Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
November 18, 2019
Go north! (Or south, or east, or west) in this guide to unique day trips from Calgary.
So you want to escape the hustle and bustle of city-life, do you? No problem. Whatever direction your compass is pointing you, there are plenty of unique day trips from Calgary, our Southern Alberta metropolis.
While there’s too much to see and do in a single day trip, with a well-designed schedule, you can hit the highlights, and get some ideas for your next trip to the area.
Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, a pair of good walking shoes, and a thermos-full of coffee (or pencil in a stop for that double-double) because from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, your day will be chock-full of exploration and new adventures, whatever corner of Cowtown you choose to depart from!
NORTH: Calgary to Sundre
If it’s an action-packed adventure you’re after, head north, where wild horses roam free, and hikers explore the surrounding trails galore. With an activity for everyone, from whitewater rafting to archery – to even just practicing your golf-swing – Sundre makes a great base of operations.
The neighbouring landscape is a beautiful, contrasting mixture of colourful rolling prairies and the distant mountains of the northwestern edge of Banff National Park.
What to bring on your day trip to Sundre:
- Hiking boots/shoes
- A change of clothes
- A good book and a picnic blanket
- A killer road trip music playlist
Morning in Sundre
Depart around 8:00 am and head for Sundre, just over an hour drive from Calgary. Once you arrive in this charming little town, it’s coffee time! Head to Backwoods Bakery for some caffeine and delicious baked goods.
Walk through Sundre Museum and Pioneer Village
After your coffee, pop over to the Sundre & District Museum where you can wander among eight heritage buildings including an old schoolhouse, a trapper’s cabin, a chapel and more. Inside the museum, you’ll find archaic treasures from Sundre’s past, and learn about the culture and history of this tiny community on the prairies.
Next: CHOOSE ONE of the below: Hike around Snake Hill Recreation Area or raft white caps on the Red Deer River!
Meander through Snake Hill Recreation Area
With 17 km of hiking trails, Snake Hill Recreation Area is a little oasis where you can wander to clear your mind and enjoy the serenity of nature. It’s also a great spot to bring a blanket and a good book if the sun is shining!
Ride the rapids with Mukwah Rafting Tours
Enjoy the rush of water and adrenaline as you take on the wilds of the Upper Red Deer River with Mukwah Rafting Tours. There are a number of rafting packages available at Mukwah, ranging from 2 ½ hours to all day.
Mukwah Rafting Tours is located about a 50 minute drive west from Sundre, so this activity may take most of your day, driving time included.
Afternoon in Sundre
After all that activity, it’s time for some lunch! Head to the Kodiak BBQ and Deli in Sundre for a heaping plate of naturally-smoked BBQ that will stick to your bones. We recommend the mouth-watering half-rack of ribs with fries and coleslaw, mm – mm – good!
Take an archery class at the Painted Warriors Ranch
After lunch, it’s time for a new adventure pulled straight from the history books. A quick 25-minute drive south of Sundre, you’ll find the 82-acre Painted Warriors Ranch, which hosts a number of traditional indigenous outdoor programs for the public. Spend the afternoon shooting a bow and arrow and learning about local plant life and the traditional methods of cooking. Depending on which activity you choose, you can spend the rest of the day here, ending your time off with a traditional aboriginal meal.
Unwind on the green at the Sundre Golf Club
Another activity that may soak up the majority of your day, you can head for the beautiful rolling greens of the Sundre Golf Club, a 4-minute drive east of Sundre. Relish in a nice, relaxing round of golf after your day of adventure on this gorgeous 6778-yard course speckled with delicate water features and beautiful trees. This 18-hole, par 72 golf course will keep every skill-level challenged and having a ball – a golf ball, that is. 😉
Evening in Sundre
After all that activity, it’s time for a hearty meal and some refreshing beverages at The Twisted Pantry Bistro known for their yummy pub-style food.
To top off that meal and for a sweet treat for the drive back home, stop in for a quick milkshake or ice cream at the local Burger Baron!
SOUTH: Calgary to Fort MacLeod
If you’re looking for an eclectic journey into the past, take a trip down Highway 2, past the fields Albertans have farmed for decades and into the Fort MacLeod area.
Once the crown jewel of southern Alberta, Fort MacLeod is a city teeming with a rich and living history. Whether you prefer taking a trip all the way back to learn about early indigenous cultures or discover the past inside an antique shop, Southern Alberta offers history you can experience first-hand.
What to bring on your day trip down south:
- Good walking shoes
- An empty beer growler
- A killer road trip music playlist
Morning at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump
A day trip from Calgary doesn’t start off much more unique than this. Get on the road at 8:00 am and head for Fort MacLeod, just under 2 hours away. A great natural stopping point is Claresholm, where you can grab something hot and caffeinated at Blackwood Coffee Co. This little shop offers Calgary’s own Fratello coffee and some baked treats to keep your stamina up for the last leg of the drive.
