Home to vibrant cities, sparkling alpine lakes, wide-open prairies and the soaring Rocky Mountains, Alberta is often ranked as one of the world’s top travel destinations. There’s no shortage of adventures to discover in our own backyard for those of us lucky enough to live here with some of Canada’s best national parks and outdoor activities just a short drive away from hubs like Calgary and Edmonton.
Looking to travel through Alberta’ hidden corners? Have a look through these top weekend getaways.
Set against a backdrop of thick forests, the winding Bow River and looming Sulphur Mountain, Banff’s spellbinding setting makes for the ultimate city break. Start off a visit with a leisurely walk down Banff Avenue to duck into the shops, then head to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site on the outskirts of town which is where rail workers discovered a bubbling thermal spring back in the 1800s. That sparked the creation of Canada’s national park system, designed to protect Canada’s most pristine areas. Check out the interpretive centre, then wander along the two-kilometre Marsh Loop Trail which winds through a thick grove of trees before ending at a marsh habitat beloved by birders.
Back on Banff Avenue, dine at Grizzly House, a local institution that’s been in business for over half a century thanks to its quirky fondue offerings that include the likes of rattlesnake and shark. The nearby Fox Hotel and Suites is the perfect spot to hole up for a night, with cozy rooms that accommodate all group sizes and a hot pool grotto that plays off the Cave and Basin theme.
Cap off your weekend getaway with a soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs found halfway up Sulphur Mountain, which is a scenic spot perfect for soothing those aching muscles after a long day of hiking or skiing.
Just 15 minutes down the road from Banff, the town of Canmore has majestic mountain surroundings, cute chalets and amenities similar to its famous neighbour, but with far fewer crowds which makes staying here such a treat. Grab a pint at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company which offers tasting tours of their in-house brews, then check-in to the Solara Resort and Spa, a luxurious mountain retreat where every room is a suite boasting a full kitchen, fireplace, and spa-inspired bathroom.
Canmore’s proximity to ski resorts such as Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay make it a great base for skiers, and visitors love slipping on a pair of crampons and walking along the frozen creekbed in Grotto Canyon to see ancient pictographs. In warmer months, cyclists will want to hit the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, a scenic, 40-kilometre pathway linking Canmore with Banff.
Found at the end of the Icefields Parkway which is considered to be one of the world’s most scenic highways, Jasper is an outdoor playground year-round. Base yourself at the beloved Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which is nestled on the shores of Beauvert Lake and has cozy cabins, a massive outdoor hot tub, gourmet dining and even a canine ambassador named Stanley who guests are welcome to cuddle or take for a walk.
Great spots to explore in Jasper National Park include picture-perfect Pyramid Lake, Athabasca Falls which is scenic in all seasons (particularly winter when it freezes over and creates sparkling ice crystals), and Marmot Meadows for wildlife spotting. A bit farther from town you’ll find the other-worldly Columbia Icefield where you can drive right on a glacier, and the Glacier Skywalk which is a glass platform suspended nearly 1000 feet above the Sunwapta Valley–not recommended for those who are afraid of heights!
Toast to a fun day at the Jasper Brewing Company, which brews all of their beer in-house and also offers brewery tours. If it’s your first time at the local watering hole, order their 6 x 6 oz. sampler to taste test some of their most popular brews.
Set against a dramatic vista of mountain ranges, ‘K-Country’ is less than an hour’s drive southwest of Calgary making it the ultimate city escape. As the gateway to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, it’s a popular spot with outdoor enthusiasts who tackle its hiking trails, paddle on Upper Kananaskis Lake, or cycle in from Longview as part of the challenging Highwood Pass.
On a sunny summer day, Forget-Me-Not Pond is the perfect place for a family picnic thanks to its calm waters which make for the perfect place to float, and Rawson Lake is a fabulous hike for all skill levels with gorgeous views.
Winter is also a special time in Kananaskis, when cross-country skiers hit the snow-covered trails, and the Nakiska Ski area welcomes guests to zip down one of its 79 runs or play in the tube park. No matter what season it is, the Delta Hotels by Marriott Kananaskis is always a crowd-pleaser for an overnight stay, boasting a huge pool, outdoor skating rink, spa, five restaurants and stylish rooms.
The stunning landscapes surrounding this mountain village have graced many magazine covers, luring visitors with breathtaking scenes like brightly-coloured canoes on the shores of sparkling Moraine Lake, surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. During summer, weekenders love hiking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House to soak in views of the surrounding glaciers and Bow Valley, while winter means snowshoeing or skating on frozen Lake Louise, sleigh rides, and sipping cocktails at the ice bar in front of the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which is the perfect place to unwind. Considered to be one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Alberta, guests staying in one of its 500-plus guest rooms love its enviable location right on the shores of Lake Louise.
For happy hour or après-ski, head next door to Deer Lodge and order their Rocky Mountain Charcuterie Platter, which includes specialties like smoked air-dried buffalo, gouda, game pâté, smoked pepper duck and elk salami.
Found in the heart of Alberta’s Cowboy Trail, this hidden gem is like a gateway to the Wild Wild West. Surrounded by prairies, rolling foothills and the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, Sundre is all about outdoor adventures. Head out for an exhilarating day of rafting along the Red Deer River, pull on your cowboy boots and horseback ride in the Panther Valley while keeping an eye out for those elusive wild horses, and make the trip out to Ya-Ha Tinda to see gorgeous Big Horn Falls (which just might be the best-kept secret from the masses who travel Alberta).
Dining options in town include Kodiak BBQ and Deli which serves up a mean pulled pork, while a great place to spend the night is the delightfully luxe Best Western Plus Mountainview Inn & Suites.
Waterton used to be the place where those in-the-know went to get away from the crowds, but this southern Alberta spot is quickly becoming one of the province’s most popular weekend getaways. Known as the place where the “Mountains meet the Prairies,” it offers the best of both worlds. Visitors love hiking up The Bear’s Hump, a strenuous climb that’s well worth the effort once you get to the top and are rewarded with views of Waterton Valley, the surrounding mountain ranges and the glistening Waterton Lakes.
Back in the village, rent a canoe and paddle around Cameron Lake, then drop by the iconic Prince of Wales hotel. A mainstay that’s overlooked Waterton since 1927, the hotel has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and is the perfect place to enjoy afternoon high tea. For overnight stays, book in at the Waterton Glacier Suites, a centrally-located, all-suite hotel with mountain views and prime animal viewing.
Have you got your own list of weekend getaways that you believe every Albertan ought to do? Let us know how you like to travel Alberta!