Planning a trip to Alberta, Canada? Here is an ‘Alberta 101’ trip itinerary that will get you in sync with glorious nature, and that will take you through urban, and rural Alberta. This trip will pique your curiosity, and soon you will be planning another vacation to experience Alberta to the fullest. Follow this itinerary to walk in the footsteps of miners, explore the majestic mountains and its glaciers, see the ever changing Alberta Badlands, experience the life in the Prairies and get to know the prehistoric world!
Please verify all details mentioned below from concerned officials.
- Alberta Road Warnings and Conditions – Here (Call 511)
- Weather Warnings – Here (If you are camping, make sure that there are no fire bans posted.)
- You will be covering some of Alberta’s best provincial parks and Canada’s National Parks (4 out of 5 that is in Alberta are included). Make sure sure you are aware of any warnings and other travel related advisories posted by the respective agencies(including park specific road closures).
How to use this itinerary:
The itinerary starts by assuming that you are crossing into Canada from Montana (after visiting Glacier National Park(Border Crossings: Caraway/Chief Mountain), but you can use this from any point in the loop and do the complete trip, whether you are flying into Calgary or Edmonton. If you like to rent RV/Caravan/Campervan for your trip, you can do so at most major Alberta cities.
If are crossing in from BC, start the trip at Banff/or Jasper.
If you are visiting from Regina (TransCanada), follow the trip from Medicine Hat.
Coming from Saskatoon? Start at Elk Island National park or at Drumheller and go counter clockwise.
If you are crossing in from Sweet Grass, MT (via Coutts), do the itinerary counter clockwise.
This is a late Spring to Fall Itinerary.
All night stops have camping options and hotels available. Though there are plenty food options along the way, make sure you have replenishments with you, incase you linger at any place that catches your fancy!
Day 1: Cardston and Waterton National Park
From your Border crossing at Caraway, Remington Carriage Museum is 25 km(20 minute drive) North on AB2.
Stop 1: Remington Carriage Museum
If you took your road trip in 19th century, how would you have travelled?
Your first Stop of the day is Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston. See over 270 carriages, buggies, wagons and sleighs on display. This is the largest collection of 19th and early 20th-century horse-drawn transportation in North America.
Hours: Open Year round, closed December 24, 25, January 1, and Easter Sunday.
Time Required: 1 hour at least. More if you want to go on Horse-drawn carriage rides.
Stop 2: Waterton Lakes National Park
Drive ~ 55km (45 minutes) to Waterton National Park on AB 5 West.
Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-see. Enjoy a cruise on Upper Waterton Lake, hike to Blakiston Falls or on the Crypt Lake Trail, drive the Akamina Parkway or Red Rock Canyon Parkway, you will find plenty to do here for a day’s stay or a long weekend.
Hours: Open Year Round, some facilities are closed in Winter.
Time Required: 1 day at least.
Note: If you are crossing over from Chief Mountain (after Glacier National Park visit), do Waterton First and the next day, Remington Carriage Museum, skipping Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
Day 2: Waterton to Lethbridge
From Waterton National Park, head north on AB-6 for half an hour (~45km) to reach Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
Get food for the road from Pincher Creek.
Stop 1: Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
If you like history, then consider stopping at this village that chronicles the pioneer past of Pincher Creek, the third oldest surviving settlement in Alberta. Relive the past by touring through 24 authentically exhibited heritage buildings surrounded by visually stunning grounds. Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Houses Kootenai Brown’s 1883 cabin (Waterton National Park’s first Superintendent) and the 1878 NWMP Horse Barn amongst many other authentic structures.
Hours: Open Year Round.
Time Required: 1 Hour.
Stop 2: Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
Drive via Beaver Mines, a hamlet that was once a flourishing mining town towards Leitch Collieries. This drive takes ~ 30minutes (40 km)
Leitch Collieries was one of the most impressive and sophisticated early coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass. Stroll through graceful ruins of a coal processing plant and find out how a coal mine worked and why this one failed.
Hours: Open May 15 to Labour Day.
Time Required: Half an hour.
Stop 3: Bellevue Underground Mine
From Leitch Collieries, it is a 5 minutes drive via AB-3 west to the Town of Bellevue.
Go on this 1 hour guided tour of the mine, walk in the miner’s footsteps and learn more about Western Canadian mining communities.
