Calgary has 2 nude beaches — here's who is using them and why

Many people think of Europe when they hear the words "nude beach," but there are accepted spots for clothing-optional recreation in a number of North American cities —including two in Calgary. Warning: This photo essay includes images of nudity that may not be suitable for some viewers.

Warning: This photo essay includes images of nudity that may not be suitable for some viewers

Naturists cool off in the water at one of Calgary's two nude beaches, Hidden Beach in Fish Creek Provincial Park, on June 13. (Christina Ryan/CBC)

Many people think of Europe when they hear the words "nude beach" — but as the Calgary Nude Recreation group points out, a number of North American cities also have accepted spots for clothing-optional recreation. 

They range from the most popular, Haulover Beach in Miami, which sees as many as 500,000 nudist visitors a year, to well-known sites in Canada such as Hanlan's Point in Toronto or Wreck Beach in Vancouver. (The latter sees up to 14,000 visitors on busy summer days, according to the Wreck Beach Preservation Society.)

But many Calgarians are unaware that nude beaches also exist in the city — at least two, according to Calgary Nude Recreation.

Freelance photojournalist Christina Ryan recently trekked out to the two beaches to find out more about who is using them and why, taking all of the images in this photo essay.

Here, Greg Million, who is new to the scene, starts the hike to Calgary Nude Beach with Calgary Nude Recreation member Kristen McMullen as temperatures soar to 28 C on June 3.

Calgary Nude Beach is well off the beaten path in a far western edge of Weaselhead Flats and has existed for more than two decades.

Million and McMullen step carefully down a slope.

The path to the nude beach in the Weaselhead can be tricky to navigate.

Here, Million brushes off his pants after sliding down a steep portion of the trail.

The other nude beach in Calgary is a more recent clothing-optional recreation area in Fish Creek Provincial Park called Hidden Beach.

Are the beaches legal? According to the Calgary Nude Recreation group, the simple answer is: yes and no.

Section 174 of the Criminal Code of Canada states: "Everyone who, without lawful excuse, (a) is nude in a public place, or (b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."

Million and McMullen cross a channel of the Elbow River to join others at Calgary Nude Beach.

The law states charges over nudity can be pursued only in absence of a "lawful excuse" and with the permission of the Attorney General.

Calgary Nude Recreation argues that case law from B.C. has established the right to rent city facilities for private nude events, also noting that the actions of local government authorities to allow clothing-optional recreation (at Wreck Beach or Hanlan's Point, for example) appear to be accepted lawful excuses as people aren't being charged.

Nudity without a sexual component cannot be immoral or indecent behaviour, the group argues.

McMullen and Greg Million locate a prime spot to set up on the sand. 

Calgary Nude Recreation says it's had an understanding with law enforcement for years with no problems.

Here, naturists enjoy the the cool water at Hidden Beach in Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary on June 13.

Calgary Nude Recreation says on its website that the group was established "in the belief that contextually-appropriate social nudity can be a powerful tool for individuals to gain confidence, free themselves from body shame, and allow a new connection with the self and others. We strive to create spaces where nudity is normalized, empowering, and beneficial to the community."

Not everyone involved with Calgary Nude Recreation may identify as a nudist or naturist, the group says.

They might just enjoy the odd skinny dip or naked day at the beach.

The group hosts clothing-optional wave pool swims, hikes and beach days along the river.

For many participants, naturism is both a philosophy and a practice. They enjoy being in a nude state at home, outdoors and at sanctioned indoor events.

Here, Melissa Lynne (who asked that her surname not be used for fear of job repercussions) dips her son Cohen Sharlow's toes in the water as partner John Sharlow looks on while relaxing at Hidden Beach on June 13. 

"Society quietly imposes a level of body-shame from an early age," Calgary Nude Recreation writes. "Being seen or being caught naked is one of the biggest embarrassments people can have. Movies and entertainment media promote unrealistic and often sexual expectations of nudity.

"People learn to better accept their and others' bodies when they see normal nudity more often."

Sunscreen is a must.

McMullen holds a photography flash umbrella for Million at the nude beach in the Weaselhead.

McMullen, who has been a member of the group for more than two years, says she loves to help people love themselves just as they are.

Calgary Nude Recreation member Dustin Port stands with McMullen and Million as they bask in the fading sun.

The sun sets as McMullen and Million cross the river to head home.


Christina Ryan


Christina Ryan is an award-winning photojournalist based in Calgary with more than 15 years of experience. Ryan currently freelances to newspapers, magazines and the CBC as well as teaching in the photography program at SAIT, where she's inspired by watching people learn to master their cameras and chase the light.