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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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Maligne Canyon
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Carved out of the limestone bedrock by a rushing river, this narrow and steep canyon—which reaches depths of up to 160 feet (50 meters)—is one of the most striking geological features of Jasper National Park. In summer, hikers flock here to follow trails that span the gorge, while in winter, the canyon freezes into an icy wonderland.

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Jasper SkyTram
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Travel up Whistlers Mountain on the Jasper SkyTram, Canada’s longest and highest aerial tramway, to see Jasper National Park from a brand-new perspective. The enclosed gondola takes you from 4,279 feet (1,304 meters) to 7,472 feet (2,277 meters) above sea level. From the top, enjoy stunning views of Jasper, the Rockies, and the Athabasca River.

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Moraine Lake
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Hemmed in by the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park’s glacier-fed Moraine Lake is renowned for its bright blue-green waters. The surreally vivid color results from light refracting off of tiny glacial rock particles. Stunning Lake Moraine was famously featured on the back of Canada’s $20 bill between 1969 and 1979.

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Calgary Tower
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Standing sentinel over the city’s downtown since 1968, Calgary Tower features an observation deck with a glass floor and a revolving restaurant 627 feet (191 meters) above ground. Both afford 360-degree views across the city to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance.

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Heritage Park
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Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta, is an open-air historical and learning museum that gives visitors the chance to experience what life was like on the Canadian Prairies from 1860 to 1950. Costumed interpreters and many hands-on, interactive exhibits help you go deeper into your fun-filled encounter with the living past.

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West Edmonton Mall
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This may be the one place on earth where it’s possible to shop ‘til you drop. That’s because the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada is the largest shopping complex of its kind in North America. With hundreds of stores spread over multiple levels, it’s possible to find deeply discounted bargains and luxury brand-name goods all under one roof.

But fashionistas aren’t the only ones will who enjoy a day at West Edmonton Mall. Dozens of family-friendly attractions like a movie theater, indoor water park, ice skating rink and Snoopyland are perfect for kids (as well as the young at heart!). And world class restaurants serving up international fare and craft cocktails—or just beer and wings—make for the perfect place for adults to refuel and relax after a day combing through the racks.

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Maligne Lake
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With its vivid aquamarine waters and impressive backdrop of jagged, glacier-studded peaks, Maligne Lake has visitors to the Canadian Rockies reaching for their cameras. The glacier-fed lake is the largest in Jasper National Park. Tiny tree-topped Spirit Island stands in the middle of the lake and is the subject of countless postcards.

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Calgary Stampede
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The Calgary Stampede is a grand celebration of Canada’s Western heritage that has been attracting visitors every year since 1923. Visit to experience small-town fun in a big way. The Stampede includes rodeo events, chuckwagon races, blacksmithing competitions, a midway, 300 performers on five stages, and First Nations cultural events.

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Banff National Park
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Within the boundaries of Banff National Park lie some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. The park, which showcases Canada’s Rocky Mountains in all their glory, offers world-class skiing, hiking, biking, and outdoor attractions. It’s a year-round haven for day-trippers from nearby Calgary and for international visitors galore.

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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 Jasper National Park.

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More Things to Do in Alberta

Bow Falls

Bow Falls

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The 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 make for 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 cyclists wind along the south shore of the Bow River and its rapids, with the walking trail climbing 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, while a cement promenade located at the base of the cascade 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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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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Kananaskis River

Kananaskis River

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Winding through the front ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the glacial blue waters of the Kananaskis River offer exhilarating white water rafting adventures. Considered one of the most scenic rivers in Alberta, the Kananaskis also affords mountain views and the chance to spy wolves, elk, eagle, and black and grizzly bears.

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Bow River

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.

The Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic route between the town of Banff and Lake Louise, offers plenty of photo-worthy riverside stops, but one of the most spectacular is right where the Bow River flows beneath the towering walls of Castle Mountain, near Castle Junction.

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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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Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

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Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is home to an extensive collections of dinosaur fossils. The museum’s 10 galleries are devoted to paleontology and feature 40 complete dinosaur skeletons and a collection of 130,000 fossils. The Preparation Lab shows how paleontology technicians prepare locally found fossils for research and exhibition.

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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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Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

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Just outside of Banff, Lake Minnewanka is everything a mountain lake should be: crystal clear, glacier fed, and surrounded by alpine forests and imposing peaks. A visit to Lake Minnewanka is a perfect introduction to the beautiful Canadian Rockies. It’s also the only lake in Banff National Park that allows privately operated motorboats.

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Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon

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The jewel-blue water of Johnston Creek streams through the sheer-sided canyon, foaming white as it careens down waterfalls into pools below. A well-maintained trail—including a cliff-affixed walkway with incredible views—makes Johnston Canyon one of Banff National Park’s most accessible and beloved day hikes.

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Banff Lake Louise

Banff Lake Louise

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The turquoise jewel of the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise sits nestled between glaciers, beckoning visitors with its mirror-like waters, serene setting, and plethora of summer and winter activities, from hiking to snowshoeing. The mountain resort town of Banff is just down the Trans-Canada Highway from Lake Louise.

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Spirit Island

Spirit Island

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Situated in Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Spirit Island is—for most of the year, at least—not actually an island at all, but rather a pint-sized peninsula connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land. A long-standing symbol of the Canadian Rockies, the tree-topped islet has featured on countless postcards and images of the park.

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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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Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

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Every twist and turn of the spectacular 143-mile (230-kilometer) Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) reveals cloud-piercing peaks, valley-carving glaciers, teal lakes, and dense forests. Running from Jasper to Lake Louise, this scenic Alberta drive offers stunning views of the Canadian Rockies, with lots of roadside lookouts and trailheads along the way.

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Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

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The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is a tranquil piece of Japanese culture set in the Canadian city of Lethbridge. A unique treasure in Southern Alberta, the garden is an oasis where you can take part in cultural events, yoga, and tea ceremonies among flower gardens, lakes, and water features.

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