Plan an amazing journey with this detailed list of things to do in Alberta, Canada, from my friend and Alberta expert, Kay Rodriguez.
A perfect destination for outdoor lovers, Alberta is quite possibly the most beautiful province in Canada. With mighty snowcapped peaks, vivid turquoise lakes, immense glaciers and vast forests, the beauty of Alberta really has to be seen to be believed. The province is also home to the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains, a real haven for mountaineers, hikers, kayakers, and campers.
I had the pleasure of spending nearly six months in Calgary, the largest city in Alberta. While there, I took frequent weekend trips out to many of the otherworldly areas in this beautiful province. In this post, I’ll share the best things to do in Alberta, including the iconic sights and a few off-the-beaten path suggestions for intrepid adventurers.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Alberta, Canada
- Go Hiking in Banff National Park
- Visit Stunning Glacial Lakes
- Drive the Most Beautiful Highway in Canada
- Walk the Columbia Icefield Skywalk
- Go Whitewater Rafting in Horseshoe Canyon
- Catch a Cable Car Ride
- Go Horseback Riding in Banff
- Trek the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park
- Do a Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper
- Go Star Gazing in Jasper
- Get Cozy with Dinosaurs in Drumheller
- Hike the Grassi Lakes Trail in Canmore
- Climb Mount Yamnuska
- Visit some of Alberta’s less popular parks
- When to Visit Alberta, Canada
- How to Get to Alberta, Canada
- Getting Around Alberta, Canada
- By Car
- By Bus
- Where to Stay in Alberta
- About the Author
- Inspired? Pin it!
Things to Do in Alberta, Canada
If you’re looking for a mountain getaway with views that will blow you away, Alberta is the perfect destination for your next trip. Summer sees clear blue skies, with hikers, climbers, and kayakers basking in the fresh air and incredible, picturesque landscapes of the region. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders come to try out some of the most challenging and fun slopes in the country.
Unlike many incredible nature destinations, much of Alberta is easily accessible either by flight or by car. It’s not hard to get in and out of this beautiful province. With several non-adventure activities and beginner-level hikes, Alberta is sure to appeal to any kind of traveler who makes the effort to get there.
Go Hiking in Banff National Park
One of the most well-known parks in Alberta is Banff National Park, which receives over 4 million visitors every year. As you can imagine, there are some areas of Banff that get completely inundated with people during the summer months. However, one of the best ways to escape the crowds is to go hiking in Banff.
For hikers of all levels, there are two alpine teahouses located on trails that originate in Lake Louise that you can visit by foot. One is called the Lake Agnes Teahouse (the final point of the Lake Agnes hike), and the other is the Plain of Six Glaciers (located on the longer by more beautiful Plain of Six Glaciers hike). Both of these are iconic paths that will take you to some lovely spots throughout the Lake Louise area.
While Banff’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years, there are still a variety of trails off the beaten path that are relatively less-trodden. My favorite hikes include Borgeau Lake and Harvey Pass hike. If you prefer not to hike on your own, join this guided group hike in Banff.
Visit Stunning Glacial Lakes
One of the most unique aspects of Alberta is the sheer number of turquoise glacial lakes that exist in this province. Located mostly within the parks near the Rockies, some of these glacial lakes are absolutely spellbinding, surrounded by mountains and evergreen forests.
The two most popular glacial lakes in Banff are Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. These lakes are popular for a reason: they’re absolutely gorgeous regardless of the season you’re visiting. But keep in mind that they also get extremely crowded every day during the high season. If you’re not driving, consider booking a day tour there from Banff.
Aside from the obvious favorites, another incredible glacial lake in Banff is called Peyto Lake. Just a short drive from Lake Louise, it’s a little more laid-back but still has that incredible cotton candy blue color present throughout the alpine lakes in the region.
Drive the Most Beautiful Highway in Canada
Towering glaciers around every corner, while glacier lakes and rocky peaks surround you. This is just a taste of what you can expect to see on the Icefields Parkway. One of the most breathtaking drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway extends 230 kilometers from Banff to Jasper and is home to some really stunning views of the Columbia Icefield and the surrounding jagged peaks.
I recommend renting your own car to drive this scenic road. The whole trip, end to end, takes 3-5 hours, depending on weather conditions and how many stops you decide to take along the way. Click here to check for car rental rates in Alberta.
If you’d rather not drive, consider booking this day tour from Banff.
Walk the Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Step out on a cliff-edge walkway where giant glaciers perch above you and the spectacular Sunwapta Valley spreads out below. The Columbia Icefield Skywalk experience features waterfalls, wildlife, fossils and more on an exciting 1-kilometre walkway that leads to a platform where glass is all that separates you from a 918-foot (280 m) drop. The walk is presented in an interpretive storytelling format that will connect you to the natural world in a deep and meaningful way. Book your day trip here!
Go Whitewater Rafting in Horseshoe Canyon
The Horseshoe Canyon is one of the best whitewater rafting spots in the world. You’ll get to experience rafting through class 3-4 rapids and with big waves and icy waters. Admire the views during calm parts of the river and make sure to watch for the area’s local wildlife, including eagles soaring above and deer strolling along the river banks. The river truly comes to life, kicking up a series of frothy rapids that will get your heart pumping. At the midway point, stop for an optional cliff jump into the glacier-fed waters of the Bow River. Book a whitewater rafting experience here!
Catch a Cable Car Ride
If you’re tired from days of outdoor activity, why not treat yourself to a ride on the Banff Gondola? This 8-minute cable car ride brings riders up to 2,281 meters of elevation to a stunning viewpoint where you can see the incredible views of the nearby national park areas. For families, this is one of the best things to do in Alberta, Canada.
Additionally, the cable car is open until after dark so you can catch some wonderful sunset views clear evenings. Buy your tickets here!
Go Horseback Riding in Banff
Another alternative for those who aren’t into hiking (or have kids who can’t walk long distances) is horseback riding around Banff National Park. You’ll not only be able to cover longer distances and see more sights, but you also get to learn some basic horseback riding techniques. Saddle up for a guided horseback ride by the historic Cave and Basin area and along Banff’s tranquil Bow River as you look out over the soaring mountain peaks. Book your horse-riding experience here!
Trek the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park
For serious hikers or backcountry explorers, the Skyline Trail is a challenging 2-4 day trek that will immerse you in some of Jasper’s wildest and most stunning landscapes. The spectacular views of the surrounding Canadian Rockies from the trails are unparalleled by almost anywhere in the entire region.
The Skyline Trail is a 44 km trail that spans a lot of elevation gain and loss, and requires that you bring all of the gear you need for the trek, as there are no modern amenities along the trail. Wildlife is abundant here, so coming prepared for run-ins with bears is advised. If it’s your first multi-day trek or you’re unsure what to pack, this hiking packing list can help!
Do a Maligne Canyon Icewalk in Jasper
For those who don’t ski or snowboard, I recommend doing an icewalk in the Maligne Canyon, one of the most impressive wonders in Alberta. Maligne Canyon is the deepest accessible canyon in Jasper National Park – you’ll get to explore frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and incredible ice formations. Admire the spectacular Karst topography, and learn about the mystery of the “disappearing” Medicine Lake. I would not advise exploring the canyon without a guide as it can be dangerous walking under the frozen falls. Book this guided tour!
Go Star Gazing in Jasper
Jasper is one of the few places designated by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada as a Dark Sky Preserve, or an area free of light pollution for observing the stars. Here, on clear nights, you can see amazing Milky Way views and, in the winter, you can even catch the aurora borealis sometimes.
If you’re an astronomy nerd or just love the peace and tranquility of staring up at the night sky, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is the perfect festival for you. Occurring every year in Jasper National Park in the fall, this festival is all about preserving and observing the night sky. There are talks by scientists, cultural events, and best of all, many opportunities to learn about and see our amazing galaxy.
Get Cozy with Dinosaurs in Drumheller
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Alberta Canada for families. Drumheller is known as the “Dinosaur Capital of the World,” and for good reason. Here, visitors can see real life Dinosaur remains. Drumheller is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which has one of the largest dinosaur collections in the entire world.
Aside from dinosaurs, there are also several beautiful canyon areas for walking and hiking nearby, including Horseshoe Canyon and the Drumheller Hoodoos. These spectacular, desert-like landscapes are somewhat similar to those found in Cappadocia or the southwestern United States and shouldn’t be missed if you’re headed to Drumheller.
Hike the Grassi Lakes Trail in Canmore
If you want to escape the crowds of Banff but don’t want to go too far from Calgary, Canmore is a dream location for hikers. With stunning peaks, challenging hikes, and much smaller crowds than nearby Banff, Canmore offers hikers clean trails and magnificent views of the peaks and valleys nearby.
For an easy day hike in the Canmore area, try the Grassi Lakes Trail. A more challenging option (with some of the best panoramic views in the entire area) is called Ha Ling Peak, which spans 5.4 kilometers and ~740 meters of elevation gain.
Climb Mount Yamnuska
More advanced hikers can tackle Mount Yamnuska, which is one of the first rocky peaks you’ll see when you enter the Canmore area. It’s a fairly challenging trail, spanning 11 km and 930 meters of elevation gain, with lots of scree fields and some pretty significant scrambling. If you decide to head up to Yamnuska, come prepared for an adventure!
Visit some of Alberta’s less popular parks
I know overtourism is a serious problem, therefore I highly recommend spreading the love to other beautiful and well-deserving national parks in Alberta. While Banff and Jasper are spectacular, there are actually other stunning parks in Alberta that are also worth a visit. Here are some suggestions:
- Elk Island National Park – A park located near Edmonton with incredible wildlife viewing and hiking in a serene environment.
- Wood Buffalo National Park – Located in the northern tip of Alberta, Wood Buffalo is home to several hiking trails, adventure activities, and free-ranging wild buffalo.
- Waterton Lakes National Park – Another park located in the Canadian Rockies, Waterton Lakes is home to the famed Triple Crown hike and shares a border with the US’s Glacier National Park.
- Drumheller Provincial Park – Mentioned above, Drumheller is home to incredible canyons and some of the most fascinating dinosaur finds in the world.
If you’re planning a longer itinerary in Alberta, it’s definitely worth taking some time to explore these and other fantastic options for hiking and outdoor adventure in Alberta. You might just find some hidden gems that are far more spectacular than the well-trodden sights.
When to Visit Alberta, Canada
For most people, Alberta is best visited between June and September, when the temperatures are warmer and the trails aren’t covered in snow. These months are the best for outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and camping.
The warmest months are definitely July and August when the temperature reaches around 75.8°F (24.3°C) in day and rarely dropping below 49.5°F (9.7°C) at night. In May, the temperature ranges from 35°F (1.7°C) to 65°F (18°C).
Starting in October, snow is increasingly common and temperatures are usually well below freezing. However, if your interest is to ski or snowboard, then the best time to visit Alberta is the height of winter.
How to Get to Alberta, Canada
There are two major airports in the province of Alberta: Calgary International Airport (YYC) and Edmonton International Airport (YEG). While Calgary is a larger city and therefore sees a bit more air traffic, Edmonton is also a great place to start your Alberta journey as it’s a bit closer to Jasper. You can easily fly to either cities on a weekend break from Vancouver or Victoria.
Calgary Airport has many international services. Air Canada is the largest carrier and has flights from the several cities in the Americas and Europe. You can easily get direct flights from New York to Calgary for $450 return (5.5 hour flight). Flights from Toronto to Calgary are also affordable at $400 return (4 hour flight). There are also direct flights from London to Calgary for around $600 return (9-hour flight).
Edmonton Airport is served by many airports. Flights from New York to Edmonton cost around $400 with stopovers in Toronto. Flights from London to Edmonton are around $750 return, with a stopover in Calgary.
Getting Around Alberta, Canada
The best and easiest way to get around Alberta is by renting a car. I recommend booking it online before you go to ensure availability. Almost all major car rental companies have offices at the Calgary and Edmonton airports.
Most of the roads in Alberta are well-paved and you likely won’t need to rent a 4WD car. Renting a compact car with pick-up and drop-off at Calgary costs around US$250 for one-week of rental.
It is possible to get around Alberta without a car. Here are some bus services that can get you around Alberta.
Brewster Express provides direct shuttle service from Calgary International Airport to Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, and Jasper. One way adult fares start at $71.00 and you can save 15% when you book a round trip.
Banff Airporter offers a flexible schedule of service between Calgary and Banff, starting as early as 5:00 a.m. and departing as late as 10:30 p.m. from Calgary International Airport. Fares start at $66.99.
Roam Bus is a public bus transportation route that connects Canmore and Banff. It runs 7 days and takes approximately 25 minutes. In peak hours the buses are every 30 minutes in peak morning and afternoon hours and every 60 minutes during the rest of the day.
HopOnBanff operates a bus seasonally from the last week of May until early October. You can utilize their stops and schedule for hiking or sightseeing. They pick up and drop off in Banff, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise gondola, Lake Louise village (Sampson Mall), Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. A day pass costs $46. Book your pass here!
Where to Stay in Alberta
For those who love the outdoors, all of the national parks have fantastic front country campsites you can reserve in advance. From my experience, I can recommend Two Jack Lakeside and Johnston Canyon campsites in Banff, Wabasso in Jasper, and Three Sisters in Canmore. For others, you can check the Parks Canada website for more information on campsites and availability.
If you’re looking for something more comfortable, there are many hotels available in the towns within the national parks. Here are my recommendations:
The Fairmont Palliser, Calgary — An iconic landmark in the heart of Calgary, this heritage hotel is definitely one of the best hotels in Alberta. Located close to Calgary Tower and the convention center, the hotel is a comfortable place to spoil yourself before or after you embark on some outdoor adventures. Check the latest rates!
Sunshine Mountain Lodge, Banff — Located within Banff National Park, this ski-in, ski-out lodge is a charming and tastefully designed place great for skiers. Rooms feature modern log cabin design filled with character. There are multiple restaurants, and outdoor hot pool, ski storage and spa services. The lodge also schedules movie nights, snowshoe tours and tobogganing adventures. Check the latest rates!
Stoneridge Mountain Resort by CLIQUE, Canmore — This beautiful upscale mountain lodge is an all-suite hotel with big, spacious apartments suitable for families. I love the facilities in the suites here: with a fully equipped kitchen, a deck or patio, and an outdoor heated pool. It’s only a five-minute drive from Banff National Park and a 10-minute walk from downtown Canmore. Check the latest rates!
Glacier View Inn, Jasper — With an incredible location overlooking the mighty Athabasca Glacier, this modern hotel has rooms with spectacular views of the glacier and the Canadian Rockies. It’s poised along the Icefield Parkway (Highway 93) an 1-hour drive from the town of Jasper. Its design resembles that of avant garde Scandinavian hotels. Check the latest rates!
About the Author
Kay Rodriguez is the blogger and photographer behind Jetfarer and USA Weekend Guide. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking on a dirt path or hiding away in a coffee shop with a chai latte in hand. For more photos and stories, you can connect with Kay on Instagram or Facebook.
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