Alberta was made for road trips. It’s a destination filled with spectacular landscapes, interesting historical sites and fun-filled attractions. Most people think of the Canadian Rockies when they picture Alberta’s landscapes, but there’s beauty to be found driving through the foothills, the prairies, forests, lakes, parkland, mountains and the badlands. Wonderful attractions and cultural experiences are waiting to be discovered in the province’s towns and cities. Check out these Alberta road trips and get ready to have fun on the open road exploring Canada. But be warned before you go – you’re going to want to get out of the car to take in the views – often.
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The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in Alberta. This 232-kilometre stretch of road between Lake Louise and Jasper has been ranked by some experts as one of the top drives on the planet. Also known as Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway was built on the backbone of the continent. You could do the entire stretch in about three hours, but you should give yourself a full day to explore sites along the way. The road passes the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. You’ll pass impossibly blue lakes, more than 100 glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife along the way. Hike to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and stop in the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre. Take in the views at Bow Lake, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Peyto Lake. This is one of the most beautiful drives you’ll ever do.
This is one of the best Alberta road trips from Calgary, because it includes nine provincial parks! It’s about a 300-kilometre drive through Kananaskis Country, one of the prettiest places in the Canadian Rockies. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way – bears, moose and deer are commonly seen. There are many places to get out of the car and hike, bike, fish, camp, snowshoe, ski or horseback ride. The mountain scenery is fantastic. You’ll want to stop at viewpoints in each of the provincial parks and there are wonderful hikes like the Grassi Lakes hike or Grotto Canyon that you might also consider doing. Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary also makes an interesting stop near Cochrane. You might also consider a stop for afternoon tea at Mount Engadine Lodge in Spray Valley Provincial Park.
This 700 kilometre scenic driving route follows Highway 22 through the foothills and the prairies. You’ll see beautiful farms and ranches, small towns, historical sites and western-themed attractions. If you don’t have time to drive the entire route, choose a small section. We recently drove the Cowboy Trail from Longview to Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Millarville. Bar U Ranch National Historic Site is a key stop near Longview. We drove some back roads to find the original homestead of John Ware, Alberta’s famous black cowboy. A short side trip took us to see the Okotoks Erratic. The 16,500-tonne boulder was deposited on the otherwise flat prairie during the ice age. We also took a side trip to visit Maggie’s Diner, part of the Heartland television show set in High River. Horseback riding adventures and ranch stays are abundant along this route.
Dinosaur Trail & Hoodoo Drive
Alberta’s Dinosaur Trail is a 48 kilometre loop that runs northwest from Drumheller on Highways 837 and 838. The starting point for the 25-kilometre-long Hoodoo Drive is about 18 kilometres southeast of Drumheller on Highway 10. Most people drive to the hoodoos and on to the ghost town of Wayne and then come back. This is one of the shortest Alberta road trips on our list and one of the prettiest. The badlands scenery is spectacular. There’s an interpretive trail near the hoodoos. Some of the other highlights of this drive include Horsethief Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon, Orkney Viewpoint, Bleriot Ferry and the ghost town of Wayne. Atlas Coal Mine is a fascinating historical site and the mine tours are both fun and educational.
You could drive the QE2 between Edmonton and Calgary, but where’s the fun in that? The Boomtown Trail is longer (486 kilometres) and it’s more interesting. It’s one of the best road trips from Edmonton. Start in Edmonton and head south on Highway 21, then east on Highway 13 to Camrose. See classic boomtown architecture at the Camrose & District Centennial Museum and do some shopping in the great boutiques in town. Head to Donalda next to see the world’s largest lamp. Ride a genuine steam train in Stettler and experience a train robbery in the process. Drive on to enjoy the sandy beach at Buffalo Lake and hiking at Dry island Buffalo Jump. You can see the world’s largest golf tee in Trochu before you head to Calgary. Yes, it’s random, but that’s what makes it fun.
The Crowsnest Highway starts in Medicine Hat and ends in Hope, British Columbia. It’s 1,100 kilometres in total, but the section through Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass is the real highlight. This region of Alberta has a long mining history. Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site, and Frank Slide Interpretive Centre are fascinating historical sites. Lundbreck Falls is a short hike with beautiful views. The Burmis Tree near Frank Slide is purported to be the most photographed tree in Canada. There are nice campgrounds in this region, golf courses and beautiful scenery. This is an amazing Alberta road trip.
The Land of Big
At 300 kilometres, the Iron Horse Trail is the longest section of the Great Trail in Alberta. The trail itself is for ATVs, bicycles, hikers and snowmobiles, but you can also enjoy road trips through this region of Alberta – sometimes referred to as “the Land of Big.” The trail begins 20 kilometres west of Smoky Lake at Waskatenau. It continues to a junction near Ashmont where it splits south to Heinsburg and north to Cold Lake. See the world’s largest pumpkins in Smoky Lake, the largest mushrooms in Vilna and the UFO Landing pad in St. Paul. Key historical sites include Métis Crossing, the Victoria Settlement, Fort George and Buckingham House. There are also a number of historic CN train stations. The Beaver River Trestle Bridge near Cold Lake is a highlight of the cycling trail – you’ll want to get out of the car and explore it.
Highwood Pass is technically part of the Cowboy Trail and the Kananaskis Trail, but it makes a great road trip all on it’s on. At 2,206 metres above sea level, it is Canada’s highest paved pass. There are a multitude of campgrounds and recreation areas along the pass and some incredible hiking trails near the top. Highwood pass is a great ride for hardcore cyclists and it was the site of the 2017 Gran Fondo bike tour. The pass doesn’t open to cars until June 15, so if you go in early June, you can cycle the road without worrying about motor vehicle traffic. Alberta road trip planner: Drive west from Longview on Highway 541. Then take Highway 40 north to Kananaskis. Watch for elk, deer, bighorn sheep, grizzly and black bears along the pass.
Bow Valley Parkway
You could say that driving the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise is taking the scenic route – though it’s scenic on the main highway too. This 60-kilometre-long highway is a little slower than Highway 1 and there are beautiful views along the way. The trailhead for Johnston Canyon, one of the best hikes in Banff National Park, is found just off this road. Parks Canada has temporarily closed this road during the pandemic and this offers a great opportunity for cyclists to cycle the route without worrying about sharing the road with motor vehicles.
Heads up – this next Alberta road trip is listed on a dangerous roads website. Also known as Highway 742, this 62-kilometre-long gravel road in Kananaskis Country has amazing views. The road connects Canmore and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. It’s a little rough, but not impassable for the average vehicle. This drive will take you past the Spray Lakes Reservoir and the Three Sisters mountains. There are quite a few amazing hikes accessed from the Smith-Dorrien Trail. Options include South Buller Pass, Old Goat Glacier, Burstall Pass and Chester Lake – to name a few. Check in at the Canmore Visitor Centre to find information on road and hiking trail conditions before setting out.
David Thompson Highway
The David Thompson Highway is part of the Cowboy Trail, but it’s a great Alberta road trip on its own. The highway stretches from Red Deer east to the Saskatchewan River Crossing. Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site is a good first stop. Then visit the Brazeau Collieries Historic Mine site in Nordegg. Bighorn Backcountry, a beautiful mountain oasis east of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, is the next area to see. Highlights of this drive include hikes like Siffleur Falls and Allstones Lake. There are great hikes and camping near Abraham Lake as well. If you do this trip in winter, be sure to check out the ice bubbles in Abraham Lake. This road and this region were named for David Thompson, an early explorer who mapped much of Alberta.
A hub and spoke itinerary is where you use a central destination as a base and do day trips to outlying areas and attractions. Picking a central hub is a convenient way to do Alberta road trips. As Alberta’s third largest city, there’s a lot to do in Lethbridge and it makes a great base for wider explorations. Day trips include visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump and Waterton Lakes National Park. You can also visit the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in nearby Coaldale, the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston and the Great Canadian Barn Dance in Hillspring. Some of the best day trips in Alberta are near Lethbridge.
Red Deer Hub-and-Spoke
Red Deer is the fourth largest city in Alberta. The city’s size and strategic location halfway between Calgary and Edmonton means there are a lot of great things to do in Red Deer. There are also a lot of great places to explore in the region. Some day trip possibilities include Markerville Creamery Museum, Stephansson House, Bowden Sunmaze, Ellis Bird Farm, and The Jungle Farm. You can also enjoy a day at the beach in Sylvan Lake or Aspen Beach Provincial Park. And those are just a few of the options.
Grande Prairie Hub-and-Spoke
The City of Grande Prairie makes a great base for larger explorations into Alberta’s Peace River Country. There’s a lot to do in the city and wonderful parks and attractions are nearby. The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum is one of the premiere attractions in the region and you can learn a lot about fossils and paleontology there. Be sure to book a Pipestone Creek Bonebed Tour to look for fossils. Go birding or hiking at Saskatoon Island Provincial Park. Go hiking at Sulphur Gates Provincial Recreation Area or in the beautiful Willmore Wilderness Park. If you like a little adrenaline with your Alberta road trips, book a tour to go whitewater rafting, kayaking or horseback riding.
Ice Road – One of the Most Adventurous Alberta Road Trips!
A winter adventure on a road made of ice is one of the most adventurous Alberta road trips you can have. Every winter a 500-kilometre-long ice road is built to connect Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray and Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories. It takes about four-and-a-half hours to drive from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan on the ice road and you need a sturdy 4×4 vehicle with good winter tires to do it. There are no roadside services, and there is no cellular signal for vast tracts of the route. If you run into trouble, you need to be prepared to help yourself or to wait in the cold until help comes. Those who brave the ice road can enjoy ice fishing, dogsledding and other activities in the oldest settlement in Alberta.
The Ultimate Multi-Day Alberta Road Trip
You could combine any of the above shorter Alberta road trips into a longer multi-day trip. If you can only do one trip, we’d recommend starting in Calgary and finishing in Edmonton or vice-versa. Alberta’s two major airports are in Calgary and Edmonton. You can fly into one and out of the other to save backtracking. Spend a few days in Calgary exploring sites like the Calgary Stampede and Studio Bell. Then spend a few days in Banff and Jasper experiencing the Canadian Rockies. This drive ends in Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton where you can visit West Edmonton Mall and other attractions. If time allows, you could take a side trip from Calgary to explore Drumheller and the Canadian Badlands region. This multi-day trip gives you the chance to experience some of the prettiest regions in the province.
More Alberta Adventures: Learn how and where to go Glamping in Alberta.