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With a unique and varied landscape encompassing wide open prairies, jagged mountains, and desert badlands, I think it’s fair to say that Alberta is one of the most beautiful Canadian provinces. As well as that it’s home to over 600 lakes, including the super-recognizable Lake Louise and the equally-as-stunning Moraine Lake. Plus, two of the most visited national parks in the country – Banff National Park and Jasper National Park are situated here.
This province (the fourth most populated in Canada) sure does pack a punch when it comes to places of pristine natural beauty!
As you can imagine, most of the best things to do in Alberta involve the great outdoors, from hiking to canoeing to winter-only activities like skiing and ice walking. And despite its large size (a whopping 662,000 km²/255,600 mi ² ), one full day in Alberta could have you exploring a glacier in the morning, canoeing on a turquoise-hued lake in the afternoon, and hiking a mountain to watch the sunset in the evening…And that’s just a snippet of some of the best things to do in Alberta!
I’ll admit narrowing down the best activities in Alberta to just 33 was no easy feat, but having lived in the “sunshine province” for 15 years, I think I’m well-equipped to let you in on my top tips for a memorable vacation here.
This blog post has 33 of the very best activities in Alberta, and my hope is that it will help you narrow down what to do during your limited time here. Consider this the best guide on the internet to the best things to do in Alberta!
- 1. Drive the Icefields Parkway
- 2. Visit Peyto Lake
- 3. Go Skiing/snowboarding
- 4. Ride a sightseeing gondola in Banff National Park
- 5. Go camping
- 6. See Moraine Lake
- 7. Explore Lake Louise
- 8. Shop at the West Edmonton Mall
- 9. Wander downtown Calgary
- 10. Cruise to Spirit Island
- 11. Go whitewater rafting
- 12. Visit Drumheller and the Badlands
- 13. Hike, hike, and hike some more!
- 14. Enjoy Banff Ave
- 15. Spend some time in Canmore
- 16. Go horseback riding
- 17. Ice skating
- 18. Walk on Athabasca Glacier
- 19. Do an icewalk
- 20. Ride the Jasper Skytram
- 21. See the Northern Lights
- 22. See a bear!
- 23. Explore Waterton Lakes National Park
- 24. Visit the Kananaskis
- 25. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
- 26. See ice bubbles on Abraham Lake
- 27. Go on a scenic flight
- 28. Visit Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park
- 29. Stay in a log cabin
- 30. Attend the Calgary Stampede
- 31. Soak in some hot springs
- 32. See bison in Elk Island National Park
- 33. Go canoeing
- Renting a Car in Alberta
- Thanks for reading!
1. Drive the Icefields Parkway
First up is one of the most scenic drives in Canada (if not the whole world!)- the famous Icefields Parkway. This highway stretches 230 km (143 miles) between Lake Louise and Jasper and passes through not one but two national parks, Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. So, as you can imagine being the primary driving route between two sought-after tourist towns, it’s a popular thing for visitors to Alberta to do!
Without stops, it will take 3 hours to drive, but it would be a shame not to stop when there are so many wow-worthy attractions along this highway!
There are a ton of amazing places to visit along the Icefields Parkway, from travel brochure-worthy blue lakes to giant waterfalls and picturesque hikes. Peyto Lake is one of the prettiest lakes along this stretch of road (you’ve probably seen it on your Instagram feed), and it’s well worth stopping at. There’s an epic viewpoint about a 10-minute hike from the car park called the upper viewpoint, which gives the best view of this turquoise-hued lake.
Mistaya Canyon, approximately 80 kilometers from Lake Louise, is one of my favorite stops along the Icefields Parkway because it involves a 500-meter walk, the ideal opportunity to stretch your legs after all that driving. The path ends at a viewpoint overlooking the canyon, and you’ll witness the fierce power of the water as it gushes down the Mistaya River.
As the name suggests, Big Bend is a massive curve on the Icefields Parkway. There is a viewing area at the top of this curve where you can look back on the Icefields Parkway. From this prime vantage point, you can see the road wrap its way around mountains through the valley floor – a must for a photo stop!
Finally, two places you absolutely do not want to miss on the Icefields Parkway are the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, both of which I’ll go into more detail below.
Note: You’ll need a Parks Canada Pass to drive the Icefields Parkway.
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Related Read: If you plan on spending the night along the “Parkway”, be sure to check out my blog on the best places to stay on the Icefields Parkway!
2. Visit Peyto Lake
As I mentioned above, Peyto Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, so you won’t be surprised by my inclusion of it on this list of the best things to do in Alberta. This Instagram-friendly lake is nestled deep in a mountain valley and is the most vibrant shade of blue I’ve ever seen. On a clear day, the surrounding mountain peaks reflect on the lake’s surface – making for a seriously ‘wow’ photo!
After parking your car, hike the short and sweet 10-minute trail to the Peyto Lake viewpoint which overlooks the lake. Because of how little effort is required to get to it, Peyto Lake is a great sunrise and sunset spot – or even better, come here on a clear night to gaze at the blanket of stars and take some astro photos if you’re into that.
It’s important to add that getting a parking space here can be tricky (it’s just so popular), so aim to get here early to ensure you get a spot especially in the summer and on weekends. Later in the afternoon as well as in the evening are quieter times of day, as well.
3. Go Skiing/snowboarding
When the snow starts to fall, Alberta turns into a winter wonderland. So, it’s no surprise that given the high amount of snowfall here, there are plenty of awesome ski resorts within the state. From the super-popular Lake Louise to lesser-known gems like Nakiska, I’ve listed some of the best ski resorts in Alberta below.
Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the largest ski fields in Canada, with seven ski lifts, 142 kilometers (81 miles) of ski runs, and a 935-meter (3068 ft) vertical descent. It’s perfect for all levels of ability. The tree runs are a great selling point and are most suitable for intermediate or pro snow lovers.
Adult lift tickets start at $129 CAD, with a half-day option at $99 CAD. Youths cost $99, children $49, and seniors $99.
Sunshine Village is located in the heart of Banff National Park. It’s ideal for advanced skiers and snowboarders as it features plenty of black and double black runs. There are also several green runs here, but because they have flat spots, you will go need to go fast leading up to these sections.
A lift ticket costs $127 CAD for adults, $99 for youths, $49 for children, and $99 for seniors.
For a really special experience, uou could stay at the ski resort and ski in and out every day. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a luxurious hotel just a couple of steps from the chairlifts – it’s undoubtedly one of the best places to stay in Banff for a ski holiday.
Mt Norquay is a 45-minute drive from Lake Louise and is just on the outskirts of Banff town. It boasts epic views of Banff, and a major plus is that you can night ski here. However, the runs here aren’t huge, so they’re most suitable for beginners.
The price for a full-day lift ticket to Mt Norquay is $74 CAD for adults, $56 for youths, $29 for children, and $56 for seniors, which is a great deal!
Many Albertans consider skiing at Nakiska to be one of the best winter activities in Calgary. It was constructed for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and boasts excellent groomed ski runs and a state-of-the-art snowmaking system that ensures this resort is one of the first ski resorts to open and the last to close in Canada every season!
Nakiska Ski Resort is only a 5-minute drive from Kananaskis Village and about an hour from the edge of Calgary.
Marmot Basin, a 20-minute drive from Jasper, is easily one of the most epic things to do in Jasper during the winter! There are 91 runs here, and there’s one suitable to every ability. The best part is that there are various runs for all levels from each lift. When I was learning, I loved that I could ride all the way to the top of the highest gondola and still get back down on green and blue runs.
Marmot Basin is open from mid-November until early May and gets over 400 centimeters (more than 13 feet!) of snow annually!
4. Ride a sightseeing gondola in Banff National Park
Not visiting Alberta in winter? Not to worry! You can still get those stunning panoramic views that the ski resorts offer by riding their gondolas in summer! All of the ski resorts in Banff offer summer sightseeing goldona passes, and this is the best (and easiest) way to get a birds-eye view. That’s right, no hiking required here!
As one of the best things to do in Banff, a ride up one of the four gondolas in the park gives you some amazing aerial views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and fun activities once you reach the top.
The four gondolas your can ride in the summer are:
The Banff Gondola is, of course, the most well-known gondola in the national park, and it travels 2,290 feet (698 meters) up to the peak of Sulphur Mountain. The gondola itself has huge windows that enable 360° views.
When you get to the top, spend some time in the 4-story building that’s filled with restaurants, coffee shops, and an impressive observation deck on the top floors that takes in panoramas of Mount Rundle, the mountains of Lake Louise, Tunnel Mountain, Lake Minnewanka, Bow River, and more!
Besides exploring the visitor building, the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk is one of my favorite things to do at the top of the Banff gondola. The pathway leads to Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station and the Weather Observatory, which was used from 1903-1945 to monitor the climate of the Rockies.
Ticket prices for the Banff Gondola are dynamic – meaning that the prices change based on the season, the demand, and the day of the week you wish to book. The best place to buy Banff Gondola tickets is online in advance here.
Mt Norquay is a well-known ski resort within Banff National Park, but in the summer, you can take in epic views of Spray Valley, Bow Valley, and Banff town on the beautiful open-air chairlift. This gondola seats two adults at a time, and it’s a 10-minute ride to the top. On your journey up, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for local Banff wildlife.
From the viewing platform at the top, you can take in views of Cascade Mountain, Mount Rundle, and Mount Inglismaldie. Afterward, pop over to the Cliffhouse Bistro for an ice-cold beer and panini.
Tickets for the Mt Norquay chairlift are available online for $45 CAD for adults, $28 CAD for ages 6-15, and free for kids aged 2-5.
Lake Louise Gondola
Lake Louise Gondola offers great views of, yep, you guessed right, the famed Lake Louise as well as Victoria Glacier. It’s also a prime wildlife viewing spot, as grizzly bears are known to roam in the area beneath the lift. You will also have the opportunity to hike when you get to the top as there are some great trails on Mt. Whitehorn. Or, you could simply relax in the restaurant at the visitor’s building.
It’s a 14-minute ride to the top, and you get the choice between an open-air or an enclosed gondola. If the weather permits, I recommend the open-air option as you can see more!
Prices are as follows: Adults (18+): $55 CAD. Youth (13-17): $25 CAD. Kids (6-12): $10 CAD. Children under 5: free.
Banff Sunshine Gondola
A lengthier ride at 22 minutes, the Banff Sunshine Gondola takes you to Sunshine Village, where there are restaurants, some shops, and the Sunshine Mountain Lodge – the only mountain-top hotel in Banff. Just imagine waking up to those views on your vacation!
Another cool part of the Banff Sunshine Sightseeing Gondola experience is the free Standish Chairlift. Once you are in Sunshine Village, you can take this chairlift an additional 8 minutes up the mountain. From the viewpoint at the top, you’ll be at the highest sightseeing elevation in all of Banff and Lake Louise! You can also hike up to this viewpoint if you’re keen to get a bit of exercise in.
Once you reach this viewpoint, you can tackle one of the gorgeous Sunshine Meadows hiking trails, which takes you to not 1 but 3 alpine lakes – Grizzly, Rock Isle, and Larix Lake.
Prices are as follows: Adults (16+): $64 CAD. Youth (6-15): $29 CAD. Seniors (65+): $55 CAD. Family (2 adults, two youths): $149 CAD. Children 5 and under are free.
5. Go camping
One of the best ways to truly experience the natural beauty that Alberta is known for is on a camping trip. With more and more tourists hopping on board with the camping trend, I thought it best to include this favorite Canadian pastime (locals LOVE to camp) on my list of the best things to do in Alberta.
I grew up camping around Alberta with my family, and today, Daniel and I camp all the time. Besides it being a fun activity, it’s also one of the cheapest accommodation options available.
Luckily, there are loads of great campgrounds in “the sunshine province,” and I’ve listed four of my favorites below!
Two Jack Lake
Just 15 minutes outside of Banff town, the rustic Two Jack Lake campsite with mountain views has the perfect location right on the shores of Two Jack Lake. It’s an unserviced campground, so it’s best suited to tents or small RVs. Handily, boat owners will be delighted to know that there’s motorized access to the lake from this campsite.
There are 64 unserviced sites here, and reserving ahead of time is highly recommended, as just 22 of those sites are reserved for walk-ins.
As well as that, there are flush toilets, kitchen shelters, fire pits, and fireside interpretive programs that take place on different days throughout the year.
Boulton Creek Campground
Situated in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the Kananaskis, approximately 90 km (56 mies) from Calgary, Boulton Creek Campground is one of the largest campgrounds in the area and offers 160 sites for tents and RVs.
There are unserviced (86), power and water (37), and walk-in (6) sites available. This campground offers plenty of amenities, from showers to a camper’s store, paved cycling trails, and hiking trails.
Also located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Canyon Campground is smaller, with 50 unserviced sites available. The larger sites are more open, while the smaller sites are nestled in the trees. Situated close to Lower Kananaskis Lake, you can easily access hiking, mountain biking trails, and paved bike trails from this campsite. There’s also a playground here.
My favorite campsite in Jasper National Park is the Wapiti campsite. It’s located only a 5-minute drive from Jasper town. It’s huge with 644 sites, and amenities include hot showers, flush toilets, camp kitchens, and an interpretive program. You can also easily walk or bike the 3 km (1.9 mi) into Jasper town.
If you’d prefer something a little more remote in the Jasper area, consider Wabasso or Wilcox.
All of these campsites are run by Parks Canada and must be booked well in advance on their website (usually, as soon as bookings open in March.)
6. See Moraine Lake
At the top of most people’s Canadian bucket lists, Moraine Lake is arguably the prettiest lake in the world. With its brilliant blue color and surrounded by the looming Ten Peaks, it wouldn’t look out of place in Switzerland. But yet, Moraine Lake is just 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from Lake Louise.
At an altitude of 1,884 meters/6181 feet above sea level, it’s accessible via Moraine Lake Road, which is only open during the summer months (typically from the end of May until mid-October), or you can hike or cycle there.
In early summer the lake may still be frozen, so to guarantee you see it in all its glory, stop by in July, August, or early September. Alternatively, if you want a completely different experience, consider visiting in Fall (ideally between mid-September and early October) when the Larch trees turn varying shades of orange and yellow.
Of course, visiting such a popular place doesn’t come without its challenges. In fact, parking at Moraine Lake is no longer allowed (new in 2023), so visiting takes a little more planning. There are a few options when it comes to getting to Moraine Lake nowadays, with the most popular being riding a Moraine Lake shuttle, taking Roam public transport, or joining a tour to Moraine Lake like this highly-rated guided tour.
As for things to do in Moraine Lake, you can hike one of the hiking trails or hire a canoe and take in the scenery from the water.
The Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail is arguably the most popular hiking trail here; this trail begins at Moraine Lake Lodge and follows the shoreline of the lake for about 1.5 kilometers. It’s an out-and-back trail meaning you must return the same way you came. The Consolation Lakes Trail is another great hike and it’s short and sweet at 2-3 hours in duration.
Another must-do hiking trail here is the one to the Rockpile, which is essentially a huge pile of rocks with an epic viewing platform. It’s just a 5-minute easy walk to reach the Rockpile from the parking lot, and it’s signposted.
