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!
Main Tourism Areas of Alberta
To help with planning and organizating your vacation to or in Alberta, we have divided this province’s content into three major regions:
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 BrooksAqueduct, 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 Strathmoreand 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 (fully completed in 2023). If driving through/past Calgary, use the Syoney Trail bypass during morning and afternoon rush hours for a speedier route. Otherwise the straight-through route is just as fast, and there is more to see along the way. Then you can visit several Calgary attractionslike the Calgary Zoo (east of downtown), the Calgary Tower (right downtown), Heritage park (south end of town beside the Glenmore Reservoir), Canada Olympic Park (just before the Ring Road interchange in the west end of Calgary), and Calaway Park (just west of Calgary, in Springbank) before continuing on your road trip.
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.
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.
Edmontonis 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. Edmonton is home to the West Edmonton Mall and is the province’s Festival Capital
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, throught the towns of Edson and Hintonbefore 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 Alaska Highway.
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 Banffis 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 (Highway 22)
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, Millarvilleand Black Diamond, before hitting Longviewand 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 Crowsnest Highway #3 (Crowsnest Route of the Trans Canada Highway) 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.