Alberta, a province in western Canada, has scenery to delight everyone, from vast prairies to gorgeous snow-capped mountains. Its largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary, are cosmopolitan yet retain a frontier atmosphere. The arts rule in Alberta, which cherishes its ethnic heritage; film and music festivals abound. Whether you’re into winter or summer outdoors recreation, Alberta is where it’s happening. And if you have budding paleontologists in your family, they’ll love seeing some of the world’s richest dinosaur fossil beds. An overview of the best places to visit in Alberta:
Lethbridge, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, is heart of southern Alberta. The region’s largest city with 93,000 residents, Lethbridge was once known as Fort Whoop-Up because of illegal activities there. It was named a Cultural Capital of Canada because of its ethnic heritage and promotion of arts across many cultures. It has three major museums, the contemporary Southern Alberta Art Gallery, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, and Casa, a community arts center. The town is home to the Lethbridge Viaduct, the highest and longest steel trestle bridge in North America.
If you want to dig into the past, Drumheller is the place to go. It’s located 110 km (68 miles) northeast of Calgary in the Red Deer River Valley, which is also known as Dinosaur Valley. Just south of the town is the world’s largest dinosaur, a 26-meter (86-foot) high tyrannosaurus rex. Next to it is one of Canada’s largest water fountain. Plus, you can learn more about dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, Canada’s largest fossil collection. But Drumheller is more than dinosaurs. Next to the ski hill is where the Canadian Badlands Passion Play takes place every July.
Canmore is a pleasant town between Calgary and Banff National Park. It is named for Malcolm III of Scotland, whose nickname was Canmore. The former coal mining town gained fame when it hosted the Nordic events for the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Movie buffs may be interested to know Brokeback Mountain, Shanghai Noon, or Yhe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are among the films shot in Canmore. If you’re on a budget, but still want to enjoy the delights of Banff and Lake Louise, Canmore accommodations are less expensive.
Waterton Lakes National Park, founded in 1895, is named after the Victorian naturalist Watertown. It’s located in southwest Alberta, just across the border from the U.S. Glacier National Park. Indeed, the two parks share the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Like its American counterpart, Waterton Lakes showcases rugged mountains and wilderness terrain, with miles of scenic hiking trails. Its lakes are the deepest in the Canadian Rockies. The only services in the park are available at the Waterton Park town site, where you may see deer wandering the streets as if they owned the place.
Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, is the most northern city in North America with a population of more than one million people. At one time, the city was home to the largest mall in North America, the West Edmonton Mall, but another mall now claims that honor. Edmonton is known for hosting festivals throughout the year; hence, its nickname: Canada’s festival city. Its biggest festival is K-Days; the K stands for Klondike. Its July street performers festival attracts artists from all over the world. Edmonton also hosts an international Fringe festival also as big as the one in Edinburgh, Scotland.
If dinosaurs are your passion, you’ll love visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park, where more than 40 species of dinosaurs have been discovered. It’s one of the richest dinosaur finds in the world; specimens unearthed here can be found in museums around the world. Dinosaurs aside, you’ll also see plant fossils, plus the park is a good place to see wildlife, such as coyotes, deer and pronghorns. Curlews and Canada geese are among 165 bird species found here. Near the visitor center, you’ll find the cabin of John Ware, an African-American who was a notable rancher in the area.
4. Calgary Where to Stay
Situated at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, Calgary is Alberta’s largest city with 1.4 million people. Named for a village on the Scottish Isle of Mull, Calgary played a role in the early Northwest fur trade. Though it hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, it is perhaps better known for its annual Calgary Stampede, one of the top rodeos in North America that attracts more than a million people annually. The city has an impressive skyline, one punctuated by skyscrapers. When it comes to the arts, Calgary is home to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, a major performing arts center.
Elk Island National Park is more than just a sanctuary elk, which was its original purpose long before it became a park. Located just over 30 km (20 miles) from Edmonton it was established to save bison. The park is not Canada’s largest, though it is the largest fully enclosed national park. Besides elk, moose and bison, you may also see deer, beaver coyotes and lynx. Wolves and black bears inhabit the park but usually aren’t seen by visitors. Winter and summer outdoors recreation abounds. Inside the park, you’ll also see the Ukrainian Pioneer Home, the first Canadian museum dedicated to Ukrainian immigrants.
If you’re seeking awesome glacial scenery, Jasper National Park is the best place to visit in Alberta. The park is home to Columbia Ice Fields, the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains and one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. You can ride a special vehicle onto the ice fields, drink from glacial waters and then take a glass-floored skywalk out over the glacier. As the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park is also home to a variety of wildlife, so you might see moose, caribou, deer, wolverines and grizzly bears, among other animals.
1. Banff National Park Where to Stay
Alberta is filled with beautiful scenery, but it doesn’t get much better than Banff National Park. The gemstone of Canada’s oldest national park is the indisputably beautiful Lake Louise with its deep blue glacial waters. Not too far from Lake Louise is the equally pretty Moraine Lane, which has been featured on a Canadian $20 bill. The park is a yea-round tourist destination, drawing hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. The town of Banff, which hosts an annual winter carnival, is located within the park. About three million people pass through the park annually.
⇒ related: Banff Attractions