Canoeing has to be one of the most iconic activities you can do at Moraine Lake. So, if you’ve ever wanted to canoe in a Canadian lake, now’s your chance! In fact, I don’t think there’s a more perfect place to do it than at Moraine Lake!
Canoes can be rented from the Moraine Lake Lodge, with prices starting at $115 CAD+tax for one hour. The canoes can fit up to three people, so it’s a great group activity. Rentals include life jackets, and because of the stability of Canadian canoes, even those with no or limited experience can try it.
Hot Tip: For a really special experience, consider booking the Moraine Lake Lodge which is the only hotel right on the edge of Moraine Lake. This way, you can enjoy both sunset and sunrise at Moraine Lake without all the crowds!
Want to visit Moraine Lake for sunrise?
The only way to visit Moraine Lake at sunrise this year (since the road is closed to personal vehicles) is to either go on this organized tour or book this privately-operated shuttle (the Parks Canada shuttles don’t leave early enough to make it for sunrise.)
The tour begins at 4 am in Banff, and because they are a licensed tour operator, they can access Moraine Lake for sunrise. The tour costs $220 CAD and includes not only a visit to Moraine Lake with hot chocolate and coffee to enjoy, but also an early morning visit to Lake Louise. That means you can visit two of the busiest lakes in Canada without the crowds or the stress of parking/shuttles. You can book the tour here with free cancelation up to 24 hours before.
The new Moraine Lake sunrise shuttle includes transport only from Lake Louise Village but comes at an affordable price of $59-69 CAD per person. They offer a few pick-up times depending on what you have planned at Moraine Lake, with the first shuttle leaving at 4 am and the second at 5 am. You must book your spot online in advance here to avoid missing out.
7. Explore Lake Louise
I’m certain you’ve heard of Lake Louise; this small mountain village and huge lake with the same name is hidden within the Rocky Mountains. It’s one of the most famous places in all of Canada!
This powder-blue lake is gorgeous in every season. Summer in Lake Louise is prime time for hiking or renting a canoe and exploring the lake from the water. Two awesome hikes in Lake Louise include the Lake Agnes Tea House trail and the Lake Front Trail. The Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail is the longer and more difficult of the two, it’s a 7.3 km (4.5 miles) return, and it climbs high above the lake, thus providing several stunning viewpoints. Although it’s harder than the Lakeshore Trail, it’s rated as moderate and isn’t a technical trail; therefore, anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to complete it.
The Lakefront Trail, on the other hand, is a 4 km (2.5 miles) trail that takes you to the far end of Lake Louise, offering a birds-eye view of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel.
When the temperature starts to drop and the snow falls, winter in Lake Louise is truly memorable. The lake freezes over, enabling you to go ice skating! If you don’t have your own skates, you can rent some from the Fairmont Hotel from mid-December to mid-April. And as mentioned earlier, if you’re a skier (or snowboarder), you’ll want to check out the awesome powder at Lake Louise Ski Resort!
Of course, with being such a small village there are limited places to stay in Lake Louise, so you should book online well in advance. Additionally, if you want to stay right on the lake’s edge, The Fairmont is your best choice. It’s pricey, but super luxurious and the views really can’t be beat!
Related Read: If you plan to drive here be sure to read our guide on parking at Lake Louise!
8. Shop at the West Edmonton Mall
As the largest mall in Canada, West Edmonton Mall is one of the top Edmonton attractions to see and a shopper’s paradise with over 800 stores. Still, this mall isn’t just for shopping, with plenty of other activities suitable for the whole family, from a rollercoaster to a waterpark to an indoor ice skating rink. WEM, as it’s also known, really is a destination in its own right!
When you visit, you’ll understand almost immediately why it’s considered one of Alberta’s top attractions, and in fact, you could easily spend a whole day here and not be bored.
There are tons of things to do in West Edmonton Mall, be sure not to miss:
- Explore Galaxyland – The biggest indoor amusement park in North America at 3.5 acres, Galaxyland boasts 27 rides and indoor play areas for all ages. It’s an ideal rainy-day activity, and you can enjoy this family-friendly amusement park even on the coldest days in Edmonton in winter.
- The West Edmonton Mall Waterpark – Yep, this mall has its own waterpark. And the World Waterpark in West Edmonton Mall is really impressive with the world’s largest indoor wave pool and no less than 20 different wave slides. You’ll truly feel like you’re in a sunnier climate especially considering the park maintains a toasty 31°C (88°F) at all times! You can even rent a cabana to relax in for the day.
- Attend a comedy show – The Comic Strip is a buzzy comedy club on Bourbon Street within the mall. You might see comics who’ve been on America’s Got Talent, The Daily Show, the Just for Laughs Festival, or The Tonight Show. If you’re into comedy, this club is a must!
- Experience DRIVE (WEM’s newest attraction) – The track features a New York streetscape, and these cars are an upgrade from the old-school go-carts many of us grew up with. Each race will have 10-12 racers on the track, so it feels like a real competition! Each race lasts about seven minutes and involves 14 laps around the track. All racers have to be 14 years of age or older to drive.
9. Wander downtown Calgary
As the biggest city in the province and with a large international airport, Calgary is where most tourists start and end their vacation in Alberta. Interestingly, it’s also the sunniest part of Canada – with a whopping 333 days of sunshine, so if you want a city break without having to worry about the weather, then Calgary’s the place for you.
Stephen Avenue, or 8 Ave SW, is the beating heart of the city. This pedestrian-only walkway is home to some of the city’s best stores and restaurants. If you visit in the winter, Stephen Ave gets dressed up in its holiday finest with thousands of Christmas lights.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Calgary, the Calgary tower is easily recognizable in the city’s skyline at 191 meters (626 feet) tall. Here, you can get a bird’s eye view of Calgary and the Rocky Mountains on the viewing platform, which has a glass floor and is suspended 200 meters above the streets below! Entry to the Calgary Tower costs $18 CAD per adult, and children are only $9. It’s one of the best indoor activities in Calgary!
One of our favorite Calgary dining experiences is also located in the tower – Sky 360. The restaurant rotates (slowly!) while you dine, taking about 45 minutes to complete a full circle. It’s an awesome combo of great food and beautiful views, but make sure to reserve a table first!
While I’m on the topic of food – Calgary is known for its beef, and in fact, the beef here is considered some of the best in the world. There are a few top spots for beef lovers, including Caesar’s Steakhouse + Lounge and Vintage Chophouse & Tavern.
Another fun thing to do just outside the CBD is Downhill Karting by Skyline Luge Calgary at Canada Olympic Park. It’s the longest go-kart track in the world, with a distance of over 5,905 feet (1,800 meters) – all downhill! You can control the speed, and you’ll have lots of laughs whizzing around the turns on the track.
The truth is, there are plenty of fun things to see and do in Calgary and some epic tours to go on, so give yourself a couple of days to properly explore.
10. Cruise to Spirit Island
Spirit Island in Jasper is one of the most iconic and breathtaking sights in the Canadian Rockies – and trust us, that’s not an easy title to claim! It can be found in Jasper National Park, and the island sits smack-bang in the middle of a huge, azure lake (Maligne Lake), backdropped by a dramatic mountain range.
It’s a tied island, which means it’s attached to the mainland by a sandbar, but you can’t walk onto Spirit Island as it is a place of significance to the indigenous people. So the only way to see it up close is by taking the Maligne Lake Cruise.
However, you can only join this cruise during the summer when the water levels rise due to the snow melting.
Boats run from 10 am until 4 pm between June and early September, so it’s one of those summer-only activities in Jasper. It’s a 90-minute round trip to Spirit Island from the boat dock on Maligne Lake. We were actually a little surprised by how quick the whole experience was!
