Calgary a winter playground

Fun in the snow when you’re not in the mountains

It is often said that one of the perks of living in Calgary is that we are only an hour drive from the Rockies. But most of us spend the majority of our time in the city and there is no point wasting it by sitting around and pining for the mountains. Calgary is a winter city after all and there are myriad options for free outdoor fun within the city limits.

“Getting active and taking advantage of winter activities has physical social and emotional benefits” says Heather Cowie recreation manager at the City of Calgary ( calgary.ca ). Here are a few ways to take advantage of that brisk winter air:


As long as there is snow you can find kilometres of trackset trails maintained by volunteers at Shaganappi Point Confederation and Maple Ridge golf courses. Tracksetting begins mid-November or when there is enough snow.

For the more intrepid break your own trail by ski or snowshoe in any of the city’s natural areas including Weaselhead Edworthy Park Fish Creek Provincial Park and North or South Glenmore parks. The city’s website notes “Unless it’s immediately after a snowfall skiable areas can be rough due to competing uses such as pedestrians dog walkers and cyclists” so make sure to take advantage of those heavy snowfalls.


In addition to the dozens of community outdoor rinks across the city the City of Calgary maintains outdoor public skating rinks at Big Marlborough Park Carburn Park and Prairie Winds Park which will open mid-December and Olympic Plaza which is refrigerated and usually opens in mid-November. Unfortunately it is too soon to say whether skating will occur at the popular Prince’s Island or Bowness lagoons as these two parks received substantial flood damage — keep checking the city’s website for updates.

From December 2 to 6 and on December 9 and 10 skaters at Olympic Plaza will be serenaded by elementary school choirs singing seasonal favourites from the stage during lunch hour. “This outdoor activity has been available to Calgarians for close to 20 years and each year all ages enjoy lacing up the skates getting out some fresh air and appreciating the beauty of the young choir” says Stephanie Barnett city event co-ordinator.

Though technically out of the city limits Spruce Meadows offers free skating on their pond as well as a Christmas light display from December 6 to January 6 featuring thousands of lights.


Tobogganing is the ultimate free activity since it requires no special equipment just a cardboard box and a snowy hillside. The city’s website lists 17 parks with great tobogganing hills but there are many smaller ones in school yards and green spaces across the city. Some of our favourites include: Confederation Park Deerfoot Athletic Park St. Andrew’s Park (on University Drive) Stanley Park and Varsity Park (off 53rd Street across from the golf course).

And if you need a break from trudging up those hills there’s always the opportunity to build a snowman or fort or possibly engage in a friendly snowball fight.


Roast your chestnuts marshmallows or hotdogs over an open fire in designated fire pits at a number of parks in Calgary — from Fish Creek Provincial Park to Sandy Beach Shouldice or Edworthy parks. Firewood can be requested if you book a site with City of Calgary parks but it is not guaranteed so to be safe you should bring your own. Details on the rules and regulations for picnic sites and fire pits are on the city website but the demand is usually not as high in winter so booking may not be necessary.


Calgary’s extensive pathway system isn’t just for summer. The city boasts more than 300 kilometres of cleared paths throughout the winter so with some warm clothing you can continue to bike walk and run 365 days a year. Check the city’s website for information on which paths will be cleared and when.

While the snow might make it more difficult there are many geocaches ( geocaching.com ) hidden throughout the city. A “real-world treasure hunt” geocache participants use a GPS to make their way to a set of co-ordinates to find a cache which contains a logbook and often some item which participants can trade for a treasure of their own.

Along the same lines kids can become secret agents for a day with the city’s new app the Order of Inter-Species Explorers Adventurers and Ubernaturalists (OISEAU). Kids join a fictitious secret nature intelligence agency select a participating city destination as their “mission site” and become agents tasked with solving nature-related mysteries.

“We hope Calgary’s youth will have fun and learn to appreciate Calgary’s parks and wildlife” says Maggie Thompson environmental and education initiatives supervisor for parks. The app works in seven city parks: Devonian Gardens Bowmont Park Nose Hill Park Prairie Winds Park Ralph Klein Park Sandy Beach Park and Sue Higgins Park as well as at the Calgary Zoo.

Nature Calgary ( naturecalgary.com ) offers free bird watching throughout the year at various locations in and around the city. Upcoming events include birding in North Glenmore Park and a bird survey on the Elbow River both at the end of November.