From boreal forest to vast prairies and high mountain peaks, Alberta is an incredible province to explore. Born and raised in Alberta, I certainly feel that I know Alberta better than most. I’ve been to each major city and almost every small town in the province, giving me great insight into the province that I call home.
Although Alberta is one of only two provinces that are landlocked, Alberta is about as diverse as it gets. From looking at Dinosaur skeletons in the badlands and hiking some of the tallest mountain peaks in the country to splashing around in North America’s largest indoor waterpark and driving one of the world’s most scenic highways, Alberta is an incredible place to explore.
Whether you’re planning to explore the cities, the mountains, or everything in-between, we’ve got you covered in this comprehensive travel guide to the wonderful province of Alberta.
Getting to Alberta
If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Alberta, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Alberta by Car
If you’re planning to drive to Alberta, it’s sandwiched in-between British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, and Montana. Most people arrive driving in from BC through the Rocky Mountains, from Saskatchewan, or up from Montana. Although it’s a large province, it’s fairly under-populated and easy to drive around. If driving from the US, please note that you will have to go through customs.
The Trans-Canada Highway, which goes coast to coast, cuts right through Calgary, Alberta heading west from Regina or east from Banff.
Getting to Alberta by Plane
Alberta is home to two international airports, both of which are some of the biggest airports in the country. These two airports are the Calgary International Airport (YYC) and the Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Once you arrive, you can easily rent a car, take a taxi, hop on public transportation, or perhaps, jump on a tour. There are smaller regional airports in Alberta as well, but most people, especially those visiting from outside the province or country will arrive to one of the two airports mentioned above.
For convenience, Edmonton is best for those exploring the North or perhaps heading to Jasper National Park whereas Calgary is more convenient for Banff National Park, Drumheller, and Southern Alberta. However, both airports are less than three hours apart by drive time.
Getting Around Alberta
Alberta is a large province and is best explored by private vehicle. There are some tours, especially for popular areas such as Banff, and there are some buses, but those are very limited in destinations. Without a doubt, if your goal is to explore various parts of the province, the best way is to rent a car.
Fun Fact: Alberta is home to Canada’s largest urban park, Canada’s first national park, Canada’s largest parking lot, North America’s largest mall, North America’s largest indoor amusement park, North America’s largest indoor amusement park, and one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Road to 150 – Alberta Road Trip
Back in 2017, we produced one of the largest independent media campaigns the country has ever seen. The Road to 150 was a 150-day road trip across Canada to produce a 12-part video series and mini-documentary about what makes Canada special. Alberta was our last leg of the trip, mostly because it’s home, and became one of the most beautiful tourism videos of the whole campaign. We had 14-days to explore the province and came up with a perfect itinerary that can easily be shortened if you’re not capturing video all day long.
Coming from British Columbia, we started our trip off in Banff National Park, one of Canada’s most scenic areas. Here we visited the beautiful towns of Banff and Canmore, hiked through Johnston Canyon, paddled a canoe on Lake Louise, rode a gondola to the top of a mountain and drove the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper National Park. We also stood on a glacier, took a variety of boat rides, saw a bunch of wildlife, and admired the colours of the fall season. We then drove to Edmonton to experience North America’s largest mall, visited Drumheller to learn about dinosaurs, and ended our trip in Calgary, where we rode a steam train, learned about Canadian music icons, and admired the views from the Calgary Tower.
We highly recommend watching the video above and then heading over to our Canadian Youtube Channel to see more videos about Alberta and about the country as well.
Things To Do in Calgary
Located right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Calgary is such a beautiful city. This is my home city and it’s always great to explore, whether as a local or as a tourist.
Heritage Park Historical Village
Since opening its doors back in 1964, Heritage Park Historical Village has grown into one of Calgary’s premier tourist attractions and one of North America’s largest and most successful living history museums. There’s an active amusement park, a steam train, a sternwheeler, old-fashioned candy shops, heritage buildings, and a really cool museum featuring classic cars and gasoline pumps. It is the Park’s mission to preserve the history of the early West and to educate and entertain guests of all ages for many generations to come.
