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Great Outdoors, Travel, Life

14 ideal Alberta destinations for a day trip this summer

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Kristy Archibald May 29, 2018 12:00 pm 5,125

With summer right around the corner and long weekends every month, we are officially deeming it road trip season!

However, sometimes it’s hard to make the time for an entire weekend extravaganza. Luckily, Calgary is positioned perfectly between the badlands, prairies, foothills, and the Rockies which leaves a ton of options for a quick day trip that is no more than a mere two-hour drive away.

Experience the charm of a rural small town, learn the history of our province, marvel at the views from a mountaintop, shop for gems at a vintage shop, or head out for some lakeside activities.

Here are 14-day trips that we highly recommend hitting up this summer… just don’t forget your camera!

See also

The Big 3

What: We don’t know if this is what they are actually called, but we’re unofficially calling them The Big Three!

Turner Valley, Black Diamond, and Long View are three quaint, charming little towns that are all within a five-minute drive of one another on Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail.

Tucked within the foothills at the base of the Rocky Mountains, these towns were formerly the beginning of the oil boom in Alberta and still have the paraphernalia hanging around to prove it.

Begin the day at the Chuckwagon Cafe, where they will provide you with a hearty breakfast and strong cuppa Joe. Leave room for lunch at The Westwood and a snack at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, an adorable 1950s inspired diner.

Come prepared to shop the many boutiques that are hidden in each town, such as Berties General Store, Branch Market Studio, Sandul’s Pharmacy, and more!

End the day at the Black Diamond Hotel, with a brew that proves the Old West is not over, or grab a cocktail at the Eau Claire Distillery, which is set in a repurposed 1929 movie theatre. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that!

Where: Along Highway 22 on the Cowboy Trail

Granary Road

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What: There is a new market in town and it’s quickly becoming a popular hotspot for families, lovebirds, and groups of friends looking for a fun afternoon outside of the city.

Set on a plot of land across the 22X, this country destination is made up of a unique Public Market, Active Learning Park, a beehive shack, and a petting zoo. At the public market, you’ll have the opportunity to shop over 30 high-quality vendors and grab a bite at The Loft Bakery, Kitchen, and Lounge.

The Active Learning Park consists of 36 acres of pure adventure with 11 various exhibits featuring giant animatronic spiders, bats, and frogs along with a ton of opportunities for kids to play, have fun, and work their imaginations!

Where: 226066 112 Street West, Foothills, Alberta

Bar U Ranch

What: Located deep within a pocket of the rolling foothills lies this 148-acre National Historic Site, which is often considered one of Alberta’s best-kept secrets. Established in 1882, this ranch was home to some extremely notable figures such as George Lane, John Ware, Fred Stimson, and Patrick Burns. Don’t recognize some of those names? Head back in time and enjoy the picturesque scenery that this ranch has to offer, as you explore the many original buildings on the premise, learn how to rope, and become educated on the humble beginnings of ranching in Alberta.

Where: Bar U Ranch National Historic Site – Township Rd 17B and Township Rd 17A, Longview Alberta

Cochrane

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What: All we can say is if you haven’t been to Mackay’s in Cochrane then seriously, what have you been doing with your life?

Begin your day in this charming town with a cup of pure caffeinated goodness from one of the many coffee joints scattered along the streets. Cochrane Coffee Traders, Heritage House Coffee Company, or The Gentry Espresso and Wine Bar are only a few that never disappoint.

Make sure you save room for dinner as you treat yourself to a seafood feast at Schooners on First, a chuckwagon-style stew or Texas chilli from the Texas Bar and Grill, or a brew and a burger from the Half Hitched Brewing Company, a local microbrewery in town.

A staple for generations now, MacKay’s is usually lined up around the city block on a hot summer evening. The ice cream they serve is more than enough to head down for a visit. If you’re a history buff, we recommend hitting up the Historic Cochrane Ranche Site, which was home to Alberta’s first large-scale livestock operation.

Lastly, you can’t miss the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, where you’ll learn all about this species and get close enough to get some amazing photos of these furry little guys.

