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As Alberta’s largest city, Calgary is a bustling metropolis filled with exciting things to do in see. This is especially true in the month of December when tons of seasonal events make Calgary all that much more exciting!
I’ve been lucky enough to explore Calgary during many different times of the year, and the truth is, December is one of my favorites.
Between the many winter activities in Calgary and the fun festive events, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Calgary in the month of December.
In this blog, I’ve included everything you need to know if you plan on visiting Calgary in the month of December. With info on the events, activities, and even the weather, this blog should help you have an epic time.
Why Visit Calgary in December
If you’re planning a trip in December and Calgary isn’t at the top of your winter holiday list, it needs to be!
There are plenty of fun, unique activities to check out in Calgary in December! Aside from that, there are lots of seasonal events held annually in December that you can check out.
Weather in Calgary in December
December and January are the coldest months for Calgary. You will typically see temps well below freezing with a very cold wind chill. The maximum average daily temperature in Calgary in December is -1°C (30°F), while the minimum average during the same time is 15°C (59°F).
On the bright side (literally), the days are mostly sunny in December with an average of 25mm (1 in) rainfall. You can expect snowfall around 12 days out of the month of December with an accumulation of up to 78mm (3 in) of snow.
Events in Calgary in December
Light Up The Square
Light Up The Square is an annual community tree lighting ceremony typically held in the month of December in Calgary. Sing carols, take a ride in a horse-drawn wagon, and get treats and a visit from Santa! This is a great family-fun event! And the best part? It’s free!
Dates and times for the 2021 holiday season have yet to be determined.
A Christmas to Remember at Granary Road
This is one of the most enchanting Christmas Markets to be found in Calgary in December. Shop local, snap a pic with an alpaca, see Santa, get a wagon ride, and enjoy several other festive activities at Granary Road!
Aside from the activities, you also get to try delicious homemade foods and classic holiday treats! The market has charcuterie, hot apple cider, gingerbread, chocolate cake, and mulled wine.
This event is free admission and is held Saturdays and Sundays from the end of November to the middle of December.
Noel Indoor Light Park
Experience over one million twinkling bulbs, a 50-foot Christmas tree, and larger-than-life animals in Calgary’s only indoor light park. There is an artisan market, festive food and drink, daily live entertainment, Santa’s Village, as well as fun characters like the Noel Princesses walking around for photo ops!
This is unfortunately not going to occur in December 2021, but they plan on coming back bigger and better than ever in December 2022! Ticket prices will range from $0-20 CAD depending on age.
Lion’s Festival of Lights
The Lions’ Festival of Lights is the largest drive-by Christmas light showcase in Calgary. You get to enjoy the show from the comfort and warmth of your car. Checking out all of the holiday lights is one of the best free activities to do in Calgary in December for the holidays!
The festival occurs nightly from 6 pm until midnight. Stay tuned for the 2021 starting date!
The Legacy community (featuring more than one million lights) and Spruce Meadows’ Christmas Lights Drive-Thru are two other amazing light displays in Calgary in December worth checking out!
Things to do in Calgary in December
1. Go hiking
Who says you can’t hike in December in Calgary? Get bundled up in the right gear and you’ll be ready to brave the cold.
Nose Hill Park in Calgary is the perfect place to go hiking. It is the third largest park in Canada located within a city and offers hiking trails in Calgary even in December. An easy hiking trail here is Nose Hill Trail. It is an out and back trail that covers almost 6km (3.7 miles) and takes around 1.5 hours to complete at a steady pace. However don’t stop there, within the park you’ll find many more trails to enjoy.
If you don’t mind going for a drive to discover some trails within the Rockies then be sure to head to Canmore to check out the easy hikes in the area. Around Canmore, you can hike trails such as Troll Falls, Grotto Canyon, the Bow River Loop, and Grassi Lakes. All these and more can be done in December, however, crampons or ice cleats will help.
Related read: Check out all the best things to do in Canmore in winter!
2. Cozy up in a hot tub or spa
Let’s face it, December in Calgary can be cold – bitterly cold! So why not try and warm up with a nice soak in a hot pool or hot spring.
The Fairmont Palliser is a luxury hotel that sits just 100 meters from the Calgary Tower and features a large indoor pool and hot tub. The on-site RnR Wellness Spa claims to be a premier experience and includes a eucalyptus steam room – perfect for warming up those muscles and bones. Many of their treatments are curated to be very Canadian, highlighting the sounds, scents, and culture of the country.