Tip: While visiting the National Music Centre, walk a couple blocks west to see the Calgary Public Library, which was ranked by TIMES as their “100 Greatest Places of 2019”. You won’t need much time but it’s worth seeing and it’s worth stepping inside.
The Calgary Zoo
Home to the second-largest zoo in Canada, not to mention one of the most respected worldwide, the Calgary Zoo is a great place to visit for adults and kids alike. From Canada’s wild animals to penguins, gorillas, crocodiles, tigers, and more, all animal lovers will enjoy a day at this very central zoo.
Studio Bell National Music Center
Opened in 2016, the National Music Centre’s Studio Bell has become one of Calgary’s most beautiful buildings and is an incredible place to visit for anyone interested in music, as well as learning about the incredible talent that has come out of Canada. You’ll find over 2,000 rare instruments and artifacts, as well as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame collections.
As a key cultural cornerstone in Calgary for 50 years, Glenbow has surprised and engaged generations of Albertans and visitors to the province with remarkable connections between art, culture and the world around us. We learned all about Alberta’s history, the Calgary Stampede, some of the people who have shaped the province, and enjoyed one of the largest art collections in the country.
The Calgary Tower
Experience the city from 525 feet in the air. Calgary’s most iconic building is a great place to get a view of the city and the surrounding area. In fact, on a clear day, you can even see the Rocky Mountains. There’s also a glass floor for a birds-eye view of the streets below.
Prince’s Island Park and Peace Bridge
If you’re looking for some scenic nature in the heart of downtown Calgary, make your way to Prince’s Island Park. In the summer, there’s a variety of festivals that take place here including the Calgary Folk Music Festival and Expo Latino. There’s also a fine dining restaurant called the River Cafe. Aside from that though, it’s just a pretty park where locals go to hang out, play frisbee, go for a jog, and admire the Canadian geese and ducks that also call this place home.
While visiting Prince’s Island Park, don’t forget to visit one of the most iconic sights in Calgary. Peace Bridge is a beautiful red pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Bow River between Memorial Drive and Eau Claire Park. Walk across, bike across, or just sit back and take a photo. This is an Instagram hot spot.
If you’re like me and you love speed, then zip-lining at WinSport should be high on your list. Starting from the top of an Olympic ski jump facility, it has become North America’s fastest zipline with speeds of up to 120 km/hr while enjoying beautiful views of the city.
The Calgary Stampede
If you happen to be in Calgary in July, you’ll want to experience the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. This century-old outdoor rodeo has become one of the biggest festivals in the world with world-class concerts, a mid-way, all the food truck food you could possibly want, educational programs, and of course – the biggest rodeo on Earth. This is when the city comes to life with lots of partying and lots of action.
Speaking of rodeos, horse-lovers will want to head out to Spruce Meadows, which is located on the southern outskirts of the city. This multi-sport facility is home to world-class equestrian show-jumping events where even celebrities have been spotted, such as the one and only Alec Baldwin.
Float Down the Bow
As a local, one of my favourite activities to do is to go floating down the Bow River. It’s a big river and it’s fairly calm, offering beautiful views as the city and a fairly relaxing 2-3 hour float. In the hot summer months, you’ll see anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people going down the river in kayaks, inflatable tubes, paddleboards, and more.
Looking for more info? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Calgary.
Things to Do In Banff National Park
Banff National Park is an absolute must-visit for anyone travelling to Alberta. With so much incredible scenery in Canada, there’s a reason why Banff National Park is the most visited park in the country. Just 1-2 hours drive from Calgary, we never tire of visiting this beautiful slice of Western Canada.
Explore Banff (the town)
Although Banff National Park is famous for its natural landscapes, the town of Banff is also famous for its spectacular look and setting. Surrounded by mountains, this is quite possibly one of the most picturesque towns in the world. It’s also home to many hotels and delicious restaurants, as well as plenty of shopping, museums, hiking trails, and more.
For those wanting the experience of standing on top of the world, the Banff Gondola is a great thing to do. You can either take the gondola both ways or you can hike up or down. From the top, you’ll see incredible views of the surrounding area, the mountains, the valleys, and the town of Banff. Both summer and winter are equally stunning and it takes only 8-minutes to reach the top of Sulphur Mountain by gondola. In addition, there’s also an interpretive centre and fine-dining.
Visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs
With all the outdoor activities, it sure helps to have natural hot springs nearby to soothe your tired muscles. In fact, did you know that it was the hot springs that helped create Banff National Park? The Banff Upper Hot Springs is located up near the Banff Gondola and the Rimrock Resort Hotel and features a pool-like setting with lockers, rentals, and more. There’s not much for views directly from the pools itself but the hot waters are incredible to soak in.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Did you know that this was the beginning of Canada’s national park system? That’s right! This is where it all started. Thanks to these hot springs, which date back thousands of years and were used by the Indigenous for important meetings and ceremonies, Banff National Park (Canada’s first) was created. While you can’t go in these particular hot springs anymore, you can learn a lot about the area and take a peek at the very rare Banff Springs snail.
Visit the Banff Castle
Like something out of a fairy tale, the Banff castle sits surrounded by some of the world’s most stunning scenery. While this was never actually a castle, it was one of the luxury railroad hotels that are now owned by Fairmont. Whether you simply drive up to the hotel to see it, go inside for a little tour or to eat at one of the restaurants, or actually stay a night, you’ll be happy you did. It’s not often that a hotel becomes an attraction in and of itself.
Lake Minnewanka Banff Lake Cruise
If you’re interested in a scenic lake cruise with some history of the area, consider the Lake Minnewanka cruise, which offers a 1-hour panoramic interpretive cruise around the lake. Situated on the largest lake in Banff, you’ll see the stunning scenery as well as learn about the underwater village, which is now a popular diving site.
Diving Lake Minnewanka
Speaking of diving, Lake Minnewanka is a popular scuba diving destination. This is because there’s an old “town” at the bottom of the lake, flooded out “back in the day”. So, if you want to see an underwater town, this is the place to do it. In addition, you can also go winter diving here. We haven’t been crazy enough to do this yet, but if you have your dry-suit certification and want to go diving through the ice, this is the place to do it!
Climb a Mountain at Mount Norquay
For those looking for thrills in the mountains, while being as safe as possible, you’ll want to check out the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay. A Via Ferrata is where iron and steel is drilled into the mountain, allowing you to safely clip yourself into and skirt the edges of the mountains, getting the thrills of “mountain climbing” without the high risk.
With so many mountains, it should come as no surprise that Banff offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. Between Mount Norquay, Sunshine, and Lake Louise, the opportunity to Ski Banff is a GREAT reason to visit in the winter months. However, even if you’re here in the summer, these resorts offer the opportunity to take the gondola up the mountains for some once-in-a-lifetime hiking opportunities.
If you’re looking for a beautiful and free hike, hiking Johnston Canyon is a great way to see this impressive canyon and an array of waterfalls up close. There’s even a cave you can walk into. This hike is quite easy (although slippery in the winter) and is beautiful in all seasons. Our favourite season is winter but the most comfortable time to go is in the summer.
This is easily one of Canada’s most popular lakes, not only for the scenery but also for the luxury hotel right next to it. There’s also numerous hikes nearby, another stunning lake called Moraine Lake, and the option of paddling a canoe! Whether you come to simply admire the lake, go paddling, go hiking, or enjoy a beer at the neighbouring Fairmont, a visit to Lake Louise is a MUST.
Located close to Lake Louise, this is our favourite lake in the entire national park. The only problem is that it’s so popular and so tight for parking space that it often fills up before sunrise. To help with this issue, there’s now a shuttle bus that visits here from the village of Lake Louise. Either way, if you can make it here, your jaws will drop. It’s simply magical.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Banff.
Things to Do in Canmore
Located just outside Banff National Park and just 20-minutes away from the town of Banff, Canmore is somewhat like a “local” version of Banff. The activities are similar and some people stay here rather than in Banff. However, there are things to do in Canmore as well, not to mention the surrounding areas.
Very few “outdoor activities” can be done year-round with almost the same temperatures, but caving in Grotto Mountain is one of them. We did a tour inside Rat’s nest cave and yes, we saw the cute little rat that called the cave home. We did the full adventure, allowing us to squeeze ourselves through tight crevices and feel the true thrill of caving. However, there are lighter tours as well for those who might be more claustrophobic.
Spray Lakes Provincial Park
As of now, Spray Lakes remains our favourite camping spot in the province. It’s a 30-minute or so drive from Canmore up into the mountains and provides an extremely scenic camping experience. However, it can’t be booked in advance so it’s a bit of a game of luck to find a spot. Weekends are full.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Canmore.
Things To Do In Jasper National Park
Jasper is another stunning national park, equally impressive to Banff National Park but much more isolated. It’s also at the top of the Icefields Parkway, which is known as one of the most scenic drives on Earth. We love Jasper and the array of delicious restaurants, accommodation, and wildlife.
Jasper Sky Tram
In 1960, Albertan adventurer William McGregor climbed to the summit of Whistlers Mountain, Jasper. Inspired by the incredible views, McGregor dreamed of sharing his experience with the rest of the world. Since opening the Sky Tram, over 6 million visitors have ridden to the top and experienced the same breathtaking Rocky Mountain views that first inspired McGregor over half a century ago. Jump aboard the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada and be prepared to view Jasper National Park from the top of Whistlers Mountain.
Athabasca Glacier Adventure
Where else can you ride a million-dollar all-terrain Ice Explorer on to a glacier? In fact, you can then get out and walk on it yourself! It’s a quick thrill but for many people, the opportunity to stand on top of a glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Located right next to the Athabasca Glacier and often bought as a package, the Jasper Skywalk allows you to walk out on to a glass-floored platform overlooking the 918 foot (280m) drop to the stunning Sunwapta Valley. For some, it’s quite the thrill and for others, it’s simply a chance to get beautiful views and that much desired Instagram shot.
Maligne Lake Cruise
If you’re looking for a beautiful lake cruise in Jasper National Park, this is it! You’ll enjoy a panoramic tour across the crystal waters of Maligne Lake before arriving at Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in the area. Afterward, go hiking in Maligne Canyon!
Gaze at the Stars
As one of the 17 designated Dark Sky Preserves in Canada, not to mention the darkest of them all, Jasper is an incredible place to gaze up at the cosmos. You can learn about the celestial bodies and planets at the Planetarium Dome Theatre and through powerful telescopes. In fact, if you can make it here in October, you don’t want to miss the annual Dark Sky Festival!
Go Golfing in the Mountains
If you’re looking for one of the top golf courses in the country, if not the world, make your way to The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, whose golf course has been listed as one of the best, many, many times. This 18-hole course offers dramatic bunkers and holes that line up with the many spectacular views.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Jasper!
Things To Do In Edmonton
Canada’s most Northern major city is full of things to do. Most notably, the city is home to North America’s largest mall, one of the world’s largest indoor waterparks, and one of the world’s largest indoor amusement parks. There’s tons of culture in Edmonton as well, which makes for tons of festivals, especially in the summer!
West Edmonton Mall
Once known as the world’s largest mall, this epic indoor wonderland is home to enough attractions to keep you busy for a whole weekend! My favourite place is the waterpark but it’s also home to an indoor amusement park, which houses the worlds largest indoor triple loop roller coaster! There are also more than 800 stores, a cinema, mini-golf, and so much more. West Edmonton Mall also holds a number of records, including the North America’s largest indoor waterpark, North America’s largest indoor amusement park, and Canada’s largest parking lot.
Telus World of Science
This broad-based non-profit science centre is the perfect place for those wanting to mix education with fun. We had such a blast learning about the human body as well as learning all about Pixar through their new temporary exhibit focusing on the world’s most famous animation studio.
Explore the River Valley
Edmonton might be known for having North America’s largest mall, but it’s also home to Canada’s largest urban park. With more than 160 kilometres of maintained trails, as well as attractions such as the Fort Edmonton Zoo, Gold Bar Park, the Edmonton Valley Zoo, a golf course, skiing opportunities, skating, and more. There’s even wildlife, including hares, deer, skunks, and porcupines.
Home to one of Edmonton’s most iconic images, the Muttart Conservatory is more than just beautiful glass pyramid structures. It’s also home to a climate-regulated biome with three different zones, such as the tropical climate of Burma and Fiji and the temperate pavilion with its American redwoods and Australian eucalyptus, all with a mission of education and conservation. This premier horticultural facility features over 700 species of plants and has sweeping views of Edmonton’s skyline.
Edmonton Ice Castles
If you happen to be in Edmonton between January and March, you really should pay a visit to the Edmonton Ice Castles. Often compared to “Narnia”, this acre-sized castle is home to a variety of rooms and is extremely popular with Instagrammers. You’ll also find tunnels, a waterfall, and an ice maze.
Alberta Legislature Building
Whether you’re interested in history or just coming to look at the impressive design, the Alberta Legislature Building is well worth the visit. Built back n 1913, this attractive building is the active home of Alberta’s government and offers free tours of the building almost every day. Tours cover topics related to the levels of government, Alberta’s political history, and the art and architecture of the building.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Edmonton.
Things to Do in Drumheller
Known as the Dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller is home to the world-famous Royal Tyrrell Museum and a variety of amazing badland scenery.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology. In addition to housing one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs, the Museum offers a wide variety of creative, fun, and educational programs that bring the prehistoric past to life. Outside the museum, you’ll find a 1.4km interpretive trail that makes its way through the badlands. For anyone interested in dinosaurs, this is the best place to go in all of Canada, if not the world.
Located just 17 km (10.5 mi) west of Drumheller, Horseshoe Canyon is like a miniature replica of the Grand Canyon and a jaw-dropping sight to behold. The reddish-pink ribboned canyon walls change their colour with the sun, revealing the many layers of rock that have been here since the Dinosaurs called it home more than 70 million years ago. Whether you just admire the view or take a hike down into the canyon, this is not a place you want to miss.
Banff is to the mountains what Horsethief Canyon is to the badlands. It’s really beautiful. Similar to Horseshoe Canyon, but far from the same, this area is not only scenic but also steeped in history. In fact, the reason why it’s called Horsethief canyon is that it used to be a wild-west type of place where bandits would literally steal horses. Basically, they’d steal them from big ranches in the area and re-brand them as their own. Located just 16 km (10 mi) northwest of Drumheller on the east bank of the Red Deer River, just You can either stop at the car-park and just admire the views from the edge or you can go for a variety of hikes in and around the coulees.
Walk the Hoodoos
Although hoodoos can be found in many areas in the region, the easiest place to see them is at Hoodoo Trail, just 10 kilometres east of Drumheller. They are super cool to see up close, but just not too close as they’re very fragile and protected.
Party with Ghosts
If you’re looking for a super interesting detour near the Hoodoo Trail, check out Wayne Ghost Town. Located just 6-kilometres away, you’ll cross over 11 one-lane bridges over the Rosebud River before finding yourself in an almost-deserted old town that was once a thriving coal-mining town. It’s also home to the infamous Last Chance Saloon, a bar that’s been featured in many articles and books for being haunted.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Drumheller.
Things to Do in Lethbridge
If you’re continuing down to the far south, you might end up in Alberta’s third-biggest city – Lethbridge! If so, there’s lots to do here and it’s a great base for exploring other areas of Southern Alberta, including Crowsnest Pass, Castle Provincial Park, and so much more.
Whether you’re looking to learn about the history of Lethbridge or simply get some of the best views the city has to offer, make your way to the Galt Museum. This museum is the largest in Southern Alberta, containing over 17,000 artifacts and more than 1 million archival documents and photographs. It’s also home to a variety of walking trails and two beautiful gardens containing over 40 species of native plants, including wildflowers, grasses, and woody plants.
Not only is it smack dab in the middle of the beautiful coulee’s, but it’s also a great place to learn about the local history. Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of an original fur trading fort built back in the late 1800s. It was originally called Fort Hamilton and served as a centre for a variety of trading activities, the most infamous one being the illegal whiskey trade.
Hiking the Coulees
The coulees are the most striking feature of Lethbridge. They’re beautiful to admire from any angle and they’re a great place to go for a hike or a bike ride. You can hike down into them from places like the Galt Museum or drive down and park at places like Indian Battle Park or the Helen Schuller Centre. From there, you’ll find many paths that meander along the coulees, the train bridge, and Old Man River.
Another striking feature of the Lethbridge landscape is the High Level Bridge. Constructed between 1907 – 1909, this massive steel trestle that sits above the Old Man River is still the largest of its type in the world. Whether you admire it from afar or hike under it, it’s a beautiful thing to see and an icon of the city.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
Located right next to Henderson Lake Park, which is a great place to go for a walk, you’ll find the stunning Nikko Yuko Japanese Garden. Designed by a garden Arctiect from Osaka as well as being constructed by artisans from Kyoto, this garden was built to symbolize the friendship between Canada and Japan. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to just meander through, but you can also partake in tea ceremonies, Sumo Sumo Sundays, or even yoga.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
Another one of our favourite places in Alberta is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, which is located around 70 kilometres west of Lethbridge and can easily be combined with Fort Macleod (see below). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a museum and interpretive centre featuring the Blackfoot indigenous culture and a place that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture. The museum is truly excellent, the people are very friendly, and the surrounding area is beautiful for a stroll.
Just 30-minutes away on the drive between Lethbridge and Calgary is Fort Macleod, which is home to The Fort Museum and the RCMP Musical Ride. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the area and the RCMP, this is a great place to go. During the summer months, it’s also home to a replica of the RCMP Musical Ride, a popular ceremony featuring horses.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Just 100 kilometres southeast of Lethbridge is yet another gorgeous natural area and UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s perfect for hiking, camping, and learning about indigenous culture. In fact, you can see ancient carvings and rock paintings that date back to 1050 BCE! While camping can be hard to nab as it’s often booked well in advance, it can be visited as a day trip as well.
Looking for more things to do? Don’t forget to check out our ULTIMATE GUIDE to the best things to do in Lethbridge.
Things to Do in Southwest Alberta
Castle Provincial Park
Castle Provincial Park is Alberta’s newest provincial park and is a gorgeous place to go hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, and more. In fact, there’s also a popular Ski Resort in the winter months.
The Remington Carriage Museum
Located in Cardston, Alberta is the Remington Carriage Museum, which is home to more than 270 carriages and is the largest of its kind in the world. Upon entering the museum, you’ll be transported back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, getting a glimpse of carriages that carried pioneers as well as the rich and famous.
As you can see, there are loads of things to do in Alberta. There’s a reason why it’s one of the top places to visit in Canada. From badlands and dinosaurs to waterfalls and mountains, Alberta is wonderful from north to south. We hope this article helps you plan your trip and if you’d like even more inspiration, make sure to subscribe to Must Do Canada and follow us on YouTube where we post a new video every two weeks!
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