Please note: COVID-19 restrictions may affect some of the places on this list.
When I was a mom of littles, playgrounds may have been the only thing that saved me. I certainly wasn’t getting any sleep and sanity was simply an elusive obsession. There were days I would be at the park three times: morning, afternoon, and evening. When winter came, we had to get creative, and life just got a little more difficult. But then, the joy that would come when the weather had warmed up enough for the little hands to climb ladders again!
Now that my kids aren’t so little (happily, I now get to sleep), we still need to escape to a park some days. Playgrounds are often an attraction, but parks hold so much more than that for us now. Calgary parks offer everything from playgrounds to exploring nature to playing a rousing game of whatever you can imagine. (Disc golf, anyone?)
Calgary has several must-visit summer playgrounds, and we couldn’t possibly scratch the surface of playgrounds kids love. Check out the Currie Barracks Airport Playground or the Helicopter Playground for fabulous structured playgrounds with fun themes. Applewood Playground is an enormous place to burn some energy, and some playgrounds, like Variety Park, have a splash park, too.
If you’re looking for something beyond a classic play structure, consider one of the more natural playgrounds that have been popping up around Calgary. These playgrounds tend to be made of more natural materials, moving away from the colourful plastic and offering loads of opportunities for kids to explore and think outside the box. Check out the Haysboro Natural Playground, Mills Park Natural Playground in Inglewood, or the playground at Confederation Park. The playground at Confederation Park has a sandpit and water tap because, for some kids, no trip to the park is complete without a few mud pies!
Back to Nature
We live in one of the largest cities in Canada, but due to its sprawling nature, Calgary has amazing natural spaces. You can take a couple hours and get back to nature, without ever leaving the city. Fish Creek Provincial Park is the second-largest urban park in Canada (second only to Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area). Walk, bike, and explore 80 kilometres of trails, of which 30 kilometres are paved. The park is also home to a wide variety of animal life.
Or check out the award-winning Chevron Learning Pathway on the east end of Prince’s Island. This environmental educational pathway winds around an urban wetland designed to treat stormwater before entering back into the Bow River. Interesting interpretive signage explains how a wetland works and why it’s vital for us. Learn about wildlife, habitat and water quality.
In Edworthy Park, you can walk through a Douglas Fir forest, another great example of Calgary’s natural spaces. Douglas Firs are not really fir trees–they are their own genus. Combined with those in nearby Bowness Park, this is one of the most easterly stands of this species in Canada, for Douglas Firs are usually found in the Rocky Mountains and on the coast.
Other places to check out within the Calgary city limits include St. Patrick’s Island, with hiking and biking trails and restored river channels, and Griffith Woods, which is a natural park nestled along the banks of the Elbow River, where you can enjoy one of only two large stands of White Spruce in the city’s park system.
From the natural environment, it’s a logical jump to the educational! At Ralph Klein Park, in the city’s southeast, you can see a man-made wetland, constructed to improve stormwater quality before it enters the Bow River system and a community orchard with pear and apple trees. Learn more when you visit the Environmental Education Centre which features an indoor classroom, resource library, art studio, and interpretive signage. It’s open daily during the summer and from Tuesday to Saturday during the winter (closed statutory holidays). There’s also a brand-new (opened in 2018) natural playground.
You could also pay a visit to the Pearce Estate, a 15-hectare reconstructed wetland that’s home to the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery and the Bow Habitat Visitor Centre, or the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Nature Centre. The Nature Centre is open to visitors and has interpretive exhibits and information about local wildlife and parks. The Sanctuary has been providing migratory birds with a place to rest their wings since 1929.
Best Parks to Get Physical
Of course, any park is a great place to get physical, but there are some that make it easier than others. Tourmaline Outdoor Fitness Park, along the Bow River across from Edworthy Park in northwest Calgary, is one of several parks in Calgary with outdoor fitness equipment available. Shaw Millenium Park near downtown Calgary boasts Canada’s largest free outdoor skatepark, with 75 000 square feet of skateable surfaces. Or try disc golf at the David Richardson Memorial Disc Golf Park. The David Richardson Memorial Park opened in the spring of 2018 and is the longest course in Calgary. Spread over 27 acres, it offers disc golf for everyone from the expert (designed with the intent of being a professional tournament venue) to families and kids.
Calgary is also known for its fabulous pathway system. The Rotary/Mattamy Greenway path system, together with the City of Calgary trail system, is the longest urban park and pathway system in the world. Connecting all four quadrants of Calgary, it loops the city and brings the City of Calgary trail system to 1000 kilometres of trails.
For Your Pet
What about the 4-legged members of your family? The Jim Davidson Dog Park, in the southeast, is 10 acres of fully-fenced, off-leash fun. This unique area incorporates enhanced features like a digging pit, boardwalk, and interpretive signs into the design of the park. Or, take your pooch to the Sue Higgins Park, which is the largest fenced off-leash park in Calgary. It lies in the southeast along the Bow River.
From kids to dogs to adults who still need to play, we are fortunate to live in a city that has such an abundance of park areas. Getting outside is good for everyone and Calgary makes it easy. The hardest part will be finding the time to visit all our amazing outdoor spaces.