If you are willing, take a drive to Banff Upper Hot Springs. This attraction has brought visitors to Banff since 1886 with the bathhouse building being a recognized heritage site. The hot springs are outdoors and only available on a first come first serve basis so make sure to dress appropriately for cold December weather as you may need to wait outside. Once you enter, the water is between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius. Admission is modest at less than $10 CAD per adult and towels and swimsuits can be rented for $2 each.
Honestly, the Banff hot springs are well worth the drive. They are one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter months and the views from the pools are breathtaking.
3. Try ice fishing
Ice fishing is a very uniquely Canadian activity to try in Calgary in the wintery month of December. If I have one tip though…dress warm!
Calgary’s Alberta Fishing Charters offers unique ice fishing packages near the city. Starting at $399 CAD per couple ($75 per extra guest), you’ll get access to an ice fishing set-up, tent, and your own personal guide for up to 7 hours as you try ice fishing.
4. Try fat biking
Rent a fat bike for a day and take it around the city’s bike and park trails for a fun outdoor activity. You can enjoy trails around the city such as through Prince’s Island Park, along the Bow River Pathway, and even McHugh Bluff. Take your phone with Google maps and just explore the city. Most of the trails link up and you can get a great look at the river valley and city.
Ridley’s Cycle makes renting your fat bike easy with its downtown location with many bike rental options. They can also help you with more suggestions and routes to ride. Be sure to dress in many layers as you may need to remove some as riding a fat bike in the snow is a great workout.
5. Hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding
Skiing (and snowboarding) is without a doubt the most popular December activity in Calgary. Although Calgary is located in the prairies, there are a few options when it comes to downhill skiing both in the city and nearby.
For those who want to hit the larger downhill runs, you’ll need to travel at least 1 hour from Calgary to the Rocky Mountains.
The closest ski resort is Nakiska Ski Area. Located one hour west of Calgary, this large ski hill sits in the Kananaskis Valley. It’s a full-size ski resort with a 735-meter (2,411-foot) verticle descent and its longest run is a whopping 3.3 kilometers (2 miles). Nakiska is a very popular ski resort among Calgary locals and one of the cheaper resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Adult lift tickets start at $98.00 CAD per day up to $119.00/day for peak season.
Next is Mt Norquay which is 1.5 hours west of Calgary. It’s a small resort and is the cheapest in the Rocky Mountains. Lift tickets are $93 CAD for adults and as little as $37 for children. Although the resort is home to black runs, it’s not ideal for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders, but has great learner runs.
Sunshine Village is another ski resort just over 1.5 hours west of Calgary. It’s a large resort perfect for advanced skiers and snowboarders with lots of black and double black runs and a huge terrain park. Sunshine Village is actually home to 10 ski lifts over a large valley connected by one large gondola. It’s an impressive resort! For beginners though, I don’t find the resort that good. Many of the green runs have flat spots that stop those who don’t want to go really fast. Adult lift tickets start at $190.
Last is Lake Louise Ski Resort which is 2 hours west of Calgary near the British Columbia border. Lake Louise is the largest ski resort in the Alberta Rockies with a 935-meter (3,068-foot) verticle descent, 7 ski lifts, and 142 kilometers (88 miles) of ski runs. It’s perfect for beginners, intermediates, and pros. This is easily one of the best things to do in Lake Louise in winter! Adult lift tickets start at $129 with a half-day option at $99.
I’ve been to all the above ski resorts and I’d say my favorite is Lake Louise with Nakiska a close second (purely for convenience sake.) I feel if you’re already going to drive all the way to Sunshine and Mt Norquay you may as well travel a little further and visit Lake Louise. And if you want a quick trip from Calgary, Nakiska is the best option.
Related read: One of the best places to ski in Canada is Whistler. Check out all the best things to do in Whistler in December!
6. Visit the Calgary Zoo
You can do some pretty neat animal watching in Calgary in December even without leaving the city. While the Calgary Zoo is open all year round, you will get the best visitor experience in December as many of the animals are more active in colder temperatures.
My favorite attraction at the Calgary Zoo is the penguin walk that happens every day, weather dependent, at 10:00 a.m. The penguin walk is a short 15-minute walk where you get to follow the king penguins through the park as they get their daily exercise. It’s a great photo opportunity!
