They don’t call Calgary Cowtown for nothing. The same applies to “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” a nickname well-earned by the Calgary Stampede. This annual citywide phenomenon is a huge part of Calgary’s identity and is not to be missed each July. Expect 10 days of high-adrenaline rodeo events as well as chuckwagon races, pancake breakfasts, concerts, a First Nations Village, and boot-stomping, Western-style entertainment. Pack your jeans and join the hoopla.
Canada’s Canada Olympic Park
WinSport runs Calgary Olympic Park, the site of the 1988 Winter Games. Today, athletes train here and you can get into it, too: ski, skate, snowboard, and bobsleigh in winter; luge, zipline, mountain bike, mini-golf, and the summer bobsleigh or Challenge Course in summer. Don’t miss the Sports Hall of Fame either.
Nose Hill Park
Panoramas of downtown are worth a trip to high-plains, aspen-flanked Nose Hill Park, a delightfully wild open area northwest of town and one of North America’s largest urban parks. Hike or bike extensive trails covering the 11 square kilometres and pause for a picnic with a view. Look for two stone circles, former “tipi rings,” and important archaeological sites.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Fossils are what you’ll find in the unusual badlands of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, about two-and-a-half hours outside Calgary near Brooks. Archaeologists have unearthed some 300 fossils here, making it the world’s biggest source of Cretaceous fossils. Hike, camp, or tour an active dig site and take it all in.
Prince’s Island Park
On an island in the Bow River you’ll find leafy Prince’s Island Park, a green, urban oasis where you can stroll, cycle, paddle, ski, or take in an outdoor play or concert. Popular celebrations happen in the park, including the Calgary Folk Festival and Canada Day events. Pair your visit with a trip to Eau Claire Market for lunch or drinks on the patio.
Canada’s largest of its kind, 127-acre Heritage Park Historical Village is a spot to learn about 1860s to 1950s Western Canadian history. Tour preserved heritage buildings and homesteads, look at antique vehicles, see nearly 200 exhibits, tour by steam train or paddleboat, shop, and dine year-round.
Get a 360-degree view of the skyline, foothills, plains, Rocky Mountains, and beyond from the glass floor and observation deck of Calgary’s signature Tower 191 metres up. Two restaurants offer elevated dining: the rotating SKY360 is ideal for festive drinks, and high-end Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is the place to sample top-notch Alberta beef.
Originally a gift from philanthropist Eric Lafferty Harvie, downtown’s sprawling Glenbow Museum is Calgary’s culture hub, with accessible art and history to the tune of one million objects on display. High-profile international exhibitions show here, and permanent collections include rare cultural artefacts, photographs, historical documents, and artwork of all kinds, many of which helped shape Calgary into the place it is today.
Time to pick up some stylish boots, jeans, and a Stetson. Calgary sports some of the best Western-apparel retail therapy there is. Unleash your inner cowpoke at Smithbilt Hats, Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack, and Alberta Boot Co.
The Rocky Mountaineer
Slow it down and ride in style from Vancouver, British Columbia, all the way to Calgary on the white linen-and-china-style Rocky Mountaineer. This luxurious train line follows the historic Canadian Pacific Railway route. It’s hard to beat the views of iconic Lake Louise, Kicking Horse Pass, and towering glaciers from your own cushy seat in the domed coach while enjoying a gourmet meal and glass of Canadian wine.
Yes, Calgary is the traditional launch point for skiing, trekking, national park touring, and Canadian Rockies road trips, but this high-octane Western city has enough going for it to warrant a vacation all on its own.