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Top 10 things to do in Alberta
Here are our favourite things to do in the western Canadian province of Alberta
10. Exploring on Horseback
What & Where: Alberta has a strong horse riding tradition from its cowboy history, thrillingly displayed each July at the Calgary Stampede, but a more sedate activity is a guided horse ride through the beautiful landscapes of the province.
Highlights: Many of the national parks have horse-riding excursions that we can book for you, whether you are a novice or an expert. Have a wonderful couple of hours in Banff, trekking along the banks of the Bow River and traversing the side of Sulphur Mountain. Or enjoy a full week-long holiday of daily horse-rides, starting in Banff and then staying in lodges through the glorious Alberta landscapes. Ride along the historic Storm Pack Trail with the rugged mountains of the Sundance Range dominating the horizon and venture up to Allenby Pass to an elevation of over 8,000 feet for a myriad photo opportunities.
Suggested Holiday: Backcountry Lodge and Riding Adventure
9. Achieving the perfect photo of Canada’s most photographed lake – Lake Louise
What & Where: The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lake Louise in the heart of Banff National Park. Set at the base of glacier-clad peaks, this emerald green alpine lake was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter and the wife of Canada’s fourth Governor General. Known as the Jewel of the Rockies, these glittering waters measure 90 metres deep and around 2.5 kilometres long.
Highlights: There are many vantage points around the lake for you to take stunning photographs. Or you could take the Lake Louise sightseeing lift to enjoy the full panoramic splendour of the majestic Canadian Rockies. At the top elevation of 6850 feet you will enjoy photo opportunities of the abundant wild flowers and you may spot a grizzly bear (at a safe distance) as it is one of the best bear habitats in Banff National Park.
Suggested Holidays: Many of our self-drive tours of western Canada include Lake Louise such as Self-Drive Western Wonders and Best of Canada's West by Motorhome. Or you could take an escorted tour such as Panoramic Canadian Rockies.
8. Experience the bygone days of the West at Calgary’s Heritage Park
What & Where: Located on 127 acres of parkland on the banks of Glenmore Reservoir just outside of Calgary. Rated as Canada's largest living museum with over 180 attractions and exhibits, this year-round attraction offers plenty to thrill kids and enlighten grownups; from a working steam engine train, petting zoo and antique midway to vintage amusement park rides, a paddle steamer and an old Calgary streetcar.
Highlights: Live performances with costumed actors bring Western Canada’s history to life in the Park’s four locations: the Fur Trading Fort and Aboriginal Encampment, the Pre-railway Settlement, the Prairie Railway Town and the Gasoline Alley Museum and Heritage Town Square. Most fascinating is the 1913 Little Synagogue on the Prairie which was originally built by the Montefiore colony of Jewish immigrants who had settled in Alberta – it was moved to the park in 2008.
Suggested Holiday: Experience Alberta
7. Shop, stay and play in North America’s largest mall
What & Where: Formerly the biggest mall in the world but now certainly the biggest in North America, West Edmonton Mall boasts a whopping 5.2 million square feet of space at 8882 170 St NW in Edmonton. Aside from its jaw-dropping mix of high street and designer offerings in over 800 stores, this colossal complex has 100 restaurants, a mini-golf course, a Wild West-themed shooting centre, an ice rink that doubles as a practice space for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and two luxury hotels - Fantasy Hotel and West Edmonton Mall Inn.
Highlights: Shopping is almost secondary to the countless thrills on offer; from an IMAX 3D Theatre and bowling alley to Sea Life Caverns, an underground aquarium that is home to over 100 species of colourful fish, sharks, reptiles, penguins and more. The biggest draws are Galaxyland, home to the Galaxy Quest, 7D Experience and over 24 gravity-defying rides, and World Waterpark with its huge array of water slides, raging rapids and enormous wave pool.
Suggested Holiday: Explore Alberta - Peaks, Prairies and Dinosaurs
6. Travel the Icefields Parkway and ride on an Ice Explorer
What & Where: Rated as one of the top drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway winds for 145 miles along the Continental Divide, between Jasper and Lake Louise. It is lined with pine and larch forest, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires and dotted with more than a hundred glaciers.
Highlights: The Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies, covering 90 square miles and straddling the continental divide on a high alpine plateau on the Alberta border. Of the glaciers fed by this icefield, the Athabasca Glacier is the best known – start at the excellent visitor centre, enjoy a ride on a purpose built Ice Explorer which will take you right onto the Athabasca Glacier and enjoy unique views from the Glacier Sky Walk.
Suggested Holidays: Our absolute favourite escorted tour is the Majesty of the Rockies. Or you can enjoy the freedom of a flydrive such as Self-Drive Great Parks of the West
5. Marvelling at how many shades of blue there are at each of the stunning lakes
What & Where: It’s difficult to narrow down the lakes in Alberta to a small selection but for now we’ll go for Peyto, Maligne, Minnewanka and Waterton.
Highlights: Peyto Lake is a glacier-fed lake in the Banff National Park and in the summer significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake and these suspended rock particles give the lake a unique bright, turquoise colour. Maligne Lake is more azure in hue, and is a particularly wonderful lake for a cruise, taking in the magical Spirit Island. Apart from having a great name, Lake Minnewanka is rich in history and has been described as resembling a polished emerald – so it's more at the green end of the blue colour chart. It’s a beautiful place to kayak or cruise or simply stroll its stunning shores. The prairies of Alberta meet the Rockies at Waterton Lake, and the aptly named Emerald Bay is a popular spot for swimming, but we’re going to call another shade of blue…as it’s the deepest lake in the Rockies the colours range from cobalt to midnight blue.
Suggested Holiday: Explore Alberta - Peaks, Prairies and Dinosaurs
4. Discover the Dinosaurs
What & Where: At Midland Provincial Park near to Drumheller. Opened in 1985 and named in honour of Joseph Tyrrell, a geologist who discovered the first dinosaur in the Red Deer River Valley in 1884, The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology. Paying tribute to the earth’s 4.5 billion year history with a series of chronological galleries, this first-rate attraction houses one of the world’s largest dinosaur displays and also offers a wide variety of educational programmes and hands-on experiences that bring the prehistoric past to life.
Highlights: Most of the action takes place in The Dinosaur Hall, a showcase of mounted dinosaur skeletons where dino-lovers can marvel at awesome reconstructions of the Stegosaurus, Albertasaurus, Camarasaurus and the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. Equally fascinating is the renovated dinosaur-era Cretaceous Garden which presents visitors with a lush natural environment similar to the one dinosaurs inhabited millions of years ago.
Suggested Holiday: Experience Dinosaurs, Prairies and the Great Outdoors Self-Drive
3. Unleash your inner cowboy/cowgirl at the Calgary Stampede
What & Where: This legendary ten-day event tagged as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ is a rip-roaring extravaganza held every July. The entire city is swept up in Stampede celebrations that include a lavish parade, agricultural displays, stage shows, concerts, calf roping, steer wrestling, bucking broncos, chuckwagon racing and, of course, one of the largest rodeos on the planet.
Highlights: The granddaddy of all rodeos is the annual Calgary Stampede Rodeo, the most prestigious of its kind in North America where cowboys complete for a staggering $2 million dollar prize and the esteemed championship title. This is followed by the Grandstand Show, a spectacular production which includes world-class performers, singing, dancing, acrobatics, daredevil stunts, comedy routines, drumming, magical special effects as well as the usual fireworks finale.
Suggested Holiday: Experience Calgary Stampede and The Rockies
2. Ascend Banff Gondola
What & Where: The state-of-the-art gondola ascending Sulphur Mountain is located just a few minutes drive from Banff town centre. It takes just under 10 minutes to reach the top and is well-worth the journey.
Highlights: Once you reach the top, begin your adventure by strolling the boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station and Sanson's Peak and learn about Canada's first national park - Banff. Inside there is a world-class mountaintop discovery centre, with fascinating information on the history and geography of the area. You can recharge your batteries at Castle Mountain Coffee shop or take your time and enjoy an lovely meal at the award-winning Sky Bistro.
Suggested Holiday: Our Rockies Trail escorted tour offers an optional trip up the Banff Gondola in the midst of all the other western Canada must-sees. The ever popular Western Wonders self-drive tour also offers the opportunity to enjoy this trip.
1. Experience the glorious winter wonderland of the Rockies
What & Where: There are fewer places more magical than the snowy landscapes of the Rockies in winter. It may be famous for its skiing in these months, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this spectacular Narnia, with cosy hotels in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper providing the perfect base for some outdoor fun in the crispy cold.
Highlights: Take a sleigh-ride through the snowfields, experience a Snowshoe Tour, try out snow-mobiling or dog-sledding. You can also enjoy a wildlife tour of either Banff or Jasper National Parks.
Suggested Holiday: We will tailormake your Alberta Winter Wonderland holiday so check out these two itineraries for ideas - Banff and Lake Louise Winter Experience or the Rockies Winter Wonderland Experience