Some of the other animals at the zoo include Amur Tigers, African Lions, Grey Wolves, Bison, and many more. Be aware that in December, some animals will be in hibernation including bears.
Be sure to stick around the Calgary Zoo after it gets dark during the holiday season for the wonderful display of Christmas lights throughout the park called Zoolights – an attraction in Calgary not to be missed around Christmas time.
Adult tickets to the zoo cost $34.95 CAD, seniors $29.95, Children (3-15) $24.95, and kids under 3 are free. There is also a daily parking fee of $12 CAD.
7. Go ice skating at an outdoor rink
A wonderful activity to do in Calgary in December is ice skating on an outdoor rink. Even better is that all the rinks listed below are free to use and have skate rentals available (for a small fee) so that no one has to miss out.
Olympic Plaza is conveniently located in downtown Calgary and is open from 6 am to 11 am. The Olympic Plaza skating rink is another wonderful December activity that is a remnant of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. It is also the only refrigerated outdoor skating rink in Calgary, so even on warmer weeks, the ice will be skate-ready. For those staying in downtown Calgary, this is the most convenient option. Skate rental is $8 CAD for under 12s and $12 for 13+.
Bowness Park is located around 20 minutes outside the CBD. Its location offers an ice rink and a 1.6 km ice trail through the park for those of you who get tired of going in circles. I know, right? Ice bikes can also be rented for a more unique experience. The ice rink in Bowness Park is open from 5 am to 11 pm daily and is the perfect option for a more adventurous skate along the trail. Skate rental is $12 CAD for 1 hour and $20 for 3 hours.
North Glenmore Park is located 15 minutes from Calgary CBD and offers a skating rink, as well as a 0.7km ice trail from 11 am to 10 pm daily. Skate rental is $8 CAD for under 12s and $12 for 13+
Regardless of where you go, you’ll have fun ice skating in Calgary!
8. Visit the local breweries
Calgary has 44 (yes, that many) unique breweries scattered throughout the city. There is a brewery for every taste pallet and likely one nearby wherever you are in the city.
Outcast Brewing keeps ten beers on tap and is famous for its slushie sours that contain so much fruit you might think you are drinking a smoothie. A must-try is the cherry cheesecake, made with real cream cheese. Try it to believe it!
Big Rock Brewery is the most established local brewery in Calgary and is also the oldest. Tour the brewery and order lunch from their beer-inspired menu. Try a strawberry rhubarb cider, the traditional brown ale, or my favorite, the Grasshopper wheat ale that has a light citrusy taste.
To find more breweries near you check out this Calgary brewery map!
Related Read: IF you love breweries be sure to make your way eat to Kelowna. This small city is full of unique craft breweries, plus, there’s lots of awesome things to do in Kelowna in winter.
9. Join a walking tour
For a fun day out, venture one hour west of Calgary to Canmore in the Rocky Mountains, and join an interesting and picturesque sightseeing tour. if you love local history, the Cowboys and Coal Mines tour is for you. A guide will take you to all the best spots on this highly rated 1.5-hour walking tour.
If you want to stay in Calgary, are looking for a tour but walking isn’t your thing, Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures might be up your alley. These tours are pricey but have several different sightseeing options. One of which is a Creepy Calgary Ghost Tour.
10. Day trip to the Kananaskis
The Kananaskis often gets overlooked as it sits directly next to the tourist hotspot of Banff National Park. However, the stunning valley offers all the same outdoor activities with fewer crowds, plus, it’s closer to Calgary than Banff too!
Hiking is a popular activity in the Kananaskis and Troll Falls is an easy 90-minute hike that takes you to a frozen waterfall in December. It is slippery though, so it’s recommended that you bring ice cleats or spikes.
Another great December activity in the Kananaskis is dog sledding. The Boundary Ranch, a one-hour drive from Calgary, offers a dog sledding Dreamcatcher experience which includes exploring a teepee encampment and a trappers cabin. There is also a campfire meal. The Dreamcatcher experience is just under $400 CAD per person.
For a relaxing activity take a trip to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. This is one of the most luxurious spas in the Rocky mountains and access, which starts at $119 CAD, includes access to the Hydrotherapy cycle (Five Pools), the Eucalyptus Steam Room, Alchemist Steam Room, Finnish Sauna, Banyan & Barrel Saunas, and Exfoliation Cabin. You can book their morning session from 9 am to 2:30 pm or the afternoon session from 3:30 pm to 9:00 pm.
To enter the Kananaskis you will need to purchase a pass for $15 per vehicle (or $90 for a year for two vehicles.) The money goes towards conservation efforts in the park.
11. Visit a museum (or two!)
The Glenbow might just be Calgary’s most well-known museum and is one of the top things to do in Calgary in December when you want to escape indoors. The Glenbow is the place to go to learn about Canada’s Indigenous people and to see a wide range of art from top Canadian artists that the Glenbow holds in its collection of over 33,000 artworks. So, if you are a lover of art (like I am,) make sure to stop by the Glenbow Museum. Admission is $10 CAD with kids under 6 free.
Visiting the National Music Centre is a must-do activity as well. Studio Bell has five floors of exhibits including interactive exhibits with instruments you can actually play. The Rolling Stones mobile recording bus is kept in the building too. Make sure to check out an evening concert while you are there too. Studio Bell is only open Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is currently free.
12. Go sledding
Calgary is not without hills so it will be easy to find a great hill for sledding in many city parks or neighborhoods. If you’re looking for a large steep hill where you can go fast, Elgin Hill in Mckenzie Towne is for you. This hill is considered advanced and not for new sledders.
If you are up for a bit of a hike from the parking lot, Stanley Park along the Elbow River (not to be mistaken with Stanley Park in Vancouver) also has a great hill that is considered in the advanced category.
Glendale Park has a safe hill for beginner and younger sledders free of obstacles and usually packed with snow. Another safe hill is located north of Royal Oak School in a neighborhood by the same name. Confederation Park and Deerfoot Athletic Park have intermediate hills.
If you need a sled, most big box stores in Calgary should carry them in December.
13. Go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
A hidden gem that makes a great activity in December is the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, a not-for-profit taking care of rescued wolfdogs located one hour northwest of Calgary near the town of Cochrane. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to learn all about wolves and see them for yourself in a snowy winter environment.
The sanctuary does have some rules that are important to know before you go. No children under six are allowed in the sanctuary. The paths can not accommodate strollers and no fur or faux fur clothing is allowed. No dogs are allowed on site, not even kept in your car in the parking lot. Be sure to check the visitor rules on their website or call ahead before you go.
The facility is open Thursday through Monday. Several different types of tours are available. Admission for youth is $13 CAD and adults are $23.
14. Day trip to Banff
Visiting Banff National Park is a must-do in Canada. You can either make the 1.5-hour drive from Calgary yourself or join a tour.
If you’ve decided a tour is the easiest option this 10-hour guided tour is the perfect option. The tour takes you from Calgary to Banff and visits Sulphur Mountain Gondola (optional), Banff Town, Johnston Canyon, Bow Falls, Surprise Corner, and the Hoodoos.
If you decide to visit on your own then you’ll either need a car or a great way to get to Banff is to take the On-It Bus which will take you from Downtown Calgary to Banff for just $10 CAD. Once in Banff, you can get a transfer pass to the Roam bus that will take you to several destinations in the town.
My recommendation is to check out all the best things to do in Banff before you go, but places you should not miss are the Banff Gondola, Banff Upper Hot Springs, a visit to Johnston Canyon, drive the Bow Valley Parkway, and take a trip to Lake Minnewanka.
15. Day trip to the Icefields Parkway
Up for a bit of a winter road trip? The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in Canada (and possibly the world.) This 232km stretch of highway travels from Lake Louise to Jasper. It takes around 3 hours to drive the whole thing without stopping in December, however, I’d allow an entire day if you plan on stopping along the way.
Some of the best places to stop on the Icefields Parkway include Crow Foot Glacier Lookout, Bow Lake Viewpoint, Peyto Lake, Weeping Wall, Big Bend, Athabasca Glacier, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls.
If you’re not driving all the way to Jasper then I recommended only driving part of the highway. A great section is until you reach Peyto Lake. This is only 35 minutes from Lake Louise (2.5 hours from Calgary) and after visiting, you can turn around and head back, visiting Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier on the way.
