Calgary in the Summer of COVID-19: Free Family Physical Distancing Fun

The COVID-19 global pandemic has, undeniably, altered the landscape of most people’s social norms and perspectives. 

There’s a growing list of taboos that once-upon-a-time-in-the-not-too-distant-past we didn’t give a second thought to: shaking a colleague’s hand, hugging a friend, blowing out birthday candles, enjoying food samples at a market.  Everyday gestures that were part of the carefree fabric of our society.  Not to mention birthing your newborn, celebrating a marriage, walking the stage for your graduation, or laying a loved one to rest.  Even these once-in-a-lifetime events have had to be done in isolation. Or not at all.

Life during COVID-19 has felt like living in view of a loved one but unable to touch

In the meantime, the world is processing. Is this our new normal? Are we being extreme? Not cautious enough? Or are these global control tactics? Everyone has their opinion but people’s perspectives seem to differ depending on how closely the effects of the pandemic have touched their personal lives.  For the young, fit and carefree this all seems like a ploy of sorts.  For the medically vulnerable it’s an ever-present risk with ongoing isolation the only viable solution.

It’s as if we are in a tidal onslaught, pummeled by relentless waves of fear and uncertainty.

Then Along Came Summer

As the summer season sets in, our household has become intentional about getting outdoors and enjoying our home, neighbourhood and beyond.  In Calgary – as I’m sure in any major city around the world – there are still innumerable safe places to explore just beyond the confines of your yard fence.  While some places mentioned in my previous blog posts have pandemic restrictions imposed on them, most still offer the Calgary explorer diverse, yet safe, outdoor opportunities. 

Here is the simmering “TOP-10” summary of some of our favourite physical distancing activities and destinations that we’ll be taking advantage of in and around Calgary this summer season.

#1 Your Yard

Neighbours in our hood have seized the opportunity to enhance their home’s curb appeal.  I’ve never seen more topsoil and sod deliveries taking place around our quadrant than this spring.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed potting, transplanting, repurposing and reshaping our flower beds, hanging baskets and deck pots.  The rainy spring has been a welcome partner to this successful growing season.  Creating our garden oasis remains one of our favourite hobbies.  We’re rewarded with birds, butterflies, bees, blooms and fruit.  We’ve been scoping out yard décor deals on Facebook Marketplace, our new favourite online shopping indulgence, as a substitute to yard sales.  While many bulk store garden centres are already thinning out their plant inventory, there is still much to enjoy out there.  You can get some ideas from my past blogs here.

Our front yard in spring bloom

Do you have a yard maintenance goal for this summer season? 

#2 Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs

If you’re looking for gardening inspiration and ideas of what grows well in Calgary’s climate, visit the hidden neighbourhood gem that is the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs.  We visit here annually and then numerous times throughout the growing season.  This little Eden, in spite of our extreme climate, constantly surprises and inspires with its variety and perennial beauty. We commend the innumerable volunteers who tend to this oasis, free for the public to explore and enjoy.  It’s a perfect destination to meet family and friends for a stroll at an acceptable physical distance.  The fact that it’s also an off-leash zone makes it a great destination for responsible dog owners.

#3 City Vantage Points

The long days, dramatic summer cloud formations and unpredictable sunset skies make finding a spot to enjoy city views a must-do activity.  Pick from an abundance of vantage points to view the distant Rockies, the Bow River or the city skyline.  Our favourite go-to destinations can still be found at a past popular blog here.  To save you time and an extra click, here’s my shortlist:

Scotsman’s Hill in Ramsay (SE)

Tom Campbell’s Hill Natural Park (NE)

Crescent Heights along Crescent Road (NW)

Jim Fish Ridge in Rotary Park (NE)

Nose Hill on 14th Street (NW)

Strathcona Park (SW)

Earl Grey Park (SW)

City skyline from Scotsmans Hill

#4 City Parks, Pathways and Cycling

One of the many things that Calgary city planners got right was the priority they placed on green spaces and pathways.  Calgary boasts one of the most extensive pathway systems of any urban development in the world. It interconnects neighbourhoods, parks and city quadrants.  It offers nearly 1,000km of dedicated pathways, most of them paved. This network provides unique access for family outings or sporting enthusiasts to enjoy on foot or by bicycle.  Explore the Bow River Pathway system, the Rotary/Mattamy Greenway system, the Trans Canada Trail or the Fish Creek Provincial Park System, as examples.  If you’re new to the city, explore the downtown spaces by bike.  Check out some of our popular cycle routes and recommendations here:

Explore Downtown Calgary

Our best-loved downtown cycle circuits and cool coffee cafes

There is an abundance of physical distancing space to enjoy. A few of our favourite parks, ranging in size, diversity and location, are Nose Hill, Fish Creek, Confederation, Baker, Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, Bowness, Edworthy, Bowmont, North Glenmore, Confluence, Sandy Beach, Stanley, Rotary, Reader Rock Garden and McHugh Bluff.  Each destination offers varied amenities and activities ranging from off-leash dog parks, kids playgrounds and water parks, walkways, maintained gardens, view points or vast lawns.  Bring your picnic blanket, frisbee and bug spray!  Note that some parks do not offer year-round toilet facilities.  Parking at some locations may also be limited, so plan ahead.

#5 Float the Bow

As the days get hotter and the mountain snowpack melts, the allure of The Bow entices many Calgarians to its river banks.  Why not make this the summer that you push out farther and join the thousands that float the Bow each year.  Several sports equipment suppliers rent kit, ranging from inflatable rafts to kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.  They offer everything required to safely – and legally – get you onto the river and floating past some of the city’s loveliest green spaces and posh neighbourhoods.  Our preference is to launch at Baker Park and exit at East Village.  In our kayaks, we float for a mellow 90 minutes depending on river flow and whatever shenanigans we might get up to.  Check out The Paddle Station for some deals and tell them “I AM CALGARY” sent you!

#6 Geocaching

If you’re looking for some family fun, why not try geocaching?  Download the free geocache app, load your location and start exploring.  There are thousands of hidden trinkets and treasures waiting to be discovered around the city and – very likely – within your own neighbourhood. This is a great way to engage with your children and teach them how to interpret maps like an intrepid explorer.

#7 Bird Watching at Frank Lake

We are avid birders.  Perhaps not too experienced, but we do love to identify the countless resident and migratory birds in and around Calgary.  If you want to escape the confines of the city and experience a unique location, check out Frank Lake wetland, east of High River.  Frank Lake is to birds what Heathrow Airport is to tourists: a transit hub for thousands of migrants and locals.  There is a copious amount of space to walk along the shoreline and marvel at the cacophony and energy of birds doing what birds do best.  A bird-watching blind, accessible via a boardwalk, brings you into close contact with water fowl and waders foraging in and beyond the reeds.  Bring your bird book, binoculars, cameras, picnic snacks, water, sunscreen, walking shoes (or even boots, in case the boardwalk is under water) and bug spray.  If you’re into birding and have not yet discovered Duck’s Unlimited’s Frank Lake, let this be your year.  Come back often because the birdlife changes with the seasons.

Other unique biding destinations within Calgary are Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the wetlands of Ralph Klein Park.

#8 Vehicle Test Driving

We did a crazy thing recently.  It was a date-come-dream.  We took an SUV for a test drive.  And it was one of the best test drives we’ve ever been on.  And not because the vehicle was awesome (which it was).  Or because my wife’s alter ego, Racing Queen, made an appearance at about 140 km/hour (which she did). But, because of COVID-19 we were allowed to take the car out without the salesman in the car watching us and peppering us with sales talk.  We discovered the vehicle’s capabilities in privacy.  So, if you’re wondering if any good can come out of this pandemic, going for a test drive while the salesman has to physically distance by not joining you in the car might be just the silver lining you’ve been waiting for.

#9 Outdoor Art

Have you ever taken note of just how much public art is scattered about our city’s neighbourhoods?  Sometimes you need to actually stop and recognize that what you’re looking at isn’t just art, but is a functional piece of equipment.  Take for instance the electrical boxes that have been transformed into canvases by some of our city’s upcoming artists.  Or downtown murals that transform buildings.  Statues, carvings and displays adorn our streets, sidewalks, parks and highways.  Why not go on an outdoor journey of discovery this summer and locate some of these pieces for yourself?

#10 Ice Cream

What would summer be without ice cream?  For that matter, what would any season be without ice cream?

We’re delighted that one of our favourite parlours has survived the COVID Spring shut-down and is open again.  A sure sign that things are opening up and that the economy might kick-start again.  Why not plan a cycle ride or walk near downtown and explore some of our favourite ice cream “hot” spots!  Make a friend; eat ice cream.

www.iamcalgary.ca I Am Calgary Made By Marcus Ice Cream

We hope you get out and explore our great city this summer, particularly if you’re forced to cancel travel plans and stay-cate.  Leave a comment below with your favourite Calgary physical distancing activity to give us some fresh ideas.  Or “like” and “share” this post if you think others might benefit.  Share the Calgary love.  Maintain physical distance but find an excuse to pursue social togetherness.  ENJOY!

Leave a Reply