Alberta’s iconic natural attractions are a testament to the power of nature, from the ancient glaciers of the Rocky Mountains, to the canyons, waterfalls, and lakes formed by their predecessors. But Alberta is equally generous with its urban adventures. From fine cuisine and shopping, to music festivals and world-class events, the province’s two major cities are well worth exploring.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
Banff National Park boasts two of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The glacier-fed Moraine Lake lies in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Rent a canoe and paddle across the bright blue lake, coloured by the silt swept in with the glacier water. Take a stroll around the lakeside, camera in hand, taking in the incredible peaks that circle Moraine. The world-famous, turquoise-blue Lake Louise is framed by mountains and the Victoria Glacier, making it serious picture postcard material. Paddle on the water, walk the trail along its shore, or simply do what tens of thousands of people have done before you – give your Instagram a workout! Lake Louise is an easy day trip from Calgary, or stay nearby at the magnificent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
The biggest lake in Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka is 20 kilometres long and an hour-long boat cruise is the only way to see it from every angle. Feel like staying on solid ground? Hike the trails around the glacial lake for beautiful views of the serene blue-green water. Beyond its natural beauty, Minnewanka is also rich in history. It was named “Lake of the Spirits” by the First Nations who hunted and lived along its shores as early as 10,000 years ago. The elk, mule deer, mountain goats, and bears hunted in years gone by can still be found meandering around the lake today.
Thousands of years ago, a glacier slowly tore through the rocks and formed the canyon that ultimately created the Athabasca Falls. Pure water from that same glacier tumbles 23 metres down this powerful Jasper National Park waterfall. Peer into the canyon from the designated viewing platforms, feel the spray of water on your face, and experience the real force of this natural wonder in action.
During summer, the 50 metre-deep Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park is home to fossils, waterfalls, animals, and leafy plant life. Take a self-guided tour and cross the gorge along four different bridges, each with its own unique view. In winter, it’s another world. As the temperature drops below freezing, strap on sturdy spiked ice cleats to explore the frozen canyon and see if you can keep your jaw from dropping to the floor!
Icefields Parkway and Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
Once upon a time, the huge mountains of the Canadian Rockies were covered in ice. Take a journey along the Icefields Parkway, with more than 100 glaciers dotted along this scenic stretch of road between Jasper and Lake Louise. The star of the show? The Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rockies. To see the icefield in all its glory, take a Glacier Adventure tour on board the Ice Explorer. The huge vehicle is specifically designed to take on the icefield terrain of the Athabasca Glacier. Step onto the glacier and see flashes of sparkling blue ice more than 20,000 years old. Then talk a walk on the Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edge walkway with only glass between you and the incredible flora, almost 300 metres below.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
Around 75 million years ago, the town of Drumheller, about an hour and a half north east of Calgary, was a hotbed of dinosaur activity. Today, Drumheller is a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils, and home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. The museum is located in the Canadian Badlands, where it collects, preserves, and presents the paleontological (AKA dinosaur) history of the region. With one of the biggest displays of dinosaur skeletons in the world, and over 160,000 individual specimens, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is an all-ages must-see for both science lovers and fans of Jurassic Park.
National Music Centre
Calgary’s National Music Centre, based in Studio Bell, is a national organisation devoted to all things music. World-class performances regularly take place in the 300-seat performance space, and a state-of-the-art music gallery displays more than 2,000 artefacts across 22,000 square feet of exhibitions, for an in-depth exploration of musical history. Embrace your passion for music and share the love with like-minded people at the National Music Centre.
Become an Olympic athlete for a day at Calgary’s WinSport at Canada Olympic Park, a primary venue for the 1988 Winter Olympics, now doubling as a training facility and adventure park. Ride the fastest, longest single zipline in North America, try the luge, hit the mountain bike trail, or jump into a bobsled and ride the course that made the Jamaican bobsled team famous.
Edmonton's River Valley
Edmonton's River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America. Its 18,285 acres is 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park. Cycle, walk, jog, snowshoe or ski 145 kilometres of trails in the Valley’s 22 major parks. For a different perspective, take a Segway tour or head out on the North Saskatchewan River in a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddle board. Kick back on a picnic blanket and enjoy barbecue with friends and family, a world away from the bustle of urban life.
West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall is an exercise in excess. Biggest indoor amusement park? Check. Largest indoor lake? Check. Largest indoor wave pool, a skating rink, a zoo? Check, check, check. With more than 800 shops and 100 eating establishments, the West Edmonton Mall is the biggest shopping centre in North America and the size of a small city. Learn to ice skate, play mini golf, and ride a roller coaster all in one day. Spend an entire weekend in the West Edmonton Mall, and you’ll only scratch the surface of what there is to discover in this shopping Mecca.