Calgary Zoo: Possibly the best of its kind in Canada

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 25: A view of the exterior of the Scotiabank Saddledome home of the NHLâs Calgary Flames with the city skyline in the background on February 25, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 25: A view of the exterior of the Scotiabank Saddledome home of the NHLâs Calgary Flames with the city skyline in the background on February 25, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

When there are conversations about the best zoos in North America, most of the names that come up are in the United States. While there are some amazing ones, like the San Diego Zoo, the Calgary Zoo also deserves to be in the discussion.

It is a unique, immersive experience that has an incredible variety of animals in a brilliantly designed space. The Calgary Zoo is reason enough to go to this popular Western Canadian city, not that there aren’t also a lot of other things to do.

Creating Calgary Zoo

One of the city’s best green spaces was St. Georges Island, a park in the middle of the Bow River. It’s relatively convenient location just outside of the Downtown core made it an ideal location to start building the Calgary Zoo.

The first animal exhibits arrived in 1917 with the establishment of the Calgary Zoological Society following 12 years later. The zoo continued to grow, ultimately filling the island, and eventually expanding to the banks of the Bow River.

While St. Georges Island is a beautiful spot for zoo, it does present some issues. Flooding in 1929 and again in 2013 resulted in the deaths of some animals. Since the 2013 floods, the Calgary Zoo as been continuing to develop contingency measures to deal with this issue in the future.

Going to Calgary Zoo

Over time, new exhibits with an ever increasing number of animals were added to the Calgary Zoo. With sections on the island as well as the banks of the river, the zoo can accommodate sizable and immersive habitats for its animals.

CALGARY, CANADA – JULY 3: The downtown skyline, the Saddledome, and Stampede Park is viewed from a hill to the southeast on July 3, 2012 in Calgary, Canada. Calgary, home to the world famous Stampede, continues to enjoy the benefits of an energy boom that continues across the Alberta province. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) /

Like many comparable facilities, Calgary Zoo is separated into a variety of areas related to specific natural environments. That includes an incredible range of animals from Canada itself housed in an area called the Canadian Wilds.

Broken up into three separate zones, it features river otters, bighorn sheep, wood bison and more. Canadian Wilds also houses several big predators, like grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and grey wolves. The Rocky Mountain Bird Aviary is equally impressive. Who doesn’t love owls?

Other parts of the zoo feature fan favorite animals like pandas, tigers and red pandas. The zoo was formerly home to elephants, rhinos and an area devoted to Australian animals. Those animals have moved on to other zoos, but there is still plenty to see.

Destination Africa remains one of the Calgary Zoo’s top expansions. Opened in 2003, it houses hippos and giraffes in the African Savannah building as well as zebras, ostriches, lions and gorillas. It’s amazing how close visitors can safely get to some of these animals.

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Penguin Plunge was a more recent addition to the zoo. As the name would suggest, it houses various species of penguins in an exhibit that’s both indoors and outdoors. It is quite literally the coolest place in the zoo.

A broad experience

CALGARY, CANADA – FEBRUARY 26: An aerial view of the Canadian Rockies and the foothills as seen from above on February 26, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

In addition to the animals on exhibit, there are a lot of other things to do at the Calgary Zoo. It’s an impressively diverse experience that has a surprising number of facets to it, making it a great destination for the whole family.

For dinosaur fans, there is Prehistoric Park. It features life-sized replicas of almost 30 different dinosaurs in their natural habitats. If you can’t get over to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, this is the next best thing. You should still go to Tyrell, though.

Also contained in the Calgary Zoo is the Dorothy Harvie Botanical Gardens and ENMAX Conservatory. These indoor and outdoor gardens are stunning to say the least. Plus, the butterfly gardens are surprisingly relaxing, even when it’s filled with other people.

As odd as this sounds, the Calgary Zoo has some of the best concessions in the game. There are multiple places to eat with lots of options, and the food is pretty much great across the board. This is some of the best zoo food you’re going to find.

Next. CN Tower offers a view from the top in the heart of Downtown Toronto. dark

The exhibits, the experience and the food make the Calgary Zoo a perfect place to spend the day. And to really take it all in, you really need to put at least a solid day in. But it will be one of the best days you’ve ever spent in a zoo.