Things to Do in Alberta
With its vivid aquamarine waters and impressive backdrop of jagged, glacier-studded peaks, Maligne Lake has visitors to the Canadian Rockies reaching for their cameras. The glacier-fed lake is the largest in Jasper National Park. Tiny tree-topped Spirit Island stands in the middle of the lake and is the subject of countless postcards.
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of Jasper National Park.
When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.
Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.
Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta, is an open-air historical and learning museum that gives visitors the chance to experience what life was like on the Canadian Prairies from 1860 to 1950. Costumed interpreters and many hands-on, interactive exhibits help you go deeper into your fun-filled encounter with the living past.
Standing sentinel over the city’s downtown since 1968, Calgary Tower features an observation deck with a glass floor and a revolving restaurant 627 feet (191 meters) above ground. Both afford 360-degree views across the city to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance.
Hemmed in by the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park’s glacier-fed Moraine Lake is renowned for its bright blue-green waters. The surreally vivid color results from light refracting off of tiny glacial rock particles. Stunning Lake Moraine was famously featured on the back of Canada’s $20 bill between 1969 and 1979.
The Bow Falls are located on the Bow River in Alberta's Banff National Park, within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. The short, wide, cascading falls make for a popular sightseeing stop, likely because of how accessible the natural destination is—the falls can be easily enjoyed by people of all abilities and all ages. Trails for pedestrians and cyclists wind along the south shore of the Bow River and its rapids, with the walking trail climbing up to the clifftop where the falls begin (bicycles aren’t allowed at the top).
The viewing areas at Bow Falls offer vistas of the river and the falls themselves, while a cement promenade located at the base of the cascade has a few benches to sit on, though most people sit on the ledge of the promenade and enjoy the views from there. At the far end of the promenade is a small, sandy beach where rafting and kayak tours often begin.
Within the boundaries of Banff National Park lie some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. The park, which showcases Canada’s Rocky Mountains in all their glory, offers world-class skiing, hiking, biking, and outdoor attractions. It’s a year-round haven for day-trippers from nearby Calgary and for international visitors galore.
Carved out of the limestone bedrock by a rushing river, this narrow and steep canyon—which reaches depths of up to 160 feet (50 meters)—is one of the most striking geological features of Jasper National Park. In summer, hikers flock here to follow trails that span the gorge, while in winter, the canyon freezes into an icy wonderland.
Jutting out from the side of a Jasper National Park cliff, the elevated, glass-bottomed Columbia Icefield Skywalk, also known as Glacier Skywalk, is an exhilarating—if somewhat unnerving—way to experience the epic, untouched landscapes of the Canadian Rockies. From this vantage point, the view of the park’s ice-hatted peaks and glacial valleys is nothing short of spectacular.
More Things to Do in Alberta
The Calgary Stampede is a grand celebration of Canada’s Western heritage that has been attracting visitors every year since 1923. Visit to experience small-town fun in a big way. The Stampede includes rodeo events, chuckwagon races, blacksmithing competitions, a midway, 300 performers on five stages, and First Nations cultural events.
Winding through the front ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the glacial blue waters of the Kananaskis River offer exhilarating white water rafting adventures. Considered one of the most scenic rivers in Alberta, the Kananaskis also affords mountain views and the chance to spy wolves, elk, eagle, and black and grizzly bears.
The Banff Gondola promises gasp-worthy views of the Canadian Rockies. After an 8-minute ride to Sulphur Mountain’s 7,500-foot (2,286-meter) summit, visitors arrive at a complex with several viewing areas, interactive exhibits, and restaurants. Also here are hiking trailheads and access to an elevated boardwalk leading to Sanson’s Peak.
What begins as a drip of water from the melting Bow Glacier turns into the stunningly beautiful Bow River, which flows slowly and steadily through the Rockies in Canada’s oldest national park. The river also flows through Banff, Canmore and Calgary, making it a constant presence on any journey through southern Alberta.
The best way to appreciate the beauty of Bow River is by heading out on the wheelchair-friendly walking and cycling path in downtown Banff to complete the short trip to Bow Falls. Countless picnic tables and park benches make Bow Falls an ideal lunch spot, and float trips, in giant inflatable rafts, begin right at the base of the falls, too. Both wildlife and wildflowers are often seen along the river, where canoe trips are popular. The river is divided into three half-day canoeing sections, all of which require intermediate experience: Lake Louise to Castle Junction, Castle Junction to Banff and Bow Falls to Canmore.
The Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic route between the town of Banff and Lake Louise, offers plenty of photo-worthy riverside stops, but one of the most spectacular is right where the Bow River flows beneath the towering walls of Castle Mountain, near Castle Junction.
The Crowfoot Glacier, named for its three glacier toes that once formed a very visual representation of the black bird’s foot, has retreated so much since early explorers discovered and named it that it has actually lost an entire digit. Despite its lost toe, the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint on the Icefield Parkway is still spectacular, especially for northbound travelers due to its position as the first of many up-close viewpoints along the drive.
Opposite this spot is the Helen Lake trailhead. This popular hike is strenuous, but the reward is in the stunning mountain scenery, as the trail crosses a series of alpine meadows covered in summertime wildflowers as it climbs toward Helen Lake. The best views of the Crowfoot Glacier are found further up the trail, but only hikers willing to tackle the steep Helen Lake Headwall will have unobstructed views of the Wapta Icefield, which lies beyond the Continental Divide.
Situated in Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Spirit Island is—for most of the year, at least—not actually an island at all, but rather a pint-sized peninsula connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land. A long-standing symbol of the Canadian Rockies, the tree-topped islet has featured on countless postcards and images of the park.
Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, is a state-of-the-art cultural center in Calgary. Spanning 160,000 square feet (14,865 square meters), the architecturally notable center includes a museum, performance hall, live music venue, recording studios, radio station, classrooms, and media center.
Travel up Whistlers Mountain on the Jasper SkyTram, Canada’s longest and highest aerial tramway, to see Jasper National Park from a brand-new perspective. The enclosed gondola takes you from 4,279 feet (1,304 meters) to 7,472 feet (2,277 meters) above sea level. From the top, enjoy stunning views of Jasper, the Rockies, and the Athabasca River.
Named after its gushing thermal springs, Sulphur Mountain rises to a height of 8,041 feet (2,450 meters), towering over the town of Banff and Bow Valley. Banff Upper Hot Springs sit on its lower slopes, while the Banff Gondola carries you up to the summit ridge for views out across the peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Just outside of Banff, Lake Minnewanka is everything a mountain lake should be: crystal clear, glacier fed, and surrounded by alpine forests and imposing peaks. A visit to Lake Minnewanka is a perfect introduction to the beautiful Canadian Rockies. It’s also the only lake in Banff National Park that allows privately operated motorboats.
Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is home to an extensive collections of dinosaur fossils. The museum’s 10 galleries are devoted to paleontology and feature 40 complete dinosaur skeletons and a collection of 130,000 fossils. The Preparation Lab shows how paleontology technicians prepare locally found fossils for research and exhibition.
For all the fun of the fair, with family-friendly rides and live entertainment, visit Calaway Park.
The largest amusement park in Canada’s west, Calaway Park has 34 rides spread over 36 hectares (90 acres).
From special rides for youngsters like the Aeromax crop duster to the whirling Adrenaline Test Zone and Bumper Boat splashdown, there are rides for all ages, from calm to thrilling. Height restrictions apply and some rides require adults to accompany youngsters.
Highlights for those with strong stomachs include the Chaos and Storm rides, and the corkscrew Vortex roller coaster.
At the park you’ll also find 23 food outlets and 25 skill-testing games.
When you first see Peyto Lake, nestled in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, the striking blue color of the water will astound you. The hue is thanks to the geologic makeup of the silt (“rock flour”) that mixes with the runoff from nearby Peyto Glacier. Take in the spectacular view from the Bow Summit or hike in for a closer look.
Sunwapta Falls are a set of Class 6 waterfalls that originate from the Athabasca Glacier and the Sunwapta River in Jasper National Park, Alberta. The falls are easily accessible by car during the summer months, located a short drive off the Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National parks.
Sunwapta is a Stoney (Assiniboine) word meaning “turbulent water.” Over time as the Sunwapta River changed its course, a deep gorge was caused in the limestone rocks. Today, the two sets of falls that make up Sunwapta Falls are over 75 feet tall. They have a total drop of 60 feet (18 meters) and a width of 30 feet (9 meters). The upper waterfall flows through a narrow canyon and drops into three lower falls. The waterfalls are at their peak in late spring and early summer when glacial melt is at its highest, and in the winter, you can ice climb, snowshoe, and admire the ice formations created by the falls.
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