per day.
And in Calgary you’ll find skiing on a small hill at Canada Olympic Park, open daily from 9 AM to 9 PM.
If you can walk you can snowshoe
There are an astounding number of truly excellent snowshoeing trails near Calgary. You can go into one of the parks like Nosehill or Fish Creek if there has been a big dump of snow. Bragg Creek offers superb snowshoeing on a network of trails – and it’s only a 40 minute drive away.
Further afield, head to Kananaskis Country, Banff , Kootenay or Yoho National Parks.
In Banff there are easy snowshoe trails close to the Banff Springs Hotel like the Spray River trail. For a longer tour try the 12 km return trip to the Ink Pots, close to Castle Mountain. I also highly recommend the snowshoe up to Chester Lake. It has the added benefit of being close to Mount Engadine Lodge, where you have the option of reserving for their afternoon tea.
Go wild skating in Banff National Park – but only when you know the ice is safe
Wild skating seems to be going mainstream. Basically you need a frozen lake – with ice thick enough to skate on. Ideally there should be very little snow for the most perfect skating. But there are lots of people who schlep shovels and make a rink out of a section of snow-covered lake.
In Banff National Park, Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka later in season are good choices or try out Carrot Creek – Banff’s secret skating spot according to Jody Robbins. Gap Lake is another choice.
Cross-country skiing within 90 minutes of the city
One of the closest places to cross-country ski is at the Nordic Center in Canmore. It offers 65 km of groomed and track set trails. This is where the Olympic athletes come to train.
Head to Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis Provincial Park where skiing on the 90 km of groomed trails is now $10. The snow here is usually amazing. Unfortunately though, you can’t rent equipment in the park though you could check in with Kananaskis Outfitters near the Nakiska Ski Area.
Go skating on the world’s most beautiful rink at Lake Louise
Every winter part of Lake Louise is transformed into a skating rink. You can enjoy public skating with an entry through the ice castle or bring your stick for a game of pick up hockey in a separate area.
The lake is lit until midnight but in theory you could skate around the clock. It’s free to skate. Skate rentals are available at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at a cost of $10 for 2 hours or $13 all day for adults – half that for kids.
Head to the annual Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival
Head to Lake Louise to watch ice carvers from all over the world compete to create incredible sculptures from blocks of ice. They usually start with a 300 pound block of ice. Every year the festival has a different theme. The ice sculptures need to reflect that in their carvings. The sculptures are on display for many weeks, a good thing since the main weekend is something of a zoo.
Search for snowy owls
Head east to the prairies and prepare to do quite a bit of driving. Snowy owls are active during the day in winter so they are easier to find than you might think – if you know what you’re looking for. But they’re skittish so it’s hard to get great shots. Look at the top of telephone poles, along wires or any large farm-type structure. With luck you may see them flying low across a farmer’s field.
If you’re looking for a fun day trip from Calgary, almost everyone will love dogsledding. In Canmore you can choose from three companies, in Kananaskis Country, there is one company and near Lake Louise there is Kingmik Dog Sled Tours.
Although most tours are only a half day long – that’s the perfect amount of time if it’s a cold day in winter. With a bit of luck you’ll also have a chance to drive the dogsled. You can count on a very high fun factor if you do that.
Go fat tire biking
I have participated in a bike race across a frozen lake in the middle of a Quebec winter when it was -20°C. And I was literally boiling up because I was working so hard. On the coldest of days, fat tire biking is a great sport. Banff and the Kananaskis area have lots of trails – and you can cycle the bikeways in Calgary, which is a fine way to spend part of a day.
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