Where: Along the 1A heading NW out of the city

Saskatoon Farm

What: Both locals and international tourists boast of this quaint little farm, which is a hidden gem off the highway, located a mere 10 minutes from the south of Calgary.

Here you can gather your own Saskatoon berries, cherries, and black currents in their U-Pick garden, or shop for fresh, organically-grown fruits and veggies.

You’ll find a general store filled with antiques and local handmade items, a bakery offering their famous cinnamon buns and Saskatoon berry pies, and a Mexican-themed restaurant that serves up a mean breakfast and lunch!

Where: 80181 338 Avenue East, De Winton

Sundre

What: Located 75 minutes northwest of Calgary along the Cowboy Trail, this little town is the perfect spot to experience some home-grown Albertan hospitality. There are plenty of spots to park your RV or pitch a tent if you’re on the road for a true summer adventure. For the thrill seekers, this little town offers the opportunity to try out whitewater rafting and kayaking, along with horseback excursions throughout the foothills — if that’s more to your speed.

Their golf course was named one of “Canada’s best 18-hole courses” and boasts stunning views of the Red Deer River at various areas around the course.  You also can’t miss checking out the Sundre Museum, featuring fascinating facts on both natural and human history, a four-acre Pioneer Village, and the Chester Mjolsness World of Wildlife, which features 150 taxidermy animals from around the world.

Sundre comes from hard work, ranching, and humble blue-collar beginnings, which only adds to its personality. The rich history of the oil and gas sector is still very prevalent in many of the artifacts and structures that make up this cozy little town.

Where: 75 minutes northwest of Calgary along the Cowboy trail (Highway 22)

Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park

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What: Embark on an unforgettable experience as you learn about the Blackfoot Tribe and see how their cultural influences shaped our province into what it is today. Enjoy exhibits and tours that feature their vibrant culture, authentic artifacts, and dazzling performances.

Take your adventure even further and head into the past on a self-guided tour of the grounds, where you’ll discover the many historic sites and learn more about the history of the land. They offer the opportunity to explore the tipi village as you learn about the local flora and fauna.

You can even pack a picnic or sleep over if you so desire!

Where: Box 1639, Siksika, Alberta

Kananaskis Country

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What: Or K-Country, as the locals call it! Here, where the Rocky Mountains meet the foothills, is 4,000-square-kilometres of beautiful scenery just waiting to be explored on your next adventure. From dog sledding, alpine skiing, and snowshoeing, to hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and so much more, your options are endless out here!

A few spots that are must-sees are Grotto Creek Canyon, the Highwood Pass (the highest paved pass in Canada), Elbow Falls, Barrier Lake, and Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. The views at each of these destinations will not disappoint! If your looking for a relaxing moment after a day’s worth of adventuring, check out Mount Engadine Lodge or the brand-new Nordic Spa at the freshly renovated Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. Here you can experience a mountain sanctuary that will have you rejuvenated and ready to head out on your next excursion in no time!

It’s the perfect home-away-from-home that offers a cozy ambiance in the midst of our mountainous backyard.

Fort Macleod

What: This little town has a whole lot of heart and holds much of Alberta’s history within its perimeter. It was the first NWMP settlement in western Canada and, as a result, reflects this accomplishment proudly! Enjoy a flick at the Empress Theatre (a ‘first-class opera house’ back in its day when it opened in 1912 as a franchise of Famous Players) or enjoy a historical rendition of the NWMP processes at the Fort Museum.

Just west of the town you can hit up Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO site that shares a huge cultural significance with the Blackfoot people, as this is where they hunted North American Bison for food. Take a short hike up the cliff (bring some water, it can get toasty) and enjoy spectacular views of both the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains. Lastly, be sure to take a stroll down Main Street, as you may recognize it from the many famous movies that have been shot there!

Banff + Canmore 

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What: These two are always a staple, and luckily for us, these two mountain towns are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Even if you’ve been to Banff and Canmore many times before, there are always new things to discover, activities to try, and new views to set your sights on.

Canmore is essentially the gateway to Banff, with its iconic Three Sisters Mountain range that watches over the town.