Or, if you’re feeling active and adventurous, you can kayak out to see Spirit Island – but you’ll need more than 90 minutes for this!
You can rent a kayak from Maligne Lake Boat Rentals, which costs $190 CAD for a single kayak or $205 CAD for a double. It takes 4-5 hours each way, so it’s not exactly a short trip (be ready for sore arms), but you’ll have loads of time to soak up the spectacular views. It will take you a full day to paddle there and back, so it’s best to set off early if you want to do it in a single day.
11. Go whitewater rafting
For adventurous souls, a whitewater rafting experience in Alberta will be right up your alley. There’s a whitewater tour for everyone, whether you want a fast-paced thrill on class III and above rapids or a tamer experience, but all the tours have one thing in common – you WILL get wet!
Jasper is one of the best places in Alberta to enjoy this white-knuckle sport because the different rivers here offer many different rafting experiences.
This half-day family-friendly tour through Athabasca Canyon is a great option for beginners or those who are keen on a calmer experience. The 3.5-hour excursion takes on Class II+ rapids and involves a paddle through the dramatic canyon. Both morning and afternoon departures are available, and all equipment and transport from downtown Jasper in included in the price.
While a more challenging tour in Jasper takes place on the nearby Sunwapta River, on this 4-hour excursion, you will tackle mostly Class III rapids as you follow the breathtaking Endless Chain Ridge through Jasper National Park. It’s an 8-mile stretch this time, and same as above, all equipment and return transfers from Jasper are included.
If you plan on staying in Kananaskis country, then whitewater rafting is one of the top activities in this scenic part of Alberta. This rafting adventure tour is the perfect mix of sightseeing and high-adrenaline activity as you soak up the views from the Kananaskis River. The river features some pretty extreme rapids, but there are plenty of calm sections too, which will allow you to relax and spot some of the native wildlife like bears, moose, and elk. The great thing is that it’s a small group tour meaning a maximum of 7 people can join, enabling a more personalized experience. All equipment, snacks, and even free photos to take home are included in the rate.
12. Visit Drumheller and the Badlands
Now for something really fascinating – there’s a 35,000-square-mile area known as the Canadian Badlands in Alberta, and this is where you’ll find hoodoos (towering oddly shaped rocks) and dinosaur remains. In fact, the town of Drumheller, the main town in the Badlands, is often referred to as the “dinosaur capital of the world!”
So, if you consider yourself a Jurassic Park fan or even a Ross Green (TV’s most famous paleontologist), then visiting this unique region is a no-brainer when in Alberta!
The number one thing to do on a trip to the Badlands is to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Approximately 375,000 tourists visit the Museum annually, making it the most visited provincial Museum in Alberta!
Be sure to take your time going through the Museum, as there is a lot to learn! A self-guided tour of the Museum takes you through the five phases of mass extinction. A lovely halfway break is to visit the Learning Lounge, full of hands-on activities for adults and children. Here, you can put your head in a T-Rex simulator and look for prey or race different species of dinosaurs around a track. You can also do special tours and activities within the Royal Tyrrell Museum, including hiking tours and checking out a real dinosaur dig.
The highlight for me, though, was the fourth extinction. This viewing hall features complete skeletons of all the familiar dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Velociraptor, and even one of the few complete skeletons in the world of a Woolly Mammoth.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is located around a 1.5 hours drive from Drumheller. For those who don’t know, Dinosaur Provincial Park is where excavators found lots of dinosaur remains. In fact, it was home to some of the most important discoveries in history. Visitors can walk the many trails around the park, view real fossils, and find their own. On top of that, the visitor center is home to a large museum with real bones, interactive displays, and tons of cool facts and information.
And your final stop in the Badlands has to be the hoodoos, which are synonymous with the Badlands, and luckily for you, there are some located only 14 kilometers from Drumheller!
Hoodoos are a distinct rock formation created when softer sedimentary rock is eroded by the wind, forming large columns that stick out of the earth up five to seven meters tall. They take millions of years to form and always have a hard rock on top of them. There is a short boardwalk around the hoodoos which gives you a really close look at them.
13. Hike, hike, and hike some more!
In a province as naturally beautiful as Alberta, it’s no wonder one of the best things to do is get out and about in nature on a hike. With a plethora of options from the challenging Skyline Trail in Jasper to the more family-friendly Grassi Lakes trail also near Canmore – I think it’s fair to say that no matter your ability, you’re sure to find your new favorite hike here in beautiful Alberta!
To save you the trouble of spending hours researching, I’ve listed a few of my favorite Alberta hikes below:
Grassi Lakes, Canmore
Grassi Lakes is one of the easiest hikes in Canmore at only 5 kilometers long return (3 miles) and with only a 125-meter (410-feet) elevation gain. This means it’s family-friendly and suitable for most fitness levels and will take most people 2-3 hours to complete.
This short but sweet trail leads to a waterfall and two stunning lakes with a mountain backdrop. For beginners, it’s a great trail, and you might be lucky enough to spot some wildlife (like grizzly bears, black bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars). There are two different trails you can take to get to Grassi Lakes. At a Y in the path, you’ll choose between two paths, the hard or the easier route.
The easy trail is suitable for strollers and it enjoys a flat and wide path with a gradual climb all the way to Grassi Lakes.
The “more difficult” trail to Grassi Lakes isn’t all that hard; however, it requires a little more skill than the easy trail. On this one, you can expect a steeper climb in some parts. Overall, it’s a thin path that comes close to large cliffs and crosses over wet, slippery rocks.
The Skyline Trail, Jasper
The Skyline Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Jasper because the views are exceptional. More than half of this trail is above the tree line, meaning you have 360-degree views for most of the trail!
This trail is long, though, at 44.9 km (27.9 miles), you can complete it in one day, which will take 10 – 12 hours; however, most hikers choose to spread it out over 2-3 days. This trail is most popular during the summer as at other times of the year, it can be icy in sections, and specialist hiking gear may be required. It’s best to start the trail at the Southern End near Maligne Lake.
Lake Agnes Teahouse, Lake Louise
My favorite hike in Lake Louise is the Lake Agnes Tea House trail. Starting right from the foreshore, the trail has you hiking high above Lake Louise, where you can peer down and see parts of the lake from above. Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is a 7.3-kilometer (4.5 miles) return track that climbs 400 meters (1300 feet) in elevation. The trail is moderately difficult but not technical at all.
Ha Ling Peak, Canmore
Ha Ling Peak looms a whopping 1032 meters (3385 feet) above Canmore, and as you can imagine, the views from this high up are unbelievable. And the best part? For a view like this, you only have to hike 800 meters (2625 feet) in elevation, thanks to the road that drives you partway up the mountain to the Ha Ling Peak trailhead.
The trail is 7.8 kilometers return, is well maintained, and even has stairs in some places for a quick incline. But right from the beginning, the incline starts. So, prepare for switchbacks through the forest for an hour or so. Allow 3-5 hours to complete this hike. This is also one of the best trails to try snowshoeing in the winter.
Larch Valley Trail, Banff
The Larch Valley hike is 4.3 (2.7 miles) kilometers each way, and it’s rated as moderate/difficult. It begins with a steep climb (roughly 450 meters/1477 feet in elevation gain!) up to the Larch Valley. Once in the valley, the trail flattens out to a slight incline until you reach the trail’s end, where you can see Minnestimma Lakes.
Along the trail, you can enjoy stunning mountain views, wildflowers in the summer, and the beautiful colors of Larch trees in the fall. There is also the option to hike a little further to Sentinel Pass, which is an additional 1.5-kilometers (0.9 mi) trail (each way). This pass takes you to a viewpoint overlooking Paradise Valley, in my opinion, if time allows, it’s well worth checking out!
