Your Ultimate Road Trip in Alberta, Canada
As America’s friendly northern neighbor, Canada has been getting a lot of due recognition in the past few years. Although the entire country is more than worth a visit, the province of Alberta stands out with its majestic—and massive—national parks, its artsy-cool cities, and some of the most scenic drives in all of North America. Here, we’ve mapped out the perfect 10-day itinerary, so pack your bags and hit the road.
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
Day 1: Edmonton
Kick off the trip in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. This edgy city is making a name for itself thanks to its boho vibe and arts culture—especially with the upcoming opening of the $375 million Royal Alberta Museum and the annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival, where 1,600 artists, performers, and musicians take center stage every August. To get a real taste for the town, check out the funky Old Strathcona neighborhood. Metterra Hotel makes for the ideal base on Whyte Avenue, the district’s main artery, which is lined with historic theaters, indie boutiques, cozy cafes, and local brewpubs. Don’t miss the vinyl records at Blackbyrd, homemade pastries at Block 1912 bakery, indie films at the 100-year-old Princess Theatre, and Tokyo street food at Dorinku (it’s worth the wait).
Want some suds? Alberta is one of the top places to taste local drafts as the craft beer scene is booming from the region’s pure wheat production. Opened last summer, Biera is the first dining concept to come from Blind Enthusiasm brewery and the latest addition to the Ritchie Market, a mixed-space that houses Creekside Cyclery, Transcend coffee roasters, and Acme Meat Market butcher shop. Order a flight of amber ales and lagers, plus some shared plates such as juniper-smoked beef tongue pastrami and charcoal grilled moonshell clams. You’ll also want to visit Situation Brewery to tour the microbrewery and try a pint—the WTF Blood Orange Gose and the Page Turner IPA are favorites.
Day 2: Elk Island National Park
Just 45 minutes east of Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is known for its bison conservation efforts, making it a prime wildlife-spotting area. Cruise along the one-mile Bison Loop or head to Haskin Canoe and rent kayaks, canoes, or stand-up paddleboards to float around Lake Astotin. Come winter, opt for their private snowshoe tour where you’ll hike two hours across the lake and islands. The best part? The excursion ends with a bonfire, maple tea, hot chocolate, and maple taffy ice pops, made from syrup drizzled on fresh snow.
Days 3-4: Jasper National Park
Drive three hours west from Edmonton, and you’ll hit Jasper National Park. At 2.7 million acres, Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and is bigger than Yellowstone and Grand Teton combined. Bed down at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, a 700-acre resort with ultra-luxe chalet suites—think spacious log cabins, stone fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows—that hug the shore of Lac Beauvert.
While you could spend days outdoors, horseback riding and downhill skiing, you’ll want to save time for the property’s unique cultural programs. On weekend nights, you can wander down to a lakefront teepee to hear a local Cree woman share fireside First Nations stories and songs with traditional drums. Or, there’s a dark sky experience, where two astronomy experts discuss the constellations, teach you how to photograph the night sky, let you star gaze through their telescope, and give you a tour of the on-site indoor Jasper Planetarium.
The following day is all about embracing nature. In the summer, ride the sky tram to the peak of Whistlers Mountain for a 360-degree view of the Rockies. Keep an eye out for herds of wild elk on the way down. In the winter, don’t let the cold weather keep you inside. Book a trip to Maligne Canyon—15 minutes from the resort—with Sundog Tours to ice walk through a deep canyon, past frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and sweeping views of Pyramid Mountain.
Day 5: Icefields Parkway
You could technically drive the Icefields Parkway in three hours, but you won’t, with photo ops around every bend. Originally called the Wonder Trail, it broke ground in 1931 and took nearly a decade to finish. The 146-mile road, which runs from Jasper to Lake Louise, is Alberta’s most scenic drive due to the turquoise glaciers, crystalline lakes, and snow-capped peaks. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse moose, elk, bighorn sheep, or the rare grizzly bear and gray wolf. Halfway through the journey, stop at the Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floor path that cantilevers 919 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. Then, as you cross into Banff National Park and start to near Lake Louise, keep an eye out for the Crowfoot Glacier on the south end of Bow Lake. From here you’ll have a direct view of the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, a historic stone chalet built by mountaineer Jimmy Simpson.JS Tip: Before you go, download GyPSy Guide, a GPS-meets-travel-podcast app that tracks your location and tells you the history behind the sights you’re passing. It’s like having a private guide in your passenger seat.
