Alberta is where you’ll feel larger-than-life as you reach the top of a Rocky Mountain peak. Feel humbled as you stand so small beneath its achingly beautiful, big sky. It’s where you’ll join crowds in the open air as performers take to festival stages and street corners. This is where being in the saddle could mean herding cattle on horseback, or blasting down the side of a mountain on a bike, grinning ear to ear the whole way. Alberta is where history echoes in the drums and songs of the First Nations.
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Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth, as vast as it is varied in landscape and experiences.Learn More »
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Alberta’s lakes, rivers and streams number in the thousands. With so many unspoiled waterways, a spot to drop a line is never far away. Experience world class trout fishing on the Bow River right in the middle of Calgary. Take a float plane to a remote lake where the fish will practically jump into your boat. Sleep in a shoreline log cabin or a rustic fishing lodge and dream of ravenous trout, pike, walleye and grayling fighting for your favorite lure.
In the autumn, heed the clarion call of the hunt. Every year, hunters come to Alberta for the chance at bagging big game, waterfowl and upland game birds. Hire a licensed professional outfitter and set your sights on cougar, elk, moose, whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, black bear and bighorn sheep. And there’s nothing quite so tasty as pheasant, partridge, grouse, and wild duck!
Designed by internationally-renowned architects, the Canadian Rockies' stunning golf courses offer the best of world-class facilities, top service and captivating scenery. Sculpted by nature and the talented hand of the designer, these beautifully manicured courses border mountain lakes, rivers and wildlife corridors, feature lush forests and natural water-ways, and are embraced by the awe-inspiring, snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks.
Experience the nature of the Rocky Mountains from the saddle, just as the explorers did centuries ago. In the evening, swap tales with your fellow trail blazers over a sizzling campfire meal. Breathe the sweet scent of the pines on the fresh alpine breeze. Professional outfitters will create the ultimate adventure on horseback, tailored to your skills and agenda.
HIKING IN ALBERTA
Alberta’s infinite variety of landscapes provides unforgettable treks to satisfy every hiker’s wanderlust. Discover high mountain passes, meadows blanketed in flowers and watch for wildlife you won’t find elsewhere. Encounter avalanche paths, remote mountain lakes, cirques and glaciers that most people never see. When you are in Alberta, you are walking on top of the world.
Camping is a quintessential Alberta tradition. You can camp almost anywhere, from tenting in the backcountry to full-service campsites. Those less enamored of the idea of roughing it can stay in a “cottage tent” – a structure with canvas walls, a solid floor, and basic furnishings – or hit the road in a recreational vehicle, your home on wheels. Stay in a tipi along a rushing river. Set up camp deep in the mountains, in the badlands or on the wide open plains. This is as close to nature as it gets.
CANOEING & KAYAKING
Paddling on Alberta’s scenic lakes and rivers is a day with nature at its finest. Learn a traditional mode of transportation, essential to the Aboriginals, early explorers and fur traders. Pack a picnic and paddle out to a distant shore or take on Alberta’s only backcountry canoe circuit. Step up your fitness, step into a kayak, and run some whitewater. Wilderness lovers of all ages will form a lasting bond with the water and with each other.
CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
With over 70 nordic hubs to choose from, what better place to start than the home of Canada’s national cross country and biathlon ski teams? Designed for the 1988 Winter Olympics, Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park will challenge you with 65 km (37 mi) of groomed and track-set trails. And it’s only about an hour’s drive west of Calgary, so wax up those skis and follow in the footsteps of Olympians. Or follow your own path on hundreds of trails, front and backcountry, throughout the province.
CYCLING &MOUNTAIN BIKING
Alberta has countless scenic treasures that are off the beaten track. Challenge yourself to some extreme mountain biking, or pedal leisurely through an alpine meadow, a boreal forest or under an endless prairie sky. Cycle urban pathways through gorgeous river valleys. Two wheels will take you places here four wheels could never go. Hop on a bike and go for the morning, or plan an entire road trip. In terrain that varies from flatlands to rolling foothills to mountain passes, we have plenty of trails, wide-shouldered highways and byways for road riders and mountain bikers to savor.
DOGSLEDDING & SLEIGH RIDES
Mush in the tracks of the early explorers who braved this frozen land and discover the advantages of travel by dogsled. Stand on the back and drive your very own team, or snuggle up in the sled under a warm buffalo rug and enjoy the ride. The thrills and chills of dogsledding in Alberta will leave you eager to write home about your wild winter adventure.
And in the spirit of enjoying the ride, find romance on a one-horse open sleigh. Cozy up with a loved one, sipping hot chocolate, as you glide under starlit skies, sleigh bells ringing.
SKING & SNOWBOARDING
Alberta is one of the few places on earth blessed with the conditions that create the legendary, airy “champagne” powder revered by skiers and boarders worldwide. Addicts can go by snow cat or helicopter to the backcountry, where pure virgin runs await.
Learn to carve it up one-on-one with a professional instructor or with friends. Experts will meet the challenge of their dreams in the bowls, pipes and chutes of the Rockies. Boarders can strut their stuff on the rails and jibs of the terrain parks. After a blissful day on the slopes, unwind in the lodge for some well-deserved après ski.
Few experiences get the adrenaline pumping like whitewater rafting in Alberta. Go for an afternoon, or spend a few nights under the stars as you make your way along the course of the river. Feel the thrill of the rapids in an unspoiled, natural setting. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, as deer, elk and bear frequent the riverbanks.
Your rafting adventure is hosted by knowledgeable, professional guides who provide everything you need. There are trips for all ages and skill levels, so get out and experience the camaraderie of conquering the big rapids or taking it easy on a family float. See for yourself how a river can be this much fun!
Alberta is a hotbed of new talent and attracts world-renowned artists and performers. Exhibitions and live performances are richly diverse, from avant-garde experimentalism to timeless classics cherished by all.
Browse the art galleries, take in a play or spend the evening at the symphony or the ballet.
Alberta is known for its festivals & events. Catch some great live music at local folk, blues, jazz, and country festivals. Big Valley Jamboree is the biggest country music festival on the continent. Countless rodeos take place throughout the province, the granddaddy of them all is the annual Calgary Stampede. For 10 days, one million visitors get roped into Stampede fever. So grab your boots and Stetson, ‘pardner,’ and cowboy up!
Eight seconds. Hold your breath. Grip the rail. Time stops. Eight seconds is how long the cowboy must stay on the back of the 1,800 pound, seriously annoyed bull madly thrashing beneath him. The buzzer sounds, the champ leaps clear of the flying hooves and tips his hat to a crowd gone wild. Welcome to rodeo, Alberta style.
Rodeo professionals come from around the world to compete in bull riding, calf roping, bronco busting and barrel racing at Ponoka, Strathmore, Grande Prairie, Wainwright, Leduc and High River – just to name a few. There’s even a rodeo in Jasper National Park. The showdown is the annual five-day Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton in November. Stakes are high – prizes often top $1 million. Competition is fierce. With an equal mix of devoted fans and enthralled newcomers, the energy is through the roof.
Although there are countless rodeos throughout the province, the granddaddy of them all – 100 years old in 2012 – is the annual Calgary Stampede. “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” kicks off mid-July with the Stampede Parade, where 350,000 people jostle for a curbside view.
Then it’s on to ropin’, ridin’ and racin’ at the world’s richest rodeo with more than $2 million in prize money at stake. Never been to the chuckwagon races? There is nothing to compare to the thrill of horses, wagons and outriders thundering down the homestretch, dirt flying, the ground literally shaking under your feet.
Strut the midway, grab a beef-on-a-bun, munch on a beaver tail, buy a ticket on a dream home. Feel the rhythm of First Nations drumming, singing and dancing at the colorful Indian Village. Tour the critter barns and gaze at Alberta’s prize winners. Be sure to catch the Grandstand Show and fireworks that close out each day. More than a million will attend the 10-day whoop up, Calgary’s biggest party. Grab your boots and hat, ‘pardner’, and cowboy up!
Imagine looking up and seeing a rich green wisp uncurl slowly across the night sky. The apparition is soon joined by others and together they grow into a bright, pulsating chorus of multi-colored light, waving, melting away, then regrouping. You’re not hallucinating. You’re witnessing one of the most surreal natural phenomena on earth: the northern lights.
Learn the tricks you’ll need to capture these fleeting images. Unravel the mystery of the aurora borealis and discover what makes the night sky blaze with color. Hear the old legends and lore that surround this mesmerizing display, which can be experienced from September through April in northern Alberta, with possible sightings much farther south.
DINOSAUR PROVINCIAL PARK
Stand amidst twisted pinnacles of rock and gaze at the wind-scraped barren landscape of the Canadian Badlands where the Red Deer River cuts deeply into the ancient river delta. It is almost impossible to picture the place now known as Dinosaur Provincial Park as a subtropical paradise filled with towering redwoods, palm trees and giant ferns. It’s even harder to imagine the giant beasts that flourished here some 75 million years ago.
Today this place is known around the world for its dinosaur fossil finds. So much so that UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. The park has also been named a Natural Preserve to protect the extensive fossil fields and the valley’s fragile environment, a complex mix of Canadian Badlands and cottonwood river habitat. While it’s against the rules to collect or dig for bones on your own, the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s field station and Alberta Parks have put together a ton of cool things to do. Go on a fossil safari. Take the Explorer’s Bus Tour. Register the kids for Dinosaur Day Camp. Choose from five self-guided hikes. Lots of camping nearby. The park is 200 km (124 mi) east of Calgary and is open year round.
THE CANADIAN BADLANDS
The Canadian Badlands cut a swath through southeastern Alberta. The region has been a fossil hotbed since the 19th century. Some of the most important dinosaur discoveries in the world were unearthed right here.
WRITING-ON-STONE PROVINCIAL PARK
In the Canadian Badlands valley of the Milk River, 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Lethbridge, is a protected place containing the largest collection of rock art on the Great Plains. Petroglyphs and pictographs carved and painted on towering sandstone walls record the history of the Blackfoot and Shoshone, dating back 8,000 years. Feel the mystery of this sacred ground where all were given shelter. This is Áísínai´pi, Writing-On-Stone. Camp by the river. Book a guided tour with First Nations interpreters who will show you, through the drum and dance, a way of life that changed very little over the millennia.
LESSER SLAVE LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK
Take in the vast expanse of sun-sparkled water and endless white sand beaches. This is Lesser Slave Lake, 282 km (175 mi) north of Edmonton, and the largest auto accessible lake in Alberta. Small towns, beach resorts, campgrounds, and marinas are dotted along its shores. Devonshire beach is the most popular point of entry. You can walk to it on a paved trail from the town of Slave Lake, which anchors the southeast corner of the lake and has everything you need for your stay. Hike up to Marten Mountain Viewpoint for a spectacular overlook of the lake.
WILLIAM A. SWITZER PROVINCIAL PARK
Picture the northern doorstep of the Rocky Mountains: an undisturbed wild-land of foothills, forests, distant peaks, lush valleys, and glacial lakes. Home to wolves, bear, cougar, moose, deer and elk. Rent a canoe and paddle the interconnected lakes. Hike to the Athabasca Lookout – a short walk from the parking lot. Borrow a wildlife viewing pack from the visitor’s center. Only 25 km (15.5 mi) northwest of Hinton, 3.5 hours west of Edmonton (290 km/180 mi). Come back in winter – you can actually camp year round – and enjoy cross country skiing on 50 km (31 mi) of groomed trails at the Athabasca Nordic Centre.
WILLMORE WILDERNESS PARK
Sharing its southern border with Jasper National Park, Willmore Wildnerness Park is the definition of remote backcountry. Spectacular scenery and wildlife. Best experienced with a professional outfitter, on horseback or on foot. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. Enter the park from either Grande Cache or Hinton. Very high up on the “wow!” scale.
RAT’S NEST CAVE
Found under Grotto Mountain near Canmore, this is an undeveloped cave – meaning no handrails, no walkways, no interior lighting, simply au natural. Knowledgeable guides will outfit you and show you how to descend into a magical realm of twisting passages and chambers as you shine your headlamps on eerie stalactites and stalagmites, animal bones and fossils.
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE
Also known as the Great Divide, it runs the length of the spine of the Rocky Mountains through Alberta and British Columbia, where rivers flow west, east, and north. The Great Divide Trail is a wilderness hiking trail that begins in Waterton Lakes National Park in the south and goes as all the way to the Kakwa Wildlands, north of Jasper National Park.
HEAD-SMASHED-IN BUFFALO JUMP
Hundreds of bison at full gallop thundering over the edge of a cliff must have made quite a sight – and a lot of noise! Relive the past at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. The most effective way to hunt the buffalo was practiced right here for at least 6,000 years. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s the biggest, oldest, and best-preserved buffalo jump in North America. Just 18 km (11 mi) northwest of Fort Macleod.
In the early hours of April 29, 1903, some 82 million tons of limestone let loose from the east face of Turtle Mountain and hurtled down on the unsuspecting valley below. It partially buried the town of Frank, dammed the Crowsnest River and destroyed the local coal miner’s infrastructure. You can still see the effects of the slide today. Visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, which reflects this amazing tale of tragedy and the triumph of the human spirit.
