From towering peaks to bright blue lakes, Jurassic parks to boho festivals, Alberta is a feast for the mind, body, and spirit. Located just east of British Columbia and north of Montana and Idaho, it boasts the Canadian Rockies and some pretty cosmopolitan metropolises (Edmonton and Calgary). Here’s our take on the best of the best.
Banff & Jasper National Parks
Banff National Park and its neighbor, Jasper National Park, are evergreen national treasures. And they’re evergreen in every sense of the word — they’re both chock-full of evergreen forests, and they’re irresistible travel destinations year-round. Referred to by Lonely Planet as “the template for conservation”, Banff is the third oldest national park in the world, with Jasper trailing by just 22 years. Consequently, ecotourism has thrived in both parks since the late 1800s — long before it was so trendy.
As vibrantly turquoise as Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year and as cold as you’d expect a lake surrounded by glaciers to be, Lake Louise offers one of the most iconic views in Alberta. You can canoe the lake itself, hike any of the trails that splinter out from the ritzy Chateau Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, ski or shred the Lake Louise, Norquay, or Sunshine ski areas, or opt for a more genteel (and lower impact) tea at one of the many teahouses in the area, a nod to the area’s British origins.
ICEFIELDS PARKWAY & THE COLUMBIA ICEFIELD
Icefields Parkway runs between Lake Louise and Jasper Town, right along the Continental Divide. Flanked by glaciers, including the largest icefield in the Rockies, the Columbia Icefield, this ruggedly picturesque drive also includes myriad waterfalls, azure lakes, craggy, eroded peaks, and a wealth of wildlife. With moose and bears afoot, you’ll feel like you’re in an episode of “Planet Earth”, IRL.
Created specifically to cater to tourists to the area, Banff town offers both luxe amenities to the modern traveler (including swanky nightclubs and fancy restaurants that defy their decidedly un-contrived natural surroundings) and the original lures that made the town such a hotspot back in the day. Be sure to visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and the Banff Upper Hot Springs for a relaxing soak after a day of mountaineering.
Calgary is a town with many incarnations: it started out as the home of the Blackfoot people in the late 1800s, grew into a bustling cowboy town throughout the twentieth century, skyrocketed to an economic mecca with the discovery of oil in the 1960s, played host to the 1988 Winter Olympics, and continues to grow at breakneck speed, resulting in a cosmopolitan metropolis. Foodies can check out the hip Inglewood neighborhood, culture vultures should head to the Glenbow Museum, and sports fanatics can get a glimpse into Canada’s national pastime at a Calgary Flames game (next year though — the season just ended).
One word — dinosaurs. Need I say more? Set among the badlands of Alberta with hoodoo spires hither and yon (à la the variety made famous in Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Turkey’s Cappadocia), Drumheller is home to the world’s largest dinosaur and the more legit (i.e. less tourist trappy) and not-to-be-missed Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.