Alberta boasts some of Canada’s most stunning landscapes and is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here, the meeting point of prairies and mountains creates a breathtaking panorama dominated by spectacular snowcapped peaks.
During the summer, the glaciers and turquoise lakes of Banff and Jasper National Parks take center stage, attracting millions of tourists annually. These parks also house some of Alberta’s premier ski resorts, offering some of the finest skiing experiences in Canada. To the east, the plains and badlands feature significant historical and cultural attractions.
The key cities in Alberta are Calgary and Edmonton. Calgary, a modern city with a plethora of activities, is renowned for the annual Calgary Stampede. Further north, Edmonton, the provincial capital, hosts West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping center in Canada, along with numerous other cultural attractions.
Including Alberta in your Western Canada itinerary is a definite recommendation. For a deeper insight into the province and ideas on things to do, refer to our guide on the top tourist attractions in Alberta.
1. Banff National Park
Banff National Park stands out as Alberta’s most visited tourist attraction and arguably Canada’s most impressive national park. Situated just 130 kilometers west of Calgary, the region encompasses stunning mountain landscapes, prominent ski resorts, picturesque lakes, and the bustling tourist town of Banff.
Abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, caribou, and elk, is commonly spotted along the main highway through the park.
Hiking takes center stage as one of the primary summer activities in Banff, offering a variety of frontcountry and backcountry trails. Many visitors choose to explore the park by car, making stops at numerous roadside lookouts that provide breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes, and glaciers.
In the town of Banff, the Sulphur Mountain Gondola is a top attraction. Take a ride to the summit and relish the spectacular views in all directions, enhanced by recent renovations and improvements to the summit building.
Given the vastness of Banff National Park, it’s advisable to stay a few nights in a hotel or set up camp in one of the excellent campgrounds. For those seeking a more refined experience than a nylon tent and a patch of dirt in the trees, consider checking in at the world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Dating back to 1888, this iconic Banff hotel has been hosting discerning customers for generations.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alberta: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Lake Louise
Lake Louise, the crown jewel of Banff National Park, is renowned for its stunning, turquoise-colored water, which mirrors the surrounding mountains and Victoria Glacier. Situated just a short drive north of the town of Banff, the lake makes for an easily accessible day trip from Calgary.
The grand Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers a fabulous view across the lake. A scenic walkway along the shoreline provides visitors with a delightful spot for a leisurely stroll to soak in the atmosphere. For those interested, canoe rentals are also available to paddle out on the lake.
The lakeside path opens up to excellent hiking trails leading either up the mountain or toward the glacier. Among the most popular hiking trails is the one leading to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
During the winter, the lake freezes, and trails are blanketed in deep snow. Many visitors flock to Lake Louise during this season to partake in the nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort, one of Canada’s premier ski destinations.
Lake Louise Village, a short distance from the lake, features tourist-related retail shops, small restaurants, and coffee shops. However, beyond the main plaza, there is not much to explore. In close proximity is a large campground set in a charming natural environment.
During the bustling summer months, from May to October, parking becomes extremely limited. To reach Lake Louise, you can opt for a Roam Transit shuttle from the town of Banff or book a Parks Canada Shuttle from the park and ride outside of Lake Louise. It’s crucial to book these services in advance, as walk-up seat sales are not available. There are several transportation options from Banff to Lake Louise.
3. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park, extends over 21 kilometers (13 miles) in length, and plunges to depths of up to 142 meters (466 feet). Surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, it shares the scenic beauty characteristic of many lakes in the park.
The name “Minnewanka” originates from the Stoney Nakoda First Nations people, meaning “Water of the Spirits,” and the area offers numerous activities. Visitors can embark on a picturesque drive along the Minnewanka Loop, featuring various viewpoints and stops for hiking trails and picnic areas.
A highly recommended experience is taking one of its boat tours during the summer months. The knowledgeable guides share insights, including the legend of the Mermen believed to have inhabited Lake Minnewanka. In winter, the lake freezes, becoming a popular spot for ice fishing and cross-country skiing. Having visited in both winter and summer, we can attest to the beauty of each season.
4. Moraine Lake
A visit to Lake Louise would be incomplete without trekking to Moraine Lake, an unforgettable scene featured on the back of our old Canadian $20 bill that has captivated outdoor enthusiasts for decades.
Moraine Lake is situated not far from Lake Louise, merely an hour’s drive from the town of Banff. The optimal time to experience Moraine Lake is undoubtedly at sunrise. As the sun illuminates the Valley of the Ten Peaks and casts its reflection on the mirror-like lake, the reason behind this location being one of the most photographed in North America becomes apparent.
It’s important to note that as of 2023, there has been a change in rules, and accessing Moraine Lake for sunrise is no longer possible via the Parks Canada Shuttle. To do so, you’ll need to find a tour that provides access. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can still visit Moraine Lake for sunrise by riding a bike or participating in an organized tour.
Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, is a must-visit destination when exploring the province. No trip to Alberta would be complete without dedicating at least two days to this vibrant city. While renowned for hosting the annual Calgary Stampede, which offers more than just chuck wagon races and bull riding, Calgary has a wealth of activities to explore. It gained international attention as the host of the 1988 Olympics, and just beyond the city limits lies Canada Olympic Park, providing numerous outdoor activities in both winter and summer.
