Destination Canada is opening up our horizons by rail, road and boat from coast to coast to coast for jaw-dropping views, meeting welcoming locals and experiencing awe-inspiring encounters around every corner of Canada. Next stop: Alberta. Let’s go!
When you picture Canada, chances are it’s Alberta – think massive mountains, glacial lakes, cool cities, alpine towns and snow resorts. Home of the Canadian Rockies, Alberta is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders in winter (read on for more on that below) as well as a bona fide delight for hikers, mountain bikers and kayakers in summer.
Autumn is the perfect time to embark on a road trip through the Canadian Rockies and beyond from the energetic city of Calgary that’s adventurous by nature. Stop at national parks, take in pristine lakes and wilderness, step back in time at luxe lodgings and shop in big malls and small-town markets. Alberta’s got the lot!
Fast and fun facts
- How to get there: Air Canada and Qantas fly direct from Australia to Vancouver with domestic flights to Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, and the capital, Edmonton.
- When to go: All year round! Visit November to May for ski season, June to August for summer fun and September to October for leaf peeping and road-tripping.
- Where is it? Alberta is located next-door to British Columbia in western Canada.
- Did you know? There are five national parks: Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Wood Buffalo and Elk Island.
- Yum fact: Every July, the world-famous Calgary Stampede has crazy Midway food creations such as ketchup and mustard ice-cream and Kool-Aid chicken burgers, plus heaps of entertainment.
- Festive fact: Edmonton hosts 60-plus annual events, including the International Edmonton Fringe Festival.
- Fun fact: Channel the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings at Calgary’s WinSport, a 1988 Winter Olympics host venue, with everything from winter and summer training facilities to fun activities on site.
A huge draw for visitors to Alberta is the connection to nature, wildlife and wilderness. Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary Founder Georgina De Caigny shares how the mountains, foothills and prairies make Alberta a unique province to explore and enjoy.
Start your engines in the warm and welcoming city of Calgary, located less than an hour from the Canadian Rockies. While it’s the traditional launch pad for winter and summer activities and road trips to the Rocky Mountains, Alberta’s biggest city is also well-equipped for urban adventure.
Immerse yourself in Calgary’s renowned and diverse dining scene where you can taste everything from world-famous and flavourful AAA Alberta beef steaks to world cuisines.
As well, Calgary has a top-shelf cocktail culture with innovative and artisan drinks. Say cheers to a 360-degree view of the city, foothills, plains and Rockies from SKY360 in the 191m-high Calgary Tower.
Calgary to Canmore (106km)
Just 70 minutes’ drive from Calgary, make a pit stop for coffee and a bite to eat in the pretty mountain town of Canmore. Stay a little longer and stretch your legs with a gentle hike in Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park in search of the two mesmerising turquoise lakes.
Canmore to Banff (27km)
Jump back in the car for the quick 20-minute trip to Banff, staying at the historic and palatial Fairmont Banff Springs, a Canadian Rockies landmark. Survey the lay of the land from the Banff Gondola and dine on top of the world at Sky Bistro.
Then, explore the pristine beauty of Banff National Park. Hike the many trails, hire a kayak to glide along the brilliant blue Moraine Lake and take a boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park’s largest lake, spotting elk, mule deer, mountain goats and bears.
In winter, enjoy a tour with Discover Banff Tours into Johnston Canyon to marvel at the massive pillars of ice and frozen waterfalls down to the gorge.
Banff to Lake Louise (60km)
One of the world’s most famous glacial lakes, Lake Louise is just a 40-minute drive away. Kayak on the iconic lake or ice-skate in winter, taking endless images of its stunning turquoise beauty in all seasons.
Retreat indoors for high tea amid the majestic splendour of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, framed by soaring mountains and the Victoria Glacier, or hike or horse-ride up to historic Lake Agnes Tea House.
Insider’s tip: Moraine Lake is not accessible by car and Lake Louise is also more easily visited through a shuttle service. Take a tour with Discover Banff Tours or RADventures to take in these iconic lakes. Before you begin your road trip, check with Parks Canada to obtain your Canada National Parks Pass and for park opening/closing details.
Lake Louise to Icefields Parkway (127km)
If you can tear yourself away, drive north on Highway 93 to the 235km Icefields Parkway for a front-row seat to more pristine lakes and jaw-dropping glaciers. On an autumn road trip, you’ll see swathes of fall foliage in the lush forests along the highway. It’s a three-hour drive, yet with so many scenic stops, it’s easy to linger longer on this stretch.
The star of the snow is the Columbia Icefield – the largest in the Rockies. It’s best viewed during summer on board the Ice Explorer, which is custom-built to tour the icy terrain of the Athabasca Glacier. For more chills, take the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored, clifftop walkway 280m above Sunwapta Valley.
Icefields Parkway to Jasper (235km)
Next, head to Jasper National Park – a certified stunner in autumn with changing leaves, glimpses of snow and crystal-blue lakes.
Book a Wildlife Discovery Tour to see caribou, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, bears, wolves and more in their natural habitat. Or take a self-guided Maligne Canyon tour for fossils and scenic views in summer and ice formations in winter.
Get among it all on hiking or mountain bike trails, followed by a soothing dip in the Miette Hot Springs, and in winter, ski Marmot Basin. At night, enjoy stargazing in the second-largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. After, turn in for the evening at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for the classic Canadian wilderness lodge experience.
Jasper to Edmonton (365km)
Next, it’s a four-hour drive across to Alberta’s capital Edmonton to indulge in both scenic sights and shopping delights.
First, visit North Saskatchewan River Valley – North America’s largest urban parkland at 22 times the size of NYC’s Central Park. Explore by foot, cycle, snowshoe, skiing or even Segway, depending on the season, or go canoeing or SUP on the North Saskatchewan River.
Alternatively, get your kicks indoors at West Edmonton Mall, North America’s biggest shopping centre with 800 stores and 100 eateries. Or head to Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market for that one-of-a-kind souvenir, artisan gifts or fresh-picked produce.
Edmonton to Calgary (300km)
Once you’ve had your fill of Edmonton, come full circle to Calgary on your Alberta autumn road trip.
Explore more of Calgary’s cultural side with a trip to Studio Bell – home of the National Music Centre – to check out Canada’s rich musical traditions. Or discover the city’s historic roots and art at downtown’s vast Glenbow Museum with around one million items on display.
Visit Heritage Park Historical Village for a deep dive into Western Canadian history with preserved homesteads, steam trains and paddleboats.
Alberta is a winner in winter, too!
Alberta’s world-renowned ski and snowboard scene is ready to shred! Buy a SkiBig3 pass to access three Canadian Rockies resorts: Banff Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt Norquay.
It’s a winter wonderland – non-skiers can get in on the fun with ice-skating on frozen lakes, winter festivals, sleigh rides and festive season revelry.
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