Alberta always sounded like nothing but oil fields and tall mountains until I flew out west one year to visit my sister. Much to my surprise, there is much more to this province than meets the eye. From desert cacti and dinosaur bones to bison, elk, and glacier lakes this province has it all. Here is a totally non-comprehensive list of some things to do while you’re there.
Visit Elk Island National Park
Contrary to the name, I didn’t see any elk when I was in this park. They are there but tend to keep hidden from the general public. What I did see was tons of bison. The park is fairly large at 194 square kilometers and has many activities including canoeing, hiking, and camping. Visit this park when you have at bare minimum one full day with two or more being preferable. Everything moves at the pace of the bison that block the roads in and out of the park as they wander across roads and stop to nurse their young, totally oblivious to the traffic jam they are causing. Rent a canoe and paddle out into the middle of one of the many lakes here and relax in the sun before heading back to shore for a picnic under beautiful starry skies, or hike for hours along the scenic trails. With this being Canada’s 150th birthday year, all national parks are free so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of this amazing park!
Rent A Car And Drive To Drumheller
This is a must do. About an hour and a half from Calgary, the rolling farm fields and large western landscape suddenly disappears as you plummet down a winding road into the bottom of an ancient riverbed where the town of Drumheller sits and where fossilized dinosaur remains are the talk of the town. The cooler Alberta temperature rockets higher the deeper you go into the canyon and the lush greenery above is replaced with arid landscape and cacti. The dinosaur museum is the main attraction, as many nearly complete and fully complete skeletons have been restored and are on display. The enormity of the displays is certainly something to see. You can walk farther into the badlands to Horse Thief Canyon or Horse Shoe Canyon, where you expect to see cowboys wrangling a herd of cattle around every turn. The break from the monotony of farm fields and highway is well worth it! Not to mention dinosaurs are super cool. Who doesn’t like seeing that?
Go to Jasper National Park
Although Jasper is nearly four hours away from Edmonton, no trip to Alberta is complete without seeing the mountains and awesome beauty of this park. We stopped to see mountain goats grazing alongside the road on the way in and rode the SkyTram up Whistler’s mountain to nearly 7,500 feet of elevation. Once you exit the tram there is a general trail up to the peak where most people turn around, but if you are feeling adventurous you can continue to hike farther and take in the amazing scenery you are sure to find here. You can forego the SkyTram ride and hike the whole way, but be prepared for possible bear encounters in the area. I carried a can of bear mace with me the whole way and I heard from staff that part of the trail was closed due to the proximity of bears in the area. There are a hundred things to do in this park, from ice climbing to helicopter tours and golf courses. Just make sure that you leave enough time to get the full experience of the park.
Check Out The Night Life And Culture In The Big Cities
If you like the city life, there are many different restaurants and bars in Calgary, Edmonton and all the smaller towns along the way. You will find everything here that any other city has to offer, except it feels different here. It feels larger, cleaner, wilder and more... Canadian. The West Edmonton Mall is pretty incredible and is complete with a water park, roller coaster and shooting range. After all, this is the west. Be sure to check out the Calgary stampede if you are in town during the first two weeks of July. Also, while travelling the highways and roads around this province, make sure that you follow the speed limits as closely as possible. Speed activated video and camera traps are all over and they don’t hesitate to ticket you for only a few kilometers over the speed limit, even in a rental vehicle.
As I said before, this is far from a comprehensive list of the things to do in Alberta. There is fishing, camping, hunting, four wheeling, snowshoeing, skiing and a host of other activities to do in this large province. Banff is yet another park that has unforgettable scenery and amazing wildlife but don’t make my mistake and run out of time before you get the chance to see it all! If you’re going, take me with you and we can finish exploring together!
Jonathan Beam is the author of Crimson Morning - The Philosophy of Travel, available on the member page by signing up above. He is a blogger who writes about travel, adventure and philosophy. He has also written a novel that is currently under consideration to be published!