14. Enjoy Banff Ave
The beating heart of Banff town, Banff Avenue is home to plenty of stores, restaurants, cafes, and even a museum (the Banff Park Museum). But this isn’t your typical main walking street, in fact, it’s probably the prettiest street we’ve ever laid eyes on. The ginormous Cascade Mountain looms over the street, and you’ll probably recognize this iconic photo from your Instagram feed. Dare I say Banff Avenue is the poster child for Canadian tourism, and you’re likely to find a similar photo to the above plastered across postcards all around the country!
Would you believe that in peak season, up to 30,000 people a day will walk down this famous street?
Some of the best places to visit on Banff Avenue include Cow’s for some delicious homemade ice cream; Wild Flour, an artisan Cafe that serves excellent coffee and is a great breakfast spot, too; and Block Kitchen and Bar, one of the best restaurants in Banff.
While if you’re visiting during the summer, the best way to enjoy the weather is to nab a seat on one of the outdoor patios along Banff Ave. If you can, try to stay on (or come back) for sunset when the surrounding mountains are bathed in a pink glow. There are several to choose from, but some of my favorites include the Elk & Oarsman (incredible rooftop patio) and the Park Distillery, the only distillery in Banff! Park Distillery makes five different whiskeys and 11 different spirits on-site! Liquor lovers will really enjoy tasting all the whiskeys which range from 36 to 47 months aged.
15. Spend some time in Canmore
Canmore is one of Alberta’s best mountainside towns. Sitting on the edge of Banff National Park, Canmore boasts some of Canada’s most impressive mountain peaks and is an outdoor playground for visitors. But unlike Jasper, Banff, and Lake Louise, Canmore isn’t located within one of Canada’s National Parks – making it cheaper and more accessible for everyone.
8th Street is the center of the town, and it’s a super cute street lined with small boutiques, locally-owned stores, cafes, and restaurants. So be sure to swing by and buy some souvenirs and locally-made goods, or just enjoy strolling up and down and snapping some photos for a few hours.
If you’re hungry, or just looking for a drink, stop into the Grizzly Paw on Main Street. They brew their own amazing craft beer right in Canmore – and they have a huge selection! They also have a great and varied food menu – I love their smoked brisket sandwich.
If you’re keen to get out of town, there are some great tours from Canmore or you can get your blood pumping on a hike or cycle on the variety of trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre. And in the winter, you can try out cross-country skiing here. In fact, the center was built to host cross-country skiing events at the 1988 Olympic Games. Today, it’s best described as an active training center and a recreational area. You can bring your own skis or bikes and explore the trails for free, or you can rent them from the center.
And I can’t mention Canmore and not include the Three Sisters Mountain range, an iconic sight in the town and one that you just have to see for yourself during your time in Canmore! Of course, this impressive mountain range is visible from just about everywhere in Canmore, but some of the best viewpoints include the campground at Spring Creek, Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk, and near the off-leash dog park. Or you can drive along the Three Sisters Parkway, stopping in the pull-offs when safe to snap some great photos!
My favorite viewpoint, though, is the one near the off-leash dog park; the exact location can be found here. If you come here on a clear day, you’ll see the mountains reflected on the small creek. To get to the viewpoint, park your car at the dog park parking lot, then cross the road and walk under the train tracks, keeping the creek to your left until you reach a trail. The trail will take you straight to the viewpoint.
Related Read: Check out my detailed guide to the best places to stay in Canmore!
16. Go horseback riding
One of the most memorable things to do in Banff National Park is to join a horseback riding tour. Just imagine taking in all that breathtaking mountain scenery on horseback, it’s a true Canadian pastime, and there are lots of horseriding tours that depart from Banff town. Don’t worry if you’re a complete newbie, there are tours for you!
On this horseback riding tour, you can choose from riding on horseback or in a western-style covered wagon! How amazing! This particular tour follows along the Bow River and is three hours long. Also included is a delicious BBQ lunch. Before sitting down to your lunch feast, you can test your cowboy skills with a selection of ‘cowboy games’ like playing horseshoes or practicing your roping skills. It’s the ideal family-friendly activity in Banff, but I should add that children must be over eight years to ride a horse, but younger ones can still have a blast riding in the wagon. Prices start from a reasonable $135 CAD per person.
For a longer adventure, this 2-Day Overnight Backcountry Trip lets you spend 2 days and 1 night exploring the rugged backcountry of Banff. You’ll take a 16-km (10-mile) trail ride along glacier-fed creeks up to the Sundance Lodge and stay the night. This lodge isn’t just roughing it in the woods, it’s actually very cozy! The trail guides even cook for you, and make this a memorable two days!
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, this 1-hour experience along the Spray River is a great option. Get up close to the impressive Bow Falls on this tour, and I love the fact that it’s a small group tour with a maximum of 12 people per tour.
17. Ice skating
Another quintessentially Canadian past-time is ice skating. In Alberta, during the winter months, you can enjoy free skating (provided you have your own skates) on lakes like Lake Louise and Lake Minnewanka, while in cities like Calgary and Edmonton, the council floods pathways to create a one-of-a-kind outdoor skating rink.
Of course, there are indoor paid skating rinks, too, for when you want to escape the freezing temperatures.
In Calgary, one of the best ice skating spots is located downtown at the Olympic Plaza. This is the only refrigerated outdoor rink in the city – meaning you can enjoy it even on a warm winter day when other outdoor rinks will have started to melt. If you don’t have your own, you can rent skates here for $15 CAD if you’re 13 or older, and $10 CAD for the 12 and under crowd.
As for Edmonton, ice skating is one of those magical winter activities that is a must-do while you’re in the city. Check out the ice plaza at City Hall next to Churchill Square or behind the Alberta Legislature, where the lawn bowling fields are converted into a rink among trees decorated with twinkling lights. Skating at any of the above on a cold winter’s night, you’ll feel like you’re part of a Hallmark movie, and as a result, it’s a very popular couples’ activity in Edmonton.
Other ice skating spots worth checking out in Edmonton include Hawrelak Park and Rundle Park, or if you like to skate fast, head to the Victoria IceWay Skating Trail, where you’ll find a three-loop trail, the training ground for Edmonton speed skaters.
In Lake Louise, the lake freezes over during the winter, and it turns into the world’s prettiest outdoor skating rink. The Fairmont Château Lake Louise manages the skating area, so the ice is usually in great condition. The best part is that if you have your own skates, this activity is completely free. The rink at Lake Louise usually opens from mid-December until mid-April.
While if you’re staying in Banff, Lake Minnewanka is one of my favorite lakes in Banff to visit in the winter. This huge lake freezes over with sections over 2 feet thick. The ice is so solid it turns a dark color, and under the snow and you can even see some small patches of methane bubbles here. It’s a popular spot, though, and almost every day throughout the winter, you’ll find people skating here.
Other must-mention ice skating spots in Banff include the stunning Vermillion Lakes, the Downtown Rink at Banff Community High School, which is completely free to skate at, or the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, which costs just $6.
18. Walk on Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier is massive at 6 kilometers squared glacier. It’s part of the larger Columbia Icefield and is one of the do-not-miss stops on the Icefields Parkway. And we learned a fascinating fact on our recent tour here that, sadly, it won’t be long before this glacier is no more due to global warming. Would you believe the Athabasca Glacier has shed a whopping 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in the last 125 years?!
There are several different ways to experience Athabasca Glacier, but the only way to get up close to it is on a guided tour. The guided glacier tours depart from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center, and on the tour, you will drive onto the glacier itself in a specially adapted ice-explorer vehicle. Once on the glacier, you can then hop out and walk around and snap some cool photos.
