You know those landscape that look too good to be real? The ones that make you scoff, wave your hand and say, ‘Oh stop it.’ Yeah, Alberta invented those. Not only was it shown recently that the Canadian Rockies are the best place to wait out a zombie Apocalypse (good to know), they’re full of the kind of scenery usually reserved for deodorant commercials. In fact it’s one of the few places on earth where views outnumber people.
Don’t believe us? We have evidence.
1. Columbia Icefields
Columbia is basically a shrinking legacy from the last Ice Age. I say shrinking – it’s still about the size of Vancouver, 350m thick in parts and feeds eight glaciers. It’s the biggest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by a bowl of knife-like limestone peaks. For those who think they have to fly all the way to Patagonia for a taste of a truly spectacular glacier, think again. Columbia also trumps Patagonia in that it’s one of the few icefields in the world that’s accessible by road. Visitors shouldn’t miss the Athabasca Glacier which, although shrinking thanks to our old friend climate change, is still an impressive site.
2. Dinosaur Provincial Park
It’s hard to put Alberta’s UNESCO heritage, dinosaur-filled badlands into words (not a promising start for a written blog). Picture Jurassic Park meets Little House on the Prairie meets Bryce Canyon. The region is known as the Dinosaur Provincial Park, and it’s one of the most prolific and significant sources of fossils in the entire world. Forty new species have been discovered among the park’s rock formations, hoodoos and cottonwood forests in recent years, not to mention more than 500 individual skeletons. Pro tip: hang around until sunset, the dying light makes the landscape glow like a Fanta bottle.
3. Lake Louise
Lake Louise lies within Banff, but trust us, it deserves its own spot on the list. It’s one of those locations that inspires clichés: dramatic cliffs, placid azure waters, a lush natural amphitheatre covered in boreal forest (we could go on). The glacial lake gets its luminescence from alluvial deposits washed down from the mountains. And it’s hard to imagine a better vantage than that enjoyed by the Chateau Lake Louise. In the winter, skiers converge on the high valley above for some of the best powder around, but summer is the time for hiking, kayaking, horse-riding and gawping (not necessarily in that order).
4. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump raises questions immediately. It sounds like some sort of avant-garde, post-ironic punk band: the kind where 10 minutes of distortion followed by the sound of a falling tree counts as music. But a quick search confirms it’s a real place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site no less. HSIBJ is actually a 10-metre high ridge at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where they meet the prairies below. Indigenous hunters used to drive huge herds of buffalo off the cliff and then collect the…remains at their leisure. This practise went on for about 6000 years, right up until European settlement in the 19th century.
Like Cher and Beyonce, Banff only requires a one-word introduction. It’s probably Canada’s most internationally recognized national park, the one to hold up against the Yellowstones and Yosemites of the south as the pinnacle of what Mother Nature can do when she sets her mind to it. Banff is the third oldest national park in the world, and was labelled a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 (for obvious reasons).
The park’s main attractions are its stunningly blue glacial lakes, dense pine forests and sheer limestone mountains dusted with snow. Great skiing, wildlife spotting and hiking draw big crowds in peak season, but you can still find pockets of the park all to yourself (if you have the right guide).
6. The prairies
Canada’s prairies may seem like a bit of an anticlimax after the heights of Banff, but they’ve got a subtle beauty all of their own. Prairie basically means grasslands, and the grasses here cover huge swathes of Alberta. In the spring, wildflowers bloom on the meadows and the whole area comes alive in shadows of pink, yellow and orange.
Meltwater streams run out of the mountains and help irrigate the land, much of which has been given over to farming. Driving through Alberta and stumbling on a picture-perfect old farmhouse is one of the province’s real surprises.
Not to be outshone by its neighbour Banff, Jasper can more than hold its own in the natural beauty stakes. It’s the biggest park in the Rockies, a photogenic tapestry of high glacial lakes, mountain passes, conifer forests, waterfalls and glaciers.
Jasper is a nature-lover’s paradise. Its endless forests are home to a veritable menagerie of grizzlies, wolf, elk, caribou, lynx, cougar, white-tailed deer and coyotes. Guided hikes here are some of the best in the world, and a good excuse to learn exactly how to use that panorama function on your camera.