Aurora Borealis in Banff National Park, Canada

One Day in Calgary: Backpacking Some of Canada’s Most Beautiful Landscapes

Backpackers all over the world are constantly looking for the next great adventure. However, many Americans are probably on a budget for both time and money and can’t afford an expensive plane ticket to a distant country.

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Luckily, American outdoors enthusiasts have an easily accessible option available to quench their thirst for adventure while still allowing them to travel internationally: Canada.

Visiting Calgary

Calgary is known as Alberta’s prairie pearl and a gateway to the majestic mountains of Banff National Park. With over one million people, Calgary is the sixth largest city in Canada and borders two biomes – it’s the place where the foothills of the Canadian Rockies meets the prairies. In winter, the average low temperature is five degrees Fahrenheit, which can be shocking if you’re not accustomed to cold weather, but the summers are sweet and mild with an average high of seventy-one.

Most backpackers have a limited amount of time to spend on their hobby, but they can often find a good price on short term apartments for rent in Calgary. Not only are the apartment prices often cheaper than staying in a hotel, but you can often strike up vacation friendships with the locals and find invites to interesting and lesser-known places.

8 A.M.

Nose Hill Park is a great place to start your tour of Calgary. The park is six square miles and is surrounded on all sides by the city, so its easy to get to and gives travelers a glimpse of what the area looked like before the concrete and steel buildings were built. A visit to the park affords awesome views of all sections of Calgary.

It’s also a great place to meet other backpackers on the approximately twenty miles of trails. Also, make sure that, at least once, you’re standing at the summit for sunset as the lights of Calgary twinkle below and the sun sets behind the Rocky Mountains to the west. This sight is guaranteed to impress.

Fish Creek Park, Calgary
Fish Creek Park, Calgary © IcE MaN

But as big as Nose Hill is, it is still smaller than Calgary’s other backpacking paradise park: Fish Creek. The town planners of Calgary did a great job developing the miles and miles of public park inside the city limits where you can hike along the Bow River. In the warm months, there’s even a sandy beach and manmade lake you can dip into, that is, if you don’t mind the chilly water.

The trails of Fish Creek Park are never far from the bright lights and big city energy of downtown Calgary with all of its attractions. The zoo is excellent and is only a mile from the downtown city center.

If you’re a history nerd, there’s also Heritage Park, a one hundred plus acre historical village that shows how folks lived in the area back in the day. Also, for the athletic types and thrill seekers, there’s the Canadian Olympic Park, built for the winter Olympics of 1988 but now open in spring and summer with mountain biking, bungee cord jumping and outdoor rock wall climbing.


Adventurous backpackers can rent a raft and paddle down Calgary’s Bow River. The Bow River is 623 kilometers long and flows through majestic scenery including mountains and rolling hills. The river isn’t difficult to navigate, but everyone should remember that life jackets are required and having someone on board with an Alberta boat license is a good idea.

6 P.M.

The Bow River flows through Banff National Park, which is one of the oldest and most visited parks in Canada. There are thirteen campgrounds within the park and it’s a great place to spend the night. Many activities are available, including fishing, swimming, hiking, scuba diving, and horseback riding. (It’s important to note that the nights, even in summer, can drop below freezing and it can snow during any month of the year, so make sure you’re prepared for any weather.)

Aurora Borealis in Banff National Park, Canada
Aurora Borealis in Banff National Park © Satoru Kikuchi

6 A.M.

There are glorious sunrises in Banff National Park, so be sure to get up early or you’ll miss out. Head over to the prehistoric park and botanical gardens that feature beautiful, exotic plants. Special events are scheduled throughout the year, so it’s a good idea to call ahead to see what will be happening during your visit.

Calgary is located close to home for many Americans (relatively speaking), but there are many spectacular things to see and great adventures to be had during your visit.

Canada is home to some of the most spectacular terrain in the world, and the aurora borealis can be seen lighting up the sky throughout the year. So load up the backpacks and hit the trails. And say hello to all my friends up there, eh?

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