Although travel is out of the question for most of us this year, it’s always good to dream and plan our next adventure. Southern Alberta is one of my favourite places to be and it has a little of everything; prairies, foothills, mountains, small towns, big cities, wildlife, shopping, and nightlife, too. No matter your age, you can find lots to do in the area.
10 Things To Do In Southern Alberta
If you’re in southern Alberta, you will no doubt make a stop in Calgary. Calgary has always been known as a young city, and was a place I’d always wanted to live. There’s plenty to do, and with the prairies to the east and the foothills and Rocky Mountains within view to the west, it’s in a great location to be based and take day trips out from there. The Calgary Tower is prominent in the skyline; why not go up for the view, or maybe lunch? The Calgary Stampede runs for about 9 days at the start of each summer with rodeos, fair rides, and more.
The Calgary Zoo is unique as it incorporates the regional history of dinosaurs within it’s landscape and makes it so much more fun than other zoos I’ve visited. And if you’re the sporty or adventurous type, make your way over to Canada Olympic Park, the home of the 1988 Olympics and careen down the bobsled run at 80kph, zipline down the ski jump, or go at a slower pace with some mini golf.
2. Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is the place to go for dino enthusiasts. It’s in the beautiful badlands 2 hours from Calgary. Over 150 fossilized skeletons have been discovered in the area. Things have changed since my childhood, but I recall being able to dig for fossils in designated hillsides!
I remember visiting the Hoodoos of Drumheller Valley as a young child and being amazed at these odd-shaped structures were standing with a large cap on the top of them. You can see the striations of different rock layers in them and imagine yourself in a place long ago and far away. You can imagine the dinosaurs that once roamed this part of Earth.
Of course, the most famous place in southern Alberta must simply be Banff National Park! It’s only about a 75 minute drive west of Calgary. There is so much to do in Banff if you like the outdoors. Hike, camp, fish (with the proper permits), shop, or take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and get married!
If you have the budget, spend a night or eat a meal in the famous Banff Springs Hotel. Watch the beauty of the Bow Falls just behind (as well as other waterfalls elsewhere), visit the cave and basin – the smell of sulfur, you’ll not soon forget!
Be sure to have your camera handy at all times for the changing mountainscapes, grasslands, rivers, falls, and lets not forget the wildlife! Keep your eyes on the lookout for bears, elk, deer, moose, cayotes, bald-headed eagles, wolves, long horned mountain sheep, and much more!
5. Nikka Yuko
Nikka Yuko is a Japanese Garden in Lethbridge built for the centennial in 1967. the name combines Nippon and Canada (Ni-Ka) and Yuko means friendship. The structural components and stone lanterns were constructed in Kyoto, Japan and shipped over. The house is simple and magnificent, and the gardens are tranquil. This was my first taste of a Japanese garden before I went to Japan, and I had to share a little piece of Japan with Phil by taking him here, as well. Whether your interest is in Japanese culture, architecture, or gardening, you’ll be sure to appreciate the work that has gone into creating this space.
6. Saamis Tepee: The World’s Tallest
If you drive on the Trans Canada Highway and go through Medicine Hat, you won’t miss seeing the world’s tallest tepee on the south side of the road. It was built in 1988 for the Olympic Games in Calgary, and was moved to Medicine Hat in 1991. It’s a beautiful tribute to Canada’s Native heritage
7. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
This park is unique because the Waterton Park side is in Alberta, Canada, while the Glacier Park side is in the USA. If you go on a cruise on the lake across the border, you’ll notice that all that separates the two nations is a cleared strip of forest that designates the border. The view above is from the boat looking towards the USA. Wildlife roams free within the park, and the town of Waterton. Not too far from the town center you can see the oldest visible rock in Canada at Cameron Falls. Take a few days of quiet rest here and just chill and enjoy.
8. Red Rock Canyon
I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon twice. The first time I was on my own and had just heard about it from an old friend so I decided to swing by on my way out to Vancouver for the job interview that would take me to Japan. A few years later I made sure to take Phil here on our honeymoon. It’s a unique place within Waterton National Park. There is an easy, but beautiful walk that you can do that loops around one side of the canyon and over to the other. The deep red rocks layered with green will keep geologists happy, while the flora will enthral others. And as always, keep your eyes open for wildlife.
9. Frank Slide
On April 29, 1903, at 4:10am, the top of Turtle Mountain slid down the slope at an amazing speed and buried the town of Frank, Alberta. Only a very few survived. Native Americans had always refused to camp in its shadow, knowing that a disaster was impending. The mountain still continues to move and a future slide is very likely to occur. It’s an incredible sight to see in person.
10. Bellevue Underground Mine
Take a tour in the Bellevue Underground Mine. Don a hard hat and lamp and go deep into the mountain, following the cart rails and learn about the life and work of miners. Phil and I really enjoyed our tour and our host was very knowledgeable and able to answer everyone’s questions.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in southern Alberta for both city-loving folks and those who love the outdoors and adventure. If you love travel, please see our other travel posts.