Things to Do in Alberta
Banff National Park is one of two parks protecting Alberta’s Rocky Mountains bordering British Columbia; the other park is Jasper.
You’ll see some of the most astounding landscapes on the planet in Banff National Park: snowcapped mountains, huge river valleys, alpine forests, ludicrously blue lakes and charming mountain hamlets.
Covering 6,641 square km (2,564 square miles), Banff was the first national park to be declared in Canada, focusing on the area’s famous thermal hot springs.
Most visitors come to Banff National Park for the legendary skiing, spectacular views and peerless rock climbing and hiking. The park has information centers in Banff, Lake Louise and Upper Hot Springs.
The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of the park.
A spectacular remnant from the ice age, the Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. More than 30 glaciers make up the icefield, including one of the largest and most visited, the Athabasca Glacier.
A highlight of a visit is the Icefield Centre, which provides all the info you need to know about the formation of the icefield and its glaciers. Guided hikes lead to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier from the Icefield Centre, or you can ride a snow coach across the icefield.
One of the most photographed locations in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is famous for the gorgeous emerald color of its water, the dramatic peaks and glaciers that are visible on its banks and for its views from Spirit Island. French traders coined the name ‘Maligne’ for the lake as well as a canyon, mountain and pass, meaning malignant or wicked—perhaps as a result of the turbulent rivers that flow into the lake.
The largest lake in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is no longer considered ‘wicked’ but instead is one of the most popular spots in the park for hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The 27.3 mile (44 km) Skyline Trail, Jasper's most popular multi-day hike, begins at Maligne Lake and finishes near the town of Jasper. Other popular day hikes include the Opal Hills and Bald Hills loops; winter activities include cross-country skiing.
Surrounded by the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake has to be one of the most photographed spots in Canada. The iconic blue lake is like a giant bathtub, filling up with melted glacier water in early summer until it reaches its apex in mid to late June. But why is Moraine Lake so vividly blue? That’ll be the refraction of light off the glacial rock flour (tiny particles) in the lake.
Featured in countless National Geographic issue as well as on Canada’s $20 bill from 1969 to 1979, Moraine Lake and its backdrop of snowcapped peaks is world-famous. Half the size of Lake Louise but perhaps even more picturesque, the lake is best seen at sunrise or sunset, when the surrounding mountains are colored pink and reflected in Moraine’s cool blue waters. The main viewpoint is from the shoreline which makes a great route for a gentle stroll. If you fancy getting out and about on those icy waters, canoes are available to rent at the Moraine Lake Boathouse.
When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.
Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.
More Things to Do in Alberta
Kicking Horse River flows through the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia, from its source in Lake Wapta, south-west to the Columbia River and the town of Golden.
This wild river is the premier white-water course in the Canadian Rockies, offering exciting rafting over Class 3 rapids or more gentle Class 2 paddles.
Golden lies at the center of Kicking Horse Country. The town’s unusual covered wooden bridge over the Kicking Horse River was built in 2001.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a fairly easy hike on man-made trails to reach the canyon’s two waterfalls, making it a great activity for families and people of every fitness level and age. Johnston Creek flows through Johnston Canyon, a deep blue creek that has cut through the limestone rock over centuries on its way to join the Bow River, creating steep canyon walls with waterfalls, pools, and tunnels. The Johnston Canyon hiking trail begins just behind Johnston Canyon Lodge and gets very busy during peak summer hiking hours, with hundreds of hikers following the catwalks and staircases to the canyon’s Lower and Upper Falls. (Try hiking the trail in the very early morning or right before sunset if you’d like to avoid the crowds.) Less than two miles (3km) past the waterfalls are the Ink Pots: several cold, blue-green mineral pools that bubble to the surface in an open meadow beside the creek.
Proving that it’s force and not size that matters, Athabasca Falls is a mere 75.5 foot (23 m) tall waterfall in Jasper National Park on the upper Athabasca River just west of the Icefields Parkway. The largest waterfall by volume in Jasper National Park, water cascades over the falls almost constantly, even on cold mornings when river levels are at their lowest.
Thundering through a narrow gorge, Athabasca Falls has both smoothed the rock walls it travels past and potholed them with the sand and rock it carries. It’s easy to admire Athabasca Falls from various viewing platforms and walking trails around the falls. Considered a Class 5 waterfall, Athabasca has a drop of 80 ft (24 m) and a width of 60 ft (18m).
Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies is one of the smaller lakes in Banff National Park. It is the source of the Bow River and lies along part of the Great Continental Divide, which creates the border between Alberta and British Columbia. As with all of the lakes lining the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, Bow Lake boasts spectacularly colored water and top-notch mountain scenery. One of the most interesting features of these Rocky Mountain Lakes is their differences in color. Some are green, some are bright blue, and sometimes (after a major rain) some of them are brownish. The lake’s colors might even change with the weather. As you continue north along the Icefields Parkway, you will have several different views of the bright-blue waters of Bow Lake, as it lies quite close to the highway. The lake is a great place for a picnic and a stroll, and is especially beautiful at sunrise when the sun shines off of the water and Crowfoot Mountain.
The Crowfoot Glacier, named for its three glacier toes that once formed a very visual representation of the black bird’s foot, has retreated so much since early explorers discovered and named it that it has actually lost an entire digit. Despite its lost toe, the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint on the Icefield Parkway is still spectacular, especially for northbound travelers due to its position as the first of many up-close viewpoints along the drive.
Opposite this spot is the Helen Lake trailhead. This popular hike is strenuous, but the reward is in the stunning mountain scenery, as the trail crosses a series of alpine meadows covered in summertime wildflowers as it climbs toward Helen Lake. The best views of the Crowfoot Glacier are found further up the trail, but only hikers willing to tackle the steep Helen Lake Headwall will have unobstructed views of the Wapta Icefield, which lies beyond the Continental Divide.
The Icefields Parkway is a legendary stretch of Highway 93. Running for 230 km (142.5-mile), the route links Lake Louise in the south with Jasper in the north.
The scenic route runs through both Banff and Jasper national parks, traversing the Canadian Rockies. It also runs near the Columbia Icefield, hence the route’s name.
Along the route you’ll see snowcapped mountains, glaciers, alpine forests, vistas that go on forever and, perhaps, some of the local wildlife.
It might be the smallest of the 3 major ski resorts within the Banff National Park, but since opening in 1926, Mt Norquay has fast become a favorite destination for in-the-know skiers, and has even served as an Olympic and World Cup training ground. Today, the Mt Norquay Ski Resort offers 16.4 km of runs, with ample opportunities for all levels, from first-time skiers to professionals, including a terrain park with a range of boxes and rails.
With a fully equipped ski school on-site, this is a great spot for beginners, and along with skiing and snowboarding, there’s also a snow tube park, snowshoeing trails and the chance to enjoy a moonlight skiing excursion.
The fun doesn’t stop when the snow melts either – the Mt Norquay Ski Resort is open all year-round and summer visitors can ride the 8,040-foot chairlift for a view of the surrounding mountains, dine at the mountaintop Cliffhouse or tackle the Via Ferrata climbing routes.
Alberta’s stunning Rocky Mountains are perhaps its biggest attraction. Protected by the Banff and Jasper national parks, the spectacular mountains run along the border of British Columbia and Alberta.
All up, the mountain chain runs south across Canada and the US for more than 4,830 km (3,000 miles), from the northern wilds of British Columbia all the way through Colorado to New Mexico.
Experience the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies by driving along the Icefields Parkway, and visiting the glacier Icefields Centre. Hire a pair of skis and glide down the legendary slopes in winter, or go for a hike in spring and summer to glorious blue lakes like Lake Louise and quaint alpine-style hamlets such as Banff.
Peyto Lake is blue—really blue. Because of its proximity to nearby glaciers, large amounts of glacier flour flow into the lake each summer, and these suspended flour particles–nothing more than ground rock–saturate the lake and give it its spectacular color. And despite its breathtaking surroundings, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park, there are few viewings that rival gazing down at Peyto Lake from the platform just off the Icefield Parkway.
While the five-minute, self-guided interpretive hike to the viewpoint takes in the most spectacular view of the lake, visitors looking for a touch more adventure can hike to the Bow Summit Lookout. This 2.5-hour hike leaves from the highest point on the Icefield Parkway and climbs above the tree line to offer spectacular views of Bow Summit, Observation Peak and Mount Jimmy Simpson. Marmots, picas and ptarmigans are commonly seen along the hike.
Halfway along the Icefields Parkway, the Athabasca Glacier stretches down to the valley from the Columbia Icefield.
A living remnant of the last ice age, Athabasca is one of the largest of around 30 glaciers in the Rockies’ largest icefield. The glacier is on the move, shifting several centimeters (inches) per day.
The highlight of a visit to the glacier is the Icefield Centre, which provides all the info you need to know about the formation of glaciers.
Guided hikes lead to the toe of the glacier from the center; it takes around four hours roundtrip. For a more novel trip to the glacier, hop aboard a snow coach for a unique drive across the icefield.
Opened in May 2014 just north of the boundary between Banff and Jasper national parks, the Glacier Skywalk is a giant glass-floored archway that curves above breathtaking views of waterfalls, wildlife and glacier valleys.
Although transport between the Columbia Icefield Centre and the Glacier Skywalk viewpoint is free, there is a fee to enter the Glacier Skywalk and its interpretive tour. It’s worth the expense. The experience starts with a cliff-edge walkway with endless views of one of the most spectacular landscapes in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. Nature-themed exhibits add a touch of story-telling, describing everything from how the rugged mountain setting was formed over thousands of years to what species of wildlife now call it home. It ends on the glass-floored platform, a stomach-churning 918 feet (280 meters) above the Sunwapta River.
Things to do near Alberta
- Things to do in Banff
- Things to do in Calgary
- Things to do in Edmonton
- Things to do in British Columbia
- Things to do in Washington
- Things to do in Wyoming
- Things to do in Whistler
- Things to do in Vancouver
- Things to do in Sunshine Coast
- Things to do in Victoria
- Things to do in Oregon
- Things to do in Manitoba
- Things to do in Utah
- Things to do in Nevada
- Things to do in Colorado