Home Trips Destinations The Ultimate Calgary Outdoor Adventure Guide

The Ultimate Calgary Outdoor Adventure Guide

The mountains are calling

Cityscape of Calgary with the Bow River front and centre
The urban and natural blend perfectly in Calgary.

Set against the backdrop of the not-so-distant Rocky Mountains, home to the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers, and surrounded by pockets of woods and sprawling farmland, it isn’t hard to see why Calgary is a hub for outdoor adventure.

Offerings include an impressive network of trails for hiking and biking inside and just outside the city limits, ample opportunities for flatwater and whitewater paddling, and plenty of quiet corners in which to pitch a tent for an escape into nature, to name a few. Beginner and experienced outdoor adventurers alike will appreciate the range of experiences on offer, and proximity to places like Canmore and Banff where the scenery and opportunities for exploration get even wilder.

There’s something about mountains that just inspire adventure.

Basing your stay in Calgary itself will give you access to all the amenities you could want at a range of price points. It’s also easy to travel to, thanks to its bustling international airport. You may not want to book a return ticket, though. It’ll take you a while to experience all the area has to offer, and you wouldn’t want to limit yourself.

Here’s what you need to know to soak up all things outdoor adventure in Calgary.


Things to do in Calgary

Hiking trails near Calgary

With easy access to provincial parks, natural areas and substantial city parks, there are plenty of trails to satisfy any hiking enthusiast within the city limits. However, there are also many trails within a short drive from Calgary, as you venture closer to the Rockies. Find the top hiking trails in and near Calgary below.

Fish Creek Provincial Park

For those hoping to get a glimpse of some wildlife, consider exploring the more than 100 km of trails within Fish Creek Provincial Park. Located at the south end of the city, next to the banks of Fish Creek as it flows into the Bow River, the park contains a mixture of paved paths, wooden boardwalks and dirt single-track.

There are plenty of route options to choose from, allowing hikers to get out for as long or as short of a hike as they want. Fall is a particularly popular time to visit, as the autumn foliage is known to be stunning in the park. Keep an eye out for cyclists who also share many of the park’s trails.

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Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

Just west of Calgary and not quite past Cochrane you’ll find Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and its 25 km of hiking trails. Here you’ll be treated to even better views of the Rocky Mountains, be able to walk along the Bow River and take in a classic Alberta scene: cattle grazing in the grasslands. The park is a working ranch, and visitors are asked to keep back from cattle fence lines to let the animals eat undisturbed.

The Canadian Pacific Railway also runs through the park, making for another picturesque sight as the train winds its way along the river, through the foothills and toward the Rockies. Be sure to only cross the tracks at designated areas, however.

Bow Valley Provincial Park

One of the most scenic hiking options near Calgary is the Grotto Creek Canyon trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park. This out-and-back trail located just outside of Canmore will take you through a canyon and along a stream, culminating at a beautiful waterfall. You’ll be surrounded by mountain peaks on this hike and you may even glimpse pictographs on the canyon walls.

Calgary bike paths

Fish Creek Provincial Park

Fish Creek Provincial Park isn’t just known for its hiking trails—its extensive single-track network is also well-loved. Wind along Fish Creek (and sometimes across it on picturesque bridges), through trees, and along hill ridges. You’ll feel like you’re in the wilderness, despite being within the city limits.

Fall is a particular lovely time to explore Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Bow River bike trails

A great network of bike paths run the length of the Bow River as it flows through the city. On many sections, there are paths along both banks, but occasionally you’ll need to cross over the river in order to stay on the trail. The north end of the bike path begins at Stoney Trail NW, but you can park at the lot at the dead end of 51 Ave NW and hop on the Bowmont Park Trail from there. This will keep you on the east side of the river, eventually turning into the Edworthy to Bowmont Trail at 32 Street NW. As this section of trail turns into the Bowmont to Inglewood Trail, you have the option to cross over the river to the Fort Calgary to Edworthy Park Trail.

These trails continue in tandem on either sides of the river, changing names several more times, before ending on the east side of the river at Cranston Ave SE. Find a place to hop on, or ride the full length to get a sense for the many picturesque neighborhoods in Calgary and the beauty of the Bow River.