Winter tires are a must and you need to be careful and alert while driving this highway in December. Parks Canada will close the highway over the pass (after Big Bend) during bad weather so check ahead of time for road closures. Also, Athabasca Glacier tours and the Skywalk are closed in December, however, you can still view the glacier from the viewpoint.
A Parks Canada pass is necessary to travel through this region regardless if you plan on stopping or not.
Hot tip: If you have time, drive the entire Icefields Parkway to Jasper, then plan to spend a couple of nights there. There are plenty of fun things to do in Jasper in the winter to keep you busy!
Where to Stay in Calgary in December
Calgary is a large city so there are plenty of places to stay within the city. The trick is to pick a hotel with a great location depending on the activities you plan on doing. For example, staying downtown is perfect for most visitors, however, those wanting to spend more time exploring the Kananaskis, Banff, or Canmore should stay on the westside of Calgary.
Within the central city area, the Wicked Hostels – Calgary is a good choice for budget travelers. The hostel is clean, comfortable, and located in a good area. There are cheaper places to stay in Calgary but this place is great value for money.
If you can spend a bit more the Regency Suites Hotel is perfect. The suites have a full kitchen which is perfect for homemade meals which can save you a lot of money. The rooms are beautiful, breakfast is included, and they even have a fitness center. On top of that, the hotel’s location is perfect.
For luxury travelers, check out the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire. This hotel overlooks the river valley, comes with an indoor pool (with waterslide), hot tub, fitness center, hair salon, and gift shop. Obviously, the rooms are extremely beautiful and the views are spectacular.
If you’re looking for a place in west Calgary Along River Ridge Bed & Breakfast is my choice. Located along the Bow River but also not far from Highway 1, the hotel will save you 15 minutes each way on adventures west. However, you’re still close enough to easily explore Calgary. It’s a small bed and breakfast with amazing reviews!
Hot Tip: December is a popular month to visit Calgary, so be sure to book your hotel well in advance. On Booking.com, many of the hotels have free cancellation, so you can book a hotel now just to secure a place and make a final decision about your trip later on.
Canada Winter Travel Essentials
If you’re planning to visit Canada in winter then there are a few things you should pack – things we never travel without. Some you may already have, but others you may want to pick up before you leave. This is especially true if you want to enjoy some of the best outdoor activities!
Here are some of our must-have winter essentials:
Crampons/ Ice Cleats: This is the one item I have that I use so much. If you love the outdoors and enjoy short walks and hikes, crampons are a must! The best part is, the pair that I own is only $29 CAD. They aren’t the best pair out there but they’re perfect for the everyday explorer/traveler.
Insulated water bottle: In the summer you want to keep your water cold but in winter, you want to keep it from freezing. That’s why I always carry an insulated water bottle. This Iron Flask Water Bottle is perfect because it doubles as a thermos so it’s great for carrying hot water for those winter hot chocolates! I have the 32-ounce bottle in pink but I wish I had one of the multi-colored bottles!
Merino wool socks: Cold feet can ruin your time exploring the great outdoors during winter. Please do yourself a favor and get a good quality pair of socks. Even just one pair with come in handy but I myself carry three of these COZIA Wool Socks. They’re 80% Merino wool and really warm. The best part is they are only $15 each! When I’m skiing I can even double them up if it’s -30 °C.
Thermal layers: Staying warm begins from your first layer. Life outside during the Candian winter is much more comfortable with thermal layers. There are a lot of great products in this space but look out for Merino wool products – they’re the best in my opinion!
Ski Gloves: Did you know ski resorts in Canada don’t rent gloves? That means you’re going to need to bring your own. I get really cold hands so I love these new heated rechargeable gloves. They keep your hands warm in the coldest temperatures. Although expensive, you’ll never wear another pair of gloves again.
Polarized sunglasses/ ski goggles: People often forget that on a sunny day in the mountains, the sun can really hurt your eyes when it reflects off the snow. For around town, check out these polarized sunglasses and for in the mountains these ski goggles.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. During the winter though, it’s perfect for keeping my nose and cheeks covered from the cold especially when skiing or hiking. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to the best attractions within them requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada and using crown land and campsites you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Before you go…
Calgary is truly a beautiful place to visit and explore. Be sure to check out these fun activities and the best accommodations for your December Calgary trip! Let me know which activity you’re most excited about in the comments!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you have an amazing time on your upcoming trip and hope this guide has helped plan it. If it has then browse around more to check out other great blogs such as: