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Statistics say that Prince's Island is one of the most used urban parks in North America. Come here on a sunny day and you will not doubt it. Originally, the island was used to catch felled trees floating down the Bow River from logging projects upstream. Now this bit of serenity in downtown serves as a favorite venue for joggers, football tossers, family picnics, flocks of Canadian Geese, buskers, Shakespearean actors and nearly every major festival that Calgary hosts. This is also a great place for a quiet paddle down the river.
When a cold north wind is howling and the mid-winter temperature is too frigid, this downtown greenhouse is a welcome oasis of greenery and warmth. It showcases many local and tropical plants, fountains, waterfalls, reflecting pools stocked with carp, wooden bridges and a small playground where harried parents can let loose their children.
During the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Olympic Plaza was the focal point of much of the event, including most of the medal ceremonies and laser and fireworks displays. Tens of thousands of people jammed into the square on any given evening during the games. The square looks much as it did then and is now the focal point for many civic events, particularly for welcoming successful athletes home from recent Olympic Games. The large area in front of the stage is now a wading pool in the summer and flooded for ice skating in the winter.
Calgary boasts the largest pathway system in North America. Nearly every day of the year, regardless of the weather, you can find Calgarians running, walking, riding, rolling and even skiing along 223 miles (360 kilometers) of paths. The network twists its way through countless municipal parks, alongside rivers and reservoirs, past skyscrapers, into valleys and through mini-forests, fields of wildflowers and other surprises. Use of the pathways is absolutely free. Maps are available from several outlets.
From the Nose Hill Park, the view of Calgary is incomparable. Visitors may have to exert a bit of effort to hike up a gentle slope to the top of the hill, but once at the top, the view makes it all worth it. The top of the hill affords a 360-degree view spanning the Rocky Mountains, with the skyscrapers of downtown rising out of the Bow River Valley and the prairie stretching off to the east. The surrounding long-grass prairie offers glimpses of the local wildlife, as numerous deer, jackrabbits and red-tailed hawks can often be seen in this area.
Heritage Park Historical Village, one of Canada's largest historical villages, is divided into a pioneer Northwest Mounted Police outpost and a Main Street from 1910. The latter has a working antique amusement park, with rides that are safe even for small children. Other attractions include a working full-scale locomotive thundering through the park, and on the nearby Glenmore Reservoir, a vintage double-decker stern wheeler ship that takes visitors on lake cruises. Shops and restaurants are plentiful in the park, including a turn-of-the-century bakery. All park staff work in costume and character. Entertaining events for the whole family are scheduled year-round, including September's Fall Fair. Check the website for a full list of events and detailed admission fees.
Located on the northern side of the Bow River, Bowmont is a lush natural park established in the 1980s. The park features miles of hiking trails, picnic tables, playgrounds, a soccer and baseball field. This expansive park is spread out over 164 hectares (405 acres) and attracts adventure sports enthusiasts, families, birders, dog walkers and those looking for a fun day outdoors. Be sure to check out the park near sunrise or sunset for spectacular photo opportunities!
Fish Creek Provincial Park is Canada's largest urban park, covering much of the south side of the city and dividing established and newer suburbs. The park features no organized recreational grounds, with day usage intended instead for walking, cycling or picnicking, although tobogganing is popular in the winter. At the far east and south end is the man-made Lake Sikome beach and swimming area. The Fish Creek Environmental Learning Center, at the west end of the park, is intended primarily for school groups. At the east end, the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Center, a small bakery cafe, and a more upscale sit-down restaurant, dubbed The Ranch, greet visitors.
Although not quite as large as Disneyland, Calaway Park offers more than enough attractions to keep youngsters happy and active for a full day. The vaguely Flintstones-style theme park offers rides to suit all ages, with a special area just for toddlers. A corkscrew roller coaster, log flume ride, bumper cars, boats and several other whirling, twirling and plunging attractions make kids squeal with delight, and their parents turn green. One of the most popular places among kids, this is a hot-spot for international tourists. Various events and parties are also held here. Check website for varying dates.