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14 Absolute Best Day Trips from Calgary Alberta

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Calgary is one of our favorite cities in Canada. We live in Edmonton, but Calgary calls us every weekend, and their downtown city vibes, food, and quick access to the Rocky Mountains are just hard to beat in Alberta. The city is also a great base to explore more of our province, and so we thought of compiling a list of our favorite and absolute best day trips from Calgary.

Many of these day trips are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Alberta!

14 Best Day Trips from Calgary 

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Getting to Calgary, where to stay, and transportation for Calgary day trips

Calgary is located in Alberta and it is the largest city in the province. If you are flying to Calgary, you will touch down at YYC airport. From the airport, you can easily get a car rental, or shuttle buses to your hotel, or connect to nearby towns via Red Arrow buses (buses available from the airport too).

If you are driving to Calgary from Vancouver British Columbia the roads are well connected and you will be using Highway 1 to get there. If driving within the province of Alberta (including a 3-hour drive from Edmonton) takes you via Highway 2 or Queen Elizabeth Highway.  

We have traveled all throughout the year (summers and winters), and it has been fine. However, we recommend adding extra travel/driving hours in the winter depending on the weather and road conditions. As always, use precaution while driving in winters. 

Calgary day trips: View from Calgary Tower
Calgary Tower – Winter

We love staying near the airport and in the downtown Calgary area. Here are our top three hotels for your stay,

  • Hampton Inn Calgary Airport: Our favorite hotel in Calgary airport. Big, clean rooms with free parking, breakfast, and wifi. Book your stay here
  • Sheraton Hotel Eau Claire: This is a 4-star hotel, located in downtown Calgary. It offers world-class suites (+ downtown views). Great location for city exploration. Check out nightly room rates for Sheraton
  • Fairmont Palliser Hotel: Vintage 5-star hotel, the Fairmont Palliser is guaranteed to give you a delightful and memorable stay. Dine at their Hawthorn dining room, and get pampered with their spa services. Amazing location (you can walk down to various attractions from here). Check rates and availability here

READ: Fun things to do in Calgary Alberta

Cochrane

Distance from Calgary: 30 minutes one way

Cochrane Alberta
Cochrane Alberta

Cochrane makes for an easy day trip from Calgary. We love embarking on this route to the Canadian Rockies, and during winters we love to hang out at the Ghost Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area. 

In wintertime, the reservoir is completely frozen and you can skate here for free. Depending on the season and lake conditions, you can also go on ice fishing here. During summers, you can spend some time at the Ghost Lake area, and take in the views or go on a quick stroll.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is a must visit on a day trip. This park is only open for day-use; and no overnight camping is allowed. Glenbow Ranch is a sprawling area and it is your answer to stunning landscapes and views from here, are every photographer’s delight. The site also preserves historical resources along the Bow River.

Big Hill Springs is another provincial park located just north of Cochrane. This park is sprinkled with a large spring and a series of small waterfalls that flow over rocky terraces. The entire area is covered with lush greenery and is also home to a historic fish hatchery. 

If you prefer leisurely time outdoors, you can embark on walking/biking trails in the Riverfront area or head to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. In Cochrane, you can also book ATV tours via Hidden Trails Adventures.

Kananaskis Country

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour one way

Kananaskis Country Day trips from Calgary
Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country makes for a great Calgary day trip option. It is also a nice alternative to Banff, so expect lovely mountain views, tons of hiking and outdoor activities, and best of all a Nordic Spa to pamper yourself!

Kananaskis Country is big, but on a day trip, you can definitely embark on a short hike and then soak in and relax at the Spa. There are quite a few spa packages to choose from, including massage and rejuvenation sessions. 

Kananaskis is a nature lover’s paradise. Enjoy paddling on Lower Kananaskis Lake or Elbow River. Opt for a horseback riding tour, or embark on any one of the following hikes – Mount Yamnuska (4 – 6 hours, or turnaround at 1 hour one way), the Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop (5 hours), Three Isle Lake Trail (3 hours one way start early for this hike), or easy Grotto Canyon Hike.

We prefer to just relax and hang out in the various scenic parks and sites in Kananaskis. On a day trip, we stop in Canmore for lunch, or at the Forte restaurant in the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. 

Canmore

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour one way

Canmore Alberta

We LOVE Canmore. This is one little town that always brings in great memories. We visited Canmore as a day trip from Calgary in 2010, when we were road tripping from Saskatchewan. At that time, Canmore was not as well known as it is today. But its spirit and beauty have stayed the same.

On a day trip, we like to wander the downtown or main town centre area of Canmore, checking out art galleries, walking trails like the Policeman’s Creek, Big Head Sculpture, NWP Barracks, and relishing delicious food and amazing mountain views. You can definitely add the Canmore Cave tour (Rat’s Nest) on a day trip, just ensure you book it ahead of time. 

Canmore Policemen's Creek
Canmore Policemen’s Creek

Canmore is a great option for a romantic weekend trip too. A 2-3 day trip will allow you to go on longer hikes (such as the Grassi Lakes Hike), or skiing at the Nordic Provincial Park in winter. 

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Fort Macleod

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour one way

Head Smashed Buffalo Jump on a day trip from Calgary Canada
Head Smashed Buffalo Jump

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a buffalo jump located about 18 kilometres west of Fort Macleod. This site was used for over 5,500 years by Indigenous Peoples to kill buffaloes by driving them off the cliff. The cliff is about 36 foot high.

This interesting attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also our National Historic Site. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump lost its significance when the Europeans established themselves in the province. 

In the 20th century, an Elder of the Piikani Nation took the work for restoring this site, and due to his efforts we can explore the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump today. 

In the fall, there is a Harvest Festival which is worth visiting. This festival showcases the Blackfoot culture and is a great opportunity to learn about them. Note: This site is currently closed: October 2020, check updates here

Longview

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour one way

Foothills of Rocky Mountains

Longview is a cute little town in Alberta. It is an entry gate to the Kananaskis Provincial Park, and is accessible along the Cowboy Trail. The town is one of a kind with cowboy themed restaurants and gourmet cafes, galleries and the star –  Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.

Bar U Ranch is located south of town and it showcases historical information in a unique way through period eateries and galleries. You must visit this historic site if you are a cowboy fan.

Imagine riding on a wagon (pulled by Percheron horses) and ‘experiencing’ life as a cowboy from the 1800s. Learn about old-style ranching ways, visit hundreds of year old barns, and see cattle, saddle horses, and other farm animals. 

Take time to explore the trails and dirt roads to see the countryside, as this is one of the finest Prairie experiences in Alberta!

Aspen Crossing 

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour one way

Aspen Crossing is a fun day trip from Calgary. Located in Mossleigh, Aspen Crossing is known for the last of the CPR trains that passed through the stunning Prairies landscape.

The trains are a unique tourist attraction and sort of a heritage treasure. This attraction was created out of the left off rail compartments. Today a visitor can embark on a 3 hour tour through the town and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The Prairie landscape looks serene with grain elevators sprinkled everywhere.

Near the train station, you can eat, hang out and play in the countryside. In the winters, you can ride the special, “Polar Express” and experience a train ride to the North Pole! Check out their cool train rides like the Terror Train, Prairie Train. View tour schedules here

Sylvan Lake

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour 30 minutes one way

Sylvan Lake best day trips from Calgary Alberta
Lighthouse near Sylvan Lake in Alberta, Canada

Sylvan Lake is a nice outdoor day trip option from Calgary and Edmonton, it is sort of mid way between the 2 cities. Sylvan Lake was on my list for the pretty lighthouse and the lake views.

But don’t worry there are plenty of things to do here. Start with water activities – and this doesn’t have to include the usual swimming, beachside time with kids, you can actually book water-jet adventures, and have a blast at the Sylvan Lake Aqua Splash. 

Near the lake is the lighthouse; and this particular one was built to replace the original lighthouse. In 2013, the Sylvan Lake Rotary Club undertook the project and built this iconic landmark in the town. Image how beautiful it looks in the evening – these are perfect sunset goals!

If you are not into water activities and the lake, you can visit a farmers market or go golfing at the Sylvan Lake Golf and Country Club or Meadowlands. 

Sylvan Lake is home to many festivals including Jazz At the Lake Fest (summer), 1913 Days and Sylvan Lake Winterfest (winter). 

Fish Creek Provincial Park 

Distance from Calgary: 20 minutes one way

Fish Creek Provincial Park is located in southern Calgary. There are quite a few activities to enjoy in this provincial park that can easily occupy an entire day. 

Fish Creek Provincial Park is perfect all year round. In the summer time, you can spend a day hiking, swimming, enjoying a picnic, birdwatching, or strolling at their many walking paths. The park is free to enter and explore (except for the Sikome Lake beach area).

In the winter, a visit to the park is a must for snowshoeing and winter hiking. The Winter Carnival festival takes place here!

Bragg Creek Provincial Park 

Distance from Calgary: 45 minutes one way

Bragg Creek Provincial is a nice and easy day trip from Calgary. One way day tour takes about 45 minutes, and you have the entire day to explore the little town and the park. The Elbow Falls are the most popular attraction near the park.

Visit the Elbow Falls area, and go on a quick stroll or walk the interpretive trail. This trail is wheelchair and stroller friendly. Near the falls is the Ellen Bill day use area where you can hang out, picnic and enjoy a nice afternoon while listening to the gushing sound of the Elbow River.

From golfing, biking to ATV tours, the terrain in and around Bragg Creek Provincial Park will delight you! READ: Things to do in Bragg Creek

Banff National Park

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour 30 minutes one way

View of Banff town - Alberta towns
View of Banff town

My absolute favorite place in Canada, oh Banff! We are pros in embarking on day trips to Banff from Calgary especially during high peak season as accommodation in Banff is crazy! And sometimes after finishing a work week, we run to the mountains on a Saturday and then head back to Calgary (and then home the next day to Edmonton).

When you are visiting on a day trip, you really can’t see it all, you have to prioritize. We will share 4 options for day trip itineraries to help you out

Banff Gondola Views
Banff Gondola Views
  1. Option 1 is to stick to Banff town for a day trip. You can explore the Banff Avenue, get on the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, check out Bow Falls and finish the day at the Cascade Gardens 
  2. Option 2, explore Banff Avenue and then embark on a short hike near Cave and Basin (Marsh Loop – 1 hour round trip or Sundance Canyon – 3 hour round trip). 
  3. Not into hiking? Switch that for canoeing at the Vermillion Lakes. READ: How to spend 3 days in Banff itinerary
  4. Option 4 is for those who like to drive around and drool at mountains (and don’t want to get out of the car, that’s me sometimes!). Enjoy a drive from Banff town to Two Jack Lake and then Lake Minnewanka Loop. If you have time on your hands, opt for the Minnewanka Lake cruise. We also included Moraine Lake on this drive, and we reached there by evening to beat the rush (on a day of lakes itinerary)!

READ: Our 10 day Canadian Rockies Itinerary

Lake Louise 

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours one way

Lake Louise views
Lake Louise

Located inside Banff National Park is the beautiful hamlet of Lake Louise. On a day trip, you must head straight to Lake Louise and stay there for the day to maximize sightseeing (don’t add Banff or Yoho National Park to the itinerary). 

At the Lake, you can go canoeing, hike the Lake Agnes trail to reach the teahouse at 2134 metres. 

Lake louise short hikes in winter
Lake Louise short hikes in winter

During winters in Lake Louise, enjoy ice skating in a natural rink surrounded by magnificent mountain views. There are indoor skating options at the Fairmont Chateau hotel. Fairmont Chateau hotel is a nice place for a romantic coffee date or to enjoy afternoon high tea.

Lake Louise centre area is open all year round, and you can eat there, and buy candies and souvenirs. 

Red Deer

Distance from Calgary: 1 hr 30  minutes one way

Red Deer is mid way between Calgary and Edmonton, and this is our coffee break stop on our road trips. The city is definitely intriguing. The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum caught our attention and on your day trip you can pay a quick visit to check out the sporting achievements from the province.

The Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery is a must visit to learn about the city’s history, and the best part is that the museum has a large collection of First Nations art. If you are wanting to shop and dine, there is a nice Red Deer shopping complex to hang out.

In the winter you can go ice skating at the Bower Ponds. Oh and don’t forget to stop by Donut Mill 🙂

READ: These are the prettiest small towns in Alberta

Drumheller

Distance from Calgary: 1 hour 45 minutes one way

Drumheller Day trip from Calgary
Drumheller

The day trip from Calgary to Drumheller will take you to the dinosaur period. This town is home to Midland Provincial Park, Drumheller Dinosaur Park, Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum, and stunning hoodoos. 

As soon as you arrive in Drumheller make your way to Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology whilst enjoying the lovely views. The museum will take 1 – 2 hours, and after that go on a short hike to the Coulee Viewpoint ( Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). 

From the park drive through the arid landscape, look at mining sites and ghost towns. These ghost towns were once thriving in the 19th century and now have been abandoned. Then stop by the Star Mine Suspension Bridge for a quick break, followed by a tour of the Atlas Coal Mine.

In the evening head to the Hoodoo Trail for capturing beautiful sunset views over the hoodoos

Waterton Lakes National Park

Distance from Calgary: 3 hour one way

Watertown Lakes National Park in Canada seen from the Bears Hump.
Watertown Lakes National Park in Canada seen from the Bears Hump.

Although 3 hours is a lot for a day trip, we found this to be an easier option to explore Waterton from Calgary when accommodation is expensive. So it is doable as long as you start early, and your day trip itinerary will mostly include exploring the town, the lake, short nature trails and a nice lunch break! (And sometimes with only a weekend to explore, we drive and stay in Calgary and from there visit the national park)

Waterton Lakes National Park is in southern Alberta and it borders Montana’s Glacier National Park. In 1932, both the National Parks were combined to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

The National Park forms a part of the Canadian Rockies Mountain system and is known for its lakes –  Upper and Middle Waterton lakes, Cameron Falls, Red Rock Canyon, with stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. You can plan to capture all of these on a day trip, especially one of the Waterton Lakes, and Cameron Falls is easily accessible from the town. 

Waterton definitely deserves at least a weekend stay, and a day trip might be rushed (but still doable in warmer months). If you are visiting for 2 -3 days, embark on hiking trails, check out wildlife including Bisons. 

Final Words Best Day Trips from Calgary Canada

In case you didn’t know, we LOVE Calgary. When you plan on visiting the city to explore the Canadian Rockies do set side additional day or two to explore some of the other wonders of the province like the Dinosaur Museum, ranch and the countryside, adventure hiking trails & ATV tours, and small towns from Calgary.

You will be delighted to see such amazing Prairie landscape and traditions in Alberta!

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