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Must-See Calgary: A 7-Day Itinerary of What To Do In Calgary and Beyond During Winter

The world may think that, like polar bears, Calgarians (or even all Canadians!) go into hibernation during the winter.  Quite the contrary.  A week is not nearly sufficient to experience all that I have on my wish list for you to see and explore in and around our city.  The lists I’ve created here will undoubtedly whet your appetite to come back again.

And again.

And again.

Good morning Calgary! | Photo credits Ken McManus

Quick reference guide to the icons used in this article

β›· ActivityπŸ“Έ Attraction
🍽 Food & Dining πŸŒ„ Great view
🏑 Lodging / AccommodationπŸ› History & Museums
🏞 Parks, Gardens & Nature 🎭 Performing Arts & Entertainment
πŸ– Rest & RelaxationπŸ› Shopping
πŸ”¦ Sightseeing & Exploring πŸ’° Entry fee required
πŸ—“ Reservation essential 🌢 Hot tip
πŸš™ Travel required⚠️ Caution / Warning
ℹ️ Information⏰ Estimated duration

🌢 Vehicle rental and driving

  • I would recommend that you arrange your own independent rental vehicle in order to complete this itinerary.
  • ℹ️ Check road reports before leaving for your out-of-town destinations.  Consult the 511 Alberta Highway Road Report website for up-to-date road conditions.
  • ⚠️ Winter tires are required for safe driving in Alberta and are mandatory if you are driving into British Columbia between 1st October and 30th April.  Failure to comply will result in a fine and possible vehicle impoundment if you are caught.
  • ⚠️ NEVER use cruise control when driving in winter conditions.
  • Please be reminded that winter driving hazards need to be considered and driving style needs to be adjusted accordingly. Adjust your driving to suit the winter driving conditions.
  • All-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles are recommended for drivers who are not used to our hazardous winter driving conditions.
  • Snow chains are not required for passenger vehicles. 
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Snowy roadway conditions in southern and central Alberta

🌢 Equipment rental

Depending on your vehicle space, outdoor activity and recreation plans, it might serve you well to rent sporting and outdoor equipment in Calgary before heading out on your road trip. If you’re considering this option, I recommend visiting Sports Rent for all your winter equipment needs, including downhill skis, cross country skis, snowboards, snow shoes, ski accessories, skates, snow suits and helmets. 

You may need to buy your own ski goggles, gloves, toque and over-shoe crampons (for navigating icy trails) from alternate locations, e.g. Canadian Tire.

When in Calgary …

Calgary’s attractions are as diverse as the city itself and as unique as those who would visit here.

🌢 I would highly recommend you review two of my previous most popular blogs: orientating yourself with the lay-of-the-land and navigating your way around Calgary. These short articles go a long way in providing first-time visitors with some great handles on how our address system works, public transit, and figuring out where you want to be.

🌢 I’d also strongly suggest reviewing my half-day guide recommendations, a blog pitched at visitors to Cow-Town who have limited time to explore and just want to touch on the highlights.  I’ve proposed a 2-day itinerary for you to discover downtown based on the highlights from that blog.

🌢 For dining and shopping suggestions explore these blog posts for some very helpful tips, insights and recommendations, depending on where you find yourself when downtown:

🌢 My go-to downtown dining spots would be:

Ready?  Steady?  Let’s GO!

Day 0: Arrive in Calgary, settle in and orientate yourself

Welcome to Calgary, also affectionately known as Cow Town or Stampede City.

View of downtown Cow Town (Calgary) from Scotsman’s Hill | Photo credits Jeff Palmer Photography

Bear in mind that winter weather conditions in and around Calgary can change rapidly. Have you heard about the unique weather phenomenon called the Chinook that has a massive influence on Calgary’s local micro climate? Read more about that here. This may affect your plans and help – or hinder – your progress in the coming few days.

It may not be wise spending your limited Calgary-time charging around trying to see all of the highlights. Take some time to review my itinerary suggestions below (Day 1 and Day 2) that I’ve plotted on a daily recommended route map. Decide what grabs your interest, switch things up to suit your preferences, then hit the streets and start to explore. Be prepared to move slower and see less as you brave the outdoor elements.

