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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Alberta

Home to shimmering lakes, soaring peaks, dense pine forests, and some of Canada’s most impressive unspoiled wilderness, the western province of Alberta is an outdoor explorer’s paradise`with spots such as Banff and Jasper drawing nature lovers from across the globe. A helicopter sightseeing flight provides an unconventional look at the Rocky Mountains, as does a via ferrata mountain tour, in which fixed iron ropes assist climbers of all abilities. Paddle through the swirling currents of Kicking Horse River on a white-water rafting trip or, for something a little more sedate, spot native Canadian wildlife on a dusk safari in Banff National Park. Don't miss Alberta’s top sights, which include Columbia Icefield in both Banff National Park and Jasper National Parks and Banff’s UNESCO-listed Lake Louise, where the crystal-clear waters reflect the mighty Rockies. Edmonton, the capital, and Calgary have plenty to offer travelers looking for a more cosmopolitan experience, too. Urban explorers can spin through diverse Edmonton neighborhoods such as Glenora and Old Strathcona by Segway, and take in top landmarks such as Whitemud Park and 124th Street with ease on a tour led by a local. To get to know Calgary, take a culinary walking tour, a brewery tour, or use the city as a base for alfresco trips to Bow River, Fort Calgary, Inglewood, St. Patrick's Island, or the Trans Canada Trail—which put you right back into the nature that makes Alberta such a draw for outdoor explorers.
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Banff Gondola
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5 Tours and Activities

It’s true – the views from atop Sulphur Mountain really are spectacular, and riding the Banff Gondola is the most fun way to get there.

From the fully enclosed glass gondola, you’ll see six mountain ranges, the town of Banff and the immense river valley. At the summit, stand on top of the world at the Upper Terminal and follow the self-guided Banff Skywalk along the summit ridge.

Hike the South East Ridge Trail, or visit the summit’s historic buildings, including a meteorological station and interactive giant compass. Dinner at the summit is an amazing experience, with views of Banff’s twinkling lights and snow-capped peaks.

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Athabasca River
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The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of the park.

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Lake Minnewanka
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The glacier-fed Lake Minnewanka lies just minutes from the town of Banff, and the sight of the Canadian Rockies jutting straight up out of the 17-mile-long body of water proves breathtaking. Lake Minnewanka is the perfect location to begin exploring the wilderness protected by both Banff National Park and the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cruises operate around the lake during the summer, but there are plenty of other ways to get out on the water. Minnewanka is the only lake in the Banff area to allow privately operated motorboats, and there are 16-foot aluminum boats available for rental as well. For a more authentic adventure, canoe rentals provide the opportunity to explore for a day or more, as several backcountry campgrounds are located around the lake. Setting out on the area’s trails is definitely worth the effort, too, even if it’s only to complete the two-mile stroll to the Stewart Canyon Bridge that spans the Cascade River.

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Medicine Lake
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When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.

Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.

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Columbia Icefield Skywalk
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Opened in May 2014 just north of the boundary between Banff and Jasper national parks, the Glacier Skywalk is a giant glass-floored archway that curves above breathtaking views of waterfalls, wildlife and glacier valleys.

Although transport between the Columbia Icefield Centre and the Glacier Skywalk viewpoint is free, there is a fee to enter the Glacier Skywalk and its interpretive tour. It’s worth the expense. The experience starts with a cliff-edge walkway with endless views of one of the most spectacular landscapes in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. Nature-themed exhibits add a touch of story-telling, describing everything from how the rugged mountain setting was formed over thousands of years to what species of wildlife now call it home. It ends on the glass-floored platform, a stomach-churning 918 feet (280 meters) above the Sunwapta River.

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Maligne Lake
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One of the most photographed locations in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is famous for the gorgeous emerald color of its water, the dramatic peaks and glaciers that are visible on its banks and for its views from Spirit Island. French traders coined the name ‘Maligne’ for the lake as well as a canyon, mountain and pass, meaning malignant or wicked—perhaps as a result of the turbulent rivers that flow into the lake.

The largest lake in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is no longer considered ‘wicked’ but instead is one of the most popular spots in the park for hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The 27.3 mile (44 km) Skyline Trail, Jasper's most popular multi-day hike, begins at Maligne Lake and finishes near the town of Jasper. Other popular day hikes include the Opal Hills and Bald Hills loops; winter activities include cross-country skiing.

