Visit Alberta and Explore its Natural Wonders
Canada is a traveller’s dream. And now – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – it is the perfect time to explore it. If you’re lucky enough to live here, you can safely travel within Canada’s borders and discover all it has to offer.
This is the second blog in our TierOne Travel ‘Explore Canada’ series, which provides a glimpse into some of the most incredible cities and regions to explore from coast to coast. Our expert travel agents can put together awesome itineraries to suit your interests, timelines and budgets. We also work with some of the best tour operators in Canada so we can book the most amazing tour packages for you.
Read our first ‘Explore Canada’ blog on British Columbia here.
Why Explore Alberta?
Alberta is a top tourist destination, not only for Canadians, but for people all over the world. They come from far and wide to explore the province’s many natural wonders such as the Rocky Mountains.
Located east of British Columbia and west of Saskatchewan, most of Alberta’s estimated 4.5 million residents live in its two largest cities: Edmonton (the capital) and Calgary. If you like to explore urban environments, you’ll love these two cities.
Alberta is the fourth largest province in Canada and is often referred to as a prairie province, but it is so much more than prairies. Its landscapes vary from towering mountains, glacial lakes and vast boreal forests to rolling foothills, fertile prairies and desert badlands.
Explore the Incredible Rocky Mountains
Alberta shares the Rocky Mountains with B.C., which is why many tour packages include both provinces. TierOne Travel experts can find you the best Rocky Mountain tour to fit your timeline and interests.
The two most popular Rocky Mountain destinations in Alberta are Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Each contain so much to explore that you will never run out of things to see and do. You will also have an excellent chance of sighting wildlife such as elk, moose, mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, cougars, lynx, bobcats, black bears, grizzly bears, and grey wolves. Plus, if you like to fish, the lakes and rivers are full of trout and salmon.
While exploring the Rocky Mountains you can hike, bike, run, climb, do yoga, soak in hot springs, ski, snowboard, skate and dog-sled. You can take a helicopter ride over the Rockies, and even have a heli-drop on top of a mountain. Ride a gondola up a craggy mountain, strap on some snow shoes, or simply shop ‘til you drop. Whatever you do, you will remember it forever.
The Beauty of Banff National Park
Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park and it is easy to see why. More than 3 million visitors come through the park each year to take in its breathtaking scenery and enjoy activities such as hiking, biking, skiing and camping.
Johnston Canyon is a must if you like to hike. And you don’t have to be an advanced hiker to reach the Lower Falls, which will lead you to a jaw-dropping waterfall. Many seniors and children enjoy this 1.2 km hike. Another 2.4 km from the trail head will lead you to the Upper Falls and an even greater waterfall. This trek is more difficult, but totally manageable for most people. And still another 3 km will bring you to the spectacular Ink Pots, which makes for a nice long hike up the mountain and down again – approximately four hours.
One of the most famous lakes in the Canadian Rockies is Lake Louise. A visit to this spectacular lake is like stepping into a picture postcard. Mount Victoria and the Victoria glacier serve as a backdrop to its tranquil, turquoise coloured waters. You will find some great hiking trails around the lake. In the winter, you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the frozen lake. A shoreline trail starts from the front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is a tourist destination in itself. Known as the Castle of the Rockies, the chateau was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the turn of the 20th century. TierOne Travel experts can book you into this historic hotel year-round and you can enjoy its six dining rooms and shop in its many specialized boutiques.
Set in the rugged Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and rock piles. The scenery is so stunning it almost seems unreal. There are plenty of hiking trails and you can also go canoeing or kayaking on the lake. Located 14 km (8.7 m) from the hamlet of Lake Louise, it will be worthwhile for you to explore.
For more than 100 centuries, people have camped and hunted on the shores of Lake Minnewanka. The indigenous Stoney Nakoda First Nations people called it Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits). A large glacial lake, it is situated 5 km from the Town of Banff. You will love exploring the many trails surrounding the lake, which is also a popular spot for picnics. There is even a cooking shelter and a small café. Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in Banff National Park to allow limited use of power boats. While there, you must take the scenic boat cruise to Devil’s Gap. An interpretive tour guide can tell you all about the rich history and local lore of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Explore the Town of Banff
Banff is truly a picture-perfect town nestled in the Rockies. In 1984 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. The town is wonderfully historical, and you will love the mix of old and new architecture. The lively streets of downtown are lined with restaurants, bars and dozens of shops, as well as a wide range of art galleries and museums. It is a main tourist destination filled with wonderful hotels and B&Bs. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel has luxurious rooms, and you can play a round of golf at their award-winning golf course. The views are breathtaking in every direction from every hole. And after a day of hiking, golfing or skiing, you will love soaking in the natural mineral waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. While in Banff, you simply must take a ride on the Banff Gondola, which will take you to the Sulphur Mountain summit and provide you with incredible views of six stunning mountain ranges and the Bow Valley below.
The Joy of Jasper National Park
Extending over 10,000 sq km of mountain wilderness, Jasper National Park was established in 1907. It is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Visitors travel from all over the globe to hike its mountain trails and explore the glaciers. The scenery is spectacular and the wildlife is plentiful.
Medicine Lake is actually an overspill from Maligne River when the glacier run-off is high. It’s most famous for its beautiful scenery and its icy blue green glacial melt water in the summer. Every year the ‘lake’ forms over a series of inaccessible underground caves made from limestone. By autumn, the lake shrinks to just a few pools – a remarkable phenomenon.
There are six bridges build over Maligne Canyon to help you explore this magnificent work of nature. In fact, the first bridge was built in 1914. At certain points the canyon has a depth of more than 50m. As you walk along the rim of the canyon and cross the bridges you will marvel at its beauty, such as powerful waterfalls, a churning river and an underground cave system. The canyon walls are covered with mosses and lichens and there are several bird species that nest there. In the winter, the canyon’s ice formations are spectacular.
Maligne Lake is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. One of the post popular postcard photos you can find is the image of Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake. It is simply spectacular with the mountains in the background. Tour boats or private, non-motorized craft are the only means of reaching Spirit Island. The lake itself is surrounded by an open forest of lodgepole pine and spruce – home to moose, caribou and harlequin ducks. There are many hiking and camping areas to explore around the lake as well.
Pyramid Mountain and Pyramid Lake
As you hike along the 2 km lakeshore trail of Pyramid Lake, you will appreciate the gorgeous backdrop of Pyramid Mountain. In the middle of the lake is an island connected by a wooden foot bridge. There you can have a picnic in the shelter that was built in 1933 and is a recognized federal heritage building. Patricia Lake is not far away and is also a popular swimming and hiking destination. For the more adventurous, a hike up Pyramid Mountain will take you approximately six hours. Gaining the top, however, will afford you the most incredible view of all the landmarks of the region including Maligne Lake.
Athabasca Glacier Columbia Icefield
The Columbia Icefield is a remnant of the last ice age. It is an extensive valley of interconnected glaciers located on the boarder of Banff and Jasper National Parks, across the continental divide. While there, you will want to explore the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and take the Glacier Skywalk, which is perched 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley. There is even a glass-floored observation platform you can walk out on and see awe-inspiring scenery such as ice-capped mountain peaks and vast glacier-formed valleys.
Explore the Town of Jasper
Jasper is a lovely town with the railway still trundling through its centre. It was one of the first trading posts in Canada. A trip to the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives will tell you all about its fascinating history. There are many hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, and plenty of campgrounds for both RVs and tents. Just 7 km out of town, the Jasper Skytram will take you to the top of Whistlers Mountain. It’s the longest aerial tramway in Canada
Explore Alberta’s Main Urban Centres: Edmonton and Calgary
Alberta’s two largest urban centres are located only three hours from each other along the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II Highway). Edmonton is the capital city, which houses the Legislative Assembly. Both are rivals, particularly when it comes to national sports such as hockey and football. The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers battle it out on the ice and the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos compete on the field. Each city is beautiful in its own way and has plenty to offer visitors in every season.
The North Saskatchewan River winds through Edmonton offering spectacular views and the longest stretch (150 km) of urban parkland in North America. It is filled with world-renowned bakeries, independent coffee shops, local breweries and innovative restaurants. Accommodations are top notch and the spa scene is amazing. And if you like to shop, the West Edmonton Mall is the largest mall in North America. It spans more than 48 city blocks and boasts 800 store and services including nine world-class attractions, two hotels and over 100 dining venues. More than 3.5 million people visit the mall each year. Edmonton also has a dynamic arts and culture scene, although many of its festivals – including the Fringe Theatre Festival – have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It you like the Rocky Mountains, one of the biggest advantages of visiting Calgary is that it is only an hour’s drive to Banff. This affords you the opportunity to stay in the city and take day trips to Kananaskis or Banff National Park. And because Calgary is so close to the mountains, the city experiences Chinooks, which are warm winds that bring bursts of spring to its residents and visitors during the winter. Like Edmonton, Calgary has world-class restaurants, shopping, spas, hotels, museums and dozens of other attractions. The Calgary Zoo, for example, is home to hippos, lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, gorillas, hippos, lemurs, penguins and hundreds of other animals, birds and reptiles. One of the city’s largest tourist attractions is the Calgary Stampede, which is held annually in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it’s been cancelled for 2020. While in Calgary you can visit Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, and Heritage Park, a living history museum that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Now is the Time to Explore Canada
Canadians are so fortunate to live in a country where people come from around the world to explore its beauty. Now is the time to discover it for yourself. The next blog in our ‘Explore Canada’ series will highlight the hidden gems of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Get Peace of Mind with Travel Insurance
Before you travel, be sure you have enough coverage. Travel insurance will provide you with peace of mind on your vacation. Find out more about Manulife travel insurance here.
When you’re ready to explore Canada and make your travel dreams come true, contact one of our TierOne Travel agents today! They have extensive experience in life-changing travel and will be able to craft something incredible that is suited to your unique needs. One call; endless experiences!
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous