11 Top-Rated Parks in Alberta
Authors Michael and Lana Law lived in Alberta for several years and return regularly in the summers to enjoy the parks.
Home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada, the parks in Alberta are wonderful places to add to your sightseeing itinerary. Mountains, prairies, foothills, and everything in between provide almost unlimited opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Alberta has some of Canada's best national parks, and these tend to enjoy most of the spotlight, but the lesser-known provincial parks are undiscovered gems.
Alberta is also a nature lover's paradise. The activities never stop. In the summer, pack the car and head out to enjoy camping in Jasper, mountain biking in Kananaskis Country, paddling at Waterton Lakes, or high-altitude hiking in Banff National Park. For something more sedate but just as fun, swing by Dinosaur Provincial Park, or stroll Calgary's pathways along the Bow River.
In the winter, go downhill skiing at Banff's resorts, snowshoeing in the foothills, or hit the tracks at Canmore's Nordic Center. Work hard enough at your activities and then reward yourself with a steamy soak in the famous Banff Hot Springs.
Find what you're looking for with our list of the best parks in Alberta.
1. Banff National Park
No list of Alberta's best parks would be complete without mentioning Banff National Park. This huge mountain wonderland is full of things to do either on your own, with your family, or with a group. The park is an easy two-hour drive from Calgary, and as soon as you enter the park, you'll be tempted to pull over and start snapping photographs.
The list of things to do in Banff is almost endless. You can be as active or as slack as you choose. Easy highlights reached by car are the town of Banff, with its adorable main street full of interesting shops and restaurants; the turquoise-colored Lake Louise and Moraine Lake; and the Icefields Parkway, which takes you past glaciers and more alpine lakes.
The best time to visit Banff is the summer for the sheer number of things to do. Banff has excellent hiking trails. Mountain bike trails wind their way through the forests, and if you're brave enough, strap in and go for a climb on one of the peaks throughout the park. At the end of your day head back to your luxury hotel in Banff or Jasper or crawl into your cozy tent at one of the many campgrounds.
If you find yourself in the park in the winter, and many people do, head for the deep snow at Sunshine Village ski resort, hit the steeps at Mount Norquay, or cruise the long groomers at Lake Louise Ski Resort, three of the best ski resorts in Alberta. A more romantic option is to check into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and go skating with your sweetheart.
2. Jasper National Park
Hot on the heels of Banff National Park is Jasper National Park. You may not even realize that you've moved from one park to the other, as you'll probably be gazing up at the glaciers towering above the Icefields Parkway as you enter.
Jasper National Park is a mountain playground, but one of the major highlights of a visit here is a stop at the impressive Athabasca Glacier. Located 103 kilometers from the Jasper townsite, this massive tongue of ice extending down from the Columbia Icefield is one of the most accessible glaciers in the park.
Perhaps the most famous image from Jasper National Park is Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. This beautiful lake is often pictured on postcards and in travel agency windows. You can drive to the lake, but the only way to reach Spirit Island, located 14 kilometers up the lake, is by taking a tour or paddling.
Jasper National Park is an excellent place to see waterfalls. If you are visiting the Athabasca glacier, be sure to stop at Tangle Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls as you head back towards the Jasper townsite.
Another popular sight in the park is Mount Edith Cavell and the glacial pond at the base. It's here that you can see icebergs floating around as they calve from the hanging terminus of the Angel Glacier perched above.
At the end of your touring day, relax in the soothing waters of Miette Hot Springs.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Jasper, Alberta
3. Waterton Lakes National Park
Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park is one of the more unique parks in Canada. Located in a special environmental zone, where the mountains abruptly give way to the prairies, the park has sights not found anywhere else.
The impressive Prince of Wales Hotel stands as a sentinel on a rise at the entrance to a valley with Waterton Lake in the background.
Over 200 kilometers of hiking trails are available to explore, including the famous Crypt Lake trail, which passes through a tunnel in the rock. Other things to do here include camping at one of the three campgrounds (one is currently closed due to fire damage), taking to the waters of the lakes on a cruise or in a kayak, or racing along the waves in the ever-present wind on a kiteboard. The cute town is worth a wander with its shops, restaurants, and relaxed feel.
The park is 270 kilometers southwest of Calgary near the border with the United States. On the American side, in Montana, is Glacier National Park. The two parks are collectively knowns as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
4. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
The residents of Calgary have one of the best provincial parks almost to themselves. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, only 1.5 hours from the city, makes for the perfect day trip of mountain adventure.
Deep in the heart of Kananaskis Country, this park has rugged mountains, clear rushing rivers, and abundant wildlife. In fact, many people say you'll have a better chance of seeing grizzly bears here than in Banff. But, you can also see moose and other critters if you are hiking in the area.
The park is a great destination for hiking, with over 40 trails of varying length and difficulty. Those who prefer two wheels to two legs will find biking trails that are pleasant and paved, as well as some that are more challenging and require a little more endurance.
In winter, 85 kilometers of groomed cross-country (Nordic) ski trails wind their way around the Kananaskis Lakes area. Camping is available year-round at one of six campgrounds, and sites can be booked in advance online.
5. Writing on Stone Provincial Park
For a bit of culture and history, head to Writing on Stone Provincial Park. Here, you'll find an amazing collection of rock art created by the Indigenous Niitisippi people who first lived here. The park is one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Alberta.
Writing on Stone Provincial Park is located in the southeastern portion of the province near the border with the United States and is 2.5 hours from Waterton Lakes National Park. Hiking is one of the most popular activities. The scenic Hoodoo trail winds its way for 2.2 kilometers in and amongst the hoodoo rock formations along the Milk River.
Other pastimes include bird-watching, with 160 species frequenting the park. Wildlife also calls the park home; keep an eye out for pronghorn deer, cottontail rabbits, yellow-bellied marmots, gophers, and garter snakes.
Alberta summers can get hot on occasion; be sure to bring your bathing suit, and hit the cool waters of the Milk River at the sandy beach near the campground.
6. Dinosaur Provincial Park
Another one of Alberta's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites is Dinosaur Provincial Park. One of the best family trips around, this park is full of everything that kids will adore: giant dinosaur skeletons, fascinating exhibits, and a "scramble zone" of badlands area to run and climb.
Tours of the park are an excellent way to get a feel for the ancient history of this special place. A variety of tours are offered, and they fill up quickly; be sure to book in advance online.
The Red Deer River flows through the park; consider launching your canoe or kayak upstream at Steveville Campground and floating your way for two or three hours to the park.
Camping is available at the park, choose one of the 126 sites available in a mix of serviced and unserviced formats. The Coulee viewpoint trail leaves from the south end of the campground.
Dinosaur Provincial Park should not be confused with the Royal Tyrrell Museum near Brooks. Both places deal with dinosaurs, but one is a private establishment, the other a provincial park.
7. Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park
Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park is an easy three-hour drive from Edmonton. The park is spread over two areas on the lake, but most people end up visiting the Marten River section located at the east end of the lake.
Here, you'll find long beaches with driftwood, good for collecting and using in your nighttime campfire. The water is shallow and clear and ideal for swimming and other aquatic pursuits. Camping is popular here, and the well-equipped campground has 67 sites just back from the lake.
If you love fishing, you will have come to the right spot. Lesser Slave Lake is a huge body of water and produces legendary catches of walleye. Other species include pike and burbot, the latter being tough to catch. One of the best places to fish is near the mouth of the Lesser Slave River at the east end of the lake.
8. Kinbrook Island Provincial Park
Kinbrook Island Provincial Park is all about water. Situated on an island in Lake Newell, one of the more popular lakes in Alberta, this green, leafy island park has one of the best beaches in the province. Albertans come from far and wide to swim and boat in the warm waters of the lake, or just lay out on the sand and soak up the sun.
If you love camping, this is one of the best places in the province to do it. The wonderful campground has a mix of 199 serviced and unserviced sites.
Kinbrook Island Provincial Park is also a hot spot for birding. The large body of water attracts birds from the surrounding, mostly dry land.
9. Wood Buffalo National Park
If you are looking to really get away from it all and go somewhere where nature calls the shots, Wood Buffalo National Park is the place. Located in the extreme far northwest corner of the province, this is Canada's largest national park.
It's all about nature here — wildlife rules, and humans are only temporary visitors. To truly experience this park consider a multi-day canoe trip to the Peace-Athabasca Delta. This area is one of the world's greatest avian destinations, as the wetlands attract millions of waterfowl every summer.
Other fun pursuits in the park are swimming in giant sinkholes with turquoise-colored water and strolling across massive salt pans. Both activities are easily accessible off the main roads.
Both front-county camping (car camping) and backcountry camping are available. No matter which option you choose, you'll enjoy dark nights under skies filled with a billion stars.
10. Little Bow Provincial Park
Little Bow Provincial Park is another great place to lie on the beach or get out on the water. You'll find a wide, sandy/gravelly beach here, with playgrounds and picnic tables in behind. A fun family day trip from Calgary, the park is located near the town of Vulcan and its Star Trek Enterprise monument.
The park is at the west end of the large Travers Reservoir, a popular location for waterskiing, sailing, stand up paddleboarding, and swimming. Large docks are nearby, and the lake has a good launch.
Anglers will want to wet a line to see if they can catch one of the 14 species of fish lurking beneath the waves. If you don't have a boat, don't despair, fishing off the main docks is quite good, and you'll likely find something will jump on your hook.
Birding is also popular. See if you can catch a glimpse of the great horned owls that perch in the trees. To see one of these huge birds is a rare and special experience.
One thing to be aware of is that as the summer progresses, the water in the reservoir gets shallower and the beach grows in size and becomes rockier.
11. Elk Island National Park
If you've ever wanted to see Alberta's large animals, this UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve is one of the best places to see bison, elk, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. It's hard to believe such a special place is only 30 minutes from Edmonton.
Step right out into nature by taking a leisurely walk on one of the park's many trails, or get out on the water and explore the park's numerous lakes with a rented canoe or kayak.
A prime destination for bird-watchers, Elk Island National Park is home to over 250 species of birds. You'll find a diverse ecosystem here to explore with aspen parkland, boreal forests, wetlands, and grasslands, each with its own special appeal.
Elk Island National Park is a great day trip or overnight destination, as it offers many recreational activities, including camping, picnicking, fishing, and boating. Other popular pursuits here include hiking, cycling, and, in the winter, cross-country skiing.
Be sure to check out the history of the park at the visitor center and attend interpretive programs to make the most of your visit.