15 Things To Expect From An Alberta Road Trip In Summer
Have you ever thought of visiting Canada and had no idea what to see? How about what to expect on a road trip in Alberta? No clue? That’s exactly the place I was in just a couple of weeks ago.
If you had said Toronto, Montreal or even Ottawa I would have some idea of what to expect, but Alberta? The only thing that came to mind was oil sands. On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty about the town of Banff and the Canadian Rocky Mountains, without knowing they were in this land-locked province just north of Montana, USA.
I was invited to explore Alberta with a few other bloggers by KLM UK, so as a Canada virgin I was keen to see exactly what the province and the country are all ‘aboot’.
Our Alberta road trip started in the capital city of Edmonton, took us 361km west to Jasper National Park, and then 291km south along the famous Icefields Parkway to Banff National Park, before a last 128km journey to Calgary to fly home. After an action packed week on tour, here’s the highlights of what to expect from a road trip in Alberta.
1. Epic Scenery
The west of Alberta is home to part of the Canadian Rockies, and both Jasper and Banff National Parks. The Rocky Mountains stretch nearly 5000km from New Mexico in the US, into Alberta and British Columbia in Canada. Don’t plan to sleep much on this road trip, you’ll miss driving past some amazing landscapes. You don’t even have to veer off course – so many gorgeous sights right by the roadside! If you love taking photos on your travels, leave plenty of time for that too.
2. Wide Open Highways (and No Traffic)
The roads on this route are mostly big straight highways with 2 or more lanes, intersected regularly by equally straight roads. It’s incredibly unlikely you’ll hit anything a European driver would consider a traffic jam, even within the city limits. There were plenty of gas stations and rest stops along the route.
Within half an hour of leaving Edmonton towards Jasper, the landscape started to get rugged and beautiful to look at, as you can see.
3. Forests and Lakes
The amount of wilderness in Canada is staggering. For such a huge place it’s not very populated, and most people live in the cities. Hundreds of miles of forests and lakes reminded me of my summer road trip through Finland a couple of years ago, although Finland has approximately no mountains whatsoever! Most of the water in the Canadian Rockies comes from the mountains, picking up limestone and minerals along the way, so the lakes have really spectacular colours.
4. Waterfalls and adventure sports
Where there’s water and mountains, you’re pretty much guaranteed waterfalls, and there are some real beauties along this Alberta road trip route. Several of the rivers in Jasper and Banff are good for white water rafting, but if you’re not keen on getting soaked by the glacial meltwaters (oh so refreshing!) then you can hike, bike and climb in the mountains above. The local tour companies and hire shops in each National Park cater for all experience levels.
5. Glaciers and The Icefields Parkway
Yep, that’s right, there are glaciers in Alberta, and you can see them from the road. Permanently frozen bits of the planet inhabit the mountain ranges between Jasper and Banff when you drive along the Icefields Parkway (probably why it’s called that…) and there are glacier adventure tours you can sign up for as well. The snow and ice on top of the peak known as Snow Dome are particularly special, as any water that melts here could end up in any of three oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, or the Arctic.
6. Migrant Cultures From Europe
The caucasian population of Canada has most of its roots in Europe, and communities often celebrate their origins. The town of Banff is actually named after Banffshire in Scotland, and Scottish traditions are still proudly upheld. There were several young bagpipers busking when we first arrived into town, much to my amusement – I was born in Scotland and have worn a kilt a few times myself! Not far from Banff are towns which began life as Finnish and Estonian settlements, not to mention all the French and British settlements across Canada.
One of our stops on the road trip was a visit to Fort Edmonton Park, shown in the pictures. This is a living history museum that takes you through what Edmonton would have looked like at different times in its history, with actors in costume to help you get a feel for how the community changed.
7. Aboriginal Culture
This might be obvious, but the fact that Canada had indigenous peoples before European settlers arrived had escaped me. Even though the US is part of the same continent and has a Native American history, I didn’t think that Canada also had native peoples prior to European migrants. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn despite being quite logical. Referred to in Canada as Aboriginal or First Nations people, the history of Canada is both the story of new settlers and how they coexisted with the existing Aboriginal cultures.
