Top 5 Experiences in Alberta

April 15, 2014 Greg Snell

So what’s so great about Alberta? Well, even travellers who’ve booked more ink in their passports than Rick Steves would find it hard not to find something that drops their jaw in Canada’s second province from the west coast. Alberta is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth, as vast as it is varied in landscapes and experiences. Situated in the heart of western Canada, Alberta is bordered on the west by the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains and to the east by the Canadian Badlands, a wind-eroded moonscape of multi-hued canyons and coulees. If this sounds like a destination deserving of a little room on your bucket list—then here are my suggested ‘Top 5 Experiences in Alberta’.

1. Skiing and Snowboarding

Full stop. The first one that comes to mind is Goats Eye at Lake Louise on a good powder day (as the saying goes—there’s no friends on a ‘pow’ day). Really, however, anywhere at the Lake is pretty amazing.

Facing southeast up the 'Rock Garden' to Lipalian Mountain. Photo courtesy Richard Jones.

Facing southeast up the ‘Rock Garden’ to Lipalian Mountain. Photo courtesy Richard Jones.

Skiing and snowboarding in Alberta is world-renowned and offers some of the best terrain for all skill levels. From Castle Mountain to Marmot Basin and everywhere in between, you could spend weeks exploring the hidden trails and local (read secret) spots on every mountain.

2. The Calgary Stampede

This is the easy go-to inclusion for a list like this. The Stampede is one of Canada’s most popular annual festivals and attracts thousands of international visitors to Alberta—and it’s all about ‘Cowboy Culture’.

Calgary Stampede. Photo courtesy Chris Pawluk.

Calgary Stampede. Photo courtesy Chris Pawluk.

From rodeos to highly technical calf roping, country music shows and copious amounts of beer, the Stampede is fun for everyone and has been steadily growing in popularity every year. It’s prairie, farming, and mustering culture at its best.

3. Banff

Quite possibly a household name in certain parts of the world—like Australia—Banff is a mecca for Canadian mountain culture. A beautiful small town situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and aptly named Banff National Park. Banff is an outdoor sports destination with access to some of the best hiking, rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing, trekking, and wildlife viewing that Canada has to offer.

Amazing views from Banff’s main street. Photo courtesy Evan Leeson.

Amazing views from Banff’s main street. Photo courtesy Evan Leeson.

The town is a hot spot for travellers and backpackers, attracting a large number of international visitors every year in both winter and summer. Banff is a fun, hip and adventurous town—and a must-see for anyone visiting Alberta for the first time.

4. The Icefields Parkway

Quite possibly the most picturesque and scenic 230km stretch of road in all North America, the Parkway connects Lake Louise to the town of Jasper, slowly etching and winding its way through Banff and (aptly named) Jasper National Parks parallel to the Continental Divide. The road is one you have most likely seen before—at least on postcards.

The Ice fields Parkway. Photo courtesy Evan Leeson.

The Ice fields Parkway. Photo courtesy Evan Leeson.

Think of that perfect turquoise mountain tarn, the lake that takes your breath away. These are the photos that have adorned every Canadian travel brochure possibly ever. The Icefields Parkway will take you there. The road passes glacier after glacier and pristine mountain lake after lake. It is a truly beautiful stretch of road. It is lined by healthy and dense forests with very good chances of seeing wildlife at every turn.

5. Waterton Lakes National Park

This is that hidden gem give away. Waterton Lakes is stunning and often overlooked by the traveller exploring Alberta. The national park spans some 500 sq kms in the southwest corner of the province, bordering Glacier National Park in Montana. Waterton Lakes plays host to rugged mountain landscapes and a pristine wilderness that stands today as it did thousands of years ago.

Waterton Lakes National Park. Photo courtesy Steve Smith.

Waterton Lakes National Park. Photo courtesy Steve Smith.

It is an amazing place to escape the crowds and breathe in that deep and refreshing mountain air. You can opt for multi-day treks here without seeing a soul, except for the odd bear, puma, elk, or bald eagle. The park is an amazing place and one well worth a visit.

Have you ever been to Alberta? Have I missed something? What else would you suggest?

Getting There

Alberta’s grandeur and beauty are obvious from the moment you arrive. Rolling foothills, intimidating mountains and prehistoric hoodoos are a few of Alberta’s more distinct natural landmarks. Most impressive are Alberta’s Rockies, which nestle the world famous resort towns of Banff, Jasper, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise and Waterton in their arms. Has this post awoken your inner explorer? Start you search here.

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