There are beautiful parks and great amenities in every quadrant of Calgary, and all outdoorsy Calgarians should make time to visit if they have a chance.
Living in Calgary means that you'll find yourself spoiled for choice when it comes to parks to get out and about in to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine with your friends and family.
The History of Parks in Calgary
There's a running joke that you know you're Canadian when you measure a car journey in terms of how many hours or days it will take you instead of miles, and it's only when you land in a Canadian city that you understand why people say this. Landing in most major cities around the world means flying over urban sprawl for a lot of the time and then landing in or near the heart of the city but when you're traveling to or around Canada it's more of a green spaces...green spaces...green spaces and then finally a city type of experience.
Calgary has this kind of quality to it too and the fact that it really didn't start growing as a city until the hectic oil boom years of the 60s and 70s means that the city planners had a chance to stop any green spaces within the city limit from being covered over and destroyed. This is exactly what Calgary has over 5000 different parks - there are so many of them it's hard to find somewhere in the city that doesn't have a park, which is the exact opposite to pretty much every other "modern" city in the world.
With so many parks to choose from do any of them actually stand out? Well we figured you might ask that so to help you make a more informed park choice we wanted to list out the 5 most popular parks in Calgary which are Stanley Park, Edworthy Park, Bowness Park, Carburn Park and Sandy Beach Park. We could literally spend all day explaining in tiny detail how fantastic each of these parks are but we'll get to that in a future blog post.
If you have a four-legged friend with a wet nose (hopefully it's a dog) there are also more than 150 dog parks where you can take your fur baby off his or her leash and let them stretch their legs and meet their canine buddies for some fun. If you love getting out for a walk, cycle or hike we think you'll find that the 700+kms of trails and pathways in the area should keep your legs busy for at least a few hours each week. If you need a place for the kids to burn off energy or a place to use your whistle copter, Calgary parks can certainly accommodate.
The Best Parks in Calgary, Alberta
If you're looking for a chance to relax, check out one of these Calgary parks to kick back or go on a few nature-themed adventures.
Sandy Beach Park
The name of this park is something of a misnomer because you might expect it to have sand and/or a beach, but it has neither. What it does have lots of are picnic areas and plenty of barbecue pits too. This is pretty much one of the best places in Calgary in which to enjoy a picnic.
On the west side of the community of Riverbend lies Carburn Park on the east banks of the Bow River. It has ponds, fishing, walking trails and is one of the best places in Calgary to watch birds. Once owned by noted Calgarian Senator Patrick Burns, the area was mined for gravel by Carburn Aggregates and is now a prime example of a riverine deciduous woodland with Balsam Poplars and significant examples of shrubs such as Saskatoon, Canada Buffaloberry and American Silverberry bushes.
Carburn Park is the perfect choice for a picnic this summer. It's located near Riverbend and on the banks of the Bow River in Calgary. With plenty of picnic sites and ponds, this is a great place to take the family for your next picnic. The ponds attract a number of different types of birds making the park even more fun.
Other than just picnics, the park has many other features, such as:
- Outdoor ice skating
- Tables and Benches
- Bird watching
- Fire pits
- Dog friendly, leash only
Recently, the park started to allow canoes, dinghies and paddleboats. However, motorized boats are not allowed.
Whether you want to experience nature within the city or you're just looking for a quiet place for a picnic, Carburn Park is one of the best places. Some portions of the park may be under reclamation in 2013 and may be closed. However, most of the park will remain open during this time and you can continue to enjoy the largest ponds found throughout any of the area parks.
Enjoy fishing in the ponds, all the plant life and the rest of the nature found in the park. You can take a stroll down the pathway or sit by the fire in one of the fire pits. There's plenty to do here and some of the plants you will find include Balsam Poplar trees, American Silverberry, Choke Cherry, Canada Buffaloberry and Saskatoon.
Those looking for the right place for their family gathering or any other outdoor events, can rent one of the picnic sites. This provides you with use of the shelter, tables, fire pits and BBQ. You can grill food and enjoy the privacy of having a picnic site all to yourself. The park is open from 5am to 11pm daily and provides plenty of great natural areas for all to enjoy.
