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21 Must Do Activities in Alberta

Alberta is Canada’s fourth largest province by area. Named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the daughter of Queen Victoria, it’s a province that begs to be explored. From north to south it’s a distance of over 1,200 kilometres – as the crow flies, so it’s impossible to see all but a small section of the province if you only have a few days.

Alberta boasts a diverse landscape. The Rocky Mountains are justifiably the most famous and visited feature of the province but the badlands with their wildly eroded rock formations are also worth of a trip. The prairies have their own beauty, but it’s more subtle and not appreciated by everyone.

Here are 21 must do activities if you visit Alberta.

"Alberta is famous for its big skies and the quality of the light"

Alberta is famous for its big skies and the quality of the light

  • Straddling the border with the Northwest Territories is Wood Buffalo National Park. It’s Canada’s largest park – and bigger than Switzerland. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s largest population of wild bison. Also of note is the fact that it’s the nesting grounds for the endangered whooping crane. It’s got the world’s largest beaver dam and one of the largest inland freshwater deltas in the world. The downside is that it’s hard to get to. Your best bet is to drive into it via Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories. Via Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, you can only access the park via air or water.
"A buffalo in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta"

A buffalo in Wood Buffalo National Park – Photo credit: Ansgar Walk

  • If you’re a birder then an overnight stay starting in late May at the Boreal Center for Bird Conservation in Northen Alberta on Lesser Slave Lake will be something to consider. The Point Pelee effect seems to be in action here. Birds avoid crossing the lake and are funneled along the shoreline where you can see them in higher numbers than you’d normally expect. There is a cabin that can be privately booked right next to the bird conservation center – allowing you to take advantage of lakeside walks and beautiful sunsets.
  • Head to the town of Grand Cache near the western edge of the province. Its setting, on a plateau, offers views of many peaks of the Rockies foothills. It’s also the gateway to Willmore Wilderness Park – a vast area of wilderness adjacent to Jasper National Park. Here you’ll find 750 kilometres of backcountry trails as well as hundreds of kilometers of horseback riding trails.
  • Elk Island National Park, only about an hour east of Edmonton, offers loads of hiking as well as some beautiful canoeing on Lake Astotin. In the winter it’s a  peaceful spot to go cross-country skiing.
"Canoeing at sunset in Elk Island National Park"

Canoeing at sunset in Elk Island National Park

  • Dinosaur Provincial Park  is a phenomenal place even if you have zero interest in dinosaurs. The badlands scenery here is fantastic – truly a photographer’s dream. There are a number of easy hikes to do as well as a very worthwhile guided tour to see dinosaur skeletons in place. It’s a UNESCO site because of some of the most important discoveries ever from the Age of Reptiles. You can camp here though it gets really hot in the summer; fortunately it’s an easy day trip from Calgary.
"Wildly eroded rock formation in Dinosaur Provincial Park"

Wildly eroded rock formation in Dinosaur Provincial Park

  • If you are a fan of dinosaurs, don’t miss a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. It’s a world class center for paleontological research. Their collection includes more than 110,000 fossil specimens and 40 dinosaur skeletons. Should you be hungry post tour check out Bernie and the Boys – a restaurant the Constant Rambler describes as offering simple comfort food.
  • If you’re in eastern Alberta – in what feels like the middle of nowhere and you’re hungry and it feels like nothing is open do not despair. Lilly Wong’s Golden Chinese Restaurant in the town of Foremost, soon to be known for its drone testing more than anything else, is the place to go. It’s open on national holidays and according to my friend Judy, the food is very good.
  • Check out the galleries and cafes in the pretty little town of Rosebud – population 90, located about 9o minutes east of Calgary. Don’t miss a performance at the Rosebud Theater.
"The Rosebud Hotel"

The Rosebud Hotel

  • Drive the Dinosaur Trail – a route that’s well signed. It takes you from Drumheller along the north side of the Red Deer River on Highway 838, a secondary road to the Bleriot Ferry. Cross the river and return to Drumheller on the south side of the river. Get out and admire the views of Horsethief Canyon.
"Horsethief Canyon"

Horsethief Canyon

  • Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, located in the southeastern corner of the province, boasts the highest elevations between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador. In the park there are numerous hiking trails which double as cross country ski trails in the winter. Come summer, Elkwater Lake will beckon you to swim.
"Walking through forests of lodgepole pines"

Walking through forests of lodgepole pines

  • Southern Alberta is home to Waterton Lakes National Park. Its small compared to its next door neighbour – Glacier National Park in Montana – but it sure is beautiful. Hiking is out of this world. Three trails I can personally recommend are the infamous Crypt Lake trail, the Lineham Ridge Trail and the Carthew-Alderson trail.
"Scenery on the Lineham Ridge hike, Waterton Lakes National Park"

Scenery on the Lineham Ridge hike

  • Heading north from Waterton Lakes National Park, you’ll come across Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Visit. It’s actually a UNESCO site and although the site looks underwhelming, it’s still starkly beautiful, the museum exhibits are excellent and the story is compelling.
"Head #Smashed in Buffalo Jump - a UNESCO site in Alberta"

