Alberta is the fourth-largest province in Canada. With an area of 661,185 square kilometers (255,000 square miles), it’s larger than all U.S. states except Alaska and Texas. The province lies between the 49th and 60th parallels, bordered on the south by Montana, United States, and on the north by Canada’s Northwest Territories. To the west is British Columbia, and to the east is Saskatchewan.
Along its roughly rectangular outline, the only natural border is the Continental Divide in the southwest. Here, from the international boundary to Jasper, the lofty peaks of the Canadian Rockies rise to heights of more than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). The Canadian Rockies are only one small but exquisitely beautiful link in the Rocky Mountains chain, which forms the backbone of North America, extending from the jungles of central Mexico to the Arctic.
Running parallel to the mountains along their eastern edge is a series of long, rolling ridges known as the foothills. This region is dominated by ranches in the south and undeveloped forests in the north.
Finally, east of the foothills and across the rest of Alberta are plains, which cover almost three-quarters of the province. The plains provide practically all of Alberta’s arable soil and natural resources. The term plains is very broad. Alberta’s plains encompass three distinct vegetation zones: prairie, parkland, and boreal forest.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition