What comes to mind when you think of Alberta? The snow-capped Rocky Mountains surrounding Jasper? The lakes and peaks of Banff? Or the stunning turquoise waters of Lake Louise? Alberta has all of this to offer and much more. If you’re thinking of taking a trip to one of Canada’s most scenic provinces (and you really should), there’s so much to explore all year round. From mountains to prairies and from desert badlands to coniferous forests – and not forgetting the province’s 600-plus lakes – Albert has it all, whether you want to take some time for yourself lakeside, or enjoy a slow-travel experience through a national park.
Let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known places you need to add to your itinerary – it really is worth the journey to make memories that you’ll cherish forever.
Let’s start with one of the classics, and a destination that’s on almost every Alberta tour: Banff. The home of Canada’s national parks system, Banff is picture-perfect during every season, and is a must for outdoor lovers. Established in 1885, Banff National Park was the first National Park to be established in Canada and it comprises 6,641 square kilometres of wonderful landscapes just begging to be explored, including mountains, glaciers, forests and ice fields.
The town of Banff is the perfect base from which to traverse the park. Hike up Tunnel Mountain – with 300 metres elevation and fantastic 360° views, it’s a great introduction to everything the region has to offer. Rest your aching muscles afterwards with a soak in the mineral-rich Banff Hot Springs.
Even in a destination as popular as Banff, there are still places to explore off the beaten track. Head 6km north of the town of Banff to Mount Norquay. In winter, it’s a hot spot for skiing, whilst in summer you can take the chairlift up nearly 2,135m for an incredible picnic spot. You might even spot some black or grizzly bears along the way! Whilst you’re at Mount Norquay, head off the track – literally – on the Via Ferrata, a breathtaking climbing experience that’ll give you views of the national park that you just can’t get from the ground.
Another must-see destination on every Alberta itinerary, Lake Louise is popular for a reason. The bright blue water and epic terrain creates a jaw-dropping vista that you’ll remember forever. It’s a mecca for adventures all year long. In winter, the frozen lake becomes what is arguably the world’s most beautiful ice rink, with snowshoeing through the stillness of the snow-covered landscape also offering a magical experience.
In summer, don’t miss the opportunity to hike the scenic 3.5km trail to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. Built by the Candaian Pacific Railway in 1901 as a shelter for hikers, the tea house has been serving tea since 1905 and still offers the best location you’ll ever enjoy tea and scones in.
An opportunity to connect with nature, experience beautiful landscapes and recharge and reset, a visit to Lake Louise – whether for a day or a week – will stay with you forever.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Nestled in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes is part of the world’s first International Peace Park. It shares a border with Glacier National Park in Montana, and in 1932, the two parks were combined to create Waterton Glacier International Peace Park.
Waterton Lakes is where the Rockies meet the prairies, meaning there’s a whole host of different landscapes to explore despite it being the smallest of Alberta’s four national parks. For the best view of Crypt Lake, don’t miss the 17km Crypt Lake Trail which begins at a trailhead that can only be reached by a 15 minute boat trip – an adventure in itself!
It’s great to gaze at the lakes from the trails but you’ll get an entirely different perspective when you hop aboard a kayak or paddleboard to experience the national park from the water. Hire a canoe, kayak, pedal boat or rowing boat to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Cameron Lake, or take it easy with power boating on Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes, the largest bodies of water in the park – and arguably the jewels in its crown.
Awe-inspiring rock formations and rugged terrain as far as the eye can see – we bet this isn’t what comes to mind when you think of Alberta, and that’s exactly why you should add the Badlands to your itinerary.
This land is where dinosaurs once roamed and you can follow in their footsteps with a visit to the Dinosaur Provincial Park, where some of the world’s most extensive dinosaur fossil fields can be found. The park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 thanks to its awesome rock formations that tower over you on all sides.
If you like hiking, you’re in for a treat in the Badlands. You’ll be transported to another world, and it’s worth spending time in this wonderful area to really allow yourself to soak it all up. Head to Horseshoe Canyon for the best introduction to the badlands – and even better still, head down into the canyon on foot to explore.
You’ll find hoodoos all over the Badlands. These curious sandstone structures, between 5 and 7 metres tall, take millions of years to form and are a beautiful, humbling reminder of how ancient the world is. The Hoodoos site, 16km southeast of Drumheller, is a guaranteed spot to explore the hoodoos and get some great snaps, but you’ll find elsewhere as well – it’s always a nice surprise when you stumble upon one on a hike!
Jasper is as jaw-dropping as the Badlands – but in an entirely different way. Can you think of another region that’s as diverse as Alberta, with the dry, rugged terrain of the Badlands and the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies within a few hundred kilometres of one another?
Jasper is another destination that tops the itineraries of many Alberta tours, and we know exactly why. It has Mount Columbia, Alberta’s tallest mountain; Maligne Lake, a huge glacial-fed body of water; the world’s second-largest Dark Sky Preserve; and 1,200km of hiking trails. What’s not to love?
Fully immerse yourself in nature on the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored observation platform that sits 280m above the Sunwapta Valley. It gives you an inside look at the park’s history and ecosystem with a storytelling format that provides a truly immersive experience.
Jasper is also one of two places from which to start your trip along the Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most iconic drives, running between Jasper and Banff. Along the way you’ll be met with more than 100 glaciers, cascading waterfalls and jaw-dropping lakes that you’ll want to pull over every five minutes to capture another photograph. Take your time to absorb everything there is to see along this gorgeous highway – it’s an experience you’ll want to relive over and over again.
Canmore and Kananaskis
This is a power duo of destinations that somehow manage to fly under the radar when it comes to Alberta itineraries – but you really should add them to yours. Canmore is a charming little mountain town, full of independent coffee shops and boutiques to dip in and out of, and Kananaskis is a beautiful valley of the Canadian Rockies, with some of the best hikes and ice climbing in the whole of the province. It’s a winning combination!
Head to Canmore Nordic Centre, built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, for a bit of thrill-seeking. In winter, find over 65km of cross-country skiing tracks, whilst in summer, explore more than 100km of mountain bike and hiking trails. There’s something for everyone, whether you like to experience nature and soak up your surroundings on two feet, two wheels or two skis.
Alternatively, head to the High Rockies Trail, the westernmost section of the Great Trail in Alberta. You’ll experience the very best of Kananaskis Country along the 80km trail (best tackled in sections unless you’re up for an epic multi-day hike!). Tackle the suspension bridge between Black Prince and the Lower Lake, or take on the section between the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area to Buller Creek for astonishing mountain views.
Ready to feed your mind, body and soul in Alberta? We promise it’s worth the journey – head over to TourRadar to browse a range of Alberta tours and start planning your perfect trip today.