This is one of the most popular parks in Calgary so get here as early as you possibly can in the day if you want to have any hope of getting a picnic table. Elbow River is very close by and there's even a public pool for you to enjoy when the weather turns just a little bit warmer.
Stanley Park is open from 5 AM to 11 PM and is a great place to set up an outdoor barbecue, go canoeing or run with your dog. There are plenty of picnic tables and grills available for avid outdoor enthusiasts that love to enjoy nature while consuming a homemade grilled burger. Situated right beside the Elbow River it's a great spot to visit to escape the heat of the inner city. Here you'll find tennis courts, a pool, a wading pool, a baseball diamond and all the leafy trees you'd ever need to provide shade on the hot sunny days.
This is yet another park in Calgary with plenty of picnic tables, fire pits and barbecue areas. Douglas Fir Trail and Lawley Gardens also add to the beauty of the park and provide a great backdrop to a day of fresh air and food with your nearest and dearest.
If you're looking for a great way to escape the cement buildings, hustle and bustle and all the fast moving features of the city, you can find peace within the natural beauty of Edworthy Park & Douglas Fir Trail. This is a densely wooded area with a trail running through providing views of the Bow River Valley. The trail isn't open during the winter, due to icy conditions, but it opened in early spring.
Throughout the trail, you will enjoy many Douglas-fir trees, which are not really fir trees, but their own genus. This is a great nature experience for anybody looking for an escape and provides some of the largest Douglas-fir trees in all of Alberta. Some of these trees are over 500 years of age. Along with the Douglas-fir trees, you can enjoy the many white spruce and balsam poplar trees throughout the trail.
Wildlife is also a possibility when you're on the trail. You can spot many different birds, chipmunks, red squirrels and more. This area is home to cone-eating birds, such as the red and white crossbills and some smaller birds, such as the golden-crowned kinglets.
The park covers 169 hectares and was originally opened in 1962. It was named after one of the early landowners, Thomas Edworthy. The trials are both gravel and dirt with many lookout points for viewing nature. Residents can regularly enjoy this 2.5 km long trail, which runs from Edworthy Park to Cedar Crescent S.W. along the southern bank of the Bow River.
Whether you're looking to escape the city or you just want to enjoy walking the trails, you can anytime the park is open free of charge. Edworthy Park opens daily at 5am and closes at 11pm. It's currently open, but the trail will close when the winter months roll around again.
In addition to plenty of picnic amenities this park also has the Parkside Café for you to snack at, especially if you want to eat al fresco but don't like actually preparing the food for a picnic. There's a lagoon inside the park and you can rent a paddleboat to make the most of it.
If you love the idea of having a relaxing picnic but don't enjoy the thought of preparing the food you can head to Bowness Park and enjoy a lunch at the ParkSide Café. Afterwards you can ride around the lagoon on a rented paddle boat.
This is a unique concept for a park and one that is widely appreciated by Calgarians. This is an indoor park that offers a refuge from the cold winters in the city. It has recently reopened after extensive renovations and is a tropical oasis that you won't want to miss. It's located in the Core Shopping Center downtown and has 10,000 shrubs and 550 trees to make you feel snug and cozy while you forget about the cold weather.
This is a fun place to go if you love biking and hiking. It offers 11 km² of parkland with off-leash zones available throughout the park. Bring along your dog and set up a picnic in this trademark Calgary park that's shaped just like a nose!
These are just a few of the many great parks you'll find from one end of Calgary to the other. If you love green spaces and nature you'll love this city! It seems that a park is always just around the next corner in Calgary and this greenery has been set up so that you can enjoy an indoor park even during the coldest winter months.