Open: May to Labour Day.
Time Required: 1 Hour.
Have lunch at Bellevue and pack a picnic for the later day stop at Lundbreck Falls.
Stop 4: The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre
From Bellevue Underground Mine, it is another 5 minutes drive via AB-3 west.
The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre tells the story of tragedy and triumph in the Crowsnest Pass, when Turtle Mountain literally fell down on the flourishing coal town at the base of Turtle Mountain causing Canada’s deadliest rockslide.
Hours: Open Year Round. Closed Dec 24, 25, Jan 1 & Easter Sunday
Time Required: 1 hour.
Stop 5: Lundbreck Falls
After about 17 km from Frank Slide, turn onto Highway 3A to Lundbreck Provincial Park.
After all that mining history and tales of bygone days, it is time to take a rest at Alberta’s tiny Niagara falls located in Lundbreck Provincial Park. Enjoy the sight of Crowsnest River plunging 12 m down into the canyon below. You can go down to the gorge via the wooden steps. There are picnic sites and toilets here.
Hours: Open Year Round.
Time Required: 1 hour or less.
After your visit to Lundbreck Falls, if you want to cut your trip short, go north on Highway 22 (Cowboy Trail) to Calgary.
Stop 6: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
Set your GPS to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. If you want to drive on the highway, continue on AB 3 E and then on AB785 W for approximately an hour.
Note: If you plan to visit this site, you will have to make sure ( you will have to skip one place mentioned above or hurry through places), you are here by 04:00 PM, the centre closes at 05:00 PM.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site’s interpretive center showcases buffalo hunting culture – how the indigenous peoples of the plains killed buffalo by driving them off the 11-metre cliff. You can venture outside along a paved trail that leads you to spectacular views of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Cliff, the great prairies to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the south.
Hours: Open Year Round. Closed Dec 24, 25, Jan 1 & Easter Sunday.
Time Required: At least an hour
After your visit, continue onto Leithbridge, which is your stop for the night.
Day 3: Lethbridge to Calgary
Today, spend time exploring Southern Alberta’s largest city.
Must visit include Galt Museum & Archives that showcases human history of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta, Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden that offers you an unforgettable cultural experience, combining the beauty of nature in a serene setting and Fort Whoop-Up.
The Vulcan Tourism & Trek Station
After lunch in the city, take AB-23 N to Vulcan, named after the Roman god of fire ~ 1 hour drive.
Stop at the visitor information centre that was designed to look like a landing spacecraft that is home to a large collection of Star Trek Memorabilia. If you are a Star Trek fan, you can leave with some great souvenirs…
Hours: Open Year Round.
Time Required: 30 minutes.
Options for the rest of the day
Stop 2: Option 1: Nanton to Calgary
From Vulcan, drive west for ~ half an hour to reach Nanton.
Here consider visiting the Bomber Command Museum of Canada that displays three WWII Bombers, as well as training aircraft, displays, aviation art, Bomber nose art, informative videos and archives.
Hours: Open Year Round.
After your visit, go antique hunting along Nanton’s downtown core and explore a diverse collection of merchants and galleries.
Nanton to Calgary
Another hour drive on North on AB 2 takes you to Calgary.
Stop 2 – Option 2: Mossleigh to Calgary
If you are travelling on a weekend (Friday or Saturday), consider this option. We have mentioned another train experience in Stettler – consider doing the one that you find more attractive and the one that suits your schedule.
30 min drive via AB-23 N and AB-24 N, gets you to Mossleigh just in time for a train ride across Alberta Prairies.
Aspen Crossing: Enjoy serene prairie views of the 28-mile round trip, while rocking back and forth with the sounds of the rail providing a relaxing atmosphere, taking one back to a simpler time. Ride past historic wooden elevators, while learning ﬁrst hand about agriculture and the railroad. In the evening (on select Friday and Saturday only), Aspen Crossing offers a Twilight Tour or a Dinner Theatre tour.
Time Required: 3 to 4 hours.
Hours: Summer on select Fridays and Saturdays only.
You can stay here (they have campgrounds as well as cabins) or drive to Calgary (another hour or so).
Day 4: Calgary
There is plenty to do in Calgary from exploring the downtown core to finding out how the west once lived. Decide what you want to do and plan accordingly.
