12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Alberta
Alberta is home to some of Canada's most impressive scenery, where the prairies meet the mountains and spectacular snow-capped peaks dominate the skyline. The awe-inspiring glaciers and turquoise lakes of Banff and Jasper National Parks draw millions of visitors each year to this province. In winter, skiers take to the slopes, which offer some of the best skiing in North America. Calgary, well known for hosting the annual Calgary Stampede, is a vibrant, modern city that has grown substantially in recent decades and offers a wealth of entertainment options. Further north, the provincial capital of Edmonton is home to West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping center in Canada, along with numerous other cultural attractions.
1 Banff National Park
Located 130 kilometers west of Calgary, Banff National Park is the most visited tourist attraction in the province of Alberta and perhaps the most impressive national park in Canada. The area encompasses some spectacular mountain scenery, major ski resorts, beautiful lakes, and the tourist town of Banff. Wildlife is abundant here, with grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, caribou, and elk, many of which are frequently sighted along the main highway through the park.
Hiking is one of the main summer activities in Banff and there are many frontcountry and backcountry trails to choose from. However, many people explore the park from the comfort of their car, stopping at the numerous roadside lookouts that offer impressive views over the mountains, lakes, and glaciers.
2 Lake Louise
Lake Louise, the jewel of Banff National Park, is famous for its beautiful turquoise colored water that reflects the surrounding mountains and Victoria Glacier on the far shore. Located just a short drive north of the town of Banff, the lake is an easy day trip from Calgary. From the grand Chateau Lake Louise, there are fabulous views directly across the lake. A walkway runs along the shoreline allowing visitors a lovely place for a leisurely stroll to absorb the atmosphere. Canoe rentals are also available for those who want to paddle out on the lake. From the lakeside path, there are popular hiking trails leading either up the mountain side or beyond the lake towards the glacier.
In winter, the lake is frozen and trails are covered deep in snow. Many people come to Lake Louise during this time of year to enjoy the nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort, one of Canada's most popular ski destinations.
Lake Louise Village, just a short distance from the lake, has some tourist-related retail shops, small restaurants, and coffee shops. However, there is not much here beyond the main plaza. Nearby, is a large campground in a lovely natural setting.
3 Icefields Parkway and the Columbia Icefield
The Icefields Parkway runs from Lake Louise to Jasper and is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada. This 230-kilometer stretch of highway leads past lakes, mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, with all kinds of stopping points for visitors to experience the landscape up close. Numerous hiking trails along the way, most of which are day hikes, lead to scenic lookouts over surrounding glaciers or lakes.
One of the main attractions along the Icefields Parkway is the Icefields Centre. This large visitor's center features excellent displays on the Columbia Icefields and looks out over the Athabasca Glacier. From the road, it is difficult to comprehend the layout and size of the icefields, but models and photos at the center offer a unique perspective. Across from the center, it's possible to walk up to the toe of the glacier. Alternatively, tours in specially outfitted buses are available, which drive visitors out onto the glacier. One of the newest attractions is the Glacier Skywalk, a huge observation platform standing 280 meters above the valley below, with a glass floor and glass railings. A shuttle service runs from the Icefields Center to the Glacier Skywalk.
4 Moraine Lake
Beyond Lake Louise, at the end of a scenic 13 kilometer-long twisty mountain road, is Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Like Lake Louise, this is another scenic setting with similar turquoise water surrounded by snow-capped peaks, but it is much less visited. It was for many years the location of the image on the reverse side of the old Canadian twenty dollar bill.
Moraine Lake is overshadowed by ten peaks, each more than 3,000 meters high, containing the Wenkchemna Glacier. There is a great view across the lake from an overlook reached by hiking up a short path known as the Rockpile Trail, located near the parking lot. In the spring, the thunder of falling glaciers or landslides can be heard in the distance.
From Moraine Lake, there is a day hike to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in the national park. It is a somewhat exhausting day hike, but the reward is the stunning view. This hike is often snow covered in the upper region even into July. The area is particularly beautiful in autumn when the larches are changing color. The hike to the Sentinel Pass (2,611 meters) involves climbing a total of six kilometers and ascending 520 meters.
5 Waterton Lakes National Park (Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park)
The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in the Rocky Mountains straddles the border between Alberta and the U.S. state of Montana. On the Canadian side of the border is Waterton Lakes National Park, while on the American side the park is called Glacier National Park. Waterton Lakes is the smaller of the two parks but features some fantastic scenery with mountains and the beautiful Waterton Lake. Overlooking the lake, from a fabulous position on the north shore is the Prince of Wales Hotel, a National Historic Site of Canada. Nearby, is the town site with tourist amenities. Many people come to the park to hike on the alpine trails, camp, or take a sightseeing tour.
6 Jasper National Park
Much like Banff, the name Jasper is associated with both the national park and the town, which lies at the heart of the park. Jasper is the biggest national park in Canada, covering an area of 10,878 square kilometers. It is an area of lakes, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, and forests, but has a slightly different appearance than the parks and natural areas further south. Both the park and the town of Jasper are less visited than Banff and have a more remote feel, particularly in winter when many facilities in the area are closed. Unlike Banff, the town of Jasper sees very few tourists outside of the peak summer season giving it a much more seasonal character.
Some of the key highlights in Jasper National Park are Maligne Lake, which is frequently pictured in advertisements for the Canadian Rockies, Mount Edith Cavell with the stunning Angel Glacier, and Maligne Canyon. Hiking trails and scenic lookouts can be found throughout the park. In winter, locals enjoy the Marmot Basin Ski Resort.
7 Calgary Stampede
Calgary is a vibrant modern city which takes particular pride in its cowboy roots. This becomes most apparent during the city's biggest event, the annual Calgary Stampede. This is a ten-day event held in early July, drawing rodeo participants and fans from across North America. Calgary becomes the center of attention for all Wild West fans, with rodeo attractions, cultural exhibits, country music, and a range of other outdoor spectacles.
In addition to what goes on at the Stampede Grounds, local establishments around Calgary also participate in the festivities by offering free "Stampede breakfasts" throughout the week. Stores decorate their windows, cowboy hats and boots become the primary fashion, and temporary petting zoos and midway rides pop up in parking lots. For this one week, the presence of the Calgary Stampede can be felt everywhere in the city.
8 Sunshine Village Ski Resort
Sunshine Village, located just outside the town of Banff, is one of Alberta's most popular ski resorts, but it is also a beautiful area for hiking and walking in summer. In winter, the hill, which offers a good mix of intermediate and advanced runs, attracts skiers from all over the world. In summer, following the snow melt, the area is open to hikers. Buses transport visitors from the base of the hill where the gondola (functional in winter only) is located, to Sunshine Meadows. From here, there are trails of varying length and visitors have the option of busing or hiking down the hill.
Sunshine Road branches south off the Trans-Canada Highway nine kilometers west of Banff. A further ten kilometers brings visitors to the parking lot and the lower station of the gondola. In winter, a twenty-minute gondola ride takes skiers up to Sunshine Meadows, at the Sunshine Village Ski Resort. In summer the only access is by bus and visitors should make reservations in advance.
9 Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology
Located approximately 140 kilometers northeast of Calgary is the small town of Drumheller, which proudly calls itself the "Town of the Dinosaurs". Around 75 million years ago, various species of dinosaurs inhabited this region, and many fossils have been discovered in and around Drumheller. The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology displays some of the finds and offers an indepth look at the history of the area.
The landscape around Drumheller consists mainly of badlands. There are some interesting hiking trails that lead past hoodoos and through unique rock formations. The "Dinosaur Trail" is a driving tour that leads through some of the area's main attractions.
10 Kananaskis Country
About 80 km west of Calgary, along the four-lane TransCanada Highway 1, there is a turn-off south on Highway 40 into some lovely countryside known as Kananaskis Country. This is a favorite spot for hikers in the summer. Kananaskis Village has resort facilities and a popular golf course.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is one of the main highlights of Kananaskis, particularly for those who want to spend some time immersed in nature. The park forms the very heart of the Kananaskis region where elk, bighorn sheep, mountain-goats, grizzly bears, and black bears roam free. It covers 508 square kilometers, which makes it the largest provincial park in Alberta. In summer, locals and visitors are attracted here by the superb mountain scenery, traversed by various trails and dotted with alpine lakes.
11 West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall is more than just shops. Contained within this huge complex are a water park, ice rink, mini golf, aquarium with live shows, movie theaters, and of course, all kinds of stores and restaurants. The mall is a destination within Alberta, particularly in winter, where families can come to escape the cold and enjoy some indoor fun.
12 Calgary Tower
The Calgary Tower is one of the prime tourist attractions in Calgary. Standing tall on the city skyline, the tower offers the highest 360-degree observation deck in the world. On clear days, there are outstanding views to the mountains, and on any day, the glass floor offers a direct view down over the city. The Sky 360 is a revolving restaurant located at an elevation of 155 meters, and directly above this is Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.