Inglewood Wildlands – 9 Ave SE & 17 St SE
This 34-hectare area of land in Inglewood began as a homestead for Colonel James Walker, whose home still stands on the eastern edge of the property. It changed hands and in a municipal tax dispute it became city property until it was told to British American Oil who built a refinery on the site in 1939. It was closed in 1979 and the land sat idle for many years while people wondered what to do with it. The land was contaminated but through the hard work of many civic groups has been cleaned up and reclaimed. Now the Inglewood Wildlands, on the south side of 9 Ave SE is a good friend and neighbour of the adjacent Inglewood Bird Sanctuary providing a natural green space and environment programs for Calgarians. It’s still a work-in-progress.
Elliston Park – 1827 – 68 Street SE
This 415-hectar park at the edge of the community of Forest Lawn was named for the Ellis Family that once lived in the area. Globalfest, an annual fireworks and multicultural event, is held at this City of Calgary operated park. There’s a storm water pond, picnic shelters, washrooms open seasonally, an off-leash dog area and two playgrounds. One is for small children and another is specially constructed for kids aged 10 to 15 years.
Sue Higgens Park
Formerly Southland Dog Park, it was renamed in honour of Sue Higgens who served this area of Calgary as a councillor for many years. It is still a dog park – the largest fenced off-leash park of its kind in the city. Community groups fought to keep this park as natural as possible when a golf course was proposed for this location 25 years ago. The grass still evident throughout most of the park is from homesteaders who farmed the land more than 80 years ago. There are washrooms and picnic areas in this park on the west side of the Bow River.
Bow River Escarpment in McKenzie Lake
The pathway along the ridge between the community of McKenzie Lake and the Bow River is under constant construction due to soil erosion but the interruptions are worth the views. The pathway actually starts in Quarry Park and travels several kilometres along the north/south flow of the Bow River. It winds at the bottom of the value along the river bank with a gradual incline to the top of the ridge. There are fantastic views out of the river towards the mountains, with some pretty scenic views of the upscale homes along the way.
Fish Creek Provincial Park
This is Alberta’s largest urban park with hundreds of kilometres of walking and cycling paths. It runs along Fish Creek as it flows east to the Bow River. The portion of the park in the South East quadrant is of particular interest because of the original Bow River Ranche Homestead once owned by Senator Patrick Burns which still stands. The large historic home has been lovingly restored and is now a high end restaurant, and the nearby cottage once occupied by farm hands has been turned into Annie’s Bakery Café. The park has day use areas which can be booked by groups. Sikome Lake, a man-made swimming facility is open from June to August. Fish Creek is full of wildlife including beavers and is a great place to see these remarkable animals in action.
As one of the largest wilderness areas found throughout not only Canada, but also the world, Fish Creek Provincial Park provides over 54 miles of trails. Spend time biking, running or hiking through some of the most beautiful parts of Alberta. This park protects most of the Fish Creek valley and extents to the Bow River on the east. Even with Calgary growing around the park, it still remains and offers plenty for visitors.
The Park includes the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre, which provides plenty of information and exhibits. It's open from 8:15am until noon and from 1pm to 4:30pm daily and closed on Saturdays and Sundays. The centre includes a theatre, exhibit area, washrooms, pay phone and the administration office.
Other than just miles of trails, visitors can use the boat launch ramp from April to October to enjoy the water, spend time at one of the five picnic sites, enjoy the fire pits or swim at the Sikome aquatic facility from June 15th to September 2nd. The Ranche Restaurant is also located within the park and provides regional cuisine for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Another dining option found within the park is Annie's Bakery & Cafe, which features homemade soups, sandwiches, desserts and coffee.
Groups can rent day-use site in reserved areas from April 1st to October 31st during normal park hours. The site is $78 per day with a $12 non-refundable deposit.
The park areas are all gated and locked during evening hours. It opens daily at 8am year-round, but the closing time varies. From March 15th to April 30th and from September 4th to October 30th the park closes at 8pm, May 1st to September 3rd it closes at 10pm and from October 31st to March 14th the park closes at 6pm.
Find Rest and Relaxation in a Calgary Park
Calgary is known as the “Land of 5000 parks,” and with good reason. For those who need a break from the chaos of urban life, one of Calgary’s many parks is waiting for you to visit and take your mind off of day-to-day life with fresh air, tall trees, and water adventures just waiting to be had.