And now, a complete travelogue of our journey through Alberta this summer. Someone get the slide projector! Someone else bring the alcohol!
First up, our itinerary. We spent:
- Four days in Calgary and the area;
- Three days in Banff and Lake Louise;
- One day driving north on the Icefields Parkway, and exploring the east side of the road;
- Two days in Jasper;
- One day driving back down the Icefields Parkway, exploring the west side of the road on our way back to Calgary, before flying home.
I really fretted over how much time to spend in each place, but in the end it worked out okay. Four days in Calgary is fine – you could possibly even do it in three if you were pressed for time. Three days in Banff allowed us to see all the touristy highlights and was fine. You definitely want a full day each way on the Icefields Parkway, which is RIDICULOUS with beauty. Two days in Jasper was fine, but there are like 100 hiking trails and day-use lakes around there so if you are into hiking or camping or canoeing, an extra day would be great for exploring the area.
Day One: The first day, we went to the zoo. It was a gorgeous day and a good start to the trip. The Calgary Zoo has a good mix of Canadian animals and more exotic animals, and lots of interactive and learning opportunities all day long. One thing I really like about this zoo is that it’s not too big – unlike the Toronto Zoo, where you can huff around all day and still only see a quarter of it, we were able to see just about everything in one day.
Our favourites: the penguins, who you can watch swim underwater in giant glass tanks; the otters, who were delightfully playful; and the hippos, who do very little except get in and out of the water all day long, occasionally stopping to spray poop everywhere, and yet are fascinating. Plus: they have a grizzly bear that had to be removed from the wild after it got too tame from many people interactions in Banff, and so it’s the only place in the rockies where you’ll have a 100% guaranteed bear sighting.
Verdict: Definitely go.
Day Two: I had set aside the second day to explore downtown Calgary – I thought it would be nice to get a feel for the city. So we started at the Calgary Tower, which is in the middle of the downtown core and overlooks the city all around. There’s a glass floor there that the kids really liked, and I would highly recommend the free audio tour, which gives you an excellent introduction to the history of the city, and has all kinds of cool videos and anecdotes and even little games on it.
This was the start of the “Lynn freaks out” theme as I just could NOT bring myself to step out onto the glass floor, while the kids were busy jumping around on it like it was nothing. EEK.
Verdict: Worth it.
From the tower I had planned a walking tour of the downtown area, but that turned into a bit of a bust. We did see some interesting things, but overall it was a LOT of walking for minimal reward. Here’s what we did manage to see:
- Olympic Square, where the medals were handed out at the end of each day in 1988, which definitely meant more to those of us old enough to remember the games than the kids. NEWS FLASH: did you know there is a replica of the “Famous Five” statue from Parliament Hill in this square? We felt violated.
- Stephen Avenue, much like our Sparks Street, which features cafes and a few souvenir shops and several old sandstone buildings, and like, no people at all, for some reason.
- The CORE, their version of the Rideau Centre, which was also completely deserted – this was at lunchtime on a Saturday. Seriously, it was like aliens had abducted all of Calgary. The mall was cool though – it has a whole park inside, featuring the Devonian Gardens, giving Calgarians a green space to visit all year long. BRILLIANT.
- The Plus 15 Skywalks – these are glass bridges that connect almost all of downtown so you can avoid going outside in the winter. Sir Monkeypants and I really wanted to explore these as we have seen the movie waydowntown about 10 times. But unfortunately they were mostly locked up on the weekend, or possibly they’d been sealed by our new alien overlords.
- Eau Claire Market, which is like a year-round flea market. We bought a bunch of candy. There was an event going on – some sort of dog show – so there were dogs EVERYWHERE, which was kind of interesting.
- The Bow River and Prince’s Island Park, which are in the centre of the city. Unfortunately the island was closed off for a music festival. Bust.
Sounds like a good list, but really, in general downtown Calgary is like a financial district with little to interest the kids, and even Prince’s Island Park was sort of just another park (from what we could tell). We were travelling with my sister FameThrowa and her husband Mr. Chatty and they had a chance to explore several more downtownish neighbourhoods in the evenings and reported back that they were nice, but nothing special.
So I definitely wish we had skipped this whole downtown walking tour and instead done something else, like visit Fort Calgary, or the Telus SPARK, which is their science centre. If you’re going and you’ve got minimal time, you could combine a morning at the tower with an afternoon at Olympic Park (more on that next time), and shave off a whole Calgary day.
Verdict: Skip the walking tour and pick something else.
Next time: Day three in Drumheller!