Why Calgary is the Best Sustainable Hub for a Trip to the Rockies

Calgary is a green destination in itself, or a good base to explore the Rockies
Calgary is a green destination in itself, or a good base to explore the Rockies | © Alexander Jung / Alamy Stock Photo

Editorial Manager

The Canadian Rockies are one of the world’s last unspoilt frontiers – and they should be on every traveller’s bucket list. For such a large expanse of terrain, there is still the potential for overcrowding in the peak summer months – but Calgary, in Alberta, is ideal as a base for tackling the Rockies at your own pace.

Calgary is a modern city that has carved a niche for itself as one of the most sustainable destinations in North America. The world’s longest urban recreational pathway is 1,000km (600mi) in length and connects 55 communities; there are plenty of green spaces here, too. The varied neighbourhoods include a lively Downtown district, the bohemian Kensington quarter and Bridgewood – known by locals as the brunch capital of the city.

Calgary sits on the Bow river, which has a cycle path running alongside it

Walking tours and safe cycle routes add to the sustainable message Calgary is keen to promote. Unlike other places, it does feel like this is a well thought-out campaign rather than a trendy slogan when it comes to green travel.

With its green-city credentials in the bag, why would you want to leave the comforts of Calgary on your next visit here? The obvious appeal of the Rockies is clear, but in real life the region is even more impressive. It’s no surprise that the national parks in the mountains are some of the top attractions in Canada.

In the popular resort of Banff, the mountain backdrop is everywhere, visible from street level. In summer, locals party alongside tourists late into the night, and in winter it’s all about the skiing or snowboarding, either here or at nearby Lake Louise. Banff is less than 130km (80mi) from Calgary, so you can come on a day trip or spend a few nights here in the off-peak season when prices come down slightly. The Fairmont Lake Louise is top of the list of places to stay in Lake Louise, although you might want to know that it’s also one of the most haunted hotels in the world.

The Saskatchewan glacier is a must-see in the Canadian Rockies

An alternative to Banff National Park and Lake Louise is Kananaskis Country, which is also within easy reach of Calgary. There are a number of open spaces here and ski resorts ideal for alpine sports. Nature lovers will enjoy the chance to spot wild bears and moose roaming free, with plenty of outdoor adventures to be had too. Leonardo DiCaprio spent several weeks in the area while filming The Revenant (2015); anyone who’s seen the Oscar-winning film will know it used the location to great effect.

Kananaskis is great for wintersports and easy to reach from Calgary

The Revenant depicts the savagery of the early days of the fur trade. Traces of Alberta’s Wild West heritage can still be found along the Cowboy Trail, where prairie towns and western attractions take you back to a bygone age. You can go back even further if you head 90 minutes northeast of Calgary and visit Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. This houses one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs and is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life.

All of these attractions are in destinations with a wonderful array of places to stay. Hotels, boutiques and even campsites are available, but you can also set up a central base in Calgary and explore a little bit of everywhere when it’s less busy. In summer you can go surfing, but if that’s not your scene, then perhaps a visit to Canada’s largest living history museum at Heritage Park for a more practical experience?

Discover Canada’s Wild West at the Heritage Park historical village

Calgary is a great year-round destination. Rather than taking multiple flights to see the mountains and history of the region, you can instead do it all in one go. If you really want to avoid driving, then the Rocky Mountaineer has routes that include Calgary, so you can go even further afield on an even more sustainable train trip.

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