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

  • Calgary may not be everyone’s cup of tea but come Stampede time, it sure has a lot of community spirit. This year the Calgary Stampede runs from July 4th – 13th. Apart from a giant parade, there are grandstand shows every night, a daily rodeo, pancake breakfasts and an amusement park. If you’re not the stampede type perhaps you’d enjoy tubing on the Bow River or cycling on the 550 or so kilometres of pathways.
"The Musical Ride"

The Musical Ride can be seen daily during the Calgary Stampede

  • Kananaskis Country is like a miniature version of Banff National Park with little in the way of amenities. It’s a fabulous place to hike, camp, bike and ski. It’s home to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Nakiska Mountain Resort. Last summer the area was hard hit by the floods so many trails and bridges are still being rebuilt. Check in at the Visitor Center along Highway 40 for staff recommendations on what to do. For hiking I’d highly recommend the hike to Guinn Pass.
"The view from above Guinn Pass"

The view from above Guinn Pass

  • A visit to Banff National Park is obviously on the must do list of just about any out of town visitor. It won’t disappoint – if you get away from the summer crowds wandering the streets of downtown Banff. What to do with perhaps limited time will be the biggest decision you need to make. In the summer and fall, the hiking is superb. In the winter there are three downhill ski resorts within the park and loads of cross-country skiing. A visit to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise should figure high on your list. And for a relatively easy hike with wonderful Rocky Mountain scenery, do the hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse above Lake Louise.
"Lake Agnes in Banff National Park"

Lake Agnes in Banff National Park

  • In early November head to Banff for the world class Banff Film Festival. You’ll be inspired by writers, videographers and photographers.
  • Unleash your inner cowboy and try a guided horseback riding trip in the Rockies.
"Horseback riding in the Rockies"

Horseback riding in the Rockies

  • Drive the Icefields Parkway – probably the prettiest drive in all of Canada. Try to do it in the summer as winter driving can be very hazardous. Bring warm clothes too – even in the height of the summer.
"Looking out at the Columbia Icefields - in April"

Looking out at the Columbia Icefields – in April

  • Take a boat ride on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Even better, book a trip (now as campsites fill quickly) and canoe or kayak down to the end of Maligne Lake and stay for a few days.
"Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park"

Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park

  • Edmonton is also worthy of a visit – especially if you like shopping or festivals. The West Edmonton Mall is the largest in North America with plenty of indoors activities to do other than shop. The city boasts 30 annual festivals including the internationally renowned FolkFringe and Street Performers festival.
"A mass of blooms outside the Alberta Legislature"

A mass of blooms outside the Alberta Legislature

  • Last but by no means least, visit the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, located about 100 kilometres east of Calgary. This National Historic Site pays tribute to the cultural heritage of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Enjoy exhibitions, performances and the self-guided tour of numerous historic sites within the park. Noteworthy too, is the fact the park is home to one of the largest intact prairie river systems in North America.

These 21 must do activities just scratch the surface of what is offered. If there is something I’ve left out that you think deserves to be mentioned, then please leave a comment.

21 Must Do Activities in Alberta

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Wow, there’s a lot of cool things to do in Alberta! I spent a day in Calgary before heading to Edmonton for a wedding after finishing law school and a couple of years later spent a few days in Banff with a day trip to Lake Louise but really have only scratched the surface of the province. I also feel more than a little guilty that my kids have never been to Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba – I think we need to make a point of seeing the middle part of Canada – maybe this summer!

    • @Lisa I think when you’re Canadian travel in Canada in the summer doesn’t always have the exotic appeal of other places. But summer really is the prime time to see these provinces and I have plenty of suggestions for the other two provinces just based on some experience & a lot of research.

  • Susan Moore says:

    I have been to many of these places – you are making me homesick! I live in Austin now and visit family in Calgary every year but don’t get out of the city like I used to. I need to spend some time exploring Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, as well as Northern Alberta – very inspirational post!

  • boomergirl50 says:

    Thanks for linking to our Lilly Wong post. We were hungry when we got to Foremost. It was Easter weekend so very grateful to see Lily’s open sign. And as for where I would like to visit- would you believe in all our years of road tripping Alberta, we have never been to Waterton OR Jasper. Unbelievable eh?

  • What a great list of activities and inspiring photos to go with them, Leigh. You know I’m dying to go to Banff but I’m glad there’s so much else to Alberta beyond that. I love that there are so many diverse parks. I think Alberta is going to jump up to the top of the list of provinces to visit soon.

    • @Mary I think there is so much to do for a family that you could easily spend several weeks at a minimum – ok how about 7-10 days. If you ever need some more kid friendly ideas I’m happy to dig some up.

  • Sophie says:

    Wow! That sunset is other-worldy gorgeous. Liquid gold!

  • Hi Leigh,
    Wow, Alberta is so amazing! So many great things to see and do I don’t think I know where to start. I always want to go to Banff so maybe I should start there. The Wood Buffalo Nat’l Park sounds incredible. Imagine being larger than Switzerland. You’re so lucky to be surrounded by all this natural glories.

  • Russ Burns says:

    Just back from a week of hiking and biking in and around Banff/Lake Louise, with a day trip up to Jasper. Stunningly beautiful country.

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