It seems as if our beautiful neighbor to the north, Canada, is quickly becoming one very hot travel destination. Although, if it’s action you’re looking for, head straight to Calgary, Alberta. Active travel activities abound in this beautiful area, known for its western culture. In fact, if you like to hit the rodeo circuit every once in a while, today’s guest contributor and Calgary resident, Jacqueline Louie, is here to tell us all about one of the city’s most vibrant cultural events, the Calgary Stampede. (And if rodeos aren’t your thing, she’s got some great road trip and hiking tips as well!)
Bullriders. Chuckwagon races. Western hospitality. And a lot of great parties. You can experience all this and much, much more at the Calgary Stampede, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,’ which goes July 8 – 17 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Each year, the Calgary Stampede hosts 1.2 million visitors from around the world at this 10-day extravaganza, a vibrant celebration of western Canadian history and culture. “Calgary is a big city with a small town flavor. Folks who come to the Stampede are going to have a little taste of the Old West,” says longtime Stampede volunteer, Doreen McArthur.
The Calgary Stampede is also about community. As just one example, the 24 groups that will be entertaining the crowds at the Stampede Parade Prelude represent a wide range of cultures from around the world. “The best part about it, is that people are taken from the crowd to join in,” Doreen says. “There’s dancing, mascots, clowns, princesses and more. It’s really a fun thing for the whole family.”
The massive event, which boasts the world’s richest tournament-style rodeo with $2 million in prize money up for grabs, features six main events each day, including bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and ladies’ barrel racing.
From the rodeo and chuckwagon races to the world-caliber grandstand shows, musical acts, exhibits, activities and festive food, the Calgary Stampede offers something for everyone. Above all, it’s about community, and connection. Everyone can join in, and feel like they belong. Although, if you want to get into the western spirit by dressing up, cowboy-style, you’ll find that denim, a cowboy hat and boots will take you a long way!
Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living history museum, takes visitors back in time to experience western Canada’s rich heritage. Heritage Park’s more than 180 attractions and exhibits span the 1860s to the 1950s, with everything from a fur trade fort and First Nations encampment, to a pre-railway settlement, prairie railway town and museum. Located on 127 acres of parkland overlooking Glenmore Reservoir in southwest Calgary, Heritage Park offers everything from performances and demonstrations, to guided tours. Learn how to churn butter and card wool, discover traditional Blackfoot dancing, and see how bannock is made.
Home on the Range
You can experience the life of a cowboy first hand at Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, located 59 miles south of Calgary along the Cowboy Trail (Highway No. 22). It’s a spectacular route that winds along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, taking you from Calgary through the foothills and a series of picturesque towns and villages – Cochrane, Bragg Creek, Millarville, Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Longview.
The ranch, located just south of Longview, was established in the late 1880s and was one of Canada’s pre-eminent ranches. Today, Bar U commemorates Canada’s ranching history by taking a living history approach. Visitors can learn how to saddle up a horse, fix a bridle and rope a steer; boil up cowboy coffee, make bannock, and immerse themselves in the spirit of the Old West.
Special events at Bar U Ranch include:
- Canada Day celebrations on Friday July 1, with free admission on this day;
- Canada’s Parks Day, Saturday, July 16;
- A trail ride, hosted by the Friends of the Bar U Historic Ranch Association, Saturday, August 6;
- An Old Time Ranch Rodeo, Sunday, August 21.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Approximately 100 miles southwest of Calgary, where the foothills meet the great plains, is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the world’s oldest and largest buffalo jumps. For nearly 6,000 years, the Blackfoot people hunted bison here by stampeding them over a cliff.
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Visitors can learn all about the buffalo hunt and the culture of the First Nations plains people at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump’s five-level interpretive center, which has been built into a cliffside. With the Rocky Mountains to the west, the center’s foothills setting is stunning. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a 15-minute drive (on paved road) northwest of Fort Macleod on secondary Highway #785.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
In the southernmost part of Alberta, approximately three-and-a-half hours southeast of Calgary, is Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park National Historic Site. Situated in the Milk River Valley in the prairie grasslands, Writing-on-Stone is a sacred place, home to the North American great plains’ largest concentration of First Nations rock carvings and rock paintings.