Last Updated on February 1, 2019 at 9:04 am by
I’ve lived in Calgary for over 20 years, so I have a pretty fair idea of what excursions are available if you’re looking for day trips from Calgary. If you’re visiting this wonderful city, or even if you live here and want to get out of town for an afternoon, a weekend, or even longer, here are some of my favourite excursions from Calgary that you should check out.
Although public transportation will get you to most of these attractions, it’s wiser to arrange a car rental in Calgary before you set out. Having your own set of wheels at your disposal allows you to make spontaneous stops along the way (there’s a lot to see in Alberta!) and if there are two or more people in your travelling party, it makes more economic sense to rent a car and share the cost. If you’re flying in from out of town, it’s recommended to pick up your car at Calgary airport to save the transfer cost to your downtown hotel.
Arguably the crown jewel in Alberta’s Rockies crown, one cannot exclude from one’s itinerary that belle of the day-trip from Calgary ball — Banff. I’ve curated an entire list of things to do in Banff so will direct you there as to why you cannot miss this spectacular park in your travels. Long story, short — Banff is a must-see if you are coming to Calgary.
If you’ve made it all the way to Banff, then it’s only right that you drive just a smidge past the town of Banff to see magnificent Lake Louise. Though in summer you may be jockeying for position for that self-aggrandizing selfie amongst hordes of other kindred souls, in winter most days you’ll have the place to yourself. You see, it’s the crystal clear blue waters backdropped against the dramatic snow-capped Rockies that are the big draw here. In winter (see EXHIBIT “A” above), the lake is a frozen snow-covered mass devoid of tourists.
Just over an hour’s drive north of Calgary, the tiny hamlet of Torrington is home to one of the more peculiar attractions in the province, the world-famous Gopher Hole Museum. Worried residents concluded the best way to deal with dwindling visitors and a gopher infestation in one swift blow was to craft cabinet after cabinet of dioramas featuring the dead vermin.
Each display re-enacts typical activities around the town but instead of dolls or Barbies or some other such less disturbing actors, a cast of taxidermied prairie gophers take the main stage. Thankfully the town has such a macabre sense of humour — even after travelling to 72 countries, the Gopher Hole Museum continues to be one of my most favourite attractions.
If all that animal flesh on display is too offputting, may I suggest just sticking with some good old-fashioned bones instead? The Royal Tyrell Museum (children on leashes notwithstanding), is a world-class facility and the only museum in Canada devoted solely to the science of paleontology.
It’s home to the world’s largest display of dinosaurs and makes a rewarding day trip from Calgary for kids (both leashed and unleashed) of all ages.
What can I say about the Last Chance Saloon without giving away what an absolute treasure this place actually is? Oops. Ok, oh well I guess there goes the surprise. The Last Chance Saloon and the adjoining Rosedeer Hotel are the stuff of legends. Whether you’re looking to live out your wild, wild west, yeehaw-fueled fantasy, or perhaps just looking for great food to fuel the rest of your trip, the Last Chance Saloon delivers in spades. Home to the annual Waynestock Music Festival, owners Dave and Paula are lovely, the bar and restaurant are one-of-a-kind, and the surrounding area is stunningly picturesque.
There’s a “mostly” friendly rivalry between Calgary and the provincial capital of Edmonton, but there’s one thing we can all agree on — each makes a good overnight trip from each other. Roughly about a 3-hour drive north of Calgary, Edmonton boasts many attractions that would make a trip there memorable, but probably none captures the attention that the West Edmonton Mall does.
Home to an indoor water park, a pirate ship, a skating rink, and even a rollercoaster, it was the largest mall in the wall in the world until 2004, and remains the largest mall in North America.
If you’re just looking for outlet shopping and are short on time, make a visit to Cross Iron Mills just a 15-minute drive north of Calgary — it’s one of the better shopping centres just outside the city. You can take the route 900 from the Rundle Station LRT in Calgary if you didn’t get a rental car.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
A place where hundreds of bison stampede to their deaths clear off the brink of a cliff? Then locals carve up every last bit of the carcasses? Well that’s cool – in an grisly, do-you-really-need-all-those-buffalo kind of way.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is exactly what it sounds like. Located about a two-hour drive from Calgary, it’s a stellar place to learn more about this historical practice of natives and see where it all took place amid such a dizzying gorgeous backdrop. If the interpretive centre built right into the cliff doesn’t inspire you, then the scenery along the road trip there certainly will. This is the Alberta heartland at its purest, and one of the more rewarding day trips from Calgary.
Like Lake Louise, Sylvan Lake is pretty much a ghost town in winter, but the area comes alive when the first signs of spring hit. Think ice cream floats, banana splits, board shorts and watersports interspersed with strolls along the lake. Yeah. Now you’ve got it. It really is beautiful in the summer, and if you’re looking for a great outing with plenty of water activities, you can’t beat a visit to Sylvan Lake.
If you’re around in winter, there are some businesses open, and there’s always ice-fishing if you just must make it out on the lake.
What are your favourite day trips from Calgary? I’d love to get your input, so please leave a comment below.