Hiking is, not surprisingly, the most popular outdoor activity in Alberta  because it’s free, anyone can participate, and the mountains offer some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. Banff National Park  holds the greatest variety of trails in the province. Here you can find anything from short interpretive trails with little elevation gain to strenuous slogs up high alpine passes. Trailheads for most of the best hikes are accessible by public transportation or on foot from the town of Banff . Trails farther north begin at higher elevations, from which access to the high country is less painful.
The trails in Jasper National Park  are oriented more toward the experienced backpacker, offering plentiful routes for long backcountry trips. Other areas popular for hiking are Kananaskis Country , where crowds are minimal; Waterton Lakes National Park, where many trails lead to beautiful subalpine lakes; and the province’s four wilderness areas, which are located in remote mountain regions accessible only on foot.
Heli-hiking is an out-of-the-ordinary way to experience the high alpine without making the elevation gain on foot. The day starts with a helicopter ride into the alpine, where short guided hikes are offered and a picnic lunch is served. For details, contact Alpine Helicopters (403/678-4802, www.alpinehelicopter.com ). Another option is hiking into backcountry lodges. The Alpine Club of Canada (403/678-3200, www.alpineclubofcanada.ca ) maintains a series of huts, each generally a full-day hike from the nearest road. Banff and Jasper National Parks  have several privately owned backcountry lodges—great bases for day hiking—where on-site hosts provide hot meals; rates start at $180 per person per day including meals. Hikers must register at park information centers for all overnight hikes in national parks.