Home of the Canadian Rockies and their toothy majesty, Alberta is wilder than its American counterpart yet brims with a luxury best paired with adventure. Its varied landscape—larger than the combined area of Montana and Wyoming—sweeps from open prairie to badlands, endless coniferous forest to towering alpine folds hung with ancient glaciers and pristine turquoise lakes.
Indigenous peoples have lived across these lands for some 10,000 years, but Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta’s two largest cities, are quite young, established by European fur traders in the mid-18th century and incorporated as cities on the cusp of the 20th century. Both cities today are burgeoning hubs of cultural and culinary experiences, booming with new restaurants, craft breweries, and chic hotels with easy access to nearby national parks teeming with protected wildlife and outdoor pursuits. The West Edmonton Mall is the largest in North America. Calgary’s hopping nightlife is paired with its Wild West-inspired annual Stampede and 500 miles of paved pathways that wend through public art, riverside neighborhoods, and protected parks.
Spanning the latitudes between Edmonton and Calgary just to the west are the famed Jasper and Banff national parks. Boundless opportunities for exploring nature and settling into cozy luxury span the parks and their surrounding communities. There’s the iconic Icefields Parkway, billed as one of the planet’s most beautiful drives, which winds through both parks’ glacier-strewn peaks and waterfalls and lakes, rustic lodges, and countless miles of trails to bike and hike and summits to climb.
Alberta has warm summers and particularly cold winters, with well over 300 days of sunshine and 18 hours of daylight in summer. That brings plenty of tourists, especially to the parks, in the summer months. But increasingly, Alberta is a place that embraces its harsh winters and maximizes its chilly fun in good fashion with festivals, urban ice skating pathways, ice castles, and skijoring—the art of being pulled on skis by pet dogs.
Alberta’s ruggedness leaves plenty of room for homey splendor. In Edmonton, the luxury boutique Mettera Hotel on Whyte lies in the heart of the city’s historic and trendy, bohemian district of Old Strathcona. Jasper National Park’s Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is an opulently rustic getaway with a village of heritage log cabins. The main lodge rests on a lake with stunning views of Pyramid and Majestic mountains and houses a planetarium with dark sky telescope tours and Cree storytellers who generously share traditional local insights by fire and starlight.
Its sister lodge in Banff National Park, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise , sits on a lake ringed by grand peaks that will make you feel as if you’re in a snow globe in winter. The Chateau also hosts the annual Ice Magic Festival , which features a world class ice carving competition and ice skating on the frozen lake. The Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge , which borders Banff in the town of Kananaskis, offers apartment-sized rooms with Jacuzzis, fine dining, and a newly renovated Nordic spa with heated hammocks, exfoliation huts, saunas, and hot and cold plunge pools.
EAT & DRINK
Uccellino , in Edmonton, is a fantastic modern trattoria that features simple, but flavorful Italian fare best experienced through multiple courses of shared plates and a menu of exclusively Italian wine paired to complement the food. Try the Zucca ravioli and the roasted beets. Then grab a cocktail at Bar Clementine , an intimate French Art Nouveau-inspired bar with thoughtfully crafted cocktails. Try the Conifer, a blend of gin and vermouth, rosemary, cacao, Benedictine, and sweetgrass.
The Cedar Room in Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is all about implementing fresh Alberta ingredients that feature classic dishes with a contemporary Canadian twist, like locally-sourced organic carrot and thyme ravioli or chickpea panisse with braised tomato. The restaurant’s chefs take pleasure in any challenge to cater to your dietary needs.
Along with its long marble bar and open-kitchen design, the eclectic Pigeonhole in Calgary defies its name with globally-inspired dishes from chef-owner Justin Leboe , and a wine list focused on offerings from atypical regions. Calgary has no shortage of good brews, but Last Best Brewing & Distilling focuses most passionately on Alberta’s place in Canadian craft beer culture, and its modern industrial vibe makes it a good place for sipping a black lager or small-batch whiskey crafted from Alberta ingredients.
The Art Gallery of Alberta , in Edmonton, holds more than 6,000 objects with contemporary and historical exhibitions focused on the province. The building itself is a work of art with a zinc and glass exterior wrapped in a winding steel ribbon that represents both the North Saskatchewan River and the Aurora Borealis.
Elk Island National Park , just a half hour from downtown, is a refuge for bison, elk, and 250 bird species dotted with lakes. Outdoor enthusiasts will want to head three hours away to Jasper National Park to drive the Icefields Parkway, a 144-mile route through Jasper and Banff parks that winds along the Continental Divide through more than 100 glaciers.
The adventurous will want to stop for a tour on the Columbia Icefields and explore the dozens of emerald lakes and tumbling cataracts dotting the whole route (don’t forget to download the GyPsy Guide , an audio GPS-synced tour of the route).
Summer presents all the usual activities, but winter is worth a visit for its nonexistent crowds and unique experiences. Ice walk into the frozen river-bottom of Jasper’s Maligne Canyon with SunDog Tours for a close-up look at ice caves and formations. Join Yamnuska Mountain Adventures for ice climbing in Banff’s Johnston Canyon or fat bike to the park’s frozen waterfalls with Kananaskis Outfitters , located on the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge property.
Worth a visit in Calgary is the National Music Centre , a performance hall, recording facility, broadcast studio, live music venue, artist incubator, and museum in one, housing 2,000 rare instruments and artifacts and four Canadian Music Halls of Fame.
The writer was hosted by Travel Alberta.