10 best day trips from Calgary for fun outdoor adventures

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Canmore

While there are plenty of fun things to do in Calgary, sometimes you just want a break from the big city. With its enviable location of wide open prairies to the east and the majestic Rocky Mountains out west, Calgary is the gateway to some of the best outdoor activities in Alberta like hiking, rafting, skiing, horseback riding, dog sledding, ice climbing and even fossil hunting.

In less time than it takes to finish your double-double (yes, Tim Horton’s coffee is a must on any Canadian road trip), you can find yourself hitting the hills alongside Olympic cross-country skiers, relaxing in a nordic spa, enjoying a helicopter tour over soaring alpine peaks and being mesmerized by the Northern Lights dancing across the night sky.

Whether you’re enjoying a solo adventure, couples getaway or are out exploring with the whole family, here are 10 fun day trips from Calgary that take less than two hours to drive to.

NORTH:

Sundre: 1 hr 20 min drive from Calgary

Found smack-dab in the middle of Alberta’s Cowboy Trail, this small town nestled between the Rockies and the rolling foothills is like an ode to the wild west. Saddle up and go for a trail ride in the arid Panther Valley, and admire the mountain vistas as you keep an eye out for the wild horses that frequent this area.

horseback riding sundre alberta

Near Sundre

Get wet with an adrenaline-fueled rafting trip down the Red Deer River, or do the easy, 10 minute walk to what just might be Alberta’s best kept secret: Big Horn Falls in Ya-Ha Tinda. On your way home, drop by the outdoor Pioneer Museum which houses buildings like a ranger station and blacksmith shop, to get a glimpse of what life was like in the early 1900s ‘round these parts.

READ MORE: Epic outdoor adventures in and around Sundre, Alberta

Big Horn Falls Ya-Ha Tinda Sundre, Alberta

Big Horn Falls

Rafting Red Deer River Sundre Alberta

Rafting near Sundre

Sylvan Lake: 1 hr 40 min drive from Calgary

Anyone who grew up in Calgary has fond memories of lazy summer days spent at this lake retreat, which is near the city of Red Deer in central Alberta. Grab an ice cream cone and window shop along the waterfront, hop on a paddleboard, cool off with a swim or hit the beach to soak up the sun.

Sylvan Lake is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Sylvan Lake / Curtis Comeau

Kids love the open water splash park, and other fun family activities include golfing, fishing, an indoor BMX park and sailing. In the winter, bundle up and try your luck at ice fishing and curling.

EAST

Mossleigh, Aspen Crossing and Vulcan: 1 hour drive from Calgary

While the hamlet of Mossleigh might not make much of a mark on the map, what it lacks in size it makes up for in photogenic sites. This is one of the few remaining places in Alberta where there’s a trio of grain elevators still standing, which are remnants of the area’s long farming history.

While Mossleigh is only an hour from Calgary, it’s far enough from the city that there’s almost no light pollution, so you can sometimes see the northern lights:

The northern lights in Mossleigh, Alberta

The northern lights in Mossleigh

The best known attraction around here is Aspen Crossing, which is another one of the fun day trips from Calgary. This former tree farm has transformed into a train-themed destination, complete with a RV park, glamping in their cute Caboose Cabins, bike trails and more than a dozen railroad excursions for all ages. Adults will enjoy the Wine and Cheese, Champagne Brunch and Dinner Theatre offerings, while kids get a kick out of the Circus Train and Star Trek-themed Trek Train.

Aspen Crossing is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Aspen Crossing

Aspen Crossing is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Aspen Crossing / Neil Zeller

Speaking of Star Trek, Vulcan is a 25 minute drive from Mossleigh and best known as being ground zero for Trekkies. You can’t miss the Enterprise statue when you drive into the town, murals of the Star Trek doctors, a Bust Of Spock which was created for Leonard Nimoy who visited in 2010, and even a ‘transporter’ to get you back to the Star Fleet.

Vulcan is one of the best day trips from Calgary

The Enterprise in Vulcan / Mike Morrison

Vulcan comes alive during the annual Spock Days, a fun family festival with things like a Star Trek-themed parade, soap box derby, beer gardens and fireworks. Don’t forget to wear your pointy ears!

Vulcan is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Spock Days / Mike Morrison

Drumheller: 1 hr 30 min drive from Calgary

This is one of the best day trips from Calgary for families, because what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs?! Drumheller is found in the Canadian Badlands, and the landscape is like something straight out of The Land Before Time.

Drumheller is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Drumheller / Todd Nix

Its big draw is The Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur skeletons, including a giant T-Rex! Guests can enjoy scenic walks through the hoodoos, search for fossils and make their own cast of a fossil to take home.

Drumheller is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Royal Tyrell Museum / Karuna Duggar

SOUTH

Crowsnest Pass: 2 hour drive from Calgary

If you love rolling hills, wide open spaces and big skies, then the Crowsnest Pass is your place. Most Calgarians end up in the region en route to places like Fernie, Waterton or the U.S. border, and since it’s mostly a series of roadside hamlets few people end up stopping. Big mistake.

Crowsnest Pass is a photographer’s dream, with hidden gems like powerful Lundbreck Falls. It’s absolutely magnificent in all seasons, yet few road-trippers even notice the waterfall since there are only a few small signs marking the turnoff and you can’t quite see it from the highway.

Lundbreck Falls in Alberta is one of the best Calgary day trips

Lundbreck Falls

Lundbreck Falls in Alberta is one of the best Calgary day trips

The bridge beside Lundbreck Falls

Lundbreck Falls in Alberta during winter

Lundbreck Falls during winter

The area’s most famous attraction is Frank Slide, which marks a dark day in Alberta’s history. In 1903, the coal mining town Frank was decimated by a rockslide and nearly 100 people were killed, making it Canada’s deadliest rockslide. Aside from the boulders that were moved to clear the highway, most of the stones remain and there’s now an interpretive centre on site as well as a 1.5 kilometre trail through the rocks.

Frank Slide is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Frank Slide

Other spots to check out during your day trip from Calgary include the Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site, which is a former coal processing plant with an Instagram-worthy backdrop. Keep an eye out for the nearby Burmis Tree, which is a limber pine that was believed to be between 600 and 750 years old before finally dying in the 1970s and is now considered a heritage symbol.

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site

Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump: 1 hr 50 min drive from Calgary

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is among Alberta’s greatest historical treasures, and one of the world’s biggest, oldest and best preserved buffalo jumps. The exhibition site details how the Blackfoot Bands used the area for buffalo hunting and the work of archaeologists to preserve it, making this one of the more educational weekend road trips from Calgary.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Photo credit: Roth Ramberg

There are also hiking trails where guides point out things like native plant uses and how the Indigenous people were able to live off the land, and youth activities including tipi building.

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is one of the best day trips from Calgary

Photo credit: Andrew Penner

 

WEST

Kananaskis: 1 hour drive from Calgary

When out-of-towners looking for a mountain getaway ask what the best road trips from Calgary are, they’re usually told to head to Banff or Lake Louise. Well, here’s a secret: we do that because we don’t want you to end up in Kananaskis, which is where us locals actually prefer to go on the weekends!

Rawson Lake in Kananaskis

Rawson Lake in Kananaskis

Found on Highway 22 just off the Trans-Canada Highway, Kananaskis Country (or K-Country) is like the best of Banff without the crowds: think pristine lakes, incredible hiking trails, and frequent wildlife sightings like moose, bighorn sheep and bears. During winter you can snowshoe around spots like Chester Lake, or hit the slopes at the Nakiska Ski Area which was used as the downhill course during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

West Wind Pass, overlooking Spray Lakes in Kananaskis

West Wind Pass, overlooking Spray Lakes

Black Prince Cirque in Kananaskis

Black Prince Cirque

Book a Kananaskis day trip:

 

 

Kananaskis is also a popular spot for weekend trips from Calgary, thanks to idyllic hideaways like Mt Engadine Lodge. Found in the backcountry near Spray Lakes, it has cozy rooms, a yurt and year-round glamping tents, and sweet touches like a fantastic afternoon tea.

The Pomeroy Kananaskis is another luxe option, and is right next to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa which has a Scandinavian-inspired hydrotherapy circuit. With five outdoor pools, a eucalyptus-infused steam room, saunas and comfy hammocks, it makes for a blissful day trip from Calgary.   

RELATED: A backcountry glamping getaway at Mount Engadine Lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta

Mount Engadine Lodge

Supplied

Kananaskis Nordic Spa

Canmore: 1 hour drive from Calgary

A great stop on any Canadian Rockies road trip is Canmore, which features alpine trails, sublime scenery, and some fabulous local eateries. A trio of peaks called the Three Sisters welcomes guests to this pretty mountain town, which is known for being home base for many Olympians. In fact, chances are you’ll run into a couple of pro cross-country skiers if you head to the Canmore Nordic Centre, which has 65 kilometres of groomed trails.

RELATED: Banff or Canmore? Tips for choosing which town to stay in

The views from the town centre are fabulous enough that you really don’t need to head anywhere else, but if a hike is calling your name this is the gateway to popular spots like Grassi Lakes, Ha Ling Peak and challenging East End of Rundle (EEOR).

Book one of these awesome excursions in Canmore:

 

A fun activity for the whole family is to cycle the Legacy Trail. The 40-kilometre long pathway hugs the highway between Canmore and Banff, and is a relatively flat path frequented by cyclists, joggers and even the odd horseback rider. It’s a perfect way to soak in the landscape while getting in a killer workout, and some opt for a return trip while others just do it in one direction and coordinate a drive back.

The Three Sisters mountain range in Canmore, Alberta

The Three Sisters in Canmore

Banff: 1 hr 15 min drive from Calgary

Banff needs no introduction: images of its soaring, craggy peaks, turquoise lakes and sweeping valleys have graced many a magazine cover, making this mountain town one of Canada’s top attractions. The attention is well-deserved, though it’s worth noting that most international visitors have a Banff day trip from Calgary at the top of their must-do list, which can make the town and surrounding trails extremely crowded.

Banff

Vermillion Lakes

Cascade Ponds in Banff National Park

Cascade Ponds in Banff National Park

There’s a great foodie scene with ingredients sourced from around the Bow Valley, and dozens of shops and boutiques downtown where you can pick up Canada-centric souvenirs. Visitors love wandering around the expansive grounds of the Fairmont Banff Springs (book this special foodie experience), or heading up to Surprise Corner to get a great view of the so-called Castle in the Rockies.

The Banff Springs Hotel, seen from Surprise Corner

The Banff Springs Hotel, seen from Surprise Corner

One of the best things to do in Banff is taking a ride up Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola, and marveling at the views of the surrounding Bow Valley and six mountain ranges from 2,300 feet up. Afterwards, enjoy a steamy soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs at the base, or head over to Cave and Basin which is the birthplace of Canada’s park system.

The view from the top of the Banff Gondola

The view from the top of the Banff Gondola

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

No day trip to Banff is complete without exploring the great outdoors, so head to one of the nearby ski hills or explore the trails in Banff National Park. Some are open year-round, including Johnston Canyon which has gorgeous waterfalls and jewel-toned pools that freeze over in winter, creating perfect conditions for ice climbing and ice walk tours. Click to book

Johnston Canyon

Another awe-inspiring spot is Sunshine Meadows at the Sunshine Village Ski Resort, where visitors can take a gondola and chairlift up to alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers.

Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park

Sunshine Meadows

Moraine Lake is a must-see, but be warned: you usually have to get there by 6 a.m. during the busy summer months to get a spot in the parking lot!

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Supplied.

Book one of these great outdoor adventures in Banff:

 

Lake Louise: 2 hour drive from Calgary

The drive from Calgary to Lake Louise only takes a couple of hours, but you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a completely different world compared to the bustling city: think deep emerald lakes framed by rugged peaks, and fluffy snow that clings to the tree branches making it look like they’ve been dusted with icing sugar if you happen to visit in the winter.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

The enchanting scene makes this one of the most romantic weekend getaways from Calgary, and couples love holing up in the luxe Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which looks out right over the lake. Indulge in spa treatments inside the wellness centre, enjoy a traditional afternoon tea, hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House for fantastic views, or rent a canoe and paddle along the shoreline.

READ MORE: Wellness retreats in Alberta: 3 perfect mountain getaways

The Chateau Lake Louise. Supplied.

There’s also plenty to do during winter which makes Lake Louise one of the best Calgary day trips in every season. Bundle up under cozy blankets on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, lace up a pair of skates and glide around the frozen lake, or time your visit for the annual Ice Magic Festival to watch ice carving demonstrations and grab a cool cocktail from the ice bar.

Book a tour to see some of the best spots in and around Lake Louise:

 

Have more time to spare? Consider heading up the ridiculously-scenic Icefields Parkway which leads to Jasper National Park: the turnoff is just past Lake Louise.

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