The Calgary Stampede has been running since 1886 and has become the identity of the city. What started as a small agricultural fair has grown into one of the world’s best rodeos and largest festival of its kind in Canada.
The event is held each year in July and has over a million people attending to get a taste of cowboy culture. There’s a lot more to experience besides the rodeo and chuckwagon races. The grand parade kicks off the start of the Stampede and is followed by ten days of concerts, stage shows, First Nation Exhibits, agricultural competitions, animal exhibits and a fairground of rides, games and food vendors. The celebrations extend beyond the grounds of the Stampede, the entire city of Calgary embraces the spirit of the event.
Budget Tips For The Stampede
- Try to get a deal on admissions or tickets and bring some of your own food and water to help keep costs down. The extras such as food and drink and the midway rides and games are what can turn it into an expensive outing.
- Some deals have to be purchased locally in advance. If you know anyone in Calgary ask them to see what is available and purchase it on your behalf.
- Value Deals And Value Days – check out the various options to get discounted admission or midway passes, free child admission, Stampede Packs and Stampede Bucks. There’s a couple of days that have time frames in the morning or evening where you can enter at a discounted rate or for free. http://cs.calgarystampede.com/info/deals-and-days/
- Free Pancake Breakfasts – free flapjacks are being served all over the city during the ten day event. Most venues have pancakes, coffee and juice and a few offer eggs and sausages. http://www.flapjackfinder.ca/
- The biggest breakfasts are held the Saturday after the parade at Chinook Centre Mall and Market Mall, they feed thousands of people and entertain with country acts.
- Be sure to check out some of the excellent free day and evening entertainment at the Coca-Cola Stage or Nashville North (adult only due to alcohol service) for country entertainment.
- Free events happen in downtown Calgary at the Olympic Plaza that is transformed into Fluor Rope Square. Breakfasts, First Nations people in traditional attire, marching bands, gunfighter shootouts and wagon rides. Check out the schedule. http://stampede-downtownattractions.com/ Olympic Plaza is located at the corner of 7th Avenue and Macleod Trail SE.
Helpful Tips For The Stampede
The stampede is busy all ten days, the most visited times are over the weekend and on the free admission day. Having some patience to tolerate the crowds and lineups and taking some time to plan your visit will go a long way. Stampede Planner
- Tickets can be purchased at the main entrances to the Stampede. This gives you access to many free entertainment events and exhibits on the grounds.
- If you want to attend specific rodeo events or concerts you will need to buy tickets well in advance online. These tickets include admission to the stampede grounds. Packages are available that include other off-site local attractions if you wish, such as the Canada Olympic Park or Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. New for 2014 you can purchase advance general admission tickets so that you don’t have to wait in line to get in. (tickets start October 1, well ahead of the events) http://cs.calgarystampede.com/tickets
- Grand Stand Deals – if you haven’t purchased tickets in advance for rodeo or an evening show there are standing room tickets sold on the day of the show. You have to be on site at the Grandstand ticket office or the BMO Center ticket office before 11am. There are a limited number of tickets and they go fast.
- If you book the evening Grandstand Show this will allow you to have great seats for the fireworks at 11pm each evening. From most other areas in the park you can only see the end of the fireworks that shoot higher into the air.
Food And Drink
- Food and drink on the stampede grounds can be expensive. Check out the area called Weadickville located just west of the Coca Cola stage and north of the Big Four Building. It’s a recreation of an early 1900’s street in Calgary. It offers food and drink at cheaper prices than what you will find elsewhere in the park. There are picnic tables and trees making it a great place to escape the heat. You can hear the entertainment going on at the Coca Cola stage. Your own food can be eaten here as well.
- Bring some healthy snacks with you, it’s easy to overindulge in all the deep fried oreos and dill pickles. There are healthier options available if you look for them. The lower level of the Big Four Building has some healthier choices. You can store some of your own food to eat later in the lockers located in a few locations on the grounds, they fill up fast.
- Avoid the meal rush by having lunch and dinner earlier than the normal 12pm and 5pm times.
Weather And What To Wear
- Be prepared by finding out what the weather prediction is. The stampede can experience anything from a downpour of rain, to scorching heat or chilly temperatures. You may want to bring a light windbreaker or sweater. Even on a sunny day it can cool off in the evening. Depending on the forecast you may need a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen or an umbrella. Comfortable shoes are a must.
- The Grandstand where you watch the chuckwagon races and other rodeo events is open to the elements (unless you purchased seats under the canopy). Be prepared, the events go on rain or shine. Many people recommend buying the best seats you can afford under the canopy in the event of rain.
- If you need to escape either the heat or the rain for a while the BMO Round-Up Center or Western Showcase exhibits are a great place to do so.
- Drink plenty of fluids, every year there are many people who need medical attention due to becoming dehydrated.
- Bring some cash, not all vendors and concessions accept credit or debit cards. There are ATM’s on the grounds, but they can often have long line ups.
- Spreading a visit over two days to the stampede is a more relaxing way of doing it, rather than trying to cram it all in one day. Especially if you plan to see the Chuckwagon races, a rodeo event or evening show.
- Make sure you get a free park map and program, it’s a must for navigating the park. The program lists the free shows and events for the day. Smart phones can download the free app with the complete program and map. Update the app before you head to the stampede for the day to get the most current information.
- If you have children stop at the ATCO gas Lost Kids program just inside the entrance. They will fit you with bracelets and give instructions of what to do in case you get separated.
- The ten days of the Stampede are the busiest time of the year in Calgary. Book your accommodation and car rental well in advance.
Transportation And Parking
- If you’re staying close enough consider walking or taking a bike. Bike storage is available at the park entrances.
- Parking can be a pain and expensive, you may want to consider public transportation.
- The public buses have extended hours and the C-Train runs 24 hours a day during the Stampede. Note: the C-Train platforms become very busy when the Stampede is closing for the evening at 11pm. Expect line ups for a half hour prior and after closing. http://www.calgarytransit.com/stampede/
- Taxi – don’t rely on being able to get a taxi. It can be difficult during the ten day event, especially later in the evening.
- If you’re taking public transportation pack light to make travel easier when it’s crowded.
- Parade Day Transportation: Stampede parade day traffic advisories, closures and detours
Tips For The Parade
- The parade kicks off the start of the stampede. Each year someone of notary starts the parade, such as the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge, Kate and Will in 2011.
- There are a limited number of bleacher seats that need to be booked well in advance. Otherwise free spaces along the curbs of the parade route are available on a first come first serve basis. People start claiming spots hours before the 9am start. In general 9th avenue fills first because the parade takes longer to get to 6th avenue. Parade Bleacher Seating
- Be prepared for the weather with sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat if it’s going to be sunny and an umbrella and cheap plastic poncho if rain is predicted, but don’t have an open umbrella blocking the view during the parade.
- There are portable toilets located around the streets, if in doubt look for one of the hosts that wanders the parade route and ask them for the washroom locations.
- Keep out of the street to allow plenty of room for the parade and keep a close eye on children to keep them safe. If you have to cross the street do so before the parade starts. It can become difficult once it’s underway, you’ll have to ask a street marshall or police officer to help you.
- The roads downtown will be closed from 7:30am until around noon or 1pm in some areas to allow the crowds to disperse. Several of the downtown hotels parkades on the parade route will not be accessible for vehicle entry or exit during this time.
Dressing In Western Wear
Many people attending the stampede like to get into the cowboy spirit by outfitting themselves in western wear. You don’t have to get dressed up as a full cowboy, a simple accessory will do. If you don’t own something already there are plenty of shops around the Downtown Core where you can pick up hats, cowboy boots, western style jeans and shirts, belt buckles and cowboy scarfs. There are also vendors at the stampede selling western wear.
Attractions Near The Stampede Grounds And Around Calgary
- Devonian Gardens –an indoor botanical park completely covered in glass covering an area of 2.5 acres.
- Stephen Avenue Walk – a variety of restaurants, pubs, galleries, boutiques and street artists and buskers
- Eau Claire Market– unique shops and galleries, a six screen Cineplex Odeon multiplex, a food court and several restaurants.
- Prince’s Island Park – an urban oasis situated in downtown Calgary along the Bow River. It’s 20 acres of land connected by three bridges to the Eau Claire and downtown districts of Calgary.
- Calgary Tower – 191 meter tall free standing tower in downtown Calgary. It offers a restaurant and the world’s highest 360 degree viewing platform.
- Calgary Zoo – the 2nd largest zoo in Canada, home to over 800 animals and 120 different species
- Cross Iron Mills Mall – the largest single level shopping mall in Alberta. It’s an attraction in itself, divided into several themed neighbourhoods.
- Heritage Park -a historic village and park spread out over 127 acres of land. It’s a museum of preserved historical buildings and trains that were transported to the site.
- Glenbow Museum– a museum of art and history. It features permanent and world renowned traveling exhibitions.
- Fort Calgary – established in 1875 by the NWMP (Northwest Mounted Police) now the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). It was purchased by the city of Calgary in 1974 and re-opened to tell the history of the police through the historic site and a museum.
Some of the other note worthy shopping areas with boutiques and restaurants in Calgary are along 4th Street SW, 17th Avenue SW around 8th street and in the areas of Inglewood or in Kensington, all of which are a short distance from downtown.
Exploring Beyond Calgary
Within a few hours drive of Calgary there are many magnificent places to visit such as the Rocky Mountains. If you are coming to the area it would be advisable to have a minimum of a week (or two preferably) to make the most of your visit.
- Canoe On The Turquoise Waters Of Lake Louise
- Go For A Hike In The Town Of Banff
- Enjoy The Views Over Looking The Mountains And Town On The Jasper Tramway
- See The Atrractions ALong One Of North America’s Most Scenic Drives, The Columbia Icefields Parkway
- Canmore and Kananaskis Country
- Waterton National Park
- Drumheller and the Badlands of Dinosaur Valley
- Bar U Ranch National Historical Site
- The Historic Cowboy Trail
- Head-Smashed In Buffalo Jump
- Other beautiful parks located within 2 to 3 hours from Calgary in the neighbouring province of British Columbia are Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.