8. Craft Beers and Cocktails
Like everywhere else that people enjoy drinking beer, Canada is enjoying a craft beer boom. Most of the bars and restaurants we tried had plenty of domestic and local drinks to try on the menu. It’s a popular scene here so there are loads of options for people who like to discover new flavours. Likewise if you prefer your drinks on the fancy side, there were plenty of cocktails on the menus too!
9. Foodie Revivals
Alberta also seems to be in the midst of a foodie revolution, with trendy places to eat either reinventing the wheel and doing it well, or trying something completely new.
At the Jasper Brewing Co, the first brewery inside a Canadian national park, they served the best food we ate all week, and both the food and drinks menu at brand new Park Distillery in Banff is so carefully constructed that you can’t fail to be impressed.
As basically a huge nature reserve interspersed with a few humans (well, about 3million), you can expect to see lots of wildlife on a roadtrip in Alberta. Home to healthy populations of moose, elk, bison, bear, coyote, squirrel and more – moose were the only ones in that list that we didn’t see.
11. Rule Following
The one downside about Canadian culture that I noticed, is that they love to follow the rules. You might not consider that a downside per se, but I am a huge fan of common sense over rule-following. From being told I had to leave a liquor store because I didn’t bring ID (not that they thought I was underage! Just that I didn’t actually have ID…) to being warned about how jay walking is taken very seriously, I’m still undecided whether this cultural trait is the secret to a great society, or something that would just drive me nuts. How about you?!
12. Prices Shown Without Tax
Like in the US, when you see the price of something in Canada, it doesn’t always include taxes. As a Brit, this means paying more than you expect at the till most of the time. Of course you’ll get used to it, but initially it’s a bit annoying.
13. Ski Town Vibes
If you’ve ever been on holiday to a popular ski resort, you’ll know the feel of a real ski town. Even in summer, both Jasper and Banff have the atmosphere of a party about to happen somewhere. Banff is definitely the bigger, more obvious place to go for a night out, but Jasper had quainter places to drink and meet people. In Edmonton, there was plenty of nightlife on Whyte Street in Old Strathcona even on the midweek nights we were there.
Our roadtrip covered a lot of ground in a short space of time and we narrowly missed out on enjoying a couple of local festivals too. In Edmonton we missed a Pride festival by two days – the crossings were painted into rainbows, buskers had started hitting the streets and the town was filling up with everyone from college partyers to gangs of bikers. And in Banff we were exactly one week too early for a Craft beer festival. What a difference a week can make!
14. Campervan Mania!
Campervan rental in Canada is clearly popular. On these popular road trip routes, Campervans and Motorhomes were nearly as common as cars. To avoid feeling inadequate, investigate the many hire companies in Canada yourself and do your Alberta road trip with a few friends in mobile comfort too.
15. Easy Tourist Attractions
As if all the nature, wildlife, food, drink and music was not enough, Alberta also has it’s fair share of ticketed tourist attractions too. From the stunning views at the top of the Banff Gondola and Jasper Skytram, you can also get a thrill stepping out onto the Glacier Skywalk, a pit stop along the Icefields Parkway that is not for the faint of heart.
If you have a spare afternoon in Edmonton you could spend some time at the monstrous West Edmonton Mall. I’ve never seen a mall with its own Tsunami swimming pool, ice rink, pirate ship lagoon, seal show, and theme park – not to mention all the shops and restaurants. This place needs its own guide, so good luck if you visit!
Hopefully my summary gives you a good idea of exactly what to expect from a road trip in Alberta, with the highlights for me being the nature in the national parks. Was any of it a surprise to you? Or if you’ve been here yourself, what else would you tell visitors to expect? Let me know in the comments!
I flew to Alberta with KLM UK, via their hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for this trip. They covered my flights from Manchester to Edmonton, but return flights with KLM from the UK start from just £599 per person, including taxes. Travel Alberta were a partner and gave us access to various activities. Everything I’ve written is my opinion though, as usual! ;)
If you are travelling to Alberta, check out 10 Things To Do In Banff In The Summer by Sabina from GirlvsGlobe.com who was also on the trip!