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Calgary With Kids: Family Friendly Fun Beyond Stampede

Calgary is so much more than "Cowtown," and is a wonderful spot (and starting point) for a family vacation.
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The Calgary Stampede turns 100 this year. And while the annual, 10-day long rodeo, exhibition and festival is a great excuse to visit, Calgary is so much more than "Cowtown," and is a wonderful spot (and starting point) for a family vacation. So while Stampede is a definite highlight of July, here are a few suggestions so you won't be wondering what to do in Calgary to fill up the other 355 days of the year.

The Calgary Zoo
Probably the top of the list of things to do in Calgary with kids is the Calgary Zoo. Not only is it a mere 10 minutes from downtown, but the transit access via the C-Train makes it that much easier to visit. The animal exhibits are arranged by geographical zone, and the variety of flora and fauna belies the Zoo's fairly compact size. There are two discovery walks. The Prehistoric Park takes you through what the area might have looked like when dinosaurs were roaming around, and the Canadian Wilds let you wander through the Rocky Mountains, Aspen Woodlands and Northern Forest to get a close-up glimpse of grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolves, bighorn sheep, moose and bison. But by far the highlight of the Calgary Zoo is their new Penguin Plunge. Groups of 15 are taken into a climate-controlled exhibit to see the Humboldt, Gentoo, Rockhopper and King penguins. You're close enough to touch and certainly might get splashed. There can be a wait to see the penguins, especially on weekends, arriving early and weekday visits means less chance of a line -- although the penguins are worth the wait.

Heritage Park
Located in the southwestern part of Calgary, Heritage Park gives you a glimpse of a century-old frontier town on the Glenmore reservoir. The historic buildings are real, not replicas, brought in from around Alberta to create the authentic atmosphere. The steam train is also real, although the S.S. Moyie is a replica of a paddle steamer sternwheeler that worked on Kootenay Lake in British Columbia for almost 60 years -- the rides around the reservoir are relaxing and scenic, although sometimes in the summer the water level is too low and the boat is docked temporarily. The latest addition to Heritage Park is the Gasoline Alley automotive museum. The vintage cars have been painstakingly restored, but there are still a few that are barricade-free which makes toddlers (and their parents) very happy.

Day Trip To Drumheller
Most think of heading west of Calgary to the Rockies for a day trip, but consider heading east instead to Drumheller, Alberta. Located in the Red Deer River Valley, the landscape of the Badlands seems to appear out of the blue, and the fossil-filled land that ultimately became the source for the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada's only museum dedicated to paleontology and home to one of the world's largest collections of dinosaurs. Daily programs during high season include dinosaur digs and discovery hikes, but merely strolling the museum and the chronological galleries celebrating the almost four billion year history of life on Earth is incredible on its own. At a less than two hour drive from Calgary, it's an easy day trip, although the many local hotels and their water slides often convince families to crash for one night at least.

Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel - an award winning website with a mission to inspire, motivate, and help families travel with babies, toddlers, and young children. For tips on flying with an infant, to advice on family travel destinations, check out Have Baby Will Travel or connect on Facebook or Twitter.