Dubbed “the greatest outdoor show on Earth,” the annual 10-day festival attracts more than one million visitors every year — all flocking to Canada’s third-largest city for one of the world’s largest rodeos, non-stop music, crazy food and lively entertainment.
The festival-slash-rodeo has grown every year since its inception in 1886, originally kicking off as an agricultural fair.
First time at the Stampede? From outlandish snacks to live music, races and local rituals, here are seven reasons to hop on the Calgary Stampede bandwagon.
1. Pancake breakfasts
There’s only one way to start your Calgary Stampede experience: with a pancake breakfast.
For more than 85 years, Calgary community groups have been hosting these friendly breakfasts across the city, typically serving up heaping plates of flapjacks and sausages in malls or parking lots, block-party style.
One of the largest breakfasts can be found at the Chinook Centre shopping mall, where hundreds of Stampede Caravan Committee volunteers flip free pancakes every morning of the Stampede.
2. White-knuckle rodeo
If you’re interested in rodeo, Calgary Stampede is the best place to witness the professionals in action.
Throughout the 10-day festival, 20 athletes compete across six core tournaments, including everything from bareback riding to steer wrestling, bull-riding and ladies barrel racing (where a rider and horse race around barrels as quickly as possible).
At the stadium, you’ll be shaking in your boots as bulls and horses writhe around in chaos, bucking, jumping and bending at bone-breaking angles.
And for the winners? The $2 million in prize money might make the ride worth it.
3. Nightly entertainment
The nightly TransAlta show.
If you’re still standing by sunset, you’ll be rewarded with energy-packed shows all evening long.
Each night, the action starts with a chuckwagon derby, where drivers (on wagons) steer a team of galloping horses around the stadium.
Next comes the TransAlta Grandstand Show — picture gravity-defying acrobatics, singing, dancing and fireworks.
Each year, the country’s top talents take part in the versatile theatrical performance.
This year, participants include the Alberta Ballet, Calgary’s adult choir and Inuit throat singers (a traditional form of tonal chanting).
4. Nonstop music
Throughout the festival, tunes continuously blast from the Calgary Stampede’s four concert venues, where more than 30 acts will perform across 10 days.
And it’s not just country crooners either. From huge international stars such as Usher to Toronto rockers like Whitehorse, there’s an endless playlist to keep you on your feet.
Among this year’s headliners, look for performances from Canadian country music artist Johnny Reid, country music duo Brooks & Dunn, Nelly Furtado, Ben Harper and Canadian rock band The Strumbellas.
5. Fantastical carnival food
The Calgary Stampede is a culinary wonderland, where outrageous edible inventions come to life.
Meanwhile, those on an all-deep-fried diet can devour crispy Canadian Bacon Pickle Balls and Funnel Cake Poutine until their jeans split.
6. Epic kick-off parade
The 2.5-mile parade is one of the biggest events on the Calgary calendar, featuring more than 150 floats, 750 horses, 30 marching bands and dozens of indigenous dance performances.
Following a new route this year (for the first time in nearly 50 years), the parade begins on 9th Avenue, at the east end of downtown, and conveniently finishes at the Calgary Stampede entryway — essentially reversing its usual path.
7. Thrilling rides
Think the rodeo is topsy-turvy? So too are the rides in the Calgary Stampede Midway, where every manner of roller coaster awaits.
For an easy warmup, the Great Wheel promises a smooth ride and a bird’s-eye view of the fairgrounds.
There’s also the Outlaw, which dips and twists just like a bull, and the Mach 3, which skydives into an epic plummet from 121 feet.
New this year is Adventure Park, where visitors can test their mettle with axe-throwing contests, paintball and double-climbing walls.