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Bow Falls
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Bow Falls are located on the Bow River in Alberta’s Banff National Park, within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. The short, wide, cascading falls are a popular sightseeing stop, likely because of how accessible the natural destination is - the falls can be easily enjoyed by people of all abilities and all ages. Trails for pedestrians and for cyclists wind along the south shore of the Bow River and its rapids, and the pedestrian trail climbs up to the clifftop where the falls begin. (Bicycles aren’t allowed at the top.) The viewing areas at Bow Falls offer vistas of the river and the falls themselves. A cement promenade located at the base of the cascading falls has a few benches to sit on, though most people sit on the ledge of the promenade and enjoy the views from there. At the far end of the promenade is a small sandy beach where rafting and kayak tours often begin.

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More Things to Do in Alberta

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

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Originally called Banff Hot Springs Reserve, Cave and Basin National Historic Site was the birthplace of both Banff National Park and the entire Canadian National Parks system. Today, 43 national parks, 167 historic sites, four marine parks and one national urban park (which make up the largest network of protected lands in the world), can trace their roots back to these warm mineral waters in Banff, Alberta. Reopened in 2013 after a three-year renovation project, Cave and Basin is now home to an interpretive museum and a boardwalk hike past countless thermal pools, but the short walk down a stone tunnel into the large hot spring cave remains the most spectacular attraction. A waterfall pours down from the ceiling, filling the jade-green hot spring. The setting is so beautiful that it isn’t hard to believe that when three Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered the springs, they immediately laid claim to the land and saw its potential as a major tourism draw.

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Bow River

Bow River

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What begins as a drip of water from the melting Bow Glacier turns into the stunningly beautiful Bow River, which flows slowly and steadily through the Rockies in Canada’s oldest national park. The river also flows through Banff, Canmore and Calgary, making it a constant presence on any journey through southern Alberta.

The best way to appreciate the beauty of Bow River is by heading out on the wheelchair-friendly walking and cycling path in downtown Banff to complete the short trip to Bow Falls. Countless picnic tables and park benches make Bow Falls an ideal lunch spot, and float trips, in giant inflatable rafts, begin right at the base of the falls, too. Both wildlife and wildflowers are often seen along the river, where canoe trips are popular. The river is divided into three half-day canoeing sections, all of which require intermediate experience: Lake Louise to Castle Junction, Castle Junction to Banff and Bow Falls to Canmore.

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Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower

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Calgary Tower is a city landmark, teetering over the city’s downtown skyscrapers since 1968.

Atop the tower’s shaft you’ll find ‘the pod’, home to an observation deck and revolving restaurant. From here you have stunning views over the city, all the way to the snow-capped mountains fringing the horizon.

Peer through the binoculars on the observation deck, walk out on the glass floor rimming the edge of the observation deck if you dare, and dine in the revolving restaurant, Sky 360.

During special events, the Winter Olympics cauldron on the tower’s summit is lit, re-creating the Games magic.

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Mt. Edith Cavell

Mt. Edith Cavell

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Banff Upper Hot Springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs

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Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta Falls

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Calgary Stampede

Calgary Stampede

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Billing itself as the greatest outdoor show on earth, you can expect something special at the Calgary Stampede. And with everything you’ve come to love about rodeos, state fairs, grandstands, concerts and carousels, something special is what you get. Every year since 1923, this ten day event annually attracts more than a million people who come to see what happens when you offer the biggest payouts to rodeo contestants and marry it with chuckwagon races, blacksmithing competitions, midway, markets, dancing, singing, and a heavy native people’s participation. It’s an event of grand scale that kicks off with an opening parade featuring dozens of marching bands, over 150 floats, clowns, dancers, politicians and business leaders. It’s extravagant, beautiful, dusty, and it smells like funnel cake and horses – in short, it’s the defining event of Calgary, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Calgary Zoo

Calgary Zoo

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Glenbow Museum

Glenbow Museum

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West Edmonton Mall

West Edmonton Mall

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Fort Calgary

Fort Calgary

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Visit the spot where Calgary was born at Fort Calgary, and explore the city’s formative years from 1875 to 1914. A wooden fort was built here by the North West Mounted Police in 1875, and today, the legacy of those times is re-created with interactive exhibits, replica barracks, guided tours and an interpretive center. Dine in the former home of a Canadian Mountie, try on an authentic Mountie uniform and explore the fort’s extensive riverside grounds surrounding the meeting point of the Elbow and Bow rivers.

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Miette Hot Springs

Miette Hot Springs

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TELUS Spark

TELUS Spark

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