Alberta occupies the western edge of the Canadian prairie, and some aspects of the Albertan culture are iconic of the prairie lands; farms and cowboys come immediately to mind. However, it is the imposing beauty of the Canadian Rockies and boreal northern forests that travelers flock to the province for.
Lakes are fairly numerous in northern Alberta and a few of them are sizable. Lake Athabasca is located primarily in neighboring Saskatchewan but it is still Alberta’s largest lake. Like nearby Claire Lake and Lesser Slave Lake to the south, Athabasca is a destination for wildlife gazing, fishing and flat-water kayaking. Some of the rivers around the Albertan lakes do run quickly, so whitewater kayakers and rafters will have plenty of terrain to fruitfully explore.
Banff National Park, Canada’s first, and the adjoining Jasper National Park sit amid the Canadian Rockies and are stunning. The Ice Field Parkway which crosses both is a scenic drive that rivals the best in the world. Within Banff National Park, the trendy little mountain town of Banff acts as a base for first-class skiing and snowboarding in the surrounding hills.
Southern Alberta is where the prairie is. On that prairie, Albertan farmers raise more than half of Canada’s beef, so a fresh steak is hardly difficult to find, and plenty of Albertan restaurants serve one up delectably. Sticking out amid the stockyards and wheat fields are the Albertan prairie cities of Calgary and Edmonton.
Edmonton is aptly nicknamed “The City of Festivals.” The Edmonton International Street Performer's Festival, summer festival Capital EX, and the second-largest fringe theater festival in the world, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, are just a few highlights of the city’s yearly festival circuit. Not to be outdone by its down-province rival, Calgary hosts the Calgary Stampede every July. In existence since 1950, the Stampede is an enormously popular 10-day, high-purse rodeo and exhibition of the Canadian Cowboy lifestyle.
Calgary and Alberta also foster a bitter little hockey rivalry between their beloved Flames and Oilers, respectively.
Of course, if you’re going to catch a great hockey game in Alberta, it will probably during the winter, so pack a coat as temperatures in the southern Alberta usually stay below freezing all winter. In the Albertan north, be truly prepared, the winters are arctic. Southern summers are warm, not often hot, and northern summer is much the same, although temperatures will drop significantly at night.
Alberta is a well-paved province, so getting into and around it by car is an easy, scenic process. Calgary and Edmonton both have international airports, so getting to the province by planes is simple as well and can be done directly from many U.S. cities. More leisurely travelers have the option of scenic train rides through Alberta via Via Rail, or the Rocky Mountaineer.