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Things to Do in Alberta

Home to shimmering lakes, soaring peaks, dense pine forests, and some of Canada’s most impressive unspoiled wilderness, the western province of Alberta is an outdoor explorer’s paradise`with spots such as Banff and Jasper drawing nature lovers from across the globe. A helicopter sightseeing flight provides an unconventional look at the Rocky Mountains, as does a via ferrata mountain tour, in which fixed iron ropes assist climbers of all abilities. Paddle through the swirling currents of Kicking Horse River on a white-water rafting trip or, for something a little more sedate, spot native Canadian wildlife on a dusk safari in Banff National Park. Don't miss Alberta’s top sights, which include Columbia Icefield in both Banff National Park and Jasper National Parks and Banff’s UNESCO-listed Lake Louise, where the crystal-clear waters reflect the mighty Rockies. Edmonton, the capital, and Calgary have plenty to offer travelers looking for a more cosmopolitan experience, too. Urban explorers can spin through diverse Edmonton neighborhoods such as Glenora and Old Strathcona by Segway, and take in top landmarks such as Whitemud Park and 124th Street with ease on a tour led by a local. To get to know Calgary, take a culinary walking tour, a brewery tour, or use the city as a base for alfresco trips to Bow River, Fort Calgary, Inglewood, St. Patrick's Island, or the Trans Canada Trail—which put you right back into the nature that makes Alberta such a draw for outdoor explorers.
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Calgary Stampede
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Billing itself as the greatest outdoor show on earth, you can expect something special at the Calgary Stampede. And with everything you’ve come to love about rodeos, state fairs, grandstands, concerts and carousels, something special is what you get. Every year since 1923, this ten day event annually attracts more than a million people who come to see what happens when you offer the biggest payouts to rodeo contestants and marry it with chuckwagon races, blacksmithing competitions, midway, markets, dancing, singing, and a heavy native people’s participation. It’s an event of grand scale that kicks off with an opening parade featuring dozens of marching bands, over 150 floats, clowns, dancers, politicians and business leaders. It’s extravagant, beautiful, dusty, and it smells like funnel cake and horses – in short, it’s the defining event of Calgary, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Maligne Canyon
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A natural geological feature measuring more than 160 feet high (50 meters), Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest river canyons in the Canadian Rockies and a popular destination in Jasper National Park for both sightseeing and exploration. A striking geologic formation, Maligne Canyon is a classic example of karst topography, which occurs when water carves out bedrock, creating a deep canyon with smooth walls.

The parks service has created a self-guided trail, which describes the geological history of the area; several bridges span the gorge, allowing for spectacular views of the canyon. For a more interactive view of crystal pools, waterfalls, bubbles from underground lakes and more, take the short loop that tours the upper reaches of the canyon or the longer loop that follow the gorge and exits at a fifth and sixth bridge at a lower point. In the winter, join a tour company for a guided walk down into the canyon or try ice climbing.

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Calgary Tower
9 Tours and Activities

Calgary Tower is a city landmark, teetering over the city’s downtown skyscrapers since 1968.

Atop the tower’s shaft you’ll find ‘the pod’, home to an observation deck and revolving restaurant. From here you have stunning views over the city, all the way to the snow-capped mountains fringing the horizon.

Peer through the binoculars on the observation deck, walk out on the glass floor rimming the edge of the observation deck if you dare, and dine in the revolving restaurant, Sky 360.

During special events, the Winter Olympics cauldron on the tower’s summit is lit, re-creating the Games magic.

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Bow Falls
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Bow Falls are located on the Bow River in Alberta’s Banff National Park, within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. The short, wide, cascading falls are a popular sightseeing stop, likely because of how accessible the natural destination is - the falls can be easily enjoyed by people of all abilities and all ages. Trails for pedestrians and for cyclists wind along the south shore of the Bow River and its rapids, and the pedestrian trail climbs up to the clifftop where the falls begin. (Bicycles aren’t allowed at the top.) The viewing areas at Bow Falls offer vistas of the river and the falls themselves. A cement promenade located at the base of the cascading falls has a few benches to sit on, though most people sit on the ledge of the promenade and enjoy the views from there. At the far end of the promenade is a small sandy beach where rafting and kayak tours often begin.

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Bow River
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What begins as a drip of water from the melting Bow Glacier turns into the stunningly beautiful Bow River, which flows slowly and steadily through the Rockies in Canada’s oldest national park. The river also flows through Banff, Canmore and Calgary, making it a constant presence on any journey through southern Alberta.

The best way to appreciate the beauty of Bow River is by heading out on the wheelchair-friendly walking and cycling path in downtown Banff to complete the short trip to Bow Falls. Countless picnic tables and park benches make Bow Falls an ideal lunch spot, and float trips, in giant inflatable rafts, begin right at the base of the falls, too. Both wildlife and wildflowers are often seen along the river, where canoe trips are popular. The river is divided into three half-day canoeing sections, all of which require intermediate experience: Lake Louise to Castle Junction, Castle Junction to Banff and Bow Falls to Canmore.

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Banff National Park
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Banff National Park is one of two parks protecting Alberta’s Rocky Mountains bordering British Columbia; the other park is Jasper.

You’ll see some of the most astounding landscapes on the planet in Banff National Park: snowcapped mountains, huge river valleys, alpine forests, ludicrously blue lakes and charming mountain hamlets.

Covering 6,641 square km (2,564 square miles), Banff was the first national park to be declared in Canada, focusing on the area’s famous thermal hot springs.

Most visitors come to Banff National Park for the legendary skiing, spectacular views and peerless rock climbing and hiking. The park has information centers in Banff, Lake Louise and Upper Hot Springs.

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Maligne Lake
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One of the most photographed locations in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is famous for the gorgeous emerald color of its water, the dramatic peaks and glaciers that are visible on its banks and for its views from Spirit Island. French traders coined the name ‘Maligne’ for the lake as well as a canyon, mountain and pass, meaning malignant or wicked—perhaps as a result of the turbulent rivers that flow into the lake.

The largest lake in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is no longer considered ‘wicked’ but instead is one of the most popular spots in the park for hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The 27.3 mile (44 km) Skyline Trail, Jasper's most popular multi-day hike, begins at Maligne Lake and finishes near the town of Jasper. Other popular day hikes include the Opal Hills and Bald Hills loops; winter activities include cross-country skiing.

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Athabasca River
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The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of the park.

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Kananaskis River
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A mountain river at the tributary of the Bow River, Kananaskis is one of the most scenic rivers of western Alberta, Canada. With views of the Canadian Rockies, its waters are known for sports such as canoeing, river rafting, and kayaking. Several hiking trails run on the lands beside or nearby it, among aspen, pine and spruce trees. The river is home to much mountain wildlife, including elk, golden eagles, wolves, and black and grizzly bears.

The Lower Kananaskis is a great spot to take on whitewater rafting. With dams controlling the water level, the class III rapids are often paddler-friendly and largely predictable. A section near the Canoe Meadows Campground is famous for its large “V” wave which brings river surfers to the area. Canoe Meadows also hosts Kananaskis Whitewater Festival (“Kanfest") of kayaking activities each August.
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More Things to Do in Alberta

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon

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Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a fairly easy hike on man-made trails to reach the canyon’s two waterfalls, making it a great activity for families and people of every fitness level and age. Johnston Creek flows through Johnston Canyon, a deep blue creek that has cut through the limestone rock over centuries on its way to join the Bow River, creating steep canyon walls with waterfalls, pools, and tunnels. The Johnston Canyon hiking trail begins just behind Johnston Canyon Lodge and gets very busy during peak summer hiking hours, with hundreds of hikers following the catwalks and staircases to the canyon’s Lower and Upper Falls. (Try hiking the trail in the very early morning or right before sunset if you’d like to avoid the crowds.) Less than two miles (3km) past the waterfalls are the Ink Pots: several cold, blue-green mineral pools that bubble to the surface in an open meadow beside the creek.

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Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

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Surrounded by the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake has to be one of the most photographed spots in Canada. The iconic blue lake is like a giant bathtub, filling up with melted glacier water in early summer until it reaches its apex in mid to late June. But why is Moraine Lake so vividly blue? That’ll be the refraction of light off the glacial rock flour (tiny particles) in the lake.

Featured in countless National Geographic issue as well as on Canada’s $20 bill from 1969 to 1979, Moraine Lake and its backdrop of snowcapped peaks is world-famous. Half the size of Lake Louise but perhaps even more picturesque, the lake is best seen at sunrise or sunset, when the surrounding mountains are colored pink and reflected in Moraine’s cool blue waters. The main viewpoint is from the shoreline which makes a great route for a gentle stroll. If you fancy getting out and about on those icy waters, canoes are available to rent at the Moraine Lake Boathouse.

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Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

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When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.

Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.

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Heritage Park

Heritage Park

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Heritage Park is a historical village in Calgary that showcases the history of Western Canada from 1860 to 1950. It is Canada’s largest living museum, divided into four areas that each represents a different period of time.

Some of the area historic buildings still stand, while others have been brought in and restored. Traditional schools, homes, and saloons of the past give a sense of what life was like in each era. The park’s staff stands dressed in period costume, while horse.and carriage or vintage automobiles roam the streets. Other historic working artifacts of make history come to life. Interactive areas demonstrate the evolution of Canada’s industries, including fur trading, the Prairie Railroad, and the era of the automobile. Available activities include riding an authentic steam train or making your own old-fashioned ice cream. Visitors experience the history of Canada as it comes to life in nearly 200 available exhibits.