FISH CREEK PROVINCIAL PARK
Get away from life in the fast lane without leaving town! Calgary is home to one of the largest urban parks in North America. Hike its many trails in summer and watch for beaver, deer, coyotes and owls. Get in a picnic and some beach time at Sikome Lake. Stop by the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre. Cross country ski and snowshoe in winter. Day use only, no fees.
THE BOW RIVER
Did you know some of the best trout fishing in the world happens on a river in the middle of a city? Welcome to the Bow River, flowing from headwaters in the Canadian Rockies through Calgary and on through parkland and prairie. Do a float from Bowness Park through the heart of the city past Prince’s Island Park.
BEAVER HILLS DARK SKY PRESERVE
Think of it as a star park – a place where reduced artificial light makes the skies so dark the stars seem to leap closer to the earth. Less than an hour east of Edmonton, this dark sky preserve encompasses both Elk Island National Park and the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot recreation region. Test your skills at naming the constellations. Night owls are beginning to outnumber the wildlife.
COOKING LAKE-BLACKFOOT PROVINCIAL RECREATION AREA
This is practically in Edmonton’s backyard, adjacent to Elk Island National Park. Watch for wildlife as you walk, hike, cycle, or horseback ride on 170 km (105 mi) of maintained trails winding through forests, pastures and wetlands. Use them in winter for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and even dogsledding. Lots of picnic facilities with fire pits, and all-weather shelters with warm-up stoves. Day use only.
LOIS HOLE CENTENNIAL PARK
Named after an extraordinary Albertan, this park encompasses Big Lake and the Sturgeon River area around Edmonton and St. Albert. Nesting grounds here are a haven for more than 235 bird species, including the endangered trumpeter swan and peregrine falcon. Bring your binoculars and scopes to the viewing platform on the eastern shore of Big Lake and watch for the ones on your ‘lifer’ list.
Close your eyes and savor the flavor explosion of juicy grilled Alberta beef so tender you can cut it with a fork. Exquisite fine dining experiences abound in Alberta, with edible local treasures to gratify even the most discerning palates. Look for menus that feature wild game, bison, ostrich or elk. Get your culinary thrills in a chic contemporary bistro, or dine in the understated elegance of a rustic lodge with a superb mountain view.
Stop at small town cafe for some fine home cookin’. Follow along country byways and pull in at a roadside stand for freshly picked berries and a jar of clover honey – the perfect road trip snack.
Connect with people passionate about bringing top quality food from land to table. Stroll through the bustling aisles of a farmers’ market and load up on fresh fruits and veggies. Give in to the tempting aroma of artisan breads and cheeses and savory meat pies. While you’re munching, browse the array of art, pottery and handmade jewelry for one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Everywhere you look is a perfect picture from a glossy travel book. The elements that make the Rockies a year-round dream destination – dazzling glaciers, towering mountains, big animals, sublime alpine meadows and emerald lakes – are all right here in Banff National Park.
A scenic hour-and-a-half drive west of Calgary leads to one of the most popular national parks in the world. Nestled in superb natural settings, the charming towns of Banff and Lake Louise have all the comforts of the big city. Over 7,500 people call the park home, so you’re as likely to encounter the locals as you are the resident wildlife.
In summer, hit the links at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. Horseback ride, hike or cycle on 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of trails as you watch for wildlife. Climb a mountain or paddle a kayak until there’s no choice but to unwind at one of the local spas. Come back in winter for some of the finest skiing and boarding at Lake Louise Ski Area, Sunshine Village, and Mount Norquay. Snuggle in on a sleigh ride or skate on a lake framed by glaciers. See for yourself why UNESCO included Canada’s first national park as a World Heritage Site.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Picture yourself in a mountain getaway surrounded by soaring peaks and ancient glaciers, an untouched wilderness of evergreens and turquoise lakes tucked into alpine valleys. Jasper National Park is the stuff postcards are made of.
Cruise through rolling foothills and into Jasper’s iconic Rocky Mountains, 370 km (192 mi) west of Edmonton and 404 km (256 mi) northwest of Calgary. The town of Jasper is an authentic mountain community where the locals welcome you as long-lost friends. You will find all the comforts you could wish for, from luxury accommodation to charming cabins and fully serviced campsites. To really unwind and relax into a Jasper pace, enjoy a soothing mineral water soak in Miette Hot Springs, located in the Fiddle Valley, about an hour east of the townsite.
Canada’s largest Rocky Mountain national park has nearly 1,000 km (615 mi) of trails, and some fairly famous hikes. Try the Patricia Lake Loop or Mount Edith Cavell Meadows for starters. An early morning paddle will leave you breathless – when you see your first bull moose at the water’s edge. Stay in town or camp out in the backcountry. In winter, ski Marmot Basin and you’ll come to understand why powder hounds return year after year. Blaze a backcountry trail on cross country skis or showshoes.
WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
Where in the world can you find a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve all rolled into one? At Waterton Lakes National Park, part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the only place on earth endowed with all three titles.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Alberta, Waterton lies three hours south of Calgary and one and a half hours southwest of Lethbridge. The dramatic collision of prairies and mountains has forged a wealth of distinct habitats – 45 to be precise. The combination of grasslands, wetlands, aspen groves, evergreen forests and alpine tundra has led to an unusual diversity of plant life and is home to a rich variety of wildlife. Watch for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk and black bear.
It may be the smallest of our Rocky Mountain parks, but many consider it the hidden jewel in the crown. Hit the back trails and you’re likely to see more wildlife than people. Soak up the sun on the beach of Upper Waterton Lake, or cruise across the water to another country! Hike the infamous Crypt Lake Trail or paddle Cameron Lake. And when the sun slips below the peaks, swap stories over a cold beverage and take in the sweeping panoramas high atop the hill at the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park shares parkland in Alberta and Montana and is part of what’s come to be known as the “Crown of the Continent”, 42,000 sq km (16,000 sq mi) of spellbinding scenery spanning the corners of Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.
WOOD BUFFALO NATIONAL PARK
If you’ve ever dreamed of a wild wilderness adventure in the remote Canadian north, Wood Buffalo National Park promises the trip of a lifetime. With more land mass than one third of the world’s countries, Wood Buffalo is one of the biggest parks on earth.
Spanning a huge chunk of Alberta’s far north, the top of the park spills into the Northwest Territories. Hop a plane in Edmonton or Fort McMurray and head up to Fort Smith or Fort Chipewyan, the gateways to Wood Buffalo. For a unique winter adventure, take the ice road from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan. See page 113 for a trip about this ice road.
This is a vast and wild land of northern boreal plains, strangely compelling karstland riddled with sinkholes, fissures and underground streams, one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world, and – surprise – a salt desert. Watch for the herds of wood bison that roam the plains. Listen to the howling of the elusive timber wolf. The endless splendour of the north will have you wishing there were more hours in a day. Oh wait – in summer the sun is still shining at midnight.
ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Hear roaring in the summer and whistling in the fall. Sound like a strange experience for a national park? It is. The lion-like roars of the bull bison in summer and the high-pitched whistling of rutting elk in the fall are sounds you’re unlikely to forget.
Elk Island National Park rivals the Serengeti for its density of hoofed wildlife. Feel the thrill of seeing wild bison in their natural habitat. Watch for herds of elk, and the white tailed deer and moose that roam freely. Observe the antics of the industrious beaver building a dam. If you’re in luck, you’ll spot the elusive coyote.
The abundance of animals means unbelievable photo ops. Watch for them on 80 km (50 mi) of trails along meadows, marshes, lakes, and parkland. Birdwatchers are in heaven with more than 253 species to spot. Have a picnic on the beach and camp overnight in the Astotin Lake area. The park protects 224 known Aboriginal sites as well as the aspen parkland, one of Canada’s most endangered habitats. All this, less than an hour east of Edmonton.
Cutting-edge local designers, top international labels and sumptuous spaces make for prime shopping in Alberta. Just when you think you’ve reached retail nirvana, there’s more – no provincial sales tax. Lose yourself in eclectic clothing, avant-garde art, retro furniture, and crafty creations.
Start at the top at West Edmonton Mall, the largest indoor shopping center in North America. The size of a small city, WEM’s 800+ shops and services – including two hotels and 100 places to eat – mean you can shop till you choose a spot to drop. Meander through Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona District or hunt for treasures on 124th Street. In Calgary, hunt for antiques and curios in historic Inglewood. Do the downtown thing on Stephen Avenue and Fashion Central. Find funky finery along 17th Avenue.
Mosey along the Cowboy Trail in high ranch country and find your western collectibles. Shop for outdoor gear and unique “Canadiana” in our mountain towns of Canmore, Banff and Jasper. Retail therapy in Alberta just might involve a new suitcase – or two.