While there are a whole host of things to keep you busy in Calgary, depending on how much time you have, it’s also well worth exploring outside of the city. The opportunity for everything from skiing and hiking to exploring small towns and historic sites awaits. If you’re looking for a few fun things to do beyond Calgary’s borders, here are 12 of the best day trips to consider.
Banff: Year-Round Outdoor Fun
Make your way to this picturesque ski village to experience the great outdoors in a wide variety of ways like hiking, biking, canoeing, rafting, or skiing. The region is also home to the Banff Upper Hot Springs where you can relax in hot mineral waters in the highest operating hot spring in Canada. Or, for exceptional views, take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain for a 360-degree view sight of six mountain ranges, the Bow Valley and the town of Banff. The town of Banff itself is filled with cozy bars and restaurants as well as galleries and shops.
Getting There: You can either get to Banff National Park from Calgary via a 90-minute drive or opt for On-It Transit service. Buses run a direct route from Calgary to Banff.
Travel Tip: If you ride the gondola to Sulphur Mountain, you can dine 7,486 feet in the air at Sky Bistro for a meal accompanied by mountain views in every direction.
Drumheller: Dinosaur Territory
Drumheller is known as the world’s dinosaur capital making it a must for anyone interested in the life and history of these prehistoric creatures. For starters, stop by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology which is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology and where you’ll find one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs. Don’t forget to snap a selfie or two with the World’s Largest Dinosaur and spend some time exploring the scenic and otherworldly Canadian Badlands where the dinosaurs once lived.
Getting There: Drumheller lies approximately 68 miles (110 kilometers) from Calgary and is easily reached in a 90-minute drive.
Travel Tip: You can try your hand at uncovering dinosaur bones and see real dinosaur remains still in the ground with a paleontologist by booking a 90-minute Dinosite experience through the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
Dinosaur Provincial Park: Fun with Fossils
For even more fun with fossils, make your way to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to one of the world’s richest deposits of fossils. More than 150 full dinosaur skeletons have been discovered in Dinosaur Provincial Park, including over 50 different species. Here you'll also get views over the largest continuous stretch of Badlands and visitors can enjoy hiking trails and check out the collection of fossils in the Dinosaur Visitor Centre.
Getting There: You can drive to Dinosaur Provincial Park from Calgary via the Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 E. The drive covers around 136 miles (219 kilometers) and takes just under three hours.
Travel Tip: Maximize your experience by booking a guided tour of Dinosaur Provincial Park with Prairie Sprinter. The tour includes transportation to and from the park, expert interpreters, and time for a hike.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: History of the Herd
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved buffalo jumps in the world. For a bit of background, bison provided the Aboriginal peoples of North America's Great Plains with everything from food to clothing to tools, and at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump you will find both indoor and outdoor exhibits showcasing the 6000-year history of buffalo hunting culture
Getting There: Getting to Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump from Calgary can be done by driving 114 miles (184 kilometers) along AB-2 S, which should take around one hour and 50 minutes depending on traffic.
Travel Tip: Make sure to leave some time to enjoy the interpretive outdoor hike that explores the buffalo jump.
Lake Louise: Boundless Natural Beauty
If you have the time to make the trip, a visit to Lake Louise should be near the top of your list of day trips from Calgary. Once you’re there, it will become immediately apparent why this is one of the most photographed locations in the world. Emerald-hued water and rugged peaks provide breathtaking photo ops and there are seemingly endless options for outdoor fun in any season.
Getting There: If you’d like to drive from Calgary to Lake Louise you can do so via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W. The approximately 115-miles (185-kilometer) drive should take around two hours. Alternatively, you can take the Brewster Express, which provides direct shuttle service from Calgary International Airport to Lake Louise.
Travel Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, it's best to visit Lake Louise early in the morning or during the week.
Edmonton: Explore Alberta’s Capital
Alberta’s capital city lies just three hours from Calgary and offers a wide variety of things to see and do on a full day trip. During the summer, there are vibrant outdoor markets and many festivals and events to enjoy covering everything from music and theater to food. There are also hiking and other outdoor activities at Elk Island National Park. During the winter there are opportunities for skiing, skating, and discovering Edmonton’s awe-inspiring ice castles. You can shop in West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in North America, any time of year.
Getting There: You can get to Edmonton from Calgary on the bus. Several bus companies make the 186 miles (300-kilometer) trip in around 3.5 hours. You can also drive between the two cities in around three hours. If you prefer to fly, the average price of a ticket is around $150 with a flight time of 45 minutes.
Travel Tip: West Edmonton Mall isn’t just a place to browse and buy. The megamall is also home to an amusement park and an indoor water park.
Waterton Lakes National Park: Outdoor Adventure
Waterton Lakes National Park happens to be the world’s only park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve, and International Peace Park. Year-round outdoor activities are the main draw here thanks to numerous hiking trails offering epic views of the Rocky Mountains. In addition, opt to partake in water-based activity on the lake like canoeing and paddle boarding or play a round of golf at Waterton Lakes Golf Course. Anyone interested in local wildlife has the chance to spot everything from bighorn sheep to grizzlies.
Getting There: Take Highway 2 south to Fort Macleod, then head west on Highway 3 to Pincher Creek, then south on Highway 6 to the park (approximately 3 hours).
Travel Tip: The park is home to two national historic sites (NHS): The Prince of Wales Hotel NHS and the First Oil Well in Western Canada NHS.
Canmore: Something for Everyone
Canmore makes for an easy day trip from Calgary and offers a little something for everyone. Active travelers can go hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, skiing, and more. There are also plenty of opportunities for shopping independent boutiques, visiting craft breweries, dining in local pubs and restaurants, and checking out the area’s galleries and museums.
Getting There: Canmore lies 55 miles (88 kilometers) west of Calgary and can be reached by a one hour drive via the Trans-Canada Highway #1. Or, the Banff Airporter operates daily scheduled transportation between Calgary International Airport and Canmore.
Travel Tip: The Bow River Loop Walk, located just outside of downtown Canmore, is a 25-minute route that takes you along the banks of the beautiful Bow River.
Okotoks: Small Town Charm
If it’s small-town charm you’re looking for, make your way to Okotoks, which lies just south of Calgary making it a great option for a quick day (or afternoon) trip. Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, art galleries, local boutiques, and more than 53 miles (85 kilometers) of walking, hiking, and biking trails. So whether you want to shop for one-of-a-kind goods, get active, play a round of golf or enjoy the town’s creative cuisine, there’s an option for you.
Getting There: On-It Regional Transit provides regular service between downtown Calgary and Okotoks with a travel time of around 40 minutes and a cost of CA$16. You can also drive the 28.5 miles (46 kilometers) in just over 30 minutes.
Travel Tip: Make a stop at Chinook Honey Company & Arch Meadery to learn all about honeybees. Or go one step further and suit up as a beekeeper to work with one of the hives. You can also sample different kinds of mead and visit the shop for honey and honey-based products.
Turner Valley: Back to Nature
You’ll find Turner Valley tucked away at the base of the Rocky Mountains and the quirky town offers the chance to kayak, hike, bike, skate, and more in addition to a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries (many of which are located in heritage buildings). Turner Valley has a sister town in Black Diamond and they’re only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) apart giving you the option to combine two day trips into one.
Getting There: Turner Valley is easily reached by car and is located just 35 minutes southwest of Calgary on Highway 22.
Travel Tip: Stop by Eau Claire Distillery, Alberta’s first craft distillery, for a tour or to taste some of their award-winning spirits.
Bar U Ranch National Historic Site: An Authentic Cowboy Experience
Once one of Canada’s largest ranching operations, Bar U Ranch National Historic Site offers visitors the chance for an authentic cowboy experience. During your visit (a half-day is recommended), you can explore over 35 historic structures that make up the largest collection of historical ranch buildings in Canada, many of which are still operational. In addition, there are guided walking and horse-drawn wagon tours and the chance to try your hand at some traditional cowboy skills like roping.
Getting There: Bar U is located 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Calgary. You can get there in one hour on Highway 22 (also known as The Cowboy Trail).
Travel Tip: Refuel with some authentic cowboy grub at Bar U Ranch Café, open daily during the operating season.
Glacier Skywalk: Unforgettable Views
Though you’ll need a full day for this day trip, it’s worth the extra time for the epic views you’ll get with a walk along the 0.6-mile (one-kilometer) walkway of the Glacier Skywalk, at the end of which is a glass platform where you can look down (way down) at Sunwapta Valley 918 feet below you. Along the walk you’ll also see glaciers above you, waterfalls, and wildlife.
Getting There: If you’re up for the drive, it’s about 3.5 hours along the Trans-Canada Highway for a distance of 196 miles (316 kilometers). Or, you can take advantage of Brewster Sightseeing tours which provide tours from Calgary with pickup and drop-off at your hotel.
Travel Tip: Top off your experience with a locally-sourced meal at Altitude Restaurant, overlooking the Athabasca Glacier