Nose Hill Park

No trip to Calgary is complete without a visit to Nose Hill Natural Environmental Park, an 11 km sq greenspace in the northwest part of the city. The park contains one of the most significant examples of the Rough Fescue grassland ecosystem left on the Canadian prairies. It also contains important archaeologic sites in the form of stone circles known as “tipi rings.”

Nose Hill Park has an extensive bike trail system, containing paved, gravel and dirt trails suitable for a range of skill levels. Stick to flat, paved paths if you prefer or venture onto the downhill mountain biking trails.

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Paddling in Calgary

Places to paddle

With a reservoir, two rivers and a lake all within or just outside city limits, Calgary is a popular paddling destination. Take a canoe, kayak or paddleboard out on any of these bodies of water for a self-guided adventure. To learn more, read our Guide To Kayaking In Calgary. If a family-friendly float or whitewater rafting trip interests you, you’ll find both on offer here as well. Find out more in our Guide To Rafting In Calgary.

For an overview of some of the best places to kayak, canoe and SUP in the Calgary area, read on.

Glenmore Reservoir

Located on the Elbow River in the central-west part of Calgary, the Glenmore Reservoir offers calm paddling and fishing opportunities for anyone who doesn’t want to wander too far from the city. Put in at the Calgary Canoe Club or at the Heritage Park boat launch. SUPs and inflatable kayaks (or any kind of inflatables) are not permitted on the reservoir.

The picturesque Bow River runs right through Calgary. | Photo: Tourism Calgary // Tom Day
Bow River

Regardless of whether you want to go for an easy (but fast-paced) float or have a whitewater experience to write home about, you’ll find both on the Bow River. In calmer sections, the Bow is deep and faster-moving, leaving you with very little paddling to do, if you so choose. Harvie Passage, alternately, offers class II and class III/IV sections.

Be sure to check flow rates before you go. Find information about designated put-in and take-out locations here.

Elbow River

Appropriately called the lazy river of the Calgary area, the Elbow River makes for a leisurely and relaxing float by kayak, canoe or SUP. You’ll likely find yourself floating alongside rafts and inner tubes, as this is a popular route for such watercraft in the summer months.

Check the links above for flow rates and river access locations.

Chestermere Lake

Located just east of Calgary, Chestermere Lake provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy some flatwater paddling. At 4.8 km long, there’s plenty to explore by canoe, kayak or SUP. Launch from any of the lake’s three beaches: Cove Park Beach, Anniversary Park Beach and Sunset Park Beach.

Be aware that powerboats are also permitted on the lake.

Rentals

No need bring your own kayak, canoe or SUP when visiting the Calgary area. There are many small businesses that are prepared to accommodate outdoor enthusiasts looking to get out on the city’s waterways.

Aquabatics

Aquabatics‘ Calgary location offers kayak and SUP rentals, in addition to a range of accessories such as drysuits and booties. They also have a wide retail selection of paddling gear, run instructional courses, and are a reliable resource for information about paddling in the area.

Address: #300 – 8435 Bowfort Road NW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 288-9283

Sports Rent

Sports Rent offers inflatable paddleboards, recreational sit-inside kayaks and three-seat canoes. They also rent out four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts, bikes, camping gear and more.

Address: 4424 16 Ave NW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 292-0077

The Paddle Station

The Paddle Station makes it easy to paddle the Bow River. They rent singe and tandem sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable paddleboards, and small, medium, large and round rafts. Reserve your watercraft online, and simply meet them at the put-in at Shouldice Park. From there, you’ll paddle two to three hours down the Bow River, ending at St Patrick’s Island.

Rocky Mountain Paddling Center

Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre has been providing lessons and guiding in the Calgary area for more than 20 years. They also rent solo and tandem canoes, whitewater and sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable paddleboards, and four-, six-, eight- and 10-person rafts. Additionally, you can rent equipment such as canoe trailers, sprayskirts, booties, and drybags. Book your gear online and pick up from their location on the Bow River.

Address: 1975 26 Street SE, Calgary
Phone: (403) 202-8490

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Places to stay in Calgary

Whether you want to camp, glamp or stick to a good ole hotel room that’s close to the action, Calgary offers a number of options for outdoor enthusiasts. Visit Calgary knowing there are endless accommodations to choose from.

