I was not happy about wearing western gear in public. Cowboy boots and hats are simply not my thing. But around 10pm on that warm July evening, as I sat eating bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, I looked at my reflection in the window and thought: “What an incredible day”!
I had eaten exceptional food, watched professional cowboys balance on unpredictable bulls, and learned much about First Nations cultures. As I sat at the bar staring at two women trying to keep hold of mechanical bulls, battling it out in the hopes of being declared the winner, I couldn’t help but feel excited over the anticipation of what would come next.
What and when is the Calgary Stampede?
The first Calgary Stampede was in 1912 and has grown and evolved much since. Today it boasts western culture values and offers its visitors demonstrations, events, education, and competitions. Every year, over 1.2 million people come to Calgary to attend the festival, rodeo and exhibition.
The Calgary Stampede takes place over ten days every year in July and is located in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). For 2017, it will be running from July 7th to 16th.
Where to stay
The most important aspect when choosing your accommodation is to account for the commute to the festival grounds. Parking is very hard to come by, and looking for a park can be a frustrating experience. Also, the hotels closest to the Stampede grounds will be pretty expensive so walking is not always an option.
We highly recommend choosing hotels near the C-train route – there are tons! The Red line, in fact, will take you right to the festival grounds. Book in advance though, as the best options will sell out fast!
How to get there
If you were able to find accommodation near the C-Train route, this is your best option. There is a station near the BMO Center (Victoria Park/Stampede Station) and one near the south end (Erlton/Stampede Station). It also runs pretty late for those of you wanting to enjoy a bit of nightlife. As of March 2017, a one-way ticket costs $3.25 per person, and a day pass is $10 through Calgary Transit.
Alternatively, bus routes go throughout the city, or you can bike and use the bicycle racks set up at the entrances.
If you decide to drive, parking costs $15 and there are limited spaces. They do have a limited number of reserved parks available if you plan ahead, but they go quickly.
What to wear to the Calgary Stampede
Generally, the weather tends to be sunny and warm this time of year in Calgary, but it is unpredictable so check the weather channels before leaving. You will be outside most of the day, so bring sun protection (sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen) and wear comfortable shoes and breathable clothing. You should also bring a warm sweater or small jacket, especially if you plan on enjoying a show from the Grandstands or stick around in the evening – it will get cooler.
Most of all, don’t forget to dress the part; denim, boots, hats and chaps are the fashionable choices here!
What to bring
The obvious stands; make sure not to forget your tickets (if you pre-purchased them), cash/Interac cards (ATMs are available on the grounds), and camera or cell phone to take pictures! A bottle of water and something warm for the evening should be in your bag as well.
Get your tickets
If you want to see any of the concerts, rodeo events, chuckwagon races or the Grandstand evening show, you should purchase your tickets ahead of time as they also include your admission to the festival grounds for the day. You will also have the best pick for your seats. For a cheaper alternative, you can opt to wait for same day tickets. There are day reserved and standing room tickets sold daily starting at 11am.
Keep in mind that it costs extra to get onto the grounds if you’re not purchasing rodeo or evening show tickets (in 2016, it was $18 per adult).
The Stampede Parade is the kick-off of the festival. It takes place on the first Friday of the Stampede and is a great way to kick-start the event! Make sure to be there early to find good spots; it’s a very well-attended event!
You should definitely attend the Rodeo and the Evening Show. These cost extra, but are well worth it! The Rodeo features the best cowboys in the business showing off their skills in bull riding and bareback events. The evening show has chuckwagon races, followed by a stage show that finishes with spectacular fireworks.
There are also many free entertainment options daily on the grounds. These include the Dog Bowl, where our furry friends get into friendly competitions; Indian Village, which shares First Nations cultures and heritage; and the incredible tricks of talented performers at the Bell Adrenaline Ranch.
Music is a vital part of the experience, with hundreds of performers attending! There are free shows at the Nashville North stage and the Coca-Cola stage, featuring live country music all day. And the Virgin Mobile Stampede Concert Series features top musicians (tickets cost extra).
Other entertainment options include a midway with various rides and games (at extra costs), agriculture showcases, and western competitions. Do try as many as you can, it’s the best way to discover new interests and talents!
Where to eat
The variety of food options available on the festival grounds is an experience in itself, so no need to look very hard for something good to eat! Past delectable bites have included creative options such as Venison Hot Dog, Oreo Churros, Butter Chicken Fries and Deep Fried Tequila Shot Bites. All of these combined with delicious BBQ options like ribs and corn on the cob, will make your mouth water!
Limit alcohol intake and stay hydrated; the days are long and you’ll want to remember it all!
Crowds are smaller on the grounds during paid shows so it’s a great time to see things. You can also go the Thursday night before it opens to take advantage of the midway during this “sneak peek” evening.
Things can get pricy quickly. Great deals from past years have included free pancake breakfasts, free entertainment and special rates on certain days. Keep your eyes open for these deals and your wallet will thank you!
If you’re attending the Grandstand Show in the evening, you will have the best seats in the place for the nightly fireworks (this takes place around 11 pm).
Finally, for up to date information, visit the Calgary Stampede website or download the free app for helpful maps and schedules.
There is so much at the Calgary Stampede that it cannot possibly all be contained in this article; it can only be experienced! So get your cowboy hats and boots ready, we hope to see you there this summer!