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Rolling prairies, steaming hot springs, icy white mountain peaks and oceans of forest green – Alberta’s diversity makes it a roadtripper’s dream and an outdoorsman’s playground.
Alberta is a province connected. It’s where topographies come together; a province of undulating prairies hugged by the icy white tips of the Rockies and dotted with pockets of vast boreal forest. This is a province connected to a living, breathing past, where ranch hands still swing their lassos and First Nations sing their ancient battle songs.
It’s also a road tripper’s dream. Three times the size of Great Britain, Alberta is home to nearly 500 parks, 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 250 recreation areas and thousands upon thousands of campsites. Adventure awaits, no matter which direction you travel.
Cutting a swath through southern Alberta are the roaring badlands, a twisting topography of canyons and ravines. Some of the province’s oldest history is found here among the dusty switchbacks – dinosaur bones! Famous across the globe, Drumheller’s Royal Tyrell Museum has an incredible collection of bones, teeth and claws from those ancient reptiles – including the T-Rex.
Just a short drive away are the curious sandstone formations known as “hoodoos”, stone giants patiently carved out of the rock over millions of years by the unrelenting elements. Nearby, you’ll find Atlas Coal Mine, where you can dig into Alberta’s mining history with an underground cart ride.
For a taste of Alberta’s quirky side, pull off in Vulcan to see the replica Starship Enterprise. Be sure to explore the eclectic collection of sci-fi memorabilia at the info centre.
Among the places most important to Alberta’s aboriginal history is UNESCO World Heritage site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. For over 5,700 years, Blackfoot hunters drove stampeding bison off the edge of this cliff and into the rocks below.
Hanging just above the U.S. border, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is your chance to see the largest collection of First Nations petroglyphs and pictographs found anywhere on the Great Plains.
Heading southwest, RVers will marvel at the incredible diversity of Waterton Lakes National Park. Here, rolling foothills and prairies collide abruptly with the Rocky Mountains, creating an ecosystem that includes wetlands, lakes, boreal forests, alpine peaks and dry grasslands. It’s impossible to miss the Prince of Wales Hotel, silently casting its shadow on the lake below.
A southern Alberta favourite for road-trippers is the Crowsnest Pass Highway, winding between lazily-spinning wind farms and lively small communities. This is cowboy country, and the best way to see the area is inarguably on horseback. Along the road, you’ll find the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre; remnants of a town buried in the night when 82 million tonnes of rock showered down Turtle Mountain. To the north, Turner Valley and Black Diamond are worthy pit stops for antique enthusiasts and anyone looking for a genuine taste of small-town Alberta. Get nostalgic and grab a burger at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, an authentic retro 50’s diner.
If the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies are calling your name, head west of Calgary on the Highway 1, stopping first in the burgeoning mountain town of Canmore. Play a round of Frisbee golf, whiz across the snow on a pair of cross-country skis at the Nordic Centre or challenge the steep inclines of Ha Ling Peak for a spectacular view of the town below.
Continuing up the highway, you’ll soon enter Banff National Park, the oldest in Canada with over 1,600km of hiking trails, 2,400 campsites and 6,641 square kilometers of pristine nature. Soak your weary bones at the Banff Hot Springs or visit the park’s birthplace at the Cave & Basin Historic Site.
Journeying north you’ll come to the placid emerald waters and soaring vistas of Lake Louise. Come winter, skiers flock to take advantage of slopes that are envied the world over. Charge your camera and take the short hike to Moraine Lake, where postcard-worthy alpine scenery, canoeing and kayaking await. It may just be love at first sight.
From here on out, you’ll be driving the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) through breathtaking mountain passes and views that will tempt you to pull over at every turn. Watching the early morning sun shimmer across Lake Peyto is an experience you won’t soon forget, and for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, catch a snow coach and walk along the glacier at the Columbia Icefield.
Linger here awhile, or continue your drive towards Jasper National Park – the crown jewel of the Rockies. See the cascading wall of tears at Athabasca Falls, throw stones into Maligne Canyon or climb aboard the slow-rising Jasper Tramway for uninhibited mountain views in every direction.
Adventurers who stop their journey here are seriously missing out. While southern and central Alberta see the lion’s share of tourism, those who venture further northward are rewarded with some of the province’s most mesmerizing landscapes. Called “Canada’s Outback”, North Alberta is an outdoor playground of epic proportions.
Your trek begins with a stop in Athabasca. Hikers will want to turn their feet toward the Muskeg Creek Trail System, while thrill-seekers should brave a jet boat tour of Grand Rapids or a bumpy ATV tour through surrounding countryside.
A visit to Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park reveals white sand beaches, billowing sand dunes, crystal clear waters and Dog Island, where birdwatchers can spot bald eagles and the endangered white pelican. Pack a picnic lunch and head to Peace River to pay your respects to 12-Foot Davis, a local hero who found fortune when he struck gold on a tiny plot of land.
On the province’s northernmost point are the boreal plains and salt deserts of Wood Buffalo Provincial Park – a UNESCO Heritage site larger than Switzerland and full of rare species. If “escape” is on your itinerary, this is exactly where you want to be. When night falls, enjoy the largest dark sky preserve in the world, entertained by the soft flickering of stars and the entrancing dance of Aurora Borealis.
Whether it’s the hushed golden glow of a prairie field, the royal purple and orange hues of a lakeside sunset or the impossible shades of blue in a mountain lake, Alberta is a province absolutely bursting with colour; a tapestry just waiting to be explored by those who share the same pioneering spirit as its early settlers.