Calgary hotels

Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino

Located west of Calgary and minutes from the Rockies, the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino has long been a prime place for outdoors people to base their adventurous stay in the Calgary area. From the hotel you’ll have easy access to Banff, Canmore, the Bow River and all the aforementioned activities on offer in Calgary.

Stay right on the edge of adventure at the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino.

Rockyview Hotel

The Rockyview Hotel is located just a short drive northwest of Calgary in the town of Cochrane and offers a fun experience in and of itself. The outside of the building is sure to catch your eye, looking just like a saloon/hotel from the Wild West. Each guest room is completely unique, many containing furnishings like four-poster beds, antique vanities, and gilded mirrors, all coming together to provide a Western feel with a clean, modern flair. The experience continues at the on-site bar & grill, which offers line dancing, pool tables and dart boards.

Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire

For a more typical hotel experience right in the heart of Calgary, book a stay at the Sheraton Suites. You’ll be able to walk right out of the hotel lobby and onto the Bow River Pathway, which leads across the Bow River and onto Prince’s Island Park. Rooms are modern and spacious, the grounds well-manicured, and the views over the city expansive.

Cabin rentals near Calgary

If you want to experience the best of both worlds, staying close to the action in Calgary and the rugged Rocky Mountain scenery, a cabin rental is the way to go. Here are some of the top cabins and cottages outdoor enthusiasts will love.

Juniper Hotel

Nestled just north of the town of Banff at the base of Mount Norquay, Juniper Hotels offers incredibly charming Woodland Cabins. Cabins feature a master bedroom with a queen bed, loft with two double beds, fully equipped kitchen, living area with fireplace and full-wall windows, and bathroom. The surrounding mountains, fresh air and culture of adventure engendered by your fellow guests make it impossible to not get outside and make the most of each day you spend here.

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Park Gate Chalets

Located between Banff and Canmore, across the highway from the Bow River, and with Bald Eagle Peak as a backdrop, Park Gate Chalets offer rustic log cabin stays with all the comforts of home. Book a one-bedroom, two-bedroom or studio cabin with your choice of full kitchen or kitchenette. Hop on the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail across the Trans-Canada Hwy for a bike ride or walk. Access the nearby Meander, Cougar Creek and Grotto Mountain trails. And just generally marvel at your surrounds.

Bragg Creek Cabin

Head west of Calgary for a truly rustic cabin experience. This cozy Airbnb is heated by woodstove, surrounded by trees and offers basic amenities such as a mini fridge, coffee maker and toaster oven. You’ll have access to a washroom and shower at the main house, a hot tub, and an outdoor firepit. It’s located minutes from the West Bragg Creek Day Use Area, where you can hike and bike to your heart’s content. You’ll also have quick access to the Elbow River.

The perfect way to end a day full of adventuring. | Photo: Travel Alberta

Camping in Calgary

Camping in the Calgary area is a more budget-friendly accommodation option that also allows you to be immersed in nature. Choose from car campgrounds and backcountry sites that can be reached by paddle or foot. Sometimes camping is just about finding a place to rest your head for the night while you set out on nearby adventures during the day, while other times camping is the adventure itself. Find the camping experience that suits you in our Guide To Camping In Calgary.


Calgary weather

Being located east of the Rocky Mountain range, Calgary has very unique weather. The winters are cold, with average snowfalls for the year amounting to 130 cm. Periods of cold will be broken up by the occasional chinook, making for 15-degree Celcius days in the middle of winter and slushy conditions.

The summers have little humidity, with warm, pleasant weather spanning early June to the middle of September. Many people describe the weather in Calgary as temperamental, in particular in the shoulder seasons when temperatures, snowfall and rain can fluctuate greatly.

For warm-weather outdoor adventures, it’s best to visit in July or August.


Calgary wildlife

Calgary and the province of Alberta are home to a long list of amazing wildlife. Common sightings include the likes of beaver, deer, bighorn sheep, marmot and elk. While less likely, it’s not uncommon for visitors and locals to see grizzly bear, black bear, porcupine, mountain goats and moose. Other wildlife that’s certainly around but seldom seen include lynx, cougar and wolf.

Be sure to keep your distance and appreciate these animals from afar.

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