There’s a reason why so many outdoor fanatics call Calgary home. Lying within easy striking distance of the Rockies, it’s the perfect base camp for outdoor adventure. In less than an hour’s drive, you can be ticking off a stellar hike, sending a new route or wetting a paddle. Here are four can’t-miss destinations, each of which you can knock off in under a day.
Bike the high road
Highway 40 through Kananaskis Country tops out above 7,200 feet at Highwood Pass, making it the highest paved road in Canada. It’s closed to car traffic from December 1 until June 15—though the pass itself may not be snow-free until June—but even when the 66-kilometre road is open, it’s not that busy. Start at either end and ride out and back through the scenic grizzly and elk-rich landscape.
Length: Up to six hours
Directions: From the north, drive 40 minutes west out of Calgary on Highway 1 to the Highway 40 turnoff. Drive south to the Spray Lakes Road turnoff and the gate. From the south, get to Longview, an hour southwest of Calgary, and drive 45 kilometres west on Highway 40 to the Highwood House gas station and the gate.
Resources: You can rent a road bike at Sports Rent in north Calgary.
Bag a classic
Mount Yamnuska’s south wall may look like an imposing gateway to the Canadian Rockies but gaining the summit is actually pretty easy—just follow the switchback trail leading up to the east end of the rock. You’ll have great views of the foothills on the way up, and you may even be able to see Calgary. From the end of the trail it’s a moderate scramble to the summit, with one tricky section. Make a loop of it by continuing down to the west. At the bottom of the rock, traverse under the wall and down the scree to the base. With almost 3,000 feet of total elevation gain, it’s a good workout.
Length: Four to seven hours
Directions: From Calgary take the Trans-Canada Highway west to the Highway 40 North turnoff to Highway 1A. Turn right (east), then after about 1.5 kilometres turn left onto a dirt road that leads to the parking lot.
Resources: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane (Rocky Mountain Books).
Check out an erratic
During the last ice age, the world’s biggest glacial erratic hitched a ride on an ice sheet from Jasper to the foothills west of Okotoks. The erratic—known, appropriately, as Big Rock—sits about 40 minutes south of Calgary. Besides being the inspiration for the Big Rock Brewery, this 16,000-ton, 30-foot-high chunk of limestone is noteworthy as one of the most unique spots to watch the sun set with, of course, a Big Rock beer to wash it down.
Length: Half day
Directions: Drive south on Highway 2 to Okotoks. Turn right, west, onto Highway 7 and drive 10 kilometres to the obvious rock and parking lot on the right.
Run the Bow
Despite being only half an hour west of Sprawlgary, the 18-kilometre run on the Bow River from the Ghost Dam to Cochrane feels much more remote. The only signs of humans are the odd fenceline and a gas plant. The deep river valley, forested banks and regular sections of moving water (up to class II) keep things interesting for canoeists and kayakers. For rookie whitewater paddlers, the relatively warm water and low hazard level make this a good place to practise new skills. There are even a few fun surfing waves along the way.
Length: Two to four hours
Directions: Leave a car at the take-out, where Highway 22 crosses the Bow River in Cochrane. For the put-in, drive 18 kilometres west from Cochrane on Highway 1A to the turnoff that leads to the bottom of the Ghost Dam.
Resources: You can rent paddling gear from the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.