Day 6: Lake Louise
There’s a reason why Lake Louise is one of Alberta’s most famous destinations. Besides its iconic alpine backdrop, this tiny hamlet is punctuated by the landmark Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which has hosted Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family as well as Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock. If the Fairmont Chateau looks like a Swiss wonderland, it’s because it is, in a way. From 1899 to 1954, the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway (and subsequent founder of the original Chalet Lake Louise) brought over Swiss mountain guides to help train Canadian climbers to summit the peaks, and later, teach them how to ski.
Today, this Swiss influence can still be felt from the decadent Swiss fondue dinner at its Walliser Stube restaurant to its Mountain Heritage Program—where a group of on-site adventure guides lead year-round activities, such as cross-country skiing, hiking to the historic Lake Agnes Tea House, exploring in a voyageur canoe, and snowshoeing under the stars to a secret candlelit igloo.
Day 7: Banff National Park
Although there’s always something new to see in Banff National Park, some not-to-miss activities are only a stone’s throw from the chateau. A half-hour drive will bring you to Johnston Canyon, one of the most popular trails in the region. Open year-round, this vertigo-inducing catwalk clings to the side of a gorge, overlooking the rushing creek and thundering waterfalls. It’s a 1.5-mile hike to the upper falls, and there are plenty of bridges and viewing platforms to snap a photo.
For a longer trek, take the 3.5-mile trail to the ink pots, a cluster of emerald mineral spring pools set in a bucolic meadow. Adrenaline junkies should visit in the winter, when it’s safe to ice climb the 160-foot frozen waterfalls with tour companies like Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. Then, continue on to the town of Banff to reward yourself with a glass of vodka, gin, or rye whiskey at Park Distillery, the world’s only distillery located in a national park. Using glacier water, foraged spruce tips, and wheat from local Alberta farms, these small-batch spirits are as fresh as it gets.
Day 8: Kananaskis
For a laid-back, under-the-radar getaway, look no further than Kananaskis, a ski resort village an hour west of Calgary. Movie buffs will go crazy for Fortress Mountain, which has served as the set for blockbusters like The Revenant, Inception, and X Men. The craggy peak has also been featured in so many Western movies that it has its own Cowboy Trail, where you can see all the famous film locations. While in the area, drop your bags at the Delta Hotels Kananaskis Lodge—soon to be a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel.
Fresh off a two-year, $33 million top-to-toe renovation, the resort now sports a modern mountain design throughout its sprawling, apartment-sized suites, which come with a jacuzzi tub, wood-burning fireplace, and bar stocked with local spirits. The resort has also recently reopened its world-class golf course, and in June, it will debut a brand new three-story Nordic Spa, with a saltwater pool, exfoliation room, and heated outdoor hammocks that zip into toasty cocoons. To top it off, the hotel features signature tours and experiences such as fat biking, dog sledding, and cave diving in Canmore. It even has its own helicopter pad so you can splurge on a private aerial tour.
Days 9-10 Calgary
As the largest city in Alberta, Calgary is the province’s epicenter of culture. Stay at the Hotel Arts, a boutique hotel in the heart of downtown.
From here, you’re steps from the East Village, which is home to the Snøhetta and DIALOG-designed Calgary Central Library, opening in November, and the new National Music Centre, an interactive museum, concert venue, and artist workshop within the Studio Bell complex. Classic rock fans should also check out the nearby Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, where music legends such as Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen recorded albums.
Eat your way through neighboring Victoria Park—Calgary’s up-and-coming culinary hotspot. Hit up Little Henry for coffee and simple veggie-centric bites; Native Tongues for beer-battered snapper tacos and mezcal; Proof for creative craft cocktails; and Two Penny for excellent Chinese lunch specials in a design-forward space. Bar Von Der Fels is a petit wine bar that pours local vintages next to farm-fresh small plates. Save an evening for Pigeonhole, an award-winning restaurant that serves inventive dishes like charred cabbage, BBQ carrots with bone marrow, albacore tuna tartare, red kuri squash, and ricotta black truffle dumplings drizzled in brown butter.
It’s only fitting to spend your last day shopping for local souvenirs. The quirky, riverfront Inglewood neighborhood is the place to go for vintage finds, indie threads, and eclectic home goods. Stroll down 9th Ave between 9th and 14th streets, and pop in Fresh Laundry apothecary, Recess stationary shop, and Plant terrariums. The Uncommons is a curated concept store filled with artisan goods and cool-kid accessories. Meanwhile, foodies will adore Silk Road Spice Merchant’s pantry full of exotic herbs, spices, and bitters.
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