The Best of Alberta Guide

Alberta is a northeastern province of Canada that’s famed for its stunning world heritage site national parks, dramatic Rocky Mountains, sweeping prairie grasslands, rolling boreal forests, deep glacial lakes and abundance of wildlife.

One of its attractions is that it’s an all-year-round destination. In the summer, observe the wildlife including coyotes, buffalo and rare birds; take a self-drive tour through its wildflower-scattered prairies; and canoe on its turquoise-blue lakes. In winter, journey north and get active with snowshoeing, skiing, heli-skiing and snowboarding.

Don’t miss Alberta’s five stunning national parks. Jasper and Banff stretch across the Rockies on the west border of the province. Together, they form a UNESCO World Heritage site that abounds with excellent skiing, hiking and cycling destinations. In central Alberta, visit Elk Island National Park that’s just outside the capital Edmonton or journey north to Wood Buffalo National Park – another stunning UNESCO World Heritage site.

Banff National Park & Lake Louise

Banff National Park was established in 1885; is located in the Rocky Mountains, and together with neighbouring Jasper National Park has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. The park is 6,641km square, and renowned for its towering mountains, glittering glaciers, lush alpine meadow and natural mineral hot springs. 

In the winter months, enjoy scenic skiing from one of Banff’s three ski resorts. Visit Banff Norquay for a family orientated resort; Sunshine Village for some of Canada’s best snow; and Lake Louise Ski Resort, which has been voted Canada’s best ski resort.

Lake Louise offers a quintessential Canadian mountain scene – it’s 2.5km long, 90m deep and known for its sparkling blue waters in the summer, and frozen façade in the winter that offers beautifully scenic skating. Also don’t miss the Athabasca Glacier – which you can reach on foot after a drive on the Icefields Parkway.

Jasper Town and National Park

Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Rockies, at 10,878km square of mountain wilderness. It has the reputation as the wildest of Alberta’s national parks, and has superb backcountry hiking trails and the world famous Colombia Icefields: one of the only icefields accessible by road. It’s a less trammeled and more wildlife-rich park with rugged backcountry that boasts vertiginous river canyons, exciting mountain bike trails. 

In the summer, enjoy Jasper’s excellent single-track cycling networks – they’re the best in North America. The park is a sanctuary for rare and endangered species, giving you fantastic opportunities to see elk, moose, mule, deer, black bear coyote and bighorn sheep among others. Take a trip up to Jasper Town via the magnificent Icefields Parkway highway that meanders up from the picturesque Lake Louise amid waterfalls, glacier-shaped mountains and Mt Edith Cavell. 

Catch a lift on the Jasper Tramway, and then bike to the summit of Whistler Mountain for exceptional views of the famous Colombia Icefields. To brush up on the park’s history and heritage, visit the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives. In the winter, enjoy hut-to-hut skiing and finish up your day with a relaxing dip in the Mitte Hot Springs.   

Wood Buffalo National Park 

If you’re looking for awe-inspiring scale and an off-the-beaten-track destination, look to Wood Buffalo National Park. On Alberta’s northeast border, it’s Canada’s largest national park, and the second largest in the world at 44,870km square – the size of Switzerland. 

Established in the 19th century as a buffalo refuge, it’s now a rich wildlife sanctuary known for its free-roaming herds of wood buffalo and whooping cranes. It’s also the world’s largest dark-sky preserve, meaning its got unparalleled nighttime wildlife and opportunities to see nighthawks and owls – as well as the Northern Lights that are at their most luminescent between September – mid-May. 

Feel the salt flats crackle beneath your feet on a Salt River trail along a saline creek to a landscape of sinkholes and rocks. In the summer, canoeing is excellent. Glide across a lake or sinkhole on a day trip or a few-day excursion. Don’t miss the Peace-Athabasca Delta – a great viewing point for the Northern Lights. 

Southern Alberta 

Southern Alberta is made up of expansive flat farmland interrupted by deep coulees and towering hoodoos – tall skinny towers of rock that protrude from arid basins. 

Waterton Lakes national park is 276 miles southwest of Calgary on the border between Canada and the USA. It’s a place of contrasts: rolling prairie hills covered in 800 species of wildflower, 3,000 metre icy peaks, three lakes and two mountain ranges. Visit in spring to admire the beautiful flora, and in winter for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

Take a trip to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – to learn about the history of the Blackfoot aborigines. Alternatively, visit Dinosaur Provincial Park – the site of some of the most important Age of Reptiles fossil discoveries were ever made that has bone-beds that have yielded over 300 new species. 

Edmonton, Elk Island and Calgary

For a city stopover, head to Edmonton – the province’s capital – or Calgary. Each is great for culture, gastronomy and shopping. 

Calgary is Alberta’s largest city, set dramatically between peaks and prairies in southern Alberta. It was recently designated as Canada’s Cultural Capital due to its wide-range of museums and galleries, festivals and restaurants. Don’t miss the Calgary Stampede – an annual festival of bull and bronco riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling and roping. 

If you’d rather experience the great outdoors, take a daytrip from Calgary and wander through the mysterious Canadian Badlands – a moonscape of rock formations and dinosaur bone-beds. In winter, snowshoe and cross-country ski in the Fish Creek Provincial Park – one of the largest urban parks in North America. 

Visit Edmonton for its 65 annual festivals including the international fringe theatre festival – the second largest in the world after Edinburgh. Alternatively, indulge in some shopping at West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping centre in North America. 

Take a day-tip out to Elk Island National Park – it’s only 48km east of the city. Located in aspen parkland, it’s a paradise for endangered wildlife including bison, wood bison, 230 species of bird, and trumpeter swan. It’s also ideal for canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, camping or gazing at the Northern Lights.