The Canadian province of Alberta is home to numerous provincial parks, provincial recreational areas, wilderness areas, and ecological reserves.
The beautiful natural environments these areas protect are often enjoyed by those who live in Alberta and those just stopping by for a visit.
However, the biggest draws for both tourists and Albertan residents are the five national parks that lie within this province’s borders. Here’s why Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island, and Wood Buffalo national parks should all be on your list of places to visit.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park, which was created in 1885, is arguably Alberta’s biggest tourist attraction. The 6,641 sq. km (2,564 sq. mi) park is home to the towns of Banff and Lake Louise, as well as to astoundingly beautiful mountainous terrain that is dotted with aquamarine lakes and numerous glaciers and ice fields. Banff National Park is located just 110 km from the city of Calgary, making it a popular getaway for city dwellers year-round. The many recreational activities in this highly developed park will keep you entertained for days on end, and leave you with much more to do when you inevitably return.
Jasper National Park
Established just a few decades after Banff National Park in 1907, Jasper National Park, its northern neighbor, boasts an even larger land area of 10,878 sq. km (4,200 sq. mi). Jasper National Park is equally abundant in wildlife and picturesque mountain terrain. An area of particular note in this park is the massive Columbia Icefield. Located on the continental divide, the waters from the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield flow into the Arctic, Pacific, and North Atlantic oceans. Jasper National Park requires quite a trip to get to from Alberta’s major cities, but it is well worth the visit.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park makes up one half of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the other half of which — Glacier National Park — is located in the U.S. state of Montana. When the two parks came together to help preserve their shared ecology they created the first International Peace Park in the world. Established in 1895, Waterton Lakes National Park helps to conserve the unique mountain-prairie environment of the area. The park covers a total land area of 505 sq. km (195 sq. mi), and is located about 250 km south of Calgary. It is open year-round but visited mainly during the months of July and August.
Elk Island National Park
Elk Island National Park in central Alberta may only cover a total of 194 sq. km (75 sq. mi), but it is a pristine representation of the northern prairies’ plateau ecosystem. The park is only a 30-minute drive from the city of Edmonton, and offers visitors a variety of different winter and summer activities. Created in 1913, the park has played an important role in wildlife management and wood bison conservation. As well as being home to the largest land mammal in North America, the park is also home to the pygmy shrew, the continent’s smallest land mammal.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Located in the northeast corner of Alberta and in a small portion of the southern Northwest Territories, the 44,807 sq. km (17,300 sq. mi) Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada and the second-largest national park in the entire world. Established in 1922, the main purpose behind the creation of the park was to protect the largest herd of wood bison in the world, which is today estimated to consist of over 5,000 head. Wood Buffalo National Park is also host to the world’s largest beaver dam, but reaching it through hundreds of kilometers of dense wilderness is no easy feat.
It may not be easy to check out every park in one trip (as some are on opposite ends of the province), but a great place to start is with Banff and Jasper. The two parks are connected by the stunning Icefields Parkway, which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful drives you could ever take in your life. However you choose to explore Alberta, make sure you set aside the time to enjoy it to the fullest.