See the following articles and plan your day.
Day 5: Calgary to Kananaskis to Canmore
Today, we will taste a bit of Cowboy Trail and drive through the glorious Kananaskis Country.
From Calgary, drive south on AB2 and AB2A towards Black diamond for ~ 45 minutes from downtown Calgary to reach Okotoks Erratic.
Stop 1: Okotoks Erratic
The Okotoks Erratic is the largest known rock in the Foothills Erratics Train. Hike to the site of this big glacial erratic, about the size of a 2 storied house, as you ponder over the Blackfoot story of its origin.
Hours: Open Year Round
Time Required: Half an hour.
Stop 2: Bar U Ranch National Historic Site
From the Big Rock(erratic), drive West towards the town of Black Diamond, and from there continue to Longview on the Highway 22 South stopping at Longview Jerky shop to get one-of-a-kind beef jerkies. You can even try Szechuan flavoured jerky. Continuing another 15 km you will reach Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.
Established in 1881, the ranch at one point the ranch covered more than 160,000 acres and played hostto over 30,000 cattle and 1000 Percheron horses. Today the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site boasts of 35 historic buildings and structures. Touring these buildings will take you back to the days of hard-working ranch cowboys.
Have lunch at the Bar U Ranch Cafe. The menu includes homemade soups, chillies, burgers and seasonal salads and desserts
Hours: May 15 to September 30
Time Required: 1 to 2 hours.
Stop 3: Highwood Pass
From Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, drive back to the town of Longview, then get Hwy 541 and to Highway 40.
This road is closed from December 1 – June 14. If you are doing this trip in June visit Bar U National Historic Site on the way to Calgary, after Nanton. Drive takes ~ 1hour 30 minutes.
Highwood Pass in Peterlougheed Provincial Park is the highest paved pass in Canada and is located at the tree line, offering splendid views of the multi-coloured mountains. Hike the Highwood Meadows Trail that starts near the summit – this is a wheel-chair accessible trail – boardwalk through a fragile alpine meadow.
If you want to, stop at Spray Valley provincial park information centre to get the information you need and at Mount Engadine Lodge for afternoon tea or dinner.
Time Required: 3 Hours, or more (if doing hiking along the many other enticing trails you find along the way)
The following map, may not show the route if you are reading this article when Highway 40 is closed.
Day 6: Canmore to Banff
Today, hike to Grassi Lakes. The Grassi Lakes trail winds past a waterfall where it eventually leads you to two majestic turquoise lakes.
After your hike, drive towards Lake Minnewanka. Do the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive and then to Banff Town. Go on the Lake Minnewanka cruise at Lake Minnewanka, if that is your choice or sit awhile to enjoy the breeze and the views.
Highlights in Banff Town:
Cave and Basin Historic Site (the Birthplace of Canadian National Park): Take the guided tour and see the narrow tunnels in the dimly lit cave, learn about the history of Banff and the bathing pavilion and take a boardwalk stroll over marshlands.
Mt Norquay and Via Ferrata: Ride up the North American chairlift: 2 person open air chair lift, to enjoy the stunning scenery and view of the mountain vistas.
Bow Falls: A shallow but wide waterfall caused by the change of course of the Bow River
Banff Gondola: A gondola ride can be taken up Sulphur Mountain to enjoy panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies.
and Vermilion Lakes.
You may also head to Sunshine Meadows to enjoy a glorious day (or half a day) hiking.
Day 7: Banff to Lake Louise
Today, rise with the sun, have your breakfast and drive towards Johnston Canyon. Hike this spectacular Canyon formed by rushing waters 8000 years ago. Continue on Bow Valley Parkway, a spectacular scenic drive towards the village of Lake Louise. Allocate two hours for the drive. Stop at the roadside pullouts to enjoy the view.
Explore Lake Louise, the spectacular Lake that is visited by millions from around the world. Hike to the end of the Lake where you can see how the Glacier melt reaches the Lake.
Have lunch/tea at the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.
Next drive to Moraine Lake, enjoy a walk beside the Lake or explore the Lake on the Canoe.
Stay at Lake Louise. You will find hotels and Parks Canada Campgrounds here.
See Banff – Lake Louise Itinerary for ideas.
Itinerary continued on next page: