The Best of Alberta
This one-week itinerary stretches itself beyond the famous national parks to include the two main cities and other highlights along the way. Starting and ending from Calgary, it covers around 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) sans detours.
For those of you fortunate enough to have more than a week to visit, we’ve included a number of options for extending the itinerary to take in even more of Alberta’s highlights.
Drive east from Calgary into Dinosaur Valley and Dinosaur Provincial Park. Continue the theme with a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Stay overnight in Drumheller or begin driving north and stay overnight in Red Deer.
Continue north to Edmonton, where the highlights include the Royal Alberta Museum, Muttart Conservatory, and Fort Edmonton Park. These can be seen in a long day, but you’ll also want to take a break from the official attractions to include a shopping trip to West Edmonton Mall.
Drive to Jasper, visit the enchanting Maligne Canyon, and take a boat tour on super-scenic Maligne Lake. If you have some extra time, spend a few hours driving the Mount Edith Cavell road. Spend the night at Alpine Village, a woodsy cabin accommodation south of town.
Rise early to drive the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise, where you will be staying overnight. The trip is less than 300 kilometers (186 miles), but there are so many highlights en route (the Columbia Icefield, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake are simply the best of the best stops).
The best time to see Lake Louise in all its glory is early in the morning, which allows plenty of time for the walk to the teahouse at Lake Agnes for an early lunch. From Lake Louise, it’s a short drive to Moraine Lake, where you can take to the water in a rented canoe. Drive to Banff via the Bow Valley Parkway (the trail through Johnston Canyon is a great stop along the way), and check into your hotel for the next two nights.
The town of Banff is certainly in a picturesque location, but I encourage you to leave the paved sidewalk behind and explore natural attractions like Lake Minnewanka or hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain. In the afternoon, relax with a round of golf at the Banff Springs Golf Course or soak up the luxury of the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
As you leave the mountains behind and head back to Calgary, make time to take in the Olympic legacy that is Canada Olympic Park before heading out to the airport. If your flight doesn’t leave until later in the day, also plan stops at Calgary Tower and the Glenbow Museum. If you have another day in Calgary, visit Fort Calgary Historic Park as well.
Kananaskis Country Day Trip: Now that you’ve seen the famous national parks of the Canadian Rockies, spend some time where the locals go. Head into Kananaskis Country from Banff or Calgary. The drive over Highwood Pass and the hike to Rawson Lake are a good combination for a day trip that will get you back in time for a dish of delicious Alberta beef.
Explore Central Alberta: There’s plenty to explore between the province’s two major cities. Heading north from Calgary toward Edmonton, make sure to stop in Markerville, a delightful place for breakfast or lunch, and then lose the kids for an hour at the Lacombe Corn Maze. Arrive in Stettler for a steam-train ride through the plains with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions. Afterward, you should have just enough time to continue on to Edmonton and check in for the night.
Edmonton Excursions: Take a morning or afternoon flight to Fort McMurray, where you have made hotel reservations far in advance. Yes, it’s a long way to travel for a Syncrude and Suncor plant tour, but you’ll get to experience a modern-day boom, one centered on the world’s largest known reserve of oil.
Return to Edmonton the following day on an afternoon flight, then take a short drive east to Elk Island National Park. Dusk is an excellent time for viewing the abundant big game, including moose and bison.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition