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Things to Do in Alberta

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WinSport

Ski down true Olympics-standard ski runs and ride a bobsled on an actual Winter Games track at Canada Olympic Park, the main focus for events during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Divided into winter and summer activities, choose from summertime mountain-biking and incredible winter snowboarding and cross-country skiing without having to drive to the mountains. Other adrenaline-fueled activities include wall climbing, bungy jumping, ziplines and zorbing. More sedate pursuits include mini golf, views from the Ski Jump Tower observation deck and tours of this activity-filled complex.

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Banff National Park
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Banff National Park is one of two parks protecting Alberta’s Rocky Mountains bordering British Columbia; the other park is Jasper.

You’ll see some of the most astounding landscapes on the planet in Banff National Park: snowcapped mountains, huge river valleys, alpine forests, ludicrously blue lakes and charming mountain hamlets.

Covering 6,641 square km (2,564 square miles), Banff was the first national park to be declared in Canada, focusing on the area’s famous thermal hot springs.

Most visitors come to Banff National Park for the legendary skiing, spectacular views and peerless rock climbing and hiking. The park has information centers in Banff, Lake Louise and Upper Hot Springs.

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Columbia Icefield
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A spectacular remnant from the ice age, the Columbia Icefield is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. More than 30 glaciers make up the icefield, including one of the largest and most visited, the Athabasca Glacier.

A highlight of a visit is the Icefield Centre, which provides all the info you need to know about the formation of the icefield and its glaciers. Guided hikes lead to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier from the Icefield Centre, or you can ride a snow coach across the icefield.

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Jasper SkyTram
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The Jasper SkyTram (formerly Jasper Tramway) is the longest—and highest—aerial tramway in Canada. Built in 1964, the Tram begins at 4,279 ft (1,304 m) above sea level and transports guests to 7,472 ft (2,277 m) above sea level in an enclosed tram compartment in seven minutes. The SkyTram rises above Whistlers Mountain and provides expansive views of lakes, six mountain ranges, the town of Jasper and Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca.

A guide answers questions and points out areas of interest, animal life and history of the area during the Jasper SkyTram tour. After reaching the top, guests can stroll boardwalks to view wildlife. Alpine inhabitants include the whistling hoary marmot, white-tailed ptarmigan, ground squirrels, pikas and the occasional bighorn sheep. There are also hiking trails to the summit of Whistlers Mountain for those wanting more of a challenge.

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Athabasca Falls
1 Tour and Activity

Proving that it’s force and not size that matters, Athabasca Falls is a mere 75.5 foot (23 m) tall waterfall in Jasper National Park on the upper Athabasca River just west of the Icefields Parkway. The largest waterfall by volume in Jasper National Park, water cascades over the falls almost constantly, even on cold mornings when river levels are at their lowest.

Thundering through a narrow gorge, Athabasca Falls has both smoothed the rock walls it travels past and potholed them with the sand and rock it carries. It’s easy to admire Athabasca Falls from various viewing platforms and walking trails around the falls. Considered a Class 5 waterfall, Athabasca has a drop of 80 ft (24 m) and a width of 60 ft (18m).

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More Things to Do in Alberta

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

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A natural geological feature measuring more than 160 feet high (50 meters), Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest river canyons in the Canadian Rockies and a popular destination in Jasper National Park for both sightseeing and exploration. A striking geologic formation, Maligne Canyon is a classic example of karst topography, which occurs when water carves out bedrock, creating a deep canyon with smooth walls.

The parks service has created a self-guided trail, which describes the geological history of the area; several bridges span the gorge, allowing for spectacular views of the canyon. For a more interactive view of crystal pools, waterfalls, bubbles from underground lakes and more, take the short loop that tours the upper reaches of the canyon or the longer loop that follow the gorge and exits at a fifth and sixth bridge at a lower point. In the winter, join a tour company for a guided walk down into the canyon or try ice climbing.

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Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

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Surrounded by the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake has to be one of the most photographed spots in Canada. The iconic blue lake is like a giant bathtub, filling up with melted glacier water in early summer until it reaches its apex in mid to late June. But why is Moraine Lake so vividly blue? That’ll be the refraction of light off the glacial rock flour (tiny particles) in the lake.

Featured in countless National Geographic issue as well as on Canada’s $20 bill from 1969 to 1979, Moraine Lake and its backdrop of snowcapped peaks is world-famous. Half the size of Lake Louise but perhaps even more picturesque, the lake is best seen at sunrise or sunset, when the surrounding mountains are colored pink and reflected in Moraine’s cool blue waters. The main viewpoint is from the shoreline which makes a great route for a gentle stroll. If you fancy getting out and about on those icy waters, canoes are available to rent at the Moraine Lake Boathouse.

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Kananaskis River

Kananaskis River

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A mountain river at the tributary of the Bow River, Kananaskis is one of the most scenic rivers of western Alberta, Canada. With views of the Canadian Rockies, its waters are known for sports such as canoeing, river rafting, and kayaking. Several hiking trails run on the lands beside or nearby it, among aspen, pine and spruce trees. The river is home to much mountain wildlife, including elk, golden eagles, wolves, and black and grizzly bears.