Rent the equipment for your adventure at the Canmore Nordic Centre, or make it your mission to conquer Ha Ling Peak or Lady Macdonald. Don’t miss out on the culinary delights that this town has to offer, such as a healthy meal from Communitea Café, grab a brew at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, indulge in some well-deserved carbs at the Rocky Mountain Bagel Company, or try a whole new type of Dining at PD3, Blake Flann’s food bus experience.

If you live for the adventure, try biking the Legacy Trail on your way to Banff. Once there, you can’t miss the new and improved Banff Gondola, try your luck on the Voyageur Canoe Tours, or the Cave and Basin, where Canada’s National Parks began.

Of course, you can’t make a trip to Banff without strolling the Ave and checking out all of the unique shops, cafes, and restaurants. Be sure to hit up the Park Distillery for gourmet campfire-inspired cuisine.

Sylvan Lake

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  • What: If you grew up in Calgary there is a very good chance you experienced a day (or weekend, or week) up at Sylvan Lake. Grab your bathing suit, some sunnies, and, of course, sunscreen, and head up for the day with a group of friends or the whole family. You can build sand castles, hit up the water park, play beach volleyball, or simply relax in the sun. It doesn’t get much better than that!
  • Where: 25 minutes west of Red Deer on Highway 11

Drumheller

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What: It’s the dinosaur capital of Canada and home to the prehistoric geographical landscape, the Badlands. Obviously, you can’t visit this town without stopping in and saying hello to all your dino friends at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The museum showcases fossils, dinosaur skeletons, and a ton of paleontology research (Ross Geller would be proud).

This town is also, fittingly, the home to the world’s largest dinosaur, which is a staggering 106 stairs to the top of the dino’s mouth. Aside from nerding out on anciet history, Drumheller offers unique experiences, such as a ride on The Bleriot Ferry, a hike through hoodoos, and an unforgettable experience at the Valley Doll Museum.

Hiking Horsethief Canyon, Midland Provincial Park, and Horseshoe Canyon also come highly recommended, as you’ll get the chance to see unique rock formations, colourful layers within the stone, and impressive views for miles around.

In the town, you can treat yourself to a famous burger from Bernie and the Boys Bistro to see for yourself what all the hype is about!

Nanton + Vulcan

What: If you’re a vintage junkie then you’ll want to for sure checkout Nanton at some point this summer. Explore the various antique shops and boutiques all set in charming buildings dating back to the early 20th century.

You can also take a peek in the many grain elevators that line the town, which are familiar remnants of its early farming origins.

One spot you can’t miss out on is The Candy Store, an old-timey shop that sells shelves and shelves worth of popular candies that you would never see together in any other store. If you’re interested in World War Two memorabilia, be sure to check out the Bomber Command Museum of Canada where you’ll find aviation artifacts, art, and souvenirs from the war.

Make time for a round of golf, as the 18-hole course is great for all levels and boasts some amazing views of the foothills.

For those who like the sound of Star Trek better, then we highly recommend taking a drive down the road to Vulcan. There you will find the Vulcan Visitor Information Centre which is designed to look like a landing spacecraft and home to a plethora of Star Trek memorabilia!

Bragg Creek

What: If you are looking for an outdoor adventure — but not looking to go too far — then Bragg Creek is the perfect spot to explore. With tons of hiking, walking, and mountain biking trails, there is no reason to not spend the day out in the sunshine.

Grab a coffee, find your zen, and shop locally made goods at The Heart, a beautiful space used as a yoga studio, cafe, and boutique shop.

If you want to get real down and dirty, be sure to grab some friends and pursue some healthy competition at Bragg Creek Paintball — be prepared to get messy!

Treat yourself to a culinary delight at The Barvarian Inn for authentic German food, the Cinnamon Spoon for something a bit sweeter, or the Italian Farmhouse for some homegrown comfort food.

Although this town is small, there is no lack of adventure!

See also

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Kristy Archibald
Kristy is a creative Communications and PR strategist, freelance writer, coffee enthusiast and wine connoisseur who has a strong passion for travelling, art, style and fashion. Check out her blog (FloralandBows.com) for a taste of YYC through the lens of a refined, sassy, PR girl working on being a successful #girlboss.

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