Holidays in Alberta
From the heady heights of the Canadian Rockies to the rolling prairies and deserts of the Badlands, cosmopolitan cities to vast wilderness expanses, Alberta exudes adventure. Calgary, a city which for so long has only been synonymous with its annual Stampede, is certainly one to watch. Its needle-topped tower isn’t the only thing escalating these days, the city now has a foodie, music and arts scene to match. From Calgary to the national parks of Banff and Jasper, you can drive, fly or train. Each of these almighty parks are unique in their own way, offering activities in abundance for all levels of fitness and enthusiasm. Self-drive tours in the mountains tick the boxes for those who want to get beyond the crowds, to the top of the peaks or the remotest of lakes. Alternatively, driver guides and group tours give visitors an insight into the geography, geology and history of this truly epic landscape. Combine awesome Alberta and beautiful British Columbia for the ultimate western Canada adventure.
More often than not, first stop on the Rockies road trip is Banff, and what a place to start your holiday in Alberta. Whether you are staying in the town itself or just outside, a more delightful collection of independent restaurants, cafes, craft breweries, distilleries and shops would be hard to find. Stop in at the Rocky Mountain Soap Company to stock up on locally made beauty and health products, grab a bag of freshly popped toffee pop-corn from Mary’s, enjoy a stone-baked pizza from the Bear Street Tavern and treat the sweet tooth to a COW’S ice cream on the way home.
Beyond the town itself, a world of adventure awaits in the National Park beyond. Visit the Johnston Canyon to enjoy a journey into the geology of the surrounding area, head to Lake Louise for the day and hike to one of the hidden tea-houses beyond the lake. On the way home, take a quick detour down the valley of the ten peaks to catch a glimpse of the astounding Moraine Lake, which in our humble opinion, offers one of the most impressive vistas in the area. From hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking in the summer to skiing, snowboarding and skating in the winter, your Alberta adrenaline rush starts here.
About 40 minutes north of Banff lies the iconic glacial fed Lake Louise. Perhaps one of the Rockies top attractions, during the summer months its beauty is somewhat dampened by the thousands of tourists who flock to the lake shores for a selfie or three. So, how to see this natural wonder on your own? The answer is to set an early alarm, grab a coffee to go and get there before anyone else. Not only can you have the view to yourself, the magnitude of the surrounding mountain vista is simply breath-taking.
The sleepy and less-frequented town of Jasper lies just shy of 200 miles north of Banff. Travel by car or train through a majestic land intricately shaped by its glacial past. The Columbia Icefields Parkway tops the charts year in, year out as one of the world’s most iconic drives, boasting over a thousand visible glaciers and hundreds of milky turquoise lakes, which show their azure colours as soon as the snow begins to melt each spring. The Athabasca Glacier is perhaps the most impressive and accessible of the lot, and there are a number of companies providing glacial walk and buggy experiences to visitors wanting to get up close and personal.
Jasper's size is best described as blink-and-you'll-miss-it. A small linear town and much more understated than its southern sister Banff, Jasper has everything you could need – but not much more. One of the largest dark sky reserves in North America, this is the place to be on a clear night, and for those whose interest in astronomy goes beyond spotting the North Star, head to the Jasper Planetarium. With Pyramid Lake on the town’s doorstep and Maligne Lake just an hour away by car, lakes and their surrounding mountain hikes are a big feature of Jasper’s wider allure. Following the water theme, Jasper has also become famous for its rafting and kayaking – although possibly they're activities for adrenaline junkies only!
The Rocky Mountains span a distance of 3,000 miles, from the northernmost part of British Columbia to New Mexico in the southwest corner of the United States. However, the most accessible and frequented section of this magnificent range runs right through the heart of Alberta in Banff and Jasper national parks.
Lauded as one of the world's most spectacular drives, the Columbia Icefields Parkway is a 140-mile mountain road, connecting Banff and Jasper national parks. Depending on weather and traffic conditions, it would take around three hours to drive from A to B, not accounting for any stops along the way, which are, in our opinion, essential! Plan a whole day to enjoy this journey and cherry-pick the hikes and views which you most want to experience. Our favourites include Peyto Lake, the Weeping Wall and Parker Ridge.
From west to east, the Canadian Pacific Railway connects Canada, sea to sea. Until the late 1960s, the railway was the primary mode of long-distance transport in Canada, especially to cross the mountains from the prairies. Today, much has changed of course, but the railway remains a lifeline of Canada and its history is a huge attraction to visitors from all over the world. For a real adventure, book an overnight cabin aboard the Canadian from Vancouver to Jasper. It's one of the most romantic and inspirational ways to experience the Rockies, in true Canadian style.
Dubbed the 'greatest outdoor show on earth' the Calgary Stampede is a ten-day celebration which takes place every year in the heart of Calgary. The Stampede has grown from a small agricultural exhibition to a global bucket-list attraction, welcoming over 67 million visitors since it began in 1912. Despite its vastness in size and popularity, the event remains community-focused and is mostly staffed by volunteers. From the opening parade to the infamous pancake breakfast, every day offers a schedule of exciting events and shows. The Stampede is best enjoyed over a few days, before escaping the city to the national parks of Banff and Jasper.
Where to stay in Alberta
Best time to visit Alberta
The below weather chart showcases Alberta's spring, summer and autumn months. For ski and snowbirds, the season runs from December through to March. Due to its mountain-clad inland location, Alberta receives some of the world's best snow conditions. However, it can also get incredibly cold, with temperatures regularly dropping down to -15°C. The ski resorts of Banff, Lake Louise and Revelstoke are our favourites. Self-drive holidays in the winter months are only recommended for confident drivers, as conditions can be very icy.
Summer in Alberta
Winter in Alberta
Contact our Canada specialists
Each and every one of our specialists has a passion for Canada which goes beyond the hotel walls, to the top of the mountain peaks and bottom of the valley floors. As a company we hand-pick every partner and visit every hotel, lodge, island and retreat to ensure we can deliver first-hand knowledge and honest, expert advice. From restaurant recommendations to coffee shops and craft breweries, our favourite hikes and sunset spots, experience the real Canada with Turquoise Holidays.
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