By: Sally Long
Calgary Stampede: The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 Ranch House Journal.
They call Calgary Stampede the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, which could be challenged as cliché, until you attend. The annual 10-day event is held in early July in beautiful Calgary, Alberta. This city has the amenities and infrastructure to host such a large event matched with great weather, spectacular views and entertainment to attract attendees from all over the world. Although hosted in a cosmopolitan city, Calgary shifts it’s focus to western heritage as their purpose statement reads “to preserve and celebrate our western heritage, cultures and community spirit.”
I spent 5 days in Calgary and feel like I could have attended all 10 days and still not have experienced everything that Calgary Stampede has to offer. However, based on my experience here is a list of things I would recommend to future attendees.
Getting There & Transportation
When considering a trip, ease of logistics is one of my top priorities. Visiting the Stampede for international travel it is actually very simple. YYC Calgary International Airport has lots of daily direct flights from United States, which makes travel convenient and affordable. Once you arrive in Calgary, everything is relatively close in proximity. If you decide to opt out of renting a vehicle, Uber and taxis are readily available.
The rodeo is an afternoon performance starting daily at 1:15 p.m. By invitation only, rodeo contestants are chosen based on qualifications and merit, so it is truly the best of the best competing. The rodeo is a tournament style bracket system with a $2 million-dollar payout. With high stakes and rodeo’s toughest competitors, it is an event in which you will see a lot of talent, risk and grit.
Something interesting to note about the Calgary Stampede and their enthusiasm for the sport of rodeo is that they own their own world-renowned bucking stock. They breed and raise their stock on an 8,000-acre ranch gifted to the Calgary Stampede Foundation. You will see some of Calgary’s Stampede bucking stock at premier rodeo events in the United States such as Rodeo Houston and the WNFR in Las Vegas.
GMC Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon Races
Beginning nightly at 7:45 p.m., the GMC Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon Races kick-off. Calgary Stampede hosts the most famous and largest payout Chuckwagon race, with a payout of $1.15 million-dollars. Each race begins with outriders “breaking camp” by tossing an imitation stove into the back of their wagon, then quickly mounting their horses to follow the wagons as they figure eight around two barrels and then circle the track. The chuckwagons themselves consists of a team of four race horses, a driver and a very lightweight wagon. The first wagon to cross the finish line typically wins, although various time penalties are issued for infractions such as stove not being properly loaded or outrider crossing the finish line too far behind his wagon. The rules are simple, but I would suggest taking the time to review them prior to attending, as knowing the rules of the game helps to add to the excitement by understanding what is happening. But I assure you, regardless of if you understand the rules, you will be entertained! It is as dangerous and exciting as it sounds.
The Grand Stand Show
After the Chuckwagon Races, Stampede-goers can attend The Grandstand Show. Each year they have a different theme for the show, but the focus is consistently entertainment as well as cultivating the warmth and pride of the Calgary community. The show features world-class acrobats, extreme athletes, music performances and culminates in a spectacular firework finale.
The Western Showcase is a finer side to the Stampede that I really enjoyed. Located in the BMO Center, this is a western heritage art show. It is a contrast to the chaotic outdoor activities, set in a building with an oasis type atmosphere. You can peruse the different booths and stop and visit with various artists. You will find a display of incredible craftsmanship and enjoy the personable one-on-one interaction with artists. In the same building, they also have a stage with non-stop music and entertainment, and an area with cooking demonstrations and wine tasting.
World Championship Stock Dog Trials
The Stampede also host an array of western competitions, my favorite being the World Championship Stock Dog Trials. Instructed by a handler, each dog has four minutes to herd three sheep through an obstacle course and into a pen. It was incredible to watch as these dogs as they relied on training, instincts, athleticism and their handlers to swiftly and keenly navigate the course. I was not the only one that became a fan, as the finals were standing room only in the large Nutrien Western Event Centre coliseum.
If working dogs are not of interest, other western competitions at the Calgary Stampede included: Cutting, Heavy Horse Pull Competition, Heavy Horse Show, International Livestock Auctioneer Championship, North American Sheep Shearing Competition, Junior Classic Steer Show, Team Cattle Penning Championships, Vintage Tractor Pull, Working Cow Horse Classic, and Canadian Nationals Miniature Horse Show.
Banff National Park & Lake Louise
Although not actually at the Stampede, but within 1.5-2 hour of driving distance is Banff National Park. Considered one of the most beautiful locations in North America, it is truly an awe-inspiring destination location. I would highly recommend scheduling a day in this beautiful area. There are lots of different available day trips, excursions, activities, and dining options.
Aside from the things listed above, there are so many things to do at the Calgary Stampede- parades, demonstrations, and concerts. You will not run out of fun things to see and do. Because so much is offered, I would encourage attendees to plan to prioritize the things you most want to do. Their website provides schedules and pricing for all the activities offered: www.calgarystampede.com
The only person that doesn’t appreciate fair food is your cardiologist. At the Calgary Stampede you will find all the delicious classics: funnel cakes, corn dogs, street corn, and turkey legs. However, Calgary also has some unique offerings if you dare to try. They offer a Cricket Grilled Cheese, which is your classic grilled cheese with an extra added crunch of actual crickets. They also have Smoking Charcoal Ice Cream, a coconut flavored soft-serve ice cream made from coconut husks infused with black, activated charcoal. A personal favorite being the Wine & Cheese, a wine-infused cake, deep fried into golden bites, paired with fried cheese curds and wine jelly for dipping. So whether you want to stick with the originals or branch out to something more eclectic, I am confident you will find a wide variety of options to choose from at the Stampede.
The Keg Steakhouse
Another dining experience that I really enjoyed, not on the grounds, was the The Keg Steakhouse. Alberta is Canada’s largest beef producing province, and their beef production is a significant industry within the economy. While there I wanted to make sure I gave Canadian beef a try and can say that I was thoroughly impressed. The steaks were great, as well as the atmosphere and wait staff.
What to Pack
The great thing about the Calgary Stampede, is all the activity is centralized in one location at Stampede Park. However, the park is giant to host all that activity, so comfortable shoes are a must as there is a lot of walking involved. Also, I would be sure to pack a lightweight, waterproof jacket. The temperatures can be warm in the afternoons (70-90 degrees F). However, it significantly cools down in the evenings or if there is any sort of afternoon showers.
If you appreciate the western heritage and lots of activity and excitement, I can guarantee you a good time at the Calgary Stampede. The Canadians I met were gracious and welcoming, and the show they put on every July is truly worth any travelers “bucket list”.