Four Day-Trips to Add to Your Summer Agenda
Get away for the day to explore one of these super-fun, easy-to-reach destinations
Among Calgary and Airdrie’s most alluring attributes is their close proximity to a wealth of incredible places to explore. Indeed, the day-trip options from these two cities are seemingly endless — even when you take iconic mainstays like Banff and Canmore out of the picture. The way we see it, if you live in Calgary or Airdrie, you can hop in the car, head in any direction, and hit a visit-worthy destination in under two hours.
Here, we bring you four easy day-trip ideas — one for each cardinal direction — to add to your summer bucket list.
TO THE NORTH: Enjoy Some Beach Time in Sylvan Lake
Nothing says summer like a day at the beach, which is why, when the sun is shining and the temperatures are hot, people in Calgary and Airdrie love to pack up their gear and head 90 minutes north to the town of Sylvan Lake. Home to a long stretch of beach, a calm, shallow lake, two public boat launches and ample amenities, this Central Alberta destination really has all the offerings of a quintessential beach town.
Must-Do: The beach is where you’ll want to spend most of your day. Spanning 1.6 kilometres, Sylvan Lake’s beachfront features grassy parks, sandy areas, picnic tables, walking trails, a lively marina and more. Pass the time with classic beach activities like swimming, sunbathing, building sandcastles, paddleboarding, picnicking and people-watching. If you want to stretch your legs, be sure to wander the waterfront promenade, which takes you past groomed gardens, shops and other attractions.
Next Stops: If swimming and sandcastles start feeling a little too tame, and you’ve got kids with you, head to Sylvan Lake Aqua Splash. It’s a giant, floating water park with all kinds of cool features, including an oversized trampoline, a climbing tower, a trapeze swing, a wiggle bridge, a 15-foot slide and more (admission costs vary). After enjoying some heavy-duty playtime at the water park, head over to Big Moo Ice Cream Parlor on Lakeshore Drive for a scoop (or three!) of delicious hard ice cream — there are tons of flavors to choose from.
If You’ve Still Got Time Before Heading Home: Enjoy a casual dinner on one of the many outdoor patios along Lakeshore Drive. Or, if you’re visiting on a Friday, check out the Sylvan Lake Farmer’s Market. The seasonal market runs every Friday from 4 pm to 7:30 pm and features a variety of local vendors selling arts, crafts, fresh produce and various other edible goods.
TO THE WEST: Explore and Unwind in Kananaskis Country
Covering 4,000 square kilometres in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, Kananaskis Country is a sprawling wilderness playground for outdoor adventurers and nature enthusiasts. Whether you’re into hiking, cycling, paddling or just basking in the mountain views, the Kananaskis has something for everyone.
Must-Do: There’s only one real “must” when you’re visiting Kananaskis Country, and it’s to pick an activity that allows you to explore the area’s natural beauty in a way you’ll enjoy. Consider starting with an easy or moderate hike, such as Heart Creek Trail (4.7 kilometres) or Ptarmigan Cirque (4.2 km), both of which are kid-friendly and offer sweeping mountain views.
If mountain biking sounds more appealing, try a section of the High Rockies Trail or cruise along one of the paved bike trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Or, if you’d prefer to be on the water, rent a canoe or kayak from Kananaskis Outfitters and spend some time on beautiful Barrier Lake.
Next Stop: After an active morning of hiking, biking or paddling, enjoy a picnic lunch amid the beauty of the foothills, then head to Kananaskis Nordic Spa for an afternoon of relaxation and rejuvenation. Featuring an array of outdoor hot and cold pools, as well as saunas, steam cabins, massage treatment rooms and more, Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon. Most people head to the spa for its hydrotherapy treatments, which use hot and cold water as a means to relieve tension and improve overall well-being. Spend a few blissful hours alternating between the spa’s hot and cold pools, lounging by its outdoor fire cauldrons, snoozing in one of the many on-site hammocks and taking in the scenery.
If You’ve Still Got Time Before Heading Home: Enjoy a nourishing meal at the spa’s Two Trees Bistro, which serves locally sourced small plates and sharing platters as well as wine, craft beer, herbal teas and espresso drinks.
TO THE EAST: Get Prehistoric in Drumheller
Located in the heart of the Canadian Badlands, about 90 minutes east of Calgary and Airdrie, Drumheller is nicknamed the Dinosaur Capital of the World and offers all kinds of cool things to do — whether you’ve got dinosaur-obsessed kids in tow or not.
Must-Do: Drumheller is best known for its prehistoric landscape, and for the many, many dinosaur bones that have been found in the area. Because of this, a visit to the city’s world-famous dinosaur museum, the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology, is a must. Spend a couple of hours wandering the incredible exhibits of fossils, dinosaur skeletons and other paleontological wonders, then take a scenic hike along the Badlands Interpretive Trail, just steps from the museum in Midland Provincial Park.
Next Stops: Once you’re done at the Royal Tyrell, wander through town to check out the 20-plus dinosaur statues that make up the city’s Dino-Walk, then grab a bite and a milkshake at Bernie and the Boys Bistro, an iconic hamburger joint that may be most famous for its Mammoth Burger (featuring a 24-ounce patty on a homemade, 8-inch bun). When you’ve had you fill at Bernie’s, head southeast to explore the ancient, towering sandstone pillars and spires along the Hoodoo Trail, where you’ll feel as though you’re wandering amid an entirely different world (or like you’ve stepped into an episode of The Flintstones).
If You’ve Still Got Time Before Heading Home: Check out the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site (21 kilometres southeast of Drumheller) to see Canada’s most complete historic coal mine and learn some gasp-worthy stories about the area’s gritty, coal-mining past.
TO THE SOUTH: Immerse Yourself in Prairie History at Fort Macleod
Head south for a different kind of trip to the past. Fort Macleod is a haven for history buffs, movie buffs and just about anyone who can appreciate the charm of an old-fashioned, well-maintained Main Street. The town and its surroundings offer fascinating insight into early life on the prairies.
Must-Do: The first recommended stop on your trip to Fort Macleod is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 20 minutes west of town. We’re talking about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jumps in existence. For nearly 6,000 years, Indigenous people of the plains would hunt and kill bison by driving them off the tall, Head-Smashed-In cliff. Today, you can visit the site’s sprawling interpretive centre (built right into the side of the cliff) to learn how the early Plains People lived and thrived through the centuries. After touring the centre, wander the scenic trails below and above the buffalo jump to get a closer look.
Next Stops: Once you’re done exploring Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (we think you’ll need about two hours to do it justice), head into Fort Macleod for a bite to eat at Digbee’s Diner or another local spot, then stroll the town’s historic Main Street, whose brick and sandstone buildings have served as the backdrop for many films and TV shows, including Interstellar, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and the HBO series The Last of Us. Be sure to stop into some of the many antique shops along the way. After that, head over to the Fort Museum & First Nations Interpretive Centre, where you’ll learn more about the history of the North-West Mounted Police and Indigenous peoples of the area.
If You’ve Still Got Time Before Heading Home: Take in a show at the beautiful Empress Theatre, which has been hosting movies and live performances for more than 100 years and has been rumored to be haunted by a friendly ghost named Ed.