Just a ½ hour south Claresholm you’ll find Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and proud bearer of one of the most unique names in the country. The interpretive centre’s unique architecture is built into the side of an ancient buffalo jump, offering visitors a glimpse back in time at how indigenous people lived and thrived on the prairies. There’s tons of local history and lore to learn about, as well as a walking path to a lookout of the buffalo jump.
Afternoon in historic Fort MacLeod
Once your brain is full, head east to Fort MacLeod for a light lunch and hot coffee at Cafe Orange. This little gem offers delicious dutch baking with local Lethbridge-roasted Red Engine coffee. Relax for a while in this trendy space, enjoying the bustle of this charming little town.
Antique on Main Street
With coffee in hand, it’s time to meander down Main Street, and take in all the fascinating old architecture – most of which was built around the turn of last century – and pop into the unique little antique shops to scour for gems from the past. It’s easy to imagine how the town looked back in the old wild west, when Main was just a wide dirt road with horses, saloons, and well, you know, the occasional shoot out.
You may even recognize some of the buildings from the blockbuster, Interstellar, as there were scenes filmed on Fort MacLeod’s Main Street. And more recently, the newest Ghostbusters movie crew filmed scenes here over summer 2019.
For more antiquing, be sure to stop in nearby Nanton, as there are plenty of antique shops here, and even an authentic blacksmith!
Enjoy a pint at Stronghold Brewing
After your wanderings, imagingings, and antiquing, it’s probably time for a refreshment. Lucky for you, Stronghold Brewing is located right on Main Street, and can quickly quench your thirst. Sample a beer flight, fill up that empty growler you brought with you, and enjoy chatting with the friendly waitstaff as you look around at the newly-renovated space, complete with a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind door imported from a cathedral in Spain.
Or for those history buffs who can’t get enough, The Fort Museum offers tours through the old NWMP fort, and even a musical horse riding show during summer!
Evening at the Empress Theatre
The Empress Theatre, an old art deco building that’s been in continuous operation for over a hundred years is still hosting shows – everything from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, to the talented singer-songwriters who pass through the town. There’s always an upcoming show, or even a tour of the building if you call ahead. You might even catch a glimpse of Ed, the old ghost who’s rumoured to wander the halls of the theatre!
EAST: Calgary to Drumheller
1 ½ hours east of Calgary, and smack dab in the middle of the ominous, alien landscape of the Canadian Badlands, lies Drumheller – where the ghosts of horse thieves and dinosaurs still haunt the ‘hoodoos.’
Whether you’re looking to hike the twisting coulees (valleys) to see the towering hoodoos or are hoping to meet some of your favourite dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller is the perfect place to stir your imagination – and get some exercise while you’re at it!
What to bring on your day trip to Drumheller:
- Hiking boots/shoes
- Change of clothes and layers
- A killer road trip music playlist
- Bicycles/E-bikes (optional)
Morning in Drumheller
Depart for this one-of-a-kind day trip from Calgary at 8am, and when you arrive, head for (you guessed it) COFFEE! Black Mountain Roasters brews a mean cup of locally-roasted joe, and slings it alongside some baked goodies for those feeling peckish.
Now, you might be tempted to head directly for that giant T-Rex lording over the visitor centre, but with the spiking heat of summer (that can rise to 40+ °C), it’s better to tackle some sight-seeing and trails in the morning while it’s still cool.
Hike Horsethief Canyon and the Hoodoos Trail
First, head for Horsethief Canyon, a scenic, 20 minute drive northeast of town. This easy, out-and-back trail is only 0.8 kms with 22 metres of elevation gain and is a perfect morning jaunt to experience the colourful, rugged terrain of the surrounding area.
After this short hike, head back toward and through Drumheller to the Hoodoos Trail, a 30 minute drive from Horsethief Canyon (10 minute drive from Drumheller). Here, you’ll wander through towering extra-terrestrial-looking rock formations called ‘hoodoos’. This walking loop is another easy hike, just 0.5 km with 9.75 metres of elevation gain.
Afternoon in Drumheller
After all that walking, it’s time to eat! Head for ‘You Gotta Eat Here’-approved Bernie and the Boys Bistro for a ‘dino-sized mammoth burger’, or settle for an equally-delicious human-sized burger. To cap off your lunch, head to Valley Brewing for a pint or two of some refreshing and delicious local beer!
If you’re in more of an ‘all-day-breakfast’ kind of mood, head for WHIFS Flapjack House for some delicious diner-style eats.
Bicycle along Drumheller’s Pedestrian Loop
After lunch, you can work off that food-belly with an e-bike rental from Red Deer River Adventures. There are also kayak and canoe rentals available if you feel like being on the water versus the trails.
Once you hop on your bike, head for the Royal Tyrrell Museum along Drumheller’s Pedestrian Loop, connecting the visitor centre (where the giant T-Rex stands) with the museum. Be sure to climb to the top of that T-Rex for a beautiful lookout and some great photo ops!
Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum
Once you arrive at the Royal Tyrrell, you can visit the museum, and/or take a leisurely walk around the Badlands Interpretive Trail, an easy walking-loop right next to the museum. Once you feel ‘dinosaur-ed out,’ hop back on your e-bike and head back into town for a well-deserved break.
Evening in Drumheller
As the day winds down, it’s time to relax with some great food and drink. Sublime Food and Wine offers some delicious options and great cocktails with a classy bistro feel. However, if you’re in the mood for some rustic pub-fare, hit up the Last Chance Saloon for some rich food and crisp, refreshing beer.
On your way back to Calgary, be sure to stop off at Horseshoe Canyon for a gorgeous lookout view of the badlands at sunset!
WEST: Calgary to Bragg Creek
When many people think of a day trip from Calgary, they immediately think of the many things to do in Canmore and Banff. And as breath-taking as those locations are, there’s more to experience when you head west of Calgary for the day. Just ½ hour drive from the city, the rugged and beautiful Kananaskis Country begins to unfold, allowing visitors to get lost amid lush forests, and quaint, cozy little country towns like Bragg Creek.
What to bring on your day trip to Bragg Creek:
- Hiking boots/shoes
- Crampons (weather depending)
- Your favourite classic country CD or playlist
- Picnic fixin’s – bread, cheese, wine, a blanket (or you can purchase it at Bragg Creek Foods)
- Firewood (optional)
- Cowboy boots and hat (optional)
- A rough and tumble cowboy spirit
Morning in Bragg Creek
Depart at 8:00 am from Calgary, and whether you take Highway 1 or 8 out of town, you’ll eventually need to turn down Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22) to get to Bragg Creek. When you hit the Cowboy Trail, take this as your cue to throw on some old Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash or Loretta Lynn to set the tone for the day. 😉
Bragg Creek is a small town, barely more than an outpost, so make sure you don’t miss the turnoff. Park at one of the two strip malls and settle in with some coffee and sweet treats at Cinnamon Spoon, or the Sugar Shake Bakery – both within easy walking distance of each other.
Take a ride with Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures
Once you’re properly caffeinated and ready to hit the trails, channel your inner cowboy spirit into a morning horseback ride through beautiful Kananaskis Country. If you happened to bring along your own horse, Bragg Creek has a variety of multi-use trails for you to amble along.
For those city slickers without access to cowboy boots, belts and buckles – or most importantly, your own horse, Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures, a 13 min drive away from Bragg Creek on Hwy 762, has a variety of guided packages available. Choose from packages like the 3-hour City Slicker Package, or a shorter, 1 ½ ride through the rugged terrain and beautiful filming locations of hit shows like Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain, and The Unforgiven.
*Be sure you book your day ride in advance.
Afternoon in Kananaskis Country
If you didn’t have lunch on the trail, it’s time to retrace your steps back to Bragg Creek and stock up on everything you need for a great picnic – including wine and firewood, if you’re so inclined. Once you’re ready, head west on Hwy 66 to the Cobble Flats Picnic Area or Forgetmenot Pond and set up for a little bit of downtime before adventuring once again.
Picnic at Cobble Flats
Light a fire, pop a bottle of wine and recount your tales from the trails as you relax and take in all the gorgeous scenery Kananaskis has to offer. If the horse ride didn’t tire you out, there are still plenty of hikes and nature walks around the area. Little Elbow Campground next to Forgetmenot Pond has some great trails nearby!
Walk up Prairie Mountain
A 10-minute drive from Cobble Flats will land you at Elbow Falls, and across the road, the trailhead to Prairie Mountain. This 7.5 kilometer (round-trip) hike is a fantastic 3-hour workout or 5-hour stroll, depending on how fast you want to do it.
The rewarding views start about three-quarters of the way up and continue to the top with the Rockies and Kananaskis on full display. As you reach the top, be prepared to be hit with a face full of wind, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting a selfie with the Canadian flag that’s been placed at the peak. Going down is fairly easy but depending on the time of year, consider bringing crampons as the trail can get very icy.
Evening in Bragg Creek
To live your #bestcowboylife, head for the Cowtown Beef Shack for mouthwatering pub-style dishes that will refuel your tank from that day of trail-riding and hiking. However, if you’re ready to hang up your cowboy hat and switch to a more refined menu, try out The Bavarian Inn and eat like a cattle baron instead.
Finally, to cap off your evening, be sure to stop in at the Bragg Creek Brewery to sip and stock up on some delicious, locally-crafted beers before heading back home.