With the last day of spring just past, summer’s officially started. That means it’s time for everyone’s favourite summer activity: road trips! If you (or a friend) have a car, that means you have access to Alberta in all its amazing, historic, weird, natural, beautiful, and fascinating glory.
Of course, there’s much, much more of Alberta to explore beyond the handful of suggestions we’ve listed here – but these are a few of our favourites. So grab your snacks, fill up your gas tank, and roll down your windows, and hit the road!
Visit the Badlands
Trip time: Half- to full-day (3 hours driving total)
What’s to see? There’s tons of cool stuff in the badlands – Drumheller’s not called the ‘Dinosaur Capital of the World’ for nothing. You can pay $18 to get into the Royal Tyrell museum and get to see some seriously cool palaeontology. The Royal Tyrell has one of the biggest displays of dinos in the world, and also some super neat science-y programs, so if you want to feel like Dr. Alan Grant you can try your hand at fossil excavation or try to assemble a raptor skeleton (just don’t forget your floppy straw hat).
You can also take a stroll through Alberta’s fabulous hoodoos – try a free, self-guided walking tour leaving from the museum, or head out on your own to the Hoodoos trail from Willow Creek Coulee. Or pack a picnic and visit the stunning Horseshoe Canyon!
Of course, if you’re near Drumheller, you can’t miss the World’s Largest Dinosaur. Climb 82 feet up the stairs inside the dino and hang out inside her mouth – because, why not?
Getting there: Head north on Deerfoot/AB-2 N, then east on the 566 or 72 to meet up with AB-9 E and take it all the way to Drumheller.
Speaking of the World’s Largest Dinosaur…
Trip time: Up to you! (Anywhere from half- to multi-day trip)
What’s too see? Alberta has a lot of the World’s Biggest X roadside attractions. Like, a lot. Way more than you’d expect. Depending how much time (and gas money) you have, there’s enough giant statues of food, animals, and farming equipment to keep you busy all summer long.
Getting there: Head up north to Edmonton (giant beer can) and swing through Mundare (giant Ukrainian sausage), Vegreville (giant pysanka/Ukranian Easter egg), Glendon (giant perogie), Vilna (giant mushrooms), and round it out with Andrew’s giant mallard duck.
Or go south to Taber (giant corn stalk), through Coaldale (bald eagle), then head to Vulcan for a giant replica of the USS Enterprise, then finish up with Pincher Creek’s giant pinchers and Black Diamond’s giant (you guessed it) black diamond. Seriously – the possibilities are endless!
Visit Áísínai’pi/Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Trip time: Full day/multi-day (7 hours driving total)
What’s to see? Located in southeast Alberta along the spectacular Milk River valley, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park (Áísínai’pi National Historic Site) is rich in cultural heritage and natural history, with many rock carvings (petroglyphs) and rock paintings (pictographs) found in the area. This area get hot – upwards of 45C in the hot summer days, so bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a hat. And bring a swim suit – Milk River has a gorgeous natural sand beach.
Walk the Hoodoo Trail, an easy, 4.4 kilometer return hike with interpretive stops along the way, or the short 1 kilometer Battle Scene Trail up to weathered pictographs depicting a battle that took place. If you’re the guided-tour type, you can pre-book a 2-hour walking tour for $18 through the park (they offer three different tours).
It’s a long drive to get out there (3.5 hours one-way), so if you want a more leisurely trip, consider staying overnight at the campground or in the town of Milk River and spending the next day visiting the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site.
Getting there: Head south to Lethbridge, then south-east to Milk River. Writing-On-Stone is about half an hour east of Milk River.
Take a scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway
Trip time: Half-day (4.5 hours driving total)
What’s to see? With plenty of interpretive stops, viewpoints, and walking trails along the way, you’ll want to pack a lunch and take your time on this gorgeous trip to Lake Louise. It’s a winding, narrow road, so drive carefully and watch out for animals: this is a wildlife corridor, so if you’re lucky you’ll spot some elk, big horn sheep, or bears! Go in the morning or around dusk for your best chance to see wildlife.
Don’t miss Johnson Canyon, an easy, well-maintained walking trail with picturesque views of the canyon, creek, and cascading waterfalls. If you’re eager for more, stop by Lake Minnewanka or Moraine Lake on your way back. The best part? Entry to all of Canada’s national parks are free, thanks to a celebration of Canada 150. So drink in all of Alberta’s natural beauty for free while you still can!
Getting there: Take the TransCanada west through Banff, then take the Bow Valley Parkway AB-1A exit (about 5 minutes past Banff). Follow the Parkway all the way up to Lake Louise.
Check out Nordegg’s historic ghost town
Trip time: Full day/multi-day (7-8 hours driving total)
What’s to see? If you don’t want to deal with the busy summer tourist traffic of Banff or Jasper, try Nordegg. A National Historic Site of Canada, Nordegg was once a bustling mining town. Much of the infrastructure still remains from the old days of coal production, which gives the whole place a sort of spooky, ghost-town feel to it. But beyond that, Nordegg is right in the middle of the mountains – which means it’s a great hub for hiking, biking, camping (try the nearby Abraham Lake for gorgeous views), and even caving.
If you’re interested in the local mining history and jonesing for a fascinating glimpse into the past, you can buy tickets for an interpretive walking tour of the Brazeau Collieries Mine Sites for $10.95.
Getting there: The scenic route is about an hour longer, but worth it – take the TransCanada west through Banff, then north on the 93. Turn left onto AB-11E (at Saskatchewan River Crossing). Watch for Nordegg on the right, past the intersection for highway 40.