Given the abundance of attractions, we recommend spending a couple of days in Calgary. Situated along the Bow River, the city offers a plethora of outdoor activities while maintaining its status as a chic urban destination with a fantastic food scene.
6. Calgary Tower
One of Calgary’s key tourist attractions, the Calgary Tower, dominates the city skyline. This towering structure boasts the world’s highest 360-degree observation deck. On clear days, breathtaking views of the mountains unfold, while the glass floor provides a direct perspective of the city below. Depending on the occasion or celebration, the Calgary Tower illuminates its massive torch perched at its pinnacle.
Situated at an elevation of 155 meters, the Sky 360 is a revolving restaurant, and directly above it is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
7. Banff Hot Springs
The Banff Hot Springs were the initial draw for tourists to the national park, and when you visit Banff, allocating a day to immerse yourself in these iconic waters is a must. Discovered by Canadian Pacific Railway workers in 1883, these hot springs boast one of the most stunning locations, surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. The water temperature ranges from 37°C to 40°C (98°F to 104°F), providing an ideal setting for relaxation.
The Banff Upper Hot Springs, the most popular and easily accessible in Banff National Park, is a convenient destination to explore. The facility features a spacious outdoor pool that remains open year-round. Interestingly, the optimal time to visit is during winter when the mountains are blanketed in snow. Indoor change rooms are available, allowing you to rent an old-timers bathing suit if you don’t have your own. Additionally, there’s a café, and a gift shop offers souvenirs and other items for purchase.
8. West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall goes beyond being merely a shopping destination. Housed within this expansive complex are diverse attractions, including the World Waterpark, the Ice Palace ice rink, mini golf, an aquarium featuring live shows, a bowling alley, a mirror maze, indoor electric go-kart racing, and movie theaters. Shopping, of course, remains a significant aspect, with the mall hosting a variety of stores catering to every imaginable need.
This mall serves as a destination within Alberta, especially during winter, providing families with a haven to escape the cold and indulge in indoor entertainment and shopping.
9. Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise Ski Resort stands out as one of the premier ski resorts in Canada and is globally recognized as a stop on the World Cup of Skiing circuit. Boasting 164 named runs, along with a few hidden trees run known only to locals, this ski hill caters to all levels of skiers.
Favored for its esteemed ski school, diverse terrain, and excellent facilities, Lake Louise Ski Resort is a sought-after destination for family ski vacations. With its proximity, only a couple of hours from Calgary International Airport, the resort is easily accessible from both nearby and distant locations.
For skiing enthusiasts, noteworthy improvements have been made in the past two years, including the opening of a new lift in the West Bowl area and the introduction of a new quad chair at the base area to ease the morning rush.
During the summer, the ski resort operates its gondola, swiftly transporting visitors to the mountain’s summit. There, breathtaking views unfold, extending to the surrounding mountains and across the valley to Lake Louise. If you’re fortunate, you might even spot a grizzly bear grazing in the open grassy areas where the ski runs are during the winter.
Situated just beyond the entrance to Banff National Park, Canmore is a vibrant small town boasting restaurants, shops, and services. This thriving community appeals to those seeking a mountain lifestyle. In the surrounding area, there are hiking and mountain biking trails, and Alberta’s premier ski resorts are a short drive away. Calgarians often use the town as a retreat, with many owning second homes or condos here. Some individuals opt for camping in the excellent nearby campgrounds.
For visitors, one of the primary attractions is the Canmore Cave Tours. These tours, lasting about 4.5 hours, guide you through Rats Nest Cave, renowned as one of the longest in Canada.
If you have an interest in hiking trails, the journey to Grassi Lakes is among the most popular and relatively easy. The trail underwent closure and significant upgrades in the summer of 2022, with the new improvements expected to enhance this already spectacular hike.
Canmore also serves as a convenient base for exploring hiking trails in nearby Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country.
11. Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park holds the distinction of being the largest park in Canada and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite its remote location on the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, the park, with fewer visitors, harbors numerous treasures.
Encompassing the Athabasca-Peace River Delta, one of the largest inland deltas globally, the primary allure lies in the park’s wildlife, notably its wood bison. Established in 1922 to safeguard the last herds of these majestic animals, often referred to as wood buffalo, the park now boasts a thriving population. Other inhabitants include moose, black bear, caribou, beaver, and breeding whooping cranes.
While summer attracts the majority of visitors, the park remains open year-round, offering a variety of winter activities. Notably, Wood Buffalo National Park is a dark sky preserve, providing an excellent opportunity to witness the northern lights during the winter months.
Q: Is Alberta suitable for year-round travel?
A: Alberta offers attractions for every season, from winter skiing to summer hiking. It’s a year-round destination.
Q: Are there guided tours available for the national parks?
A: Yes, guided tours are available for Banff and Jasper National Parks, providing insights into the flora, fauna, and history.
Q: What is the best time to visit Drumheller for dinosaur enthusiasts?
A: The warmer months of late spring and summer are ideal for exploring Drumheller and its outdoor attractions.
Q: Can I experience Indigenous culture in Alberta?
A: Absolutely, with sites like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump offering a deep dive into Alberta’s Indigenous history and traditions.
Q: Are there family-friendly activities in Fort Edmonton Park?
A: Yes, Fort Edmonton Park caters to families with interactive exhibits, historical recreations, and entertainment for all ages.