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Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

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The glacier-fed Lake Minnewanka lies just minutes from the town of Banff, and the sight of the Canadian Rockies jutting straight up out of the 17-mile-long body of water proves breathtaking. Lake Minnewanka is the perfect location to begin exploring the wilderness protected by both Banff National Park and the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cruises operate around the lake during the summer, but there are plenty of other ways to get out on the water. Minnewanka is the only lake in the Banff area to allow privately operated motorboats, and there are 16-foot aluminum boats available for rental as well. For a more authentic adventure, canoe rentals provide the opportunity to explore for a day or more, as several backcountry campgrounds are located around the lake. Setting out on the area’s trails is definitely worth the effort, too, even if it’s only to complete the two-mile stroll to the Stewart Canyon Bridge that spans the Cascade River.

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Crowfoot Glacier

Crowfoot Glacier

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The Crowfoot Glacier, named for its three glacier toes that once formed a very visual representation of the black bird’s foot, has retreated so much since early explorers discovered and named it that it has actually lost an entire digit. Despite its lost toe, the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint on the Icefield Parkway is still spectacular, especially for northbound travelers due to its position as the first of many up-close viewpoints along the drive.

Opposite this spot is the Helen Lake trailhead. This popular hike is strenuous, but the reward is in the stunning mountain scenery, as the trail crosses a series of alpine meadows covered in summertime wildflowers as it climbs toward Helen Lake. The best views of the Crowfoot Glacier are found further up the trail, but only hikers willing to tackle the steep Helen Lake Headwall will have unobstructed views of the Wapta Icefield, which lies beyond the Continental Divide.

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Jasper SkyTram

Jasper SkyTram

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The Jasper SkyTram (formerly Jasper Tramway) is the longest—and highest—aerial tramway in Canada. Built in 1964, the Tram begins at 4,279 ft (1,304 m) above sea level and transports guests to 7,472 ft (2,277 m) above sea level in an enclosed tram compartment in seven minutes. The SkyTram rises above Whistlers Mountain and provides expansive views of lakes, six mountain ranges, the town of Jasper and Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca.

A guide answers questions and points out areas of interest, animal life and history of the area during the Jasper SkyTram tour. After reaching the top, guests can stroll boardwalks to view wildlife. Alpine inhabitants include the whistling hoary marmot, white-tailed ptarmigan, ground squirrels, pikas and the occasional bighorn sheep. There are also hiking trails to the summit of Whistlers Mountain for those wanting more of a challenge.

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Spirit Island

Spirit Island

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Tunnel Mountain Drive

Tunnel Mountain Drive

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Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

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The Icefields Parkway is a legendary stretch of Highway 93. Running for 230 km (142.5-mile), the route links Lake Louise in the south with Jasper in the north.

The scenic route runs through both Banff and Jasper national parks, traversing the Canadian Rockies. It also runs near the Columbia Icefield, hence the route’s name.

Along the route you’ll see snowcapped mountains, glaciers, alpine forests, vistas that go on forever and, perhaps, some of the local wildlife.

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Banff Lake Louise

Banff Lake Louise

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No wonder stunning turquoise Lake Louise is known as the jewel of the Rockies.

Set in a small glacial valley, surrounded by snow-topped mountains, the lakeshore is threaded with hiking trails and viewpoints. On a clear day, you’ll see the reflected glory of this spectacular place captured in the lake’s mirror-like surface.

Another iconic site is the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort at the northern end of the lake.

While you’re here, ride the gondola to the summit of Mt Whitehorn, go skiing if there’s snow, head to the trails circling the lake or visit the nearby Moraine Lake.

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Bow Lake

Bow Lake

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Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies is one of the smaller lakes in Banff National Park. It is the source of the Bow River and lies along part of the Great Continental Divide, which creates the border between Alberta and British Columbia. As with all of the lakes lining the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, Bow Lake boasts spectacularly colored water and top-notch mountain scenery. One of the most interesting features of these Rocky Mountain Lakes is their differences in color. Some are green, some are bright blue, and sometimes (after a major rain) some of them are brownish. The lake’s colors might even change with the weather. As you continue north along the Icefields Parkway, you will have several different views of the bright-blue waters of Bow Lake, as it lies quite close to the highway. The lake is a great place for a picnic and a stroll, and is especially beautiful at sunrise when the sun shines off of the water and Crowfoot Mountain.

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Heritage Park Historical Village

Heritage Park Historical Village

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Heritage Park is a historical village in Calgary that showcases the history of Western Canada from 1860 to 1950. It is Canada’s largest living museum, divided into four areas that each represent a different period of time. Some of the area historic buildings still stand, while others have been brought in and restored. Traditional schools, homes, and saloons of the past give a sense of what life was like in each era. The park’s staff stands dressed in period costume, while horse and carriage or vintage automobiles roam the streets.

Other historic working artifacts of make history come to life. Interactive areas demonstrate the evolution of Canada’s industries, including fur trading, the Prairie Railroad, and the era of the automobile. Available activities include riding an authentic steam train or making your own old-fashioned ice cream. Visitors experience the history of Canada as it comes to life in nearly 200 available exhibits.

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