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Fun, Free & Cheap Outdoor Water Adventures in & Around Calgary


If you’re feeling the heat and looking for an escape outdoors, you’re in luck. We live in a city with many types of water adventures that are available for free or on a budget.

My favourite thing to do is combine water activities with picnic or trail walks so kids can have fun, and don’t have to stay in one place for too long. Here’s how to make a morning or day of fun in the water with your kids around Calgary.

River Access

Whether you’re new to the city or have lived in Calgary all your life, it won’t take long for you to notice the many rafts going down one of the rivers at any point of time in July or August. If you have young kids, I recommend using the Elbow River as it tends to be slower and not as deep. I have great memories of going down this river as a kid leaving from Sandy Beach Park. Today’s designated river access locations are controlled by the city with almost 20 locations. Enjoy a lazy river adventure with your kids, but be sure to bring lifejackets, sunscreen and lots of water to keep on your raft.

Parks with Water Activities

If you live in the north of the city, try a day at Bowness Park. The park is full of trees, picnic areas, a boathouse and even a kid-friendly train. Although the train has a fee, there is plenty to do here for free. If you walk along the paths, you might even be able to find a spot at one of the small rocky beaches along the Bow River. My preference is spending the morning at the park, as it tends to be a little less crowded, allowing you to explore more of the park and beaches. Take some time to cool off at the wading pool, perfect for kids of all ages. If you need to dry off, there are plenty of picnic tables in the pool area or around the lagoon. Plus, there is a café near the wading pool for some ice cream or refreshments after.

For those who live more south in the city, a visit to Fish Creek Park is a must! This park is great for any age; with Calgary’s only public beach area (man-made of course), picnicking, biking, hiking, fishing, golfing and wildlife viewing all available in one park. A day at Sikome Aquatic Facility is an added benefit to the park with access to a public beach ($10 for a family of 2 adults and children). You can bring food, however, leave any glass or breakables at home, keeping the beach area free of debris. If you didn’t bring a lunch, enjoy one of the onsite food trucks.

South Glenmore Park is another great park in the city with access to the Variety Spray Park (accessible spray park). The park offers picnic areas, playgrounds, bike/hiking trails. The Spray Park is definitely worth the drive for an afternoon of fun in the water, especially with the view of the reservoir. For older kids, try renting a canoe or kayak from the Glenmore Sailing School for the day (always check ahead to make sure the reservoir is open for boating). Nothing beats a day on the water in a kayak or canoe.

Lake Access

Just outside of the east side of Calgary is Chestermere Lake. This public park offers many ways to cool off this summer. Lots of green spaces, picnic areas and, of course, a sandy beach. Bring a shade tent with you, as there is plenty of green spaces but not as many trees for naturally shaded areas. Your kids will definitely love the sandy beach at Anniversary Park with a swim in the warm lake. Rent or bring your own boat for this lake, get out and enjoy some tubing, waterskiing or surfing this summer. For those launching a boat, note: there is a fee for non-residents, so go early to make the most of the day.

If you want a refreshing dip in a lake, try Ghost lake. This is mountain-fresh water and can be a little chilly, although perfect during a heatwave. About 45 minutes west of Calgary, this lake offers boating, camping and a rocky beach area for swimming. I suggest bringing a lifejacket for your little ones, as the water levels can change often.

Pools, Splash pads or Wading Pools

Calgary’s outdoor public swimming offers up 6 splash pads, 8 outdoor pools and 4 wading pools around the city, so there is sure to be one near your neighborhood! You can purchase a 10x or 30x pass to help keep the costs down or a day use pass. Either way, it’s worth the fee to gain access to the city’s outdoor pools. The splash pads and wading pools are free all summer long! Some locations, like the newly open Bowview Outdoor pool, have both a pool (25-meter lap pool with a deep end) and a small Wading pool with mushroom waterfall.

Plan a playdate

For those of you who may not have access to one of the community neighborhoods, a water activity or lake, make sure to plan a playdate on a hot summer day with a friend or family member who lives in one of the many lakeside communities such as Lake Sundance, Lake Bonavista, Auburn Bay, Arbor Lake, Mahogany Lake, McKenzie Lake, Chaparral or Coral Springs. Other communities might have a splash pad available for community members only. All of these are great and less crowded places to cool off this summer, all you need is your friend or family to gain access to these hidden gems throughout the city.


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