Day 1: Calgary Downtown

Day 1 downtown walking route map | Start: Central Library; End: Kensington |
Navigate to a Google maps link here

Day 2: Calgary Downtown and Neighbourhoods

Day 2 downtown driving route map | Start: TELUS Spark; End: Arts Commons |
Navigate to a Google maps link here

Day 3: Calgary to Drumheller to Rosebud [~200km]

πŸ› πŸš™ The Hangar Flight Museum (Northeast Calgary): flight and war museum πŸ’°

“At the urging of (and with funding of $35,000) Alexander Graham Bell’s wife, Mabel Hubbard Bell, the Aerial Experimental Association was firmed in Halifax in September 30, 1907 β€œfor the purpose of carrying out experiments relating to aerial locomotion with the special object of construction of a successful aerodrome.” The Silver Dart was their success story!”
Discover more like this at The Hangar Flight Museum

πŸš™ Drive from Calgary to Drumheller [128km]

πŸŒ„ Drop in at Horseshoe Canyon viewing site (Drumheller).

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Horseshoe Canyon near Drumheller in the summer

πŸš™ Drive from Drumheller to the iconic Hoodoo’s [15km]

πŸ“Έ Check out Hoodoo‘s, the eerie natural sandstone shapes carved by centuries of erosion in the Drumheller valley.

Drumheller’s Hoodoos in the winter | Photo credits Brendon B

🍽 Lunch at Vintage Taphouse Pub & Grill (Drumheller).

πŸ› Royal Tyrell Museum (Drumheller): world-class dinosaur and fossil museum πŸ’° closed Mondays

Entrance to the world class dinosaur and fossil wonderland, the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller |
Photo credits Royal Tyrell Museum

πŸš™ Drive from Drumheller to the quaint theatre hamlet of Rosebud [35km]

🎭 🍽 Rosebud theatre and dinner πŸ’° πŸ—“

Rural Alberta at it’s most creative and quaintest. Come for a live show; stay for the night! |
Photo credits JKenney

🏑 πŸ—“ Stay overnight in Rosebud at Rosebud Country Inn or a variety of other available accommodations.

🌢 πŸŒ„ Your visit to the Prairies in winter may very well be rewarded by the cosmic display of the Aurora Borealis, the surreal stratospheric spectacle of the Northern Lights. Best seen in a cloudless winter night sky, in areas where light pollution from nearby cities and towns is minimized, you’d do well to scan the late night sky while in Rosebud to see if you can catch a glimpse of this glowing miracle.

Photo credits Shane Turgeon

Day 4: Rosebud to Kananaskis to Baker Creek / Banff National Park [~340km]

πŸš™ Early departure from Rosebud to the Nordic Spa at Kananaskis [200km], bypassing Calgary.

πŸ– Nordic Spa (Kananaskis): prepare to be pampered rejuvenated; πŸ’° πŸ—“

Winter indulgence at it’s best | Photo credits Kananaskis Nordic Spa

🍽 Lunch at Woody’s Pub & Patio or at various other dining locations within Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

πŸš™ Depart Kananaskis to Lake Minnewanka [82km], entering Banff National Park near Harvie Heights en route (ℹ️ entry fee to Banff NP is required and is based on number of vehicle occupants and duration of stay).

β›· πŸ“Έ πŸŒ„ Enjoy the surreal experience of ice skating on a lake at Lake Minnewanka. ℹ️ Bring your own skates. ⚠️ Be prepared for sudden weather changes and very windy conditions. ⚠️ Dress appropriately. ⚠️ Ensure the lake is frozen and suitable for skating. ⚠️ Look out for posted warning signs.

Photo credits Matt Buchco

πŸš™ Drive from Lake Minnewanka to Baker Creek Mountain Resort [56km].

🏑 πŸ—“ Stay overnight in quintessential log cabins at Baker Creek Mountain Resort.

🍽 If you have not eaten already, or if you have not brought your own food to prepare in your self-catering unit, the Baker Creek Bistro serves meals throughout the day.

🌢 πŸŒ„ If you weren’t successful seeing those glorious Northern Lights during your stay in Rosebud, try to find an opportunity to spot them tonight in the Rockies. Light pollution at Baker Creek is low, so chances of seeing the Aurora are better.

A long exposure of the northern lights dancing above Castle Mountain, Banff National Park|
Photo credits Nick Fitzhardinge

Day 5: Baker Creek to Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon to Banff [~90km]

πŸš™ Drive from Baker Creek to Lake Louise Ski Resort [13km].

β›· Ski, snowboard or snow tube at Lake Louise Ski Resort. πŸ’° ⏰ 3-6hrs

Ski, snowboard, live … Lake Louise | Photo credits SkiLouise
Snow tubing and lodge, Lake Louise | Photo credits SkiLouise

β›· Alternatively, go dog sledding at Lake Louise with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours; πŸ’° πŸ—“ ⏰ 3-5hrs

Dog sledding with Kingmik Dogsled Tours | Photo credits Kingmik Dog Sled Tours

πŸ“Έ πŸŒ„ Visit the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the edge of the world-famous lake.

Visit the magic at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise | Photo credits Shaista & Aman

🍽 Indulge yourself with high tea in the Lakeview Lounge, or else a more affordable snack from one of the numerous other eating spots. ⏰ 2hrs

Unrivalled views of Lake Louise from the Lakeview Lounge | Photo credits Kyle Kotajarvi

πŸš™ Drive from Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon [37km].

β›· πŸ“Έ πŸ”¦ Explore Johnston Canyon via the boardwalk, marvelling at the extraordinary ice formations while looking out for skilled ice climbers who are frequently seen scaling the treacherous canyon terrain. ⚠️ Dress appropriately and wear strap-on shoe spikes / crampons for walking safety. ⏰ 1-3hrs

Awe-inspiring Johnston Canyon frozen in time | Photo credits Darcy Lajoie

πŸš™ Drive from Johnston Canyon to Banff [24km].

🏑 πŸ—“ Stay overnight in Banff.  Suggested accommodation includes the fairytale Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, the luxurious Rimrock Resort at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, or the numerous more modestly-priced options available in the alpine village’s main townsite along and off Banff Avenue.

A wintery fairytale view of the Banff Springs Hotel | Photo credits Melissa Whellams

Day 6: Explore Banff and surrounds

Skiing, shopping and exploring abound in this alpine heaven.  All activities listed require an entry fee and may require equipment rental fees.

πŸ› πŸ”¦ Lose track of time while visiting the plethora of boutique stores, galleries and eating spots along Banff Avenue

β›· Norquay; Sunshine; πŸ’°

Ski Mt Norquay with Banff in the background | Photo credits SandsFam
Ski Sunshine Village | Photo credits Sunshine Village

πŸ”¦ Discover the historic Cave and Basin πŸ’°

The Cave & Basin, birthplace of Canada’s National Parks | Photo credits Colin Forsyth

πŸ– Banff Upper Hot Springs πŸ’°

Soak in the natural sulphur springs near the foot of Banff’s Sulphur Mountain at Banff’s Upper Hot Springs | Photo credit Juniper Hotel & Bistro, Banff

🌢 🍽 πŸŒ„ Dinner recommendation: Wrap up your unforgettable Rocky Mountain experience at the Sky Bistro atop Sulphur Mountain.  From your 7,510-ft vantage point you can gaze at the romantic alpine beauty and emerging twinkling night lights of the town of Banff below.  The Banff Gondola ride is included in your dining cost. πŸ—“

Sundown from Sulphur Mountain overlooking the alpine village of Banff | Photo credit Banff Gondola
Alpen Glow dinner at the Sky Bistro: make it happen! | Photo credit Sky Bistro

🏑 πŸ—“ Overnight at your Banff accommodation.

Day 7: Banff to Canmore to Calgary [~130km]

πŸš™ Drive from Banff to Canmore [24km].

πŸ› πŸ”¦ Explore the quaint village of Canmore, gateway to the Rockies. Saunter along 10th Street and the town centre taking in some shopping and exceptional art galleries.

Strolling through Canmore | Photo credits Kaitlin Dewar

β›· Visit the Canmore Nordic Centre, venue of the 1988 Olympic alpine sports events.  Here you might find opportunity to cross country ski or slip on some snow shoes and test out the terrain. πŸ’°

The Canmore Nordic Centre has great family-friendly and advance cross country ski trails and facilities | Photo credit Canmore Nordic Centre PP

🍽 Return to the town site and enjoy a novel pizza at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company or a more refined meal at the Crazy Weed Kitchen.

πŸš™ Drive from Canmore back to to Cow Town (Calgary) [103km] to complete your spectacular 7 days of sightseeing in the Canadian winter.

But wait, there’s always more … events

And more destinations to look out for …


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