While if you want to hike on the glacier, glacier hiking is a big trend at the moment; you can book this guided hiking tour.
A short distance from the Athabasca Glacier is the Skywalk, a stand-out structure with a glass floor that hangs off the edge of a mountain, almost like a weightless bridge. The Columbia Icefields Skywalk is an engineering feat so strong that it would hold a 747 airplane!
All of these experiences can also be booked as part of many epic Icefields Parkway tours – and some even include transportation if you don’t want to drive.
19. Do an icewalk
Frozen waterfalls, giant icicles, ice cathedrals, deep ravines, and plenty of deep snow – during the winter months, going on an icewalk is a must in Alberta! Hiking trails like Johnston Canyon and Grotto Canyon near Banff and Maligne Canyon near Jasper turn into a winter wonderland and provide the perfect opportunity for walking ontop of ice.
Ice walking is a fun, family-friendly way to explore these canyons and is one of the most popular things to do in Alberta in winter. Just get yourself a pair of ice cleats or join a tour, and you’re good to go!
The famous Johnston Canyon Icewalk starts around 30 minutes from Banff and can be found along the Bow Valley Parkway. It’s undoubtedly the most famous icewalk in Alberta and involves hiking along a series of steel walkways that are built into the canyon walls. All along the trail, you’ll be treated to impressive views of the gorge below. It’s a 2.5 km (1.5 mi) walk from the car park to the upper falls and a shorter 1.3 km (0.8 mi) to the lower falls. It’s worth noting that ice cleats are needed to reach the upper falls.
If you prefer, you can book a guided Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour. This specific tour is 4 hours long and includes return transport as well as ice cleats, hiking poles, and an expert guide.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem, Grotto Canyon Ice Walk offers fewer crowds, and to be honest, this hike is better in the winter than the summer. The trail leads through a narrow canyon and along a frozen creek bed and offers the opportunity to see ancient native pictographs up close. The Grotto Canyon Ice Walk is 4.4 km (2.7 miles) and requires ice cleats or crampons.
A highly-rated tour is this tour through Grotto Canyon. You’ll explore all the cool rock formations and frozen waterfalls and learn about the history and geology of the area. It costs $88 CAD to join and includes hot chocolate to warm up and ice cleats.
While if you’re staying in the Jasper area and looking for something unique to do, the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk is a great option! This tour will take you on a half-day adventure to the Maligne Canyon, which is, interestingly, one of the deepest canyons in the Rocky Mountains. With expert direction from your tour guide, you’ll explore ice caves, frozen waterfalls, and other icy scenery. The price for this frozen hike is $74.31 CAD and includes all equipment needed, including boots, to ensure safety. The tour will also provide hotel drop-off and pick-up, making it a stress-free adventure!
20. Ride the Jasper Skytram
The Jasper SkyTram holds the impressive title of the country’s longest and highest guided aerial tramway. Climbing up Whistlers mountain to a height of 2,263 meters (7500 ft) above sea level in 7.5 minutes it’s a super-popular thing to do in Jasper because the views along the ride, to put it mildly, are awe-inspiring!
The Jasper SkyTram is different from other mountain gondolas in Canada because instead of a small gondola or chairlift, the SkyTram is a large cart that can hold up to 24 people standing. It climbs up Whistlers Mountain at a speed of 6 meters per second, all while your “flight attendant” relays facts about Jasper and the tram system.
At the end of your ride, you’ll reach a viewing platform complete with an indoor area, gift shop, and restaurant. There is also a 1.4-kilometer-long (0.9 miles) hike you can do to reach the summit of Whistler Mountain!
The Jasper SkyTram is open between April and October from 9 am to 5 pm. As such, it’s a brilliant Jasper summer activity!
21. See the Northern Lights
Now, for a true bucket list activity – seeing the Northern Lights is something most people would love to see in their lifetime. And thankfully, you don’t have to travel as far as Iceland or Norway to see this phenomenon. Yep, during the cold, dark months (September to mid-May), the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) are visible in some parts of Alberta!
The further North you travel, the more chance you have of seeing the Aurora Borealis, and the County of Northern Lights in Northwest Alberta, as you can probably guess by its name, is one of the best places to go aurora spotting. This is an off-the-beaten-path destination situated north of Peace River, as it’s over 5 hours from Edmonton and a whopping 7 hours and 45 minutes from Calgary. Because of its hard-to-reach nature, you’re guaranteed a crowd-free star-viewing experience.
Closer to home, Alberta has several Dark Sky Preserves, which is the name given to areas (typically near National Parks) that restrict artificial light pollution. One such dark sky preserve is Jasper National Park; try to come here for their Dark Sky Festival, which is held every October and promotes astronomy in the region.
Another awesome aurora-spotting destination is Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, located in the state’s southeast. The rolling hills and wide open spaces provide a great spot to watch the night sky.
If you want to guarantee seeing the Northern Lights during your stay in Alberta, your best bet is to download the Aurora Forecast app, which shows aurora activity and cloud coverage in your area. You can also set alerts to notify you when the lights are most active in your area.
22. See a bear!
Go in search of the elusive grizzly bear in Alberta. I will admit, they are hard to find, but you have a much greater chance of success during the summer months and in parks like Jasper and Banff National Parks, which have higher populations of this mammal.
Would you believe that a male grizzly can weigh a huge 360 kg, which makes you wonder why they’re so hard to find? But despite their terrifying appearance, bears are quite shy and typically stay far away from people.
When in Banff, you can better your chance of success on this 10-hour guided tour which takes you deep into Banff and Yoho National Park with an experienced guide who knows all the best spots to view these giant creatures. The tour also includes a gondola ride up Kicking Horse Mountain, where you can enjoy lunch at the highest restaurant in the country. Up here too is the world’s largest grizzly enclosure where you can get up close to ‘Boo’ the resident bear, who was brought here as a cub. This tour into grizzly country costs $247 CAD per person.
While in Jasper National Park, even though the wildlife (and bears specifically) are abundant, it can be hard to spot them on your own as you don’t know the best places to look. That’s why the best way of seeing a bear (or even elk and moose) is to join a wildlife tour in Jasper.
A tour such as this one runs in the late afternoon when animals in Jasper National Park are the most active. Tours usually run for around 3 hours, and your guide has expert knowledge of where to find certain animals.
23. Explore Waterton Lakes National Park
On a visit to Waterton Lakes National Park in Southern Alberta, you get the best of both worlds – the dramatic peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the famous Albertan prairies. Bordering Glacier National Park in Montana, you’ll get to experience thundering waterfalls, abundant wildlife, crystal-clear lakes, meandering streams, colorful rocks, and all-round epic mountain scenery.
Some of the best things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park include:
- Hiking trails – Arguably, the best way to explore the park is on a hike. There are over 200 kilometers (125 miles) of hiking trails here, some of which are ranked in the top 10 in the country, One of the most well-known trails here is the Crypt Lake Trail. On this hike, you get to experience waterfalls, a boat ride, a tunnel crawl, and the challenge of scaling a cliff. You can also experience the trails here via mountain bike or horseback.
- Lakeside Waterton Village – You can easily explore this charming village on foot in a short amount of time. This tiny village is very welcoming to tourists and is full of restaurants, adorable shops, and art galleries.
- The biodiverse ecology – You can find half of Alberta’s plant varieties in Waterton Lakes, including many rare plants. If you come in the summer, you’ll see colorful wildflowers growing almost everywhere. And, of course, when the weather is warmer, the opportunity to see wildlife like elk, bears, bighorn sheep, bison, and the whitetail deer is greater.
24. Visit the Kananaskis
The Kananaskis is often overlooked as a tourist destination because of its close proximity to Banff. This is a shame because it offers many of the same outdoor activities as Banff, like hiking and skiing. But what sets the Kananaskis apart from its more famous neighbor is that it’s less crowded, meaning you can enjoy a more peaceful vacation, and at less than 80 km from Calgary it’s easily accessible. Not forgetting the luxurious nordic spa located here that has the most stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Some of the best things to do in the Kananaskis include:
- Upper & Lower Kananaskis Lakes – In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, you’ll find not one but two stunning mountain lakes with crystal-clear waters. There are many hiking trails within this area, but the best is the Upper Kananaskis Trail which is 15.7 km (9.7 miles) and follows around Upper Kananaskis Lake as well as the spectacular Sarrail and Kananaskis Falls. It’s a mostly flat trail, so it is suitable for most people, but because it’s long, a reasonable level of fitness is advised.
- Hike to Troll Falls – The Troll Falls hike is an easy 90-minute trail that leads into the impressive falls, which freeze over in the winter! But in the summer, they’re just as wow-worthy. If you plan to hike it in winter, it is slippery, so it’s recommended that you bring ice cleats or spikes.
- Kananaskis Nordic Spa – This is one of the most luxurious spas in the Rocky mountains; here, you will find a Hydrotherapy cycle (Five Pools), Alchemist Steam Room, the Eucalyptus Steam Room, Finnish Sauna, Exfoliation Cabin, Banyan & Barrel Saunas. Entrance costs from $119 CAD per adult.
- Nakiska Ski Area – Nakiska Ski Area is located in the Kananaskis Valley and is actually one of the cheapest places to ski in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a full-size ski resort with a 735-meter (2,411-foot) verticle descent, and its longest run is a whopping 3.3 kilometers (2 miles).
Note: A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is now required to explore the Kananaskis region. These passes can be bought at the Kananaskis Visitor Center or online in advance and cost $15 per vehicle per day or $90 per year (for two vehicles.)
25. Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
Now, for another absolutely breathtaking drive in Alberta – the Bow Valley Parkway is a 50 km (31 miles) stretch of road that winds through Banff National Park. It runs parallel with Highway 1, which is the fastest route between Lake Louise and Banff. And even though Highway 1 is a quicker and somewhat easier drive, if you love stunning mountain scenery, then the Bow Valley Parkway will make for a much more memorable drive.
There are heaps of worthy stops on the Bow Valley Parkway between Lake Louise and Banff, but some of my favorites include the following:
- Morant’s Curve – Easily the most famous viewpoint on this stretch of road. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Lake Louise, and you’ll need to safely pull off the road into the car park opposite the concrete viewpoint – worth noting that there’s only space for about a dozen cars here. From the viewpoint, you’ll be able to see train tracks winding through the mountains. If you time it right, you may just spot a Canadian Pacific train chugging along the tracks (very Harry Potter vibes!)
- Johnston Canyon – I mentioned Johnston Canyon earlier as an epic walking spot in the winter, but this 2.4 km (1.5 miles) trail is open year-round and leads along the edge of this dramatic canyon before coming to caves and a series of waterfalls!
- Castle Mountain Lookout – As the name might suggest, Castle Mountain is a mountain shaped like a castle. If you’re short on time, you can stop at the viewpoint and snap some photos or hike one of the many hiking trails here.
26. See ice bubbles on Abraham Lake
In Alberta, they say that searching for ice bubbles is similar to searching for bears; even though there are prime spots for viewing them, there are no guarantees.
Ice bubbles, for those that don’t know, is the name given to the process of when gas and other substances at the bottom of the lake freeze when they reach the lake’s frozen surface, causing them to get trapped in the many layers of ice thus giving the appearance of a bubble.
Abraham Lake in Clearwater County (a 2-hour and 15-minute drive from Banff) is one of the most well-known spots in the province to see ice bubbles. This lake tends to freeze in late December and stays frozen until mid-February at the latest. So, the best time to see them is in the middle of this season as that’s when the ice is clearest and strongest.
Preacher’s Point at the lake’s southern end is the best place to go early in the season. Windy Point is another popular spot to view this natural phenomenon; however, the ice here can be unstable. So, to make your experience on Abraham Lake a safe one, we urge you to only step onto areas of thick ice, avoid snow-covered sections as weak ice may be underneath, and wear ice cleats for grip.
A great, safe way to explore Abraham Lake is with an experienced guide – this full-day tour (7 to 8 hours) departs from either Banff or Calgary and includes stops at Lake Louise as well as Abraham Lake. While this slightly longer tour (9 hours) is similar to the above but it includes stops at Castle Mountain Viewpoint, Lake Louise, and Bow Lake.
27. Go on a scenic flight
For me, there’s no better way to see a place in all its glory than from your seat in a helicopter or a fixed-wing plane. Although pricier than many other tours in Alberta, it’s truly a bucket-list activity because from high up, you’ll get to see the full scale of this region’s beauty!
Places of surreal natural beauty like Banff and Jasper National Parks are some of the best places to take a scenic flight in Alberta, but if you’re into cityscapes, then you can join a tour above the bustling cities of Calgary and Edmonton. Whatever option you choose, you’ll get to see some of Alberta’s most popular destinations in a unique way!
From Canmore, one of the most popular sightseeing tours for couples is this 45-minute helicopter flight which takes in turquoise lakes, craggy mountain peaks, and thick pine forests. It’s a short but sweet option but will enable you to see some of the best sights within the national park for your vantage point in the sky! Prices for this start from $290 CAD per adult.
Or, if you’re a hiker, I’m sure nothing would delight you more than hiking in an unspoiled location. So, why not consider a heli hike tour from Clearwater County? This particular tour is 3 hours long and takes you to the beautiful high alpine meadow in the Charles Stewart/Cougar Creek Headwaters for a memorable high-altitude hike. It’s worth noting that this tour only operates between June and September.
Or this tour that departs from Clearwater County includes a scenic helicopter flight over the Rockies and Abraham Lake and a hike to the Twin Falls.
Seeing the Columbia Icefields from high above is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Get a newfound appreciation for the massive scale of these famed icefields on a 55-minute Icefields sightseeing flight. On the tour, not only will you see the glacier itself, but you’ll also fly over alpine lakes and waterfalls. A true bucket-list activity in Alberta!
While from Jasper, there are various scenic flights on offer that will give you a “bird’s eye view” of this huge national park. You can choose to fly over Maligne Lake and the Columbia Icefields or tailor your own flight path – the perfect choice for a special occasion. On this private tour, you can choose from a short 20-minute flight or a longer 3.5-hour tour that will take you soaring over Brûlé Lake, Miette Hotsprings, and Solomon Peak.
28. Visit Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park
As one of the top places to visit in Jasper National Park, the uniquely shaped Pyramid Lake (it’s shaped like a kidney) just had to be added to my list of the best things to do in Alberta. Situated at the base of Pyramid Mountain, it’s a great spot to hang out for the day, no matter the season.
At any time of year, you can walk the short boardwalk out to the island to take in the fabulous 360-degree views. If you come here on a calm day, you’re in for a treat as the surrounding mountains reflect on the lake’s still surface. Take a picnic with you and enjoy it on one of the shaded benches around the lake.
Thanks to the calm waters here, Pyramid Lake is one of Alberta’s best lakes to go kayaking on. You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes from the Pyramid Lake Resort. And if you come here during the summer, fishing is one of the most popular things to do as the lake is abundant with rainbow trout, brook trout, and lake trout.
In the winter, go ice skating here!
There are also a couple of walking and biking trails surrounding Pyramid Lake. There’s a 5 km (3.1 mile) trail that takes you back into Jasper town; it’s an easy trail and popular with locals, especially in the morning or evenings.
29. Stay in a log cabin
Nothing says “I’m on vacation” in Canada like a log cabin. These cozy rustic accommodations are typically found in remote areas like national parks, so you’ll likely have epic scenery right on your doorstep. Another benefit to a log cabin getaway is that many of them contain modern home comforts like wood-burning fireplaces and even jacuzzi bathtubs. What a treat!
Staying in a log cabin in Alberta is certain to be a memorable experience!
My top pick for a cozy log cabin escape is Baker Creek by Basecamp, located a short drive from Lake Louise and nestled within Banff National Park. In fact, it’s one of the best places to stay in this national park.
There are 19 traditional log cabins dotted throughout this intimate resort, and all come with wood-burning fireplaces, and some come with jacuzzi bathtubs and kitchenettes! The interior is decorated with lots of pine wood and splashes of red which exudes an authentic Canadian feel. There’s also a large wooden deck at the front of the cabin where you can watch for wildlife in the summer and snuggle up with a blanket and a hot coffee in the winter while thick snow falls!
It’s worth noting that some cabins are pet-friendly if you wish to take your furry friend along for the experience.
You should book Baker Creek online in advance since it is often fully-booked!
Another great choice for a log cabin vacation in Alberta is in Jasper National Park, a 30-minute drive from Jasper town. The Miette Mountain Cabins are a collection of classic log cabins with mountain views. The warm wood interiors and large stone fireplaces offer guests all the trademarks of an authentic Albertan holiday. While the large patio is the perfect spot to sit and take in the snow-capped mountains.
30. Attend the Calgary Stampede
The big-hitter on Alberta’s event calendar is the famous Calgary Stampede – easily one of the most-attended events in all of Canada! It’s a 10-day extravaganza held every July at GMC Stadium and Stampede Park in Calgary, and it’s a celebration of all things Western-style (if the name didn’t already give that away!)
Attracting a whopping million visitors each year, it’s often described as the “greatest outdoor show on earth,” with concerts, agricultural exhibitions, a parade, an amusement park, and plenty of food and shopping stalls. But the creme-de-la-creme of the Calgary Stampede is the nail-biting rodeo events (like saddle bronco, chuck wagon racing, and bull riding) that attract top cowboys and girls from all over the world.
Each afternoon watch in awe as these skilled riders battle it out to win a piece of the overall $2 million prize fund. Crowds of up to 200,000 people gather for the final stages of these rodeo events, and the excitement and tension in the air can be cut with a knife!
For the kids, there’s a children’s sheep riding event, which is great fun to watch. Another must-see highlight of the Stampede is the TransAlta Grandstand – a two-hour-long show that features dancing, singing, acrobatics, and a light show. And the firework finale for this show is seriously impressive!
Hot Tip: During the Calgary Stampede, the city gets extremely busy! You should book your hotel in Calgary during this time well in advance to avoid not finding somewhere to stay.
31. Soak in some hot springs
There are few activities more relaxing than soaking in a hot spring, and in Alberta, you can do so while taking in breathtaking mountain scenery, a win-win, in my opinion! There are a handful of luxurious and scenic hot springs in Alberta but my top choices are Banff Upper Hot Springs in, (yep, you guessed right) Banff, and the Miette Hot Springs just outside of Jasper.
First up, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are located a short 5-minute drive up Sulphur Mountain, and they’re affordable, with prices starting at only $16.50 CAD per adult and $53 CAD for a family. And because of the great price and how close they are to Banff town center they can get very busy – so to avoid the crowds aim to get here later in the evening (around 6 pm) when the tour groups have left!
The water here is heated geothermally (from the earth’s crust), which means the temperatures vary with the season. With fantastic mountain views, relaxing here at sunset is particularly memorable, especially in the winter when the experience is combined with a magical snowfall!
The Banff Hot Springs are open until 10 pm (11 pm during the summer).
Miette Hot Springs is situated an hour’s drive from Jasper and are known as the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies. The water in the pools here flows from the surrounding mountains and is a toasty 40°C (104°F). The pools are filled with minerals like magnesium, sulfate, and calcium, which are so good for your skin.
The surrounding landscape around Miette Hot Springs is stunning, so it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet. Plus, admission is again only $16.50 CAD to enter the hot springs, it’s a great option to visit if you’re looking for a cheap but awesome activity.
Miette Hot Springs is open from early May until September.
32. See bison in Elk Island National Park
Elk Island National Park is great in all seasons, with hiking trails, firepits, and a lake you can boat on in the summer and skate on in the winter!
But this park, just 35 km (22 miles) from Edmonton, is well-known as one of the best spots in Alberta to see wildlife – specifically bison (or “buffalo” as tourists mistakenly call them) that live right in the park! In fact, it’s been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because of its important role in helping to conserve the Plain’s bison. As the largest mammal in North America, you would think they’re hard to miss, but because they’re free to roam the park seeing them up close takes a combination of good timing and good luck.
My advice is to head to the Bison Loop Road at dusk, dawn, or on cloudy days. Whereas on warm days, you’ll need to search on the shaded trails, namely, Tawayik, Hayburger, or Wood Bison, as this is where they hide out when it’s too hot.
And it’s not just bison; you’ll also see here keep your eyes peeled too for elk, deer, coyotes, and different bird species.
Elk Island National Park is another great stargazing spot, as it’s part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve. Bring a blanket and lie down to look up at the starry sky – this is especially popular during meteor showers when you’ll see them shooting across the sky.
Admission to the park is around $8 CAD for adults, and anyone under 17 is free.
33. Go canoeing
What better way to enjoy Alberta’s lakes in the summer than from the water, preferably from a canoe, a typical Canadian past time there’s no better way, in my opinion, to spend a warm afternoon than canoeing on a turquoise-hued lake while taking in mountain scenery and searching for wildlife. Ah, bliss!
One of the best places to head out canoeing is Banff, followed closely by the equally-as-pretty Jasper.
From Banff, why not join this unique canoe adventure? On the tour, you’ll hop into a 12-seater Big Canoe as your guide takes you along the scenic Bow River and tells stories about the rich native history of the area.
Keep an eye out for bears, elk, and coyotes, often to be seen foraging along the river’s edge, before ending with some light refreshments surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. This interactive tour is great fun for the whole family. Plus, it’s short and sweet at just 1.5 hours and starts from Banff Canoe Club, and is great value for money at just $62 CAD.
Next on the list – is Jasper! And there are a lot of different lakes in the area that is perfect for exploring by canoe. Maligne Lake is about 45km from Jasper and offers 2-person canoe rentals for about $200 CAD for 3+ hours or $75 for 1 hour.
Once you’ve rented your canoe, make your way across the 22.5 km long Maligne Lake and take in all the breathtaking mountain scenery as you paddle. Be sure to stop regularly to take some photos – you will even spot Spirit Island from your canoe, which is one of the most photographed sights in Canada! This activity is only available in the summer, and although it’s a relatively easy canoe across the lake, a reasonable fitness level is advisable.
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Whew, now that was a long one, wasn’t it – but with so many epic things to do in Alberta, this was bound to be a lengthy blog post. Alberta is a place that’s very close to my heart (did I mention I lived here for 15 years?), and I’m so excited for you to tick off some of these epic activities the next time you’re in the area.
Let me know your favorite thing you’ve done in Alberta in the comments! Be sure to check out our other Alberta blogs as well as some other popular posts:
33 Fun and Exciting Things to do in Lethbridge, Alberta
15 FUN Things to do in Sylvan Lake, Alberta (this Summer!)
20 BEST Stops on the Drive from Edmonton to Banff (+The BEST Route!)