The Lower Kananaskis is a great spot to take on whitewater rafting. With dams controlling the water level, the class III rapids are often paddler-friendly and largely predictable. A section near the Canoe Meadows Campground is famous for its large “V” wave which brings river surfers to the area. Canoe Meadows also hosts Kananaskis Whitewater Festival (“Kanfest") of kayaking activities each August.
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Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

Icefields Parkway (Highway 93)

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The Icefields Parkway is a legendary stretch of Highway 93. Running for 230 km (142.5-mile), the route links Lake Louise in the south with Jasper in the north.

The scenic route runs through both Banff and Jasper national parks, traversing the Canadian Rockies. It also runs near the Columbia Icefield, hence the route’s name.

Along the route you’ll see snowcapped mountains, glaciers, alpine forests, vistas that go on forever and, perhaps, some of the local wildlife.

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Crowfoot Glacier

Crowfoot Glacier

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The Crowfoot Glacier, named for its three glacier toes that once formed a very visual representation of the black bird’s foot, has retreated so much since early explorers discovered and named it that it has actually lost an entire digit. Despite its lost toe, the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint on the Icefield Parkway is still spectacular, especially for northbound travelers due to its position as the first of many up-close viewpoints along the drive.

Opposite this spot is the Helen Lake trailhead. This popular hike is strenuous, but the reward is in the stunning mountain scenery, as the trail crosses a series of alpine meadows covered in summertime wildflowers as it climbs toward Helen Lake. The best views of the Crowfoot Glacier are found further up the trail, but only hikers willing to tackle the steep Helen Lake Headwall will have unobstructed views of the Wapta Icefield, which lies beyond the Continental Divide.

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Bow Lake

Bow Lake

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Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies is one of the smaller lakes in Banff National Park. It is the source of the Bow River and lies along part of the Great Continental Divide, which creates the border between Alberta and British Columbia. As with all of the lakes lining the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, Bow Lake boasts spectacularly colored water and top-notch mountain scenery. One of the most interesting features of these Rocky Mountain Lakes is their differences in color. Some are green, some are bright blue, and sometimes (after a major rain) some of them are brownish. The lake’s colors might even change with the weather. As you continue north along the Icefields Parkway, you will have several different views of the bright-blue waters of Bow Lake, as it lies quite close to the highway. The lake is a great place for a picnic and a stroll, and is especially beautiful at sunrise when the sun shines off of the water and Crowfoot Mountain.

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Banff Lake Louise

Banff Lake Louise

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No wonder stunning turquoise Lake Louise is known as the jewel of the Rockies.

Set in a small glacial valley, surrounded by snow-topped mountains, the lakeshore is threaded with hiking trails and viewpoints. On a clear day, you’ll see the reflected glory of this spectacular place captured in the lake’s mirror-like surface.

Another iconic site is the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort at the northern end of the lake.

While you’re here, ride the gondola to the summit of Mt Whitehorn, go skiing if there’s snow, head to the trails circling the lake or visit the nearby Moraine Lake.

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Canadian Rocky Mountains

Canadian Rocky Mountains

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Alberta’s stunning Rocky Mountains are perhaps its biggest attraction. Protected by the Banff and Jasper national parks, the spectacular mountains run along the border of British Columbia and Alberta.

All up, the mountain chain runs south across Canada and the US for more than 4,830 km (3,000 miles), from the northern wilds of British Columbia all the way through Colorado to New Mexico.

Experience the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies by driving along the Icefields Parkway, and visiting the glacier Icefields Centre. Hire a pair of skis and glide down the legendary slopes in winter, or go for a hike in spring and summer to glorious blue lakes like Lake Louise and quaint alpine-style hamlets such as Banff.

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Spiral Tunnels

Spiral Tunnels

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Takakkaw Falls

Takakkaw Falls

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Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon

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Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a fairly easy hike on man-made trails to reach the canyon’s two waterfalls, making it a great activity for families and people of every fitness level and age. Johnston Creek flows through Johnston Canyon, a deep blue creek that has cut through the limestone rock over centuries on its way to join the Bow River, creating steep canyon walls with waterfalls, pools, and tunnels. The Johnston Canyon hiking trail begins just behind Johnston Canyon Lodge and gets very busy during peak summer hiking hours, with hundreds of hikers following the catwalks and staircases to the canyon’s Lower and Upper Falls. (Try hiking the trail in the very early morning or right before sunset if you’d like to avoid the crowds.) Less than two miles (3km) past the waterfalls are the Ink Pots: several cold, blue-green mineral pools that bubble to the surface in an open meadow beside the creek.

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Stanley Glacier

Stanley Glacier

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Mt. Norquay Ski Resort

Mt. Norquay Ski Resort

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It might be the smallest of the 3 major ski resorts within the Banff National Park, but since opening in 1926, Mt Norquay has fast become a favorite destination for in-the-know skiers, and has even served as an Olympic and World Cup training ground. Today, the Mt Norquay Ski Resort offers 16.4 km of runs, with ample opportunities for all levels, from first-time skiers to professionals, including a terrain park with a range of boxes and rails.

With a fully equipped ski school on-site, this is a great spot for beginners, and along with skiing and snowboarding, there’s also a snow tube park, snowshoeing trails and the chance to enjoy a moonlight skiing excursion.

The fun doesn’t stop when the snow melts either – the Mt Norquay Ski Resort is open all year-round and summer visitors can ride the 8,040-foot chairlift for a view of the surrounding mountains, dine at the mountaintop Cliffhouse or tackle the Via Ferrata climbing routes.

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