10 Tips for First-Timers to Calgary Stampede

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-063I’ve had the Calgary Stampede on my bucket list for some time now and I can finally tick it off, thanks to the good folks at Travel Alberta, who flew me from L.A. to Calgary to experience it. As an added bonus, I got to fly Air Canada’s rouge for the first time for the 2.5-hour flight. Have you flown Air Canada rouge before? Either way, here are 10 things to know about flying Air Canada rouge.
Calgary Alberta Canada July 2014-005When I landed in Calgary, I quickly cleared immigration (if you travel to Canada often, apply for a NEXUS card), then hopped in a taxi to downtown Calgary which took about 25 minutes and cost $45 including tip. FYI: You can take a town car for roughly $10 more.
Calgary Alberta Canada July 2014-003I checked into Hotel Arts, which is a designer boutique-style hotel and just a few blocks from the Stampede. Following check-in, I walked several blocks to Centre Street for dinner. I went to Charcut and tried their poutine deep fried in duck fat (which was quite delicious), as I waited for my wife’s flight to land.
Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-044The Calgary Stampede is called The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth and after spending a day there, I can see why. It takes place every July for 10 days and to my surprise, it’s not just a rodeo. This event is like a State Fair with a rodeo.
Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-003
At Calgary Stampede, you’ll find every kind of food imaginable, from Texas BBQ to Scorpion pizza. That’s right, pizza with farm raised scorpions sprinkled on top ($10 a slice). They also have pretty much anything you can think of deep fried … from deep fried sushi to deep fried butter. Yes, BUTTER! See my pics below, which include deep fried Oreos, Twinkies and of course the famous mini donuts.
Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-021There are plenty of activities too like amusement park rides and games. I rode a mechanical bull and listened to some country music. They bring in all kinds of bands including superstars like Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and Keith Urban.
Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-023
I was shocked at how big the Calgary Stampede is and how many people come through their doors. On average, about 100,000 people visit a day and the Saturday before I arrived saw 160,000 visitors! Park hours are from 11am to midnight and it costs $16 for adults and $8 for seniors, (65+) and kids (7-12). Kids under 6 get in for free.

The Calgary Stampede is a fun and exciting place to be for locals and tourists alike. If it’s on your list for next summer, here are 10 things to know before you go:
Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-050
1. Don’t break in new cowboy boots
If you don’t already own a pair of broken in cowboy boots, wear something else. It’s a bad idea to buy a brand new pair and try to break them in while you’re walking the extensive grounds of Stampede. Your feet will be killing you. You’ll likely do a lot of walking so make sure you’re comfortable.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0782. Wear a white cowboy hat
You don’t have to wear cowboy boots but you will want to wear a cowboy hat. White is the traditional color for the Calgary Stampede and you can buy them all over the city, including at the Stampede itself. From what I saw, prices mostly started at around $29 CAD ($27 USD).

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0453. Wear sunscreen
Although you might think of Calgary as being cold, as it is in the winter, it will most likely be hot and sunny during July. The day before I was there it was 96F. But the day I was in town the temperature ranged from 58-82F. Here’s the 10-day Calgary weather forecast.

4. Stay hydrated
Calgary is 3,438 feet above sea level so the air is dry and thin, which is why it’s important to stay hydrated … and I’m not talking about beer and cocktails, though most adults at Stampede do seem to hydrate that way. Drink plenty of water.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0715. Come hungry
After seeing all my food photos below, you will understand why you should make sure you’re hungry when you visit. Here are descriptions and pictures of some of this year’s fun food.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0336. Buy tickets in advance
If you buy your tickets in advance for concerts, it will include the gate admission so that right there saves you $16. FYI: If you are going with a large group (20 or more guests), let them know in advance and you will receive a 10% discount for Rodeo or Evening Show tickets (call 403-269-9822).

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0727. Go on value days
During the 10-day festival, there are three value days: Family day is the first Sunday, Tuesday is Heritage (Senior) day and Wednesday is kids day. Here’s the link for what each entails but most include free admission.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0738. Spend two days at the Stampede
Most visitors will want to spend two days at the Stampede because it’s so huge. I can understand, though I was happy and tired after one. My only regret was that we didn’t spend a full day so we ended up missing the chuck wagon races, which take place at night and are supposed to be loads of fun.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-0379. Find air conditioning
The Stampede is outdoors, not indoors like I imagined. On those really hot days, go to the BMO tent to find air conditioning. It’s a chance to cool down and refuel for your next round.

Calgary Stampede Alberta Canada July 2014-04210. Bring a zoom lens
If you are into taking photos and want to get some great rodeo pictures, then I suggest either buying, borrowing or renting a zoom lens so you can get photos like the one I took above. There’s lots to see and you’re sure to get some amazing photos so be prepared!

Future Stampede Dates
As you can see, the Calgary Stampede is barrels of fun and I would definitely go back. I’m not sure if it requires multiple visits but I can see why it’s on most people’s bucket list. You obviously missed the 2014 Calgary Stampede but here are the future Stampede dates:

  • July 3-12, 2015
  • July 8-17, 2016
  • July 7-16, 2017
  • July 6-15, 2018
  • July 5-14, 2019

Good to know: The Calgary Stampede is the world’s richest tournament-style rodeo. It doesn’t count towards the participants’ PRCA‘s world standings because the organizers fly in all the cowboys, put them and their families up and offer the most money out of any rodeo.

You know the saying “this isn’t my first rodeo?” Well, this was my first rodeo and I hope it’s not my last.

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