10 Best Day Trips From Calgary

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Calgary, a cosmopolitan Alberta city with a rich cowboy history, stands as a beacon where the vast Canadian Prairies meet the foothills of the majestic Rocky Mountains. It’s a city of contrasts, effortlessly blending the modern with the traditional.

Downtown, gleaming skyscrapers like the Calgary Tower offer panoramic views, while historic neighbourhoods such as Inglewood bring a quaint charm with boutique shops and art galleries. The East Village, revitalised and buzzing, is a testament to Calgary’s forward-looking vision, boasting modern condos, green spaces, and a burgeoning food scene.

The Stampede, an annual rodeo festival, encapsulates Calgary’s spirit with its wild west vibe, invigorating the city with parades, cowboy hats, and exhilarating rodeo events. For families, the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark Science Centre beckon with educational fun.

Venturing slightly further, the Bow and Elbow rivers invite leisurely walks and picnics on their banks, with paths like the RiverWalk leading the way. Fish Creek Provincial Park, a massive urban park, astonishes with its natural beauty and plethora of trails.

Beyond the city’s confines, the surrounding areas offer natural escapades. To the west, the Rockies, with iconic places like Banff and Canmore, call out to nature lovers, promising skiing, hiking, and unparalleled scenic drives. The sprawling Alberta Badlands to the east is a stark contrast, with its unique, rugged landscapes and the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum.

North leads to the serene expanses of the Prairies, while a journey south presents the historic charm of towns like High River. With each direction offering a different facet of Alberta’s diverse landscape, Calgary serves as an epicentre of exploration, a vibrant city surrounded by the boundless beauty of nature.

So lets get started exploring the top 10 day trips from Calgary.

1. Banff and Banff National Park

Total Time – 10 – 12 Hours

The silhouette of the majestic Rocky Mountains starts filling the horizon.

Banff National Park
Banff National Park, Prestwick Place Southeast, Banff, AB, Canada

An easy and utterly mesmerising day trip from Calgary that I cannot recommend enough. Just an hour and a half away, driving along the Trans-Canada Highway, the journey itself presents scenic views that act as a tantalising teaser for what awaits ahead.

As Calgary’s cityscape gives way, the silhouette of the majestic Rocky Mountains starts filling the horizon. Before you know it, you’ve reached the entrance of Banff National Park, the oldest in Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Once in Banff, the town charms instantly. Nestled among the mountains, it’s a blend of rustic alpine aesthetics and modern amenities. Roaming its streets, you’ll find boutique shops selling artisanal crafts, eateries with delectable menus featuring local ingredients, and glimpses of wildlife that occasionally wander into town.

However, the true allure lies beyond. The Banff Gondola takes you up on top of the Sulphur Mountain, offering panoramic views of the Bow Valley. The Banff Upper Hot Springs beckon with a promise of relaxation while you soak in naturally heated waters amidst a mountainous backdrop.

But Banff National Park’s magnificence isn’t limited to the town. Lake Minnewanka, a short drive away, offers boat tours and picnicking opportunities. Johnston Canyon, another nearby marvel, provides a relatively easy hike with the reward of picturesque waterfalls.

Each moment in Banff feels like nature’s symphony – the rustling leaves, the gurgling streams, and the distant calls of wildlife, all against a backdrop of towering mountains and expansive skies.

As day turns to evening, the return journey offers a sunset spectacle, with the Rockies silhouetted against a pastel sky. A day trip to Banff from Calgary is not just travel; it’s a rejuvenating embrace of nature’s grandeur.

2. Lake Louise

Total Time – 10 – 12 Hours

Colours so vivid they sometimes seem unreal.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise, AB, Canada

Few places capture the heart quite as instantly as Lake Louise does. A two-hour drive from Calgary through the iconic Trans-Canada Highway leads to this gem nestled within Banff National Park. As the journey unfolds, the undulating landscapes shift dramatically, replacing the prairie’s open expanse with the rugged allure of the Rockies.

On approaching Lake Louise, its emerald waters, often still as glass, offer a pristine reflection of the towering snow-capped peaks that stand guard around it. This lake isn’t just a body of water; it’s a canvas painted by nature, with colours so vivid they sometimes seem unreal.

Near the lake’s edge stands the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, an architectural beauty that contrasts and complements its natural surroundings. Even if you don’t intend to stay, pop in for a taste of its luxurious charm and perhaps a cup of tea with a lakeside view.

Many visitors are content simply to stroll around the lake’s perimeter, breathing in the crisp mountain air and occasionally stopping for photographs. But for the more adventurous, a hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House offers both a physical challenge and panoramic views that make the exertion worthwhile.

