Tips for Experiencing the Calgary Stampede with Kids

calgary stampede with kids

I love the Calgary Stampede! It is one of my most favorite times of year. The whole city comes alive with buzz and excitement, and the energy in the city is fantastic. When I had kids I knew that the Calgary Stampede would become one of our summer traditions. People looked at me like I was nuts wanting to take my kids to the grounds because it is busy, crazy and loud. But I have found over the years that going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids is not a difficult or horrible endeavor. In fact, with a little planning and awareness, you can have a fantastic day on the grounds with both you and the kids wanting to come back for more.

Tips for going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids

Pre-Plan

calgary stampede with kidsTake a look at the schedule and decide what events you would like to see and what days and times they are. Then plan the rest of your visit around them.

Go during the week

I always recommend you go with your kids on a weekday (omitting Kids Day and Family Day). The crowds are smaller and things are less busy. This will cut down on your waiting times and keep kids happier as they are engaged quicker.

Go early, leave early

Go early in the day, when the grounds open (typically 11 am – there are a couple of exceptions). You not only beat the crowds but head out with kids that are fed (give them a good breakfast), fresh and ready to go. Then when you’re ready to call it a day, for us it’s usually around 4 or 5, the evening crowds just starting to come in and you are on your way out.

Take your own food

Pack a lunch, healthy snacks and waterbottles for everyone. I find when my kids are fed and hydrated they are happier and last longer. I’m not saying don’t enjoy some of the fares on the grounds, but they can be quite expensive and add up fast. Also they are not always the healthiest choices and kids need good stuff to keep them going. When you have your own food, it allows you to feed the kids when they are hungry, without having to go find somewhere to eat, stand in line, etc. Also having water and staying hydrated is key. The grounds can get quite hot, so water is important.

Take advantage of the Free Kids Activitiescalgary stampede with kids

There are lots of free kids events like the Kids Tractor Pull, Chuck Challenge and Penning. There’s also Buckaroos with kids performances with their favorite characters, as well as a character performance on the Coca Cola Stage. There’s the Dog Bowl and the Corral show. Of course there’s the Kids Midway and new this year is the Indian Village Interpretative Program, where you can see daily dances, traditional Pow Wow and drumming. All free with gate admission.

 

Pre-purchase Ride Cards or other coupons

calgary stampede with kidsBefore the Stampede starts you can buy Ride n’ Play cards at Sobeys and Safeway. You cash them in on the grounds for either a ride all day wristband or 60 coupons and save about $20. They are only on sale though up until Stampede starts. Once it has started you cannot purchase them. You can also get deals or coupons on gate admissions. Kids to the age of 6 are free, but you can get free admission for 7-12 year olds when you buy a case of Coca Cola.

Don’t forget sunscreen and hats

It can get quite hot down there on a sunny day and the sun beating down on the pavement. Put sunscreen on before you go and take it with you to reapply throughout the day.

Dress for the weather

Weather during the Calgary Stampede can be unpredictable. Take a raincoat. Even though the prediction may be bright and sunny, thunderstorms are not uncommon this time of year. Also dress appropriately for the day. Bring layers or change of clothes for the kids.

Plan it into your Budget

calgary stampede with kidsThere are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it, the Calgary Stampede is expensive. I always plan it into my budget each year as well as take advantage of the deals and coupons that provide savings, making my dollar go a little farther. Another good idea is to decide what amount you are willing to spend on the grounds. Be realistic but cap it and stick to it so you won’t regret it later.

Know your limit

Don’t do too much and don’t overstay, know when your kids have had enough and it’s time to go home. Better to go home on a high where you all want to go back, talking about what you’d like to see and do next year, then one where you’re so relieved to be home and will never go again.

Last but not least, have fun and take lots of pictures. Relax and enjoy. Don’t stress about the lines or the crowds (I always go over with my kids the expectations when we’re on the grounds, stick together, hold hands, etc. I also register them at the Lost Child booth as soon as we get into the park). Go with the flow and be able to let things go. It’s ok if you don’t get to it all.

Going to the Calgary Stampede with kids can be easy and fun. With a little pre-planning and a backpack of items with you, you’ll create an enjoyable and memorable experience for all. I have used these tips with my kids over the years and as a result they love it and ask to go back every year.calgary stampede with kids

A Day at the Ranch

IMG_5957One of the things I love about summer is all the cool places that you can go and explore! With most of them being right in your own backyard. I find there are so many locally either within the city or a short jaunt away that there is never a loss for things to do or check out!

The Bar U Ranch is one of those neat little places that we have visited recently. Just a short drive outside of Calgary (95 km on the 22, just past Longview, AB); a National Historic Site and part of the Parks Canada system, this ranch boasts 37 historic buildings set in the rolling foothills of the mountains and commemorating the history of ranching in Canada.

IMG_5959This living history ranch hosts daily activities such as calf roping, wagon rides and round up camp, as well as educational programs, group tours and special events.

On Canada Day, they host a special event where admission is free, with a number of bonus activities to the day (such as face painting, rope making, homemade ice cream and cowboy coffee). This was the day we decided to go and check it out. I had been to the ranch only once before, years ago before the kids were born. At that time I remember the ranch being a large piece of property with pretty sparse buildings and feeling it was not very exciting at the time, but I when I read it now had 37 buildings I was quite excited to go and check it out.

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In the cookhouse

We arrived at the beautiful visitors center that hosts a reception area, rangeland exhibit, theatre, restaurant and gift shop. This is also where you pay your admission to go down and explore the ranch. Though on Canada Day admission was free, rates to enter the ranch are quite reasonable with adults $8 and children under 6 are free. I also believe that if you have a National Parks pass that you can gain admission to national historic sites for free upon presentation.

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Calf roping

You can either grab the wagon ride down to the ranch or enjoy a short walk downhill to the site. You are met immediately at the bottom of the hill with buildings to explore, such as the bunk and cookhouses. The kids loved the hands on, being able to actually look at and touch things, getting into the bunk and seeing what it was like.

I was impressed with the fact that you could enter all the buildings and that staff were on hand to answer any questions you had or add to your experience. There were also a plethora of interpretative signs, for added information for those of us who like to read (that would be me!) and learn a bit more!

One of the fascinating things we learned was that the Bar U was well known for its excellence in breeding Percheron horses, a draft horse originally from France. These magnificent creatures are well muscled, intelligent horses and willing to work.

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Rope making

Luke’s favorite was a story of George Lane, the foreman of the Bar U Ranch, and one of the Big Four, who founded the Calgary Stampede. There is a sculpture of George Lane on his horse with wolves attacking him to the right of the visitors center when you arrive. Fascinated Luke asked me to read the sign to tell him the story. I told him the modified, but fairly detailed 5 year old version, and latching onto it, asked me to tell it to him again and again, until he got it right. The story was George was on his way back from Calgary one night, after visiting his wife who had just delivered their first child. He came upon wolves taking down a cow and went charging in. The wolves starving, due to the extinction of the buffalo (as the government allowed the hunting of the buffalo to extinction), had turned to hunting the cows for food and so the battle of man and nature began.

There are lots of old tractors and equipment to view, barns and even a sod house. The kids can enjoy calf roping, which they caught onto quite quickly and other hands on activities. This is the thing I liked the most, the amount of hands on the kids could do and experience. Not only did it keep them engaged and interested but allowed everyone to try something new and find the thing that they enjoyed or were good at the most.

We spent a good 3 or 4 hours there and comfortably saw it all, without feeling rushed or anyone getting bored. We also lucked out and had beautiful weather that day, but rain or shine, the Ranch is open from May to September each year and is definitely worth the trip!