It is not hard to find beauty in Alberta’s natural surroundings. This large province contains all sorts of wilderness to explore like waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, badlands and hoodoos, foothills, caves, rivers, and all the space in between.
You can check a number of these unique sights off your bucket list by combining some of Alberta’s natural wonders into one day or weekend trip. To make those trips easier, these 25 of Alberta’s natural wonders are organized by region.
Almost all of the locations mentioned (except for those in National Parks) are free to visit.
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I. Northern Alberta
Athabasca Sand Dunes
No, we are not talking about the ones in Saskatchewan.
Located between the Maybelle River Wildland Park and the Richardson River Dunes Wildland, these unique Alberta formations are located ~200 km or 2 hours north from Fort McMurray. Travelling to the Athabasca Sand Dunes Ecological Reserve in the summer months will make you feel like you travelled to another planet, as these formations cannot be seen anywhere else in the province. The park protects 12-metre tall sand dunes and 60 metre high kames, which are also are among the largest in the world. This location is an absolute must for anybody travelling north to Fort McMurray. McMurray Aviation provides aerial tours to the sand dunes.
The Boreal Forest and Lesser Slave Lake
We are incredibly lucky in Alberta to have over half of our province covered in Boreal Forest.
The largest contiguous area of boreal protected land in the world is in northern Alberta. The Kazan, Richardson and Birch River wildland provincial parks connect Park Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park to other existing wildland provincial parks. Because of this natural and massive forest which stretches across most of northern Canada, we can experience numerous types of wildlife, bird species, scenic hikes, and secluded camping trips.
Hard Luck Canyon
The Hard Luck Canyon and Falls and trail are a short drive south from the town of Whitecourt– a place which on its own can provide numerous walking, hiking, cycling, and nature-loving activities. But if you want to escape town, or any other town/city nearby, Hard Luck Canyon is the hidden forest gem you’ve been looking for, with numerous trails, picnic spots, and magnificent falls.
Directions: Range Rd 125A, Woodlands County
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Within the county of Grande Prairie, and just east of town near Bezanson, is Kleskun Hill Park and Natural Area. The most noticeable features to take in as you enter include Dinosaur Hill and Garrett Hill, the eroded remains of an old river delta-similar (just like southern Alberta’s badlands) which are a unique sight in the northern prairies. The large rocks rise 100 m above rolling hills and planes which are dotted with over 160 species of wildflowers and plants. There is a campground open from June to October (9 non-serviced sites) situated amongst preserved historic buildings. The campground also has showers and a playground.
Directions: 41060 TWP RD 724, Grande Prairie
On Alberta’s western edge you can find the Kakwa Falls Wildland Provincial Park. To catch a glimpse of the Kakwa Falls you can take a quick 1.2 km walk from the campground and parking lot. The water rushes over a 30 m-tall cliff surrounded by towering pines and firs. The cliff creates a natural bridge and a small cave underneath. There is a day-use area with picnic tables and firepits, and a smaller set of waterfalls to see further on the hiking trails (Francis Peak Creek Falls). 4-wheel drive is essential beyond Lick Creek.
II. Southern Alberta
Red Rock Canyon
The bright and colourful rock faces of Red Rock Canyon are a natural wonder hidden in Alberta’s south west. You’ll find the small but beautiful canyon within Waterton Lakes National Park where you can enjoy different short hikes around the rocks. The scenic drive into the area takes you through alpine meadows and grassy fields filled with flowers.
Cost: National Park Fees Apply.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Situated 44 kilometres east of the community of Milk River, and southeast of Lethbridge is Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park/Áísínai’pi National Historic Site. Abundant in hoodoos, and narrow sandstone canyons, steep sandstone cliffs, the park contains the largest concentration of First Nation petroglyphs and pictographs on the great plains of North America. The park is of spiritual importance to the First Nations people. The carvings are estimated to be at least 5000 years old. Get a map from the visitor centre and hike the 2.2 km Hoodoo Interpretive Trail. You can enjoy a swim in the cool water of the Milk River, the only river in Alberta that flows south into the Mississippi basin.
Red Rock Coulee Natural Area
Not only is the Red Rock Coulee Natural Area a unique natural wonder as a location, but the wildlife who call the area home are quite special for Alberta as well. In this southeastern Provincial Natural Area, located 50 km south of Medicine Hat, you could spot mule deer, pronghorn, western rattlesnakes, bull snakes, or short-horned lizards. Scorpions have been spotted too but are rare. The large open areas make the Red Rock Coulee an intense place to catch a sunrise or sunset over the badlands. The dramatic structures rise about 2-2.5 m out of the ground, and there’s plenty of space for hikes and picnics.
The Turtle Mountain
Along the scenic Crowsnest Pass Highway, you drive through the remnants of what once was Turtle Mountain. It is the historic site of Canada’s deadliest rockslide, which tragically buried the town of Frank in 1903. There is a lookout area over the rubble, an interpretive centre, as well as a hiking trail. Fireman’s Park is another location from which you can take in the dark beauty of these mountains.
To truly appreciate the mountain, we suggest you do the 6.2km return climb to the North Peak (Turtle Mountain Trail). After braving the shifting rocks and exposure, you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the town, Frank Slide and the neighbouring peaks!
Cost: Turtle Mountain Trail Hike Free; Frank Slide Centre: Admission applies – $9 to $15
Lundbreck Falls is a gorgeous waterfall, easily accessible from Highway 3 near the end of Cowboy Trail. The rushing Crowsnest River plunges 12 m down Lundbreck Falls into a deep pool below in a sight that is often compared to Niagra. Watch from the observation deck, then head down into the limestone gorge to take it in from below. These spectacular falls draw many visitors every year, who stop to enjoy a picnic and the spray of the falls from one of the many viewing sites. A nearby campground is available for overnight stays.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
The Drumheller region holds many natural wonders, but none draw as much attention as it being the Dinosaur Capital of the World. It gets this name from the abundance of fossils and bones discovered in the rocks and hills of the surrounding badlands. The Provincial Park now offers a variety of ‘comfort camping options,’ which you can pair with Interpretive Tours, hikes, and other educational opportunities.
If you’ve never been out to the Okotoks Erratic, be sure to check it out! It’s a ginormous rock that has been there since the ice age. Hike to the site of this big glacial erratic that weighs ~16,500-tonnes, about the size of a 2 storied house, as you ponder over the Blackfoot story of its origin. You can bring a picnic for the large grassy area surrounding it, and explore this incredible natural phenomenon in your own backyard.
Red Deer River through Alberta Badlands
Experience Alberta’s badlands from the water. A major tributary of the South Saskatchewan River, the Red Deer River offers various adventures – white water rafting near Sundre, calm river tubing along select sections of the River, and awesome canoeing through the badlands. Follow the river on a canoe from Content Bridge near the hamlet of Nevis to Dinosaur Provincial Park via Tolman Heritage Rangelands Natural Area, which protects extensive badlands that lines the river’s banks. (Guide)
The entire canoeing trip will take about four to seven days. You may select shorter sections of the river, like Content Bridge to Trenville Park, Trenville Park to the Tolman Bridge campground, or Morrin Bridge to Newcastle Park in Drumheller (Canoe Access in the Red Deer River Corridor) for a day trip. Lynch Ranch Canoe Rentals & Shuttle Services provides canoe rentals and shuttle service from Content Bridge to Drumheller.
If you rather watch from the land visit (Scenic Road Trip Alberta: Calgary to Edmonton Via The Badlands):
- Horseshoe Canyon: You’ll enjoy a lot with this view: Horseshoe Canyon overlooks an immense amount of mountainous badlands and sprawling prairie land. This hiking trail and lookout in Kneehill County. The hiking Trail begins in Old Baldy Campground and is a 4 km hike open year-round to hikers, cross-country skiers, fat bikers, and snowshoes. Directions
- The Hoodoos: The Hoodoos within the badlands near Drumheller are worth the drive for a variety of getaways: weekend camping trips, family day trips. The largest of these natural wonders are within a protected site, and smaller versions can be seen across Alberta’s badlands. They are a marvellous site in person and tower 5-7 m above the ground. There is a short trail which will take you around the hoodoos and which is suitable for all skill levels- as long as you’re in suitable footwear! Direction
- Horsethief Canyon: The breathtaking landscape you can take in from Horsethief Canyon is just a 10–15-minute drive from the town of Drumheller. You can enjoy the Canyon from above, where you can see all the best of the badlands all at once and if you’re feeling more adventurous, there are hikes you can take deeper into the valley. The Horsethief Canyon trails are best suited to more experienced hikers. Directions
III. Rocky Mountains
Sulphur Gates – Smoky/Sulphur River Crossing
The Sulphur Gates Provincial Recreation Area can provide a lot: it is an incredibly scenic stop off the highway and a good place to rest, has places to camp (with equestrian posts) and is the trailhead to a 3–4-hour hike (round-trip) to Eaton Falls. The first natural wonder to see, which is a short walk from the parking lot, is the Smoky/Sulphur River crossing. There are a boardwalk and path that take you around the stunning cliff faces and from which you can get multiple viewpoints of the rivers. While here, check out the Eaton Falls, a hike with 355 m elevation gain, but a worthwhile view of beautiful falls in the end. Find it all on Sulphur Gates Rd. Via AB-40.
Miette Hot Springs
Alberta has 2 natural hot springs suitable for swimming. The Miette Hot Springs in Jasper also has a family-friendly hike that takes you through the rocks which pump out the mineral-rich water feeding the hot springs (warning: it can get a little stinky along the hike). The trail also leads you through the remnants of the previous Miette Resort area. The Miette Hot Springs area can be accessed May – October.
Cost: National Parks Admission + Hot Springs Admission (~$7.21 for adults)
The magnificent views provided by Maligne Canyon (the deepest canyon) in Jasper National Park can be an excuse for a scenic rest stop, as a majority of canyon views are available at the first few bridges. However, this trail, marked by the bridges, can also be followed all the way to the Athabasca River (6th Bridge). If you take this trail, you can return via the same bridge hike, or take the 3.4 km loop through the trees. When hiking beyond the main bridges, it is important to have proper waterproof footwear with a good grip. New to the area is the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen where you can enjoy a drink or a bite to eat.
Cost: National Parks Admission
Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefields area draws in visitors from all around the world (in a normal year) and is a must-see for any local Albertan. The Icefields and Glacier are within Jasper NP, where you can take in a variety of other natural wonders during your visit. The drive to the Athabasca Glacier along the Parkway is awe-inspiring, and provides chances to stop for a rest, picnic, or quick hike.
Cost: National Parks Admission
Well, Icefields Parkway is not a natural attraction, but a scenic drive. It is THE road that will take you through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery and natural wonders between the town of Lake Louise and the town of Jasper. Travelling through some of both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, this twisty drive will test not only your driving skills but also your ability to keep your eyes on the road! Checkout Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier (mentioned above) as you drive the 227 kilometer mountain road.
Cost: National Parks Admission
No list of Alberta’s natural wonders will be complete without mentioning Alberta’s famous glacier lakes. One of the most popular glacier lakes in Banff National Park, this lake that featured on the 1969 and 1979 issues of the twenty-dollar bill is in the gorgeous Valley of the 10 Peaks. Take the Rockpile Trail, to enjoy the view of the Lake backdropped by Valley of the Ten Peaks from the top. Book your seat on the shuttle if you are visiting during the summer months.
Cost: National Parks Admission
Enjoy the most famous of the glacier lakes in the province by rowing on the lake or walking towards the foot of the glacier that is visible at the far end of this stunning lake. Called ‘The Lake of the Little Fishes by the Stoney Natoka First Nations, the Lake was named after Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of Governor-General of Canada, Marquess of Lorne.
Cost: National Parks Admission
Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots
To experience this beautiful mountain area full of waterfalls, treed-in trails, and the famous Ink Pots, you can begin at the Johnston Canyon Day use area. From here, the Ink Pots are 5.7 km hike (about 4 hours round trip), so this hike is best started early in the day. The trails and bridges take you through the canyon past two waterfalls, through a meadow, and finally to the Ink Pots: these naturally occurring shallow pools are formed by water rising up from deep beneath Earth’s surface.
Cost: National Parks Admission
Canmore Rat Caves
The Canmore Caves are one of Alberta’s natural wonders that do require an experienced tour guide. Interested in trying some amateur spelunking? The Canmore Cave Tours experience take you on a number of different guided tours through Rocky Mountain caves; choose from the Adventure or Explorer Tours for full-day excursions, or book a shorter Discovery Hike more suited to young kids. All of these tours include a lot more than simply travelling the caves and trails like “catch and release” fossil hunting, a museum visit, and educational/interpretive information.
Cost: $115 & Up
The raging waters of the Crescent Falls PRA create stunning 360-degree views over the Bighorn Canyon and jagged cliff faces. There is an easily-accessible parking lot off the David Thompson Highway from where you can view the Crescent Falls, but you can also take a day-hike down into the valley to get a closer look at the falls. The hike is a 6 km loop beginning at the Crescent Falls Campground.
Ram Falls Provincial Park is a perfect natural wonder for most Albertans to easily behold: the region is not far from Edmonton, Red Deer or Calgary, and these beautiful waterfalls are within a park where you can camp, hike, and take in some wildlife! You have a good chance of running into some big horned sheep in this region, as well as black bears, deer, or moose. It is a secluded destination and makes for a great quiet weekend away from the city. The viewpoint of the falls is a short walk from the campground.
The Northern Lights
One of the most accessible natural wonders in Alberta is the dark sky preserves. Through these protected areas, you can view a sky of northern lights, bright constellations, a shooting star, and of course the brightest moon. You can find Dark Sky Preserves in all corners of Alberta.
By: Bernadette Gallagher