Why Visit Alberta?
Alberta is a beautiful province with three regions: open skies and fields in the south east, stunning mountains in the west, and rugged forests & lakes in the north. The great airports at Calgary and Edmonton are a handy gateway to all this, and there’s no provincial sales tax to make the shopping more fun!
Trans-Canada Route in Alberta
Here is the route of the Trans-Canada Highway from east to west:
You enter Alberta on the Trans-Canada highway from Saskatchewan. The first 300 kilometres runs through grasslands (just north of the Cypress Hills parklands), and passes through the city of Medicine Hat. On the south side you can see the famous Brooks Aqueduct, built in the early 1900s, the largest concrete structure in the world at that time. Then you pass the Blackfoot Crossing Museum at Gleichen, and on then north side is Dinosaur Provincial Park and the city of Drumheller, home of the world-renowned Royal Tyrell Museum.
Then as you start seeing the mountains in the distance, and the Calgary high-rises on the near horizon, you pass Strathmore and Lake Chestermere, once independent farming communities, and now basically bedroom communities for Calgary.
From the east you reach the Stoney Trail Ring Road (designated Highway 201) you can circumnavigate the city (right now just to the north, with the south-west ring road scheduled for completion by 2022). if making stance, use the bypass during morning and afternoon rush hours for a speedier route around Calgary, otherwise the straight-trough route is just as fast, and more to see along the way
Then you arrive in Calgary, a booming city of 1,200,000 with a very pretty downtown with lots of glass and mirrors along the south bank of the Bow River. The stretch of the highway through Calgary actually has stoplights. As you leave the city, you pass Canada Olympic Park, with its ski jumps and bobsled runs, and the other side of the Stoney Trail Ring Road (designated Highway 201). If heading eastbound past Calgary during morning or afternoon rush hours, its is recommended you take the Stoney Trail bypass north. At other times, the travel time is the same as straight-through.
Mountain Towns of Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise
While the Rockies are the main attraction in Alberta, there are lots of other things to see and do. These include sampling the multicultural lifestyles of Calgary and Edmonton. There are also several scenic side roads.
As you continue west from Calgary, you pass by Springbank Airport (for small planes only, but Canada’s 10th busiest!) to the north, and then Calaway Park (a great amusement park for younger kids) to the south. After an hour’s drive you pass through and by Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise before hitting the British Columbia border
Banff National Park is a major vacation destination, and many visitors take an extra day or two to drive north up the Icefields Parkway into Jasper National Park. *see below)
Yellowhead Route (Highway 16)
Here is the route of the Yellowhead Highway (#16) from east to west:
The Yellowhead Highway enters the province of Alberta at Lloydminster (noted not only for its oil industry, but as the only city in Saskatchewan that is taxed as if in the province of Alberta). The highway meanders through the gentle and lush farm lands of eastern Alberta. About 150 kilometres from the border, you pass through Vegreville, the heart of the Ukrainian community in Alberta. You then pass through Elk Island National Park, with a herd of wood bison before arriving in Edmonton.
Edmonton is the gateway to the North, and has been for many years. First during the Klondike Gold Rush, then during the bush plane era, and then as the start of the Alaska highway. Edmonton’s 1,300,000 residents (2017) are in the middle of the bulk of Alberta’s oil & gas fields.
From Edmonton, the Yellowhead heads west and you pass the vast coal fields and neighbouring power plant at Wabamun. From that point, the highway movies through undulating farmland and bush country, before entering the Rocky mountains at Jasper. The Jasper area is unique in the Rockies for its wide glacier-swept valleys, and a number of hotsprings and disappearing rivers (they actually are underground). You cross into British Columbia over the Yellowhead Pass, the lowest pass over the Continental Divide.
During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, many prospectors used Edmonton as their jumping-off point on a land route to the Yukon. It later became the main airstrip for bush planes and flat planes taking supplies and people into the arctic. During the Second World War, it became the starting point of the rushed-to-completion Alaskan Highway.
Detour: Icefields Parkway
This road takes you beside the Athabaska Glacier, where you can walk to the glacier’s toe, and also take a Columbia Icefield trip in a bus equipped with huge icegoing tires. There’s also a nice overlook (with admission fee) on the east side of the Parkway, just north of the icefield, called Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
Highway 93 from Lake Louise is the Icefields Parkway. It is about a 5 hour drive north (plus sightseeing along the way) up to Jasper. There are many stopping off points: Peyto Lake, Bow Glacier, Bow Summit viewpoint, Saskatchewan Crossing, Columbia Glacier, Athabasca Falls, and Jasper Tram (up Mount Whistler)
There you can tour Jasper, a quaint mountain town (not as busy and hectic as either Banff or Canmore)
Another great side trip from Banff is the drive south into British Columbia and Kootenay National Park. Take Route 93 to drive through the beautiful Kootenay River Valley. This road ends at Radium Hot Springs, in the Columbia Valley. Just east of the BC border on the Trans-Canada is the stunning resort community of Lake Louise.
Detour: Cowboy Trail North or South
A few miles west of Calgary, Route 22 leads you south through Cowboy Country, past historic ranches and Indian buffalo jumps. You can start at several spots, but the drive from Bragg Creek to Turner Valley, Millarville and Black Diamond, before hitting Longview and 150 kilometres of scenic ranching country, and the very-near foothills. Along the way you pass Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, Chain Lake Provincial Park, pass through a farming Hutterite Colony, pass by the Whaleback Ridge and as you approach the #3 Crowsnest Route you will see large wind turbines to the south near Pincher Creek. You can explore the Crowsnest Pass area and then head east to Fort MacLeod (don’t forget to take the worthwhile side-trip to the Buffalo Jump UNESCO World Heritage Site just north of Fort MacLeod) and return north via Highway 2 and the small towns along its route.
A little further west, Route 40 heads south at the edge of the Rockies, through Kananaskis Country and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Route 22 heads north from the Trans-Canada at Cochrane, past many scenic campgrounds in the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve.