With Banff National Park receiving more and more international attention as a must-see, bucket-list destination, the rest of Alberta, Canada, has more than enough to offer those bound for the Canadian Rockies. Whether flying into Calgary, driving in from the south, east, or west, the landscapes of Alberta offer stunning and breathtaking landscapes that transform a destination-based trip into a world transporting adventure.
This post offers some of those world transporting locations that – in a week-long road trip, will allow anyone to feel as though they have made the most of their time in Alberta through several different terrain types.
First on the list is Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park, Alberta’s newest parks, which were established in 2017. For those driving from the south, the parks are located north of the United States and Canadian border just north of Glacier National Park in the United States and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. For those driving in from neighboring provinces or south from Calgary, the drive is approximately 250 kilometers, or a 2-hour and 30-minute drive from Calgary. The park offers camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and a plethora of other opportunities that should be investigated while visiting.
Traveling through Alberta between Calgary and Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park, one must drive the Cowboy Trail Highway 22. Driving north from the Castle Mountain area, the terrain fades from the rough Canadian Rocky Mountain landscape into the picturesque timber covered hills with small towns and villages situated throughout the area. Continuing north to Calgary, the tree-covered slopes continue to fade into stunning glacial plains grasslands that stretch for miles. These beautiful plains consist of green hills dotted with hundreds of cattle, for Alberta is a beef producing province. Thousands of years ago, glaciers melted and pushed out steep valleys and hills creating the truly humbling landscapes. Trash turn-out stations offer plenty of lookout opportunities along the highway, although the road would benefit from strategic lookouts at additional locations.
Along the Cowboy Trail Highway, one will need to venture into the Bob Creek Wildland and Black Creek Rangeland. It offers the opportunity to hike the beautifully lush hills viewed from the highway. The Wildland area allows for ATV enthusiasts to ride the terrain, but with some imagination the same trails can be utilized by hikers. It should be noted that the area is easily accessed from the south, and hikers should be aware that they are entering bear territory and proceed at their own risk. Be sure to download a copy of the park map prior to your trip.
The second bucket-list-worthy park is Dinosaur Provincial Park; situated approximately 200 kilometers and a 2-hour and 15-minute drive east of Calgary. Traveling in allows guests to really appreciate the vastness of the Canadian plains as they have faded away into mile-long fields and pastures stretching to the horizon. Without warning, other than the few signs indicating the upcoming park, drivers would never know that this hidden oasis exists. Out of nowhere, the plains fall away to into the prehistoric world of the Canadian Badlands and Dinosaur Provincial Park. The historic magnitude of the park led it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Guests would be advised to check out the park’s website to take note of special tours, camping accommodations, events, and all that the visitor center has to offer. Several trails are available throughout the site, meandering through the vegetation covered valleys, or scaling the hoodoos and bluffs.
Whether driving in from Calgary or using Calgary as a base camp, along the way, it’s advised to detour to Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum located in the Midland Provincial Park. An interpretive trail is located adjacent to the museum. The Royal Tyrrell Museum offers programs of many varieties – and even a camp-in with the dinosaurs! Guests can spend the night in the museum; for a truly unique opportunity, visit their website to read the camp-in overview.
Before or after the Midland Provincial Park, Drumheller, and Royal Tyrrell excursion, an additional stop should include Horsethief Canyon located a short 15-minute drive to the north. A plaque reveals how the location got its name and provides an expansive view of the Canadian Badlands intermingling with the grasslands at the plateaus. One can stop at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and Horsethief Canyon in a day, but guests might be better served to stick to a leisurely pace to truly take in the atmosphere.
Banff National Park is one of the more well-known parks in Alberta. Driving into the park, be sure to plan additional time to stop at the park entrances to purchase a park pass priced for single-day use, groups, or extended stays. Outdoor Project offers several resources for adventures within and around Banff, namely the more popular such as Lake Louise and Lake Agnes.
Jasper National Park is less touristy than Banff National Park, but no less worth visiting. This park is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes from Calgary. It should be noted that, when driving from Calgary, the quickest route is via the Trans-Canada Highway that traverses through Banff National Park, requiring drivers to purchasing a park pass to travel through.
In any order, over any amount of days, the above listed locations will offer some of the most stunning landscapes of Alberta. From the bluffs and hoodoos of Dinosaur Provincial Park to the rolling hills of the Cowboy Trail Highway or Bob Creek Wildland and the amazingly blue waters of the lakes nestled in Banff National Park, traveling across Alberta transports visitors through differing worlds as these unique landscapes converge within a manageable road trip experience.