Alberta is often referred to as the ‘Texas of the North’ due to the western culture found in its grasslands and prairies – Made world-famous by the annual Calgary Stampede.
However, the active traveler will likely associate the province with the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the myriad of outdoor adventures that await (hiking/backpacking, mountaineering, glacier trekking, canoeing/kayaking, skiing/snowboarding, and so much more).
But did you know that Alberta is also home to five of Canada’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? This includes the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber) as well as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park bordering the USA in the south, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (one of the most extensive and best preserved hunting sites of North America), Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Canadian Badlands (containing one of the richest dinosaur finds in the world), and Wood Buffalo National Park in the far north – Home to the world’s largest inland delta and the biggest herd of free-roaming bison on the planet.
Where wildlife viewing is concerned, Alberta’s big ‘all-stars’ are elk, moose, bear, bison, cougar, and wolf – Some of which do not require a lot of effort to spot! Accessible and rewarding wildlife viewing is possible throughout the province. Close encounters with elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats are not uncommon in towns and along mountain highways.
Dig a little deeper and you may even spot the king of the Rockies, the grizzly. Alberta’s variety of natural areas support hundreds of species of wildlife, many of which are endangered or protected.
Located in the heart of western Canada, Alberta shares its southern border with the American state of Montana, its northern border with the vast Northwest Territories, its eastern border with the prairies of Saskatchewan, and its western border with the province of British Columbia. This western edge follows the ‘straight’ 120th meridian from the north, and then continues to the US border via the craggy spine of the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Edmonton is Alberta’s provincial capital, and a good starting point for the parks and highlights in the province’s north.
Calgary, however, is the biggest city in Alberta with a population of 1.2 million people and 126 large, fiberglass cows. It is conveniently located in the province’s south along the Trans