In winter, the lake transforms. Frozen solid, it becomes a playground for ice-skaters, while horse-drawn sleighs trace paths around its edges. In summer, canoeing on its serene waters is a favoured pastime.

As the sun starts its descent, casting a golden hue over the Rockies and turning the lake’s waters from turquoise to deep blue, one can’t help but feel a profound connection to nature.

Returning to Calgary with a heart full of memories and a camera filled with photos, one thing is certain: Lake Louise is the embodiment of Canadian wilderness at its finest.

3. Kananaskis

Total Time – 8 – 10 Hours

Turquoise waters set against a backdrop of mountainous grandeur.

Kananaskis, AB, Canada

Kananaskis Country, often overshadowed by its renowned neighbour Banff, is a hidden jewel, just about an hour’s drive from Calgary. This sprawling expanse of wilderness is Alberta’s unsung hero, offering a more secluded escape into nature.

The journey itself is therapeutic. As Calgary’s skyline recedes, you are greeted with undulating hills, dense forests, and the ever-present Rockies’ outline. The closer you get, the more awe-inspiring the landscape becomes, with jagged peaks, meandering rivers, and vast valleys painting a picture of unspoilt beauty.

Upon entering Kananaskis, the air shifts. There’s a freshness, laden with the scent of pine and spruce, invigorating the senses. The heart of this region is the mesmerising Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, their turquoise waters set against a backdrop of mountainous grandeur. The stillness here is profound, occasionally interrupted by the splash of a fish or the call of a distant bird.

For the active traveller, Kananaskis is a haven. Trails like the Rawson Lake hike or the more challenging Pocaterra Ridge offer experiences ranging from serene woodland walks to strenuous mountain ascents. For those seeking relaxation, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, with its outdoor hot pools and saunas, offers rejuvenation amidst nature.

Wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled too. The region is home to elk, deer, and occasionally, the majestic moose. The gentle hush of the forests and the rustling grasslands are often all you hear, grounding you in the moment.

As the day draws to a close, the alpenglow on the mountain peaks signals a serene farewell. Driving back to Calgary, the soul feels lighter, and there’s a deep-seated appreciation for the untouched beauty that Kananaskis so generously offers.

4. Cochrane

Total Time – 5 – 7 Hours

Taste the famed Mackay’s Ice Cream.

Cochrane, AB, Canada

Just a short drive away from Calgary, approximately 30 minutes westward, lies the quaint town of Cochrane, a hidden Alberta gem known for its rustic charm and warm hospitality. Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, Cochrane effortlessly combines the tranquility of rural life with an infectious zest for outdoor adventures.

As you enter the town, the historic downtown immediately catches the eye, a testament to the area’s rich past. Boutique shops line the streets, offering unique finds, from artisan crafts to handmade chocolates. But it’s the scent of freshly baked pastries wafting from the town’s renowned bakeries, especially the famed Mackay’s Ice Cream, that truly beckons. Their ice cream, made with secret family recipes, has been a favourite since 1948.

Cochrane’s location by the Bow River means there are ample opportunities for riverside picnics, gentle hikes, or even a lazy afternoon spent fishing. The Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, sprawling along the river’s banks, offers trails that wind through lush meadows and provide panoramic views of the valley below.

A must-visit is the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Here, one can learn about and interact with these majestic animals, gaining insights into their characteristics, behaviours, and the importance of conservation efforts.

Despite its laid-back vibe, Cochrane isn’t short on thrills. The nearby Rockies offer a myriad of activities, from rock climbing for the brave-hearted to scenic drives for those looking to soak in nature’s beauty.

As evening approaches, the town’s local eateries come alive, offering hearty meals that reflect the region’s culinary diversity. As you drive back to Calgary with the setting sun, Cochrane leaves an imprint, one of simplicity, warmth, and the joy of small-town wonders.

5. Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump

Total Time – 7 – 9 Hours

The significance of the buffalo to the Plains People cannot be overstated.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump World Heritage site
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, Fort MacLeod, AB, Canada

A mere two-hour drive south of Calgary transports you not just to a UNESCO World Heritage site but also back in time: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a place of historical reverence and cultural immersion. This isn’t just a geographical landmark; it’s a poignant testament to the ingenious hunting techniques of the indigenous Plains People over 6,000 years.

As the vast Alberta prairie unfolds during your drive, the anticipation grows. Upon arrival, the sight of the cliff itself is sobering. Standing atop, one can almost visualise the buffalo herds being expertly driven over the edge by the native tribes, ensuring their sustenance and survival.

The interpretive centre, built into the landscape with architectural reverence for the land, unravels the story behind this sacred site. Through interactive exhibits, films, and guided tours, visitors delve deep into the ancient traditions, spirituality, and the symbiotic relationship between the indigenous tribes and the buffalo.

The significance of the buffalo to the Plains People cannot be overstated. It was their source of food, clothing, tools, and shelter. The Jump wasn’t just a hunting ground; it was a spiritual epicentre, a place of rituals, and ceremonies.

While the narrative is rooted in history, the panoramic views are timeless: expansive grasslands, distant hills, and the vast Alberta sky, a canvas of ever-changing hues. For the more adventurous, there are guided walks and hikes, tracing the very paths once tread by hunters of old.

Before departing, a visit to the on-site café offers a taste of traditional foods, adding another layer to the cultural immersion. As you drive back to Calgary, the echoing beats of tribal drums may fade, but the profound impact of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump lingers.

6. Canmore

Total Time – 7 – 9 Hours

Canmore’s Main Street buzzes with life.

Canmore Museum
Canmore Museum, 7 Avenue, Canmore, AB, Canada

Just an hour’s drive west of Calgary, through the picturesque Trans-Canada Highway, lies Canmore, a town that encapsulates the true essence of the Canadian Rockies. While many venture further into Banff, Canmore offers a serene, yet equally majestic alternative.

As you approach, the jagged peaks of the Three Sisters mountain range act as gatekeepers, their silhouettes a promise of the breathtaking vistas that await. The town itself, with its alpine architecture and welcoming atmosphere, feels like a delightful secret you’re privy to.

Canmore’s Main Street buzzes with life. Boutique shops display local crafts, mountain gear, and delicious artisanal foods. The scent of fresh coffee beckons you into charming cafés, each telling tales of mountaineers and adventurers who have passed through their doors.

A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Canmore provides an array of activities. Whether it’s hiking along the Grassi Lakes trail, marvelling at the azure waters and surrounding forest, or challenging yourself with a climb at the Canmore Engine Bridge, there’s something for every level of adventurer. And for those seeking a more leisurely pace, a peaceful walk along the Bow River offers a meditative experience.

No trip to Canmore is complete without embracing its rich culture. The Canmore Museum offers insights into the town’s coal mining past, while local art galleries showcase the talent and inspiration drawn from the surrounding landscapes.

The return journey to Calgary, with the setting sun casting golden hues on the Rockies, is a reflection of a day well-spent. Canmore, with its blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, is more than just a day trip; it’s a rendezvous with the heart of the Canadian West.

7. Elbow Falls

Total Time – 5 – 7 Hours

The sheer power and beauty of Elbow Falls leave an indelible mark on every visitor.

Elbow Falls
Elbow Falls, Alberta 66, Bragg Creek, AB, Canada

A stone’s throw away from Calgary, nestled in the heart of Bragg Creek’s Kananaskis Country, lies Elbow Falls — a natural spectacle that captivates with its sheer beauty and invigorating energy. A mere hour’s drive transports you from the urban hustle of Calgary to the rhythmic dance of water cascading over ancient rock.

The journey itself is a treat for the senses. As you drive along Highway 66, pastoral landscapes gradually give way to dense, aromatic pine forests, and the majestic silhouette of the Rockies begins to dominate the horizon.

Upon arrival, the sound of roaring water greets you before the falls even come into view. As you follow the well-marked trail, anticipation builds. And there it is, the Elbow River, gathering force and momentum, cascading over a series of terraced rocks before crashing into the pool below with a misty fervour. The sheer power and beauty of Elbow Falls leave an indelible mark on every visitor.

Picnic tables scattered around provide an idyllic setting for a mid-day meal, with the falls as a mesmerising backdrop. If you’re fortunate, you might even spot local wildlife, such as deer or mountain sheep, grazing in the vicinity.

For the keen explorer, adjacent trails beckon. Wander through forests echoing with bird calls, with the constant murmur of the river playing in the background. Each trail offers its own unique vantage point of the falls or the broader landscape of Kananaskis.

As the day draws to a close and the sun casts a golden glow over the water, you’re reminded of nature’s timeless beauty. Returning to Calgary, the memories of Elbow Falls’ raw power and tranquil moments by its banks accompany you home.

8. Waterton Lakes National Park

Total Time – 10 – 12 Hours

From majestic elk and black bears to the nimble-footed big horn sheep.

Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park, Waterton Park, AB, Canada

Emerging from the southern edge of Alberta, a three-hour drive from Calgary, Waterton Lakes National Park stands as a testament to nature’s grandeur. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the prairies meet the mountains, offers a harmonious blend of breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems.

As your vehicle cruises down Highway 2, the ever-changing horizon shifts from Calgary’s urban sprawl to vast golden fields, eventually revealing the dramatic rise of the Rocky Mountains. The anticipation is tangible, each mile hinting at the wonders ahead.

Upon entering the park, the first sight of Upper Waterton Lake, cradled by towering peaks, is nothing short of majestic. This glacier-fed lake stretches beyond the Canadian border into the United States, symbolising the unity of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Waterton Village, with its charming architecture, offers a delightful starting point for your exploration. Here, quaint cafes and shops beckon, while deer often roam freely, lending an enchanting touch to the streets.

Venture further, and you’ll find a myriad of trails ranging from leisurely walks to challenging hikes. The Bear’s Hump Trail, although short, rewards every climber with panoramic views of the Waterton valley. For those seeking tranquillity, the serene shores of Cameron Lake provide an ideal setting for reflection and relaxation.

Waterton’s diverse ecosystem also promises rich wildlife encounters. From majestic elk and black bears to the nimble-footed big horn sheep, every corner of this park has a story to unveil.

As the sun dips below the rugged peaks, casting a pinkish hue over the tranquil waters, the journey back to Calgary begins, but the essence of Waterton — its untouched beauty and harmonious coexistence of diverse terrains — remains etched in memory.

9. Black Diamond & Turner Valley

Total Time – 6 – 8 Hours

Named in honour of the coal mines that once dominated the landscape.

Turner Valley Gas Plant
Turner Valley Gas Plant, Sunset Boulevard Southeast, Turner Valley, AB, Canada

Southwest of Calgary, a scenic 45-minute drive unfolds the twin treasures of Black Diamond and Turner Valley, Alberta’s authentic nooks that speak volumes of the region’s history, arts, and natural allure. A day trip here is like flipping through a well-illustrated book, where every page narrates a different tale.

Departing from Calgary’s cityscape, Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail, escorts you with vistas of undulating foothills juxtaposed against the majestic Rockies. The road itself seems to echo tales of yesteryears when cowboys and settlers first graced these lands.

Black Diamond greets you first, named in honour of the coal mines that once dominated the landscape. Today, it’s a hub for artisans. Wandering its main street, you discover boutique stores and galleries showcasing local crafts, paintings, and hand-made jewellery. The town’s love for music is palpable, with occasional street performances and the famed ‘Bluegrass Festival’ each summer.

A stone’s throw away lies Turner Valley, echoing its rich oil history. The Turner Valley Gas Plant, now a historic site, offers a captivating look into the province’s early oil industry. It stands as a testament to the industrial revolution, where dreams of black gold shaped destinies.

Both towns share a commitment to culinary excellence. Local cafes, like the ‘Chuckwagon Cafe’, promise delectable farm-to-table experiences, with every bite echoing the freshness of the Alberta countryside.

Nature too plays its part in this day trip. Nearby Sheep River Falls offers picturesque spots perfect for picnics, with the cascading waters providing a melodious backdrop.

As the day wanes and the drive back to Calgary begins, it’s clear that Black Diamond and Turner Valley aren’t just towns; they’re experiences, resonating Alberta’s heart and soul.

10. Bragg Creek

Total Time – 5 – 7 Hours

Local artisans proudly showcasing their handiwork.

Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek, AB, Canada

Nestled amidst the sprawling foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a mere 30-minute drive from Calgary, Bragg Creek emerges as a charming hamlet that promises an enthralling escape from city life. This small yet vibrant community, seamlessly blending Alberta’s rugged outdoors with artisanal sophistication, is the perfect spot for a day trip.

The journey from Calgary to Bragg Creek is an appetiser to the main course, with roads winding through pastoral landscapes, all framed by the towering peaks in the distance. Each bend in the road seems to whisper stories of the land and the people who’ve lived here.

Upon arrival, one can’t help but be smitten by Bragg Creek’s quaint and rustic charm. Its heart, the town centre, bustles with unique boutiques, art galleries, and cafes. The sense of community here is palpable, with local artisans proudly showcasing their handiwork, from intricate jewellery to handwoven textiles.

Outdoor pursuits are aplenty. From mountain biking and horseback riding in summer to cross-country skiing in winter, there’s an activity to satisfy every adventurer’s craving.

As the day comes to an end, the town’s eateries beckon. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty Alberta steak or a light, organic salad, the culinary delights here are crafted with love and local ingredients.

Heading back to Calgary, the beauty and simplicity of Bragg Creek linger in your thoughts, a gentle reminder of the gems that lie on the city’s periphery.

Continent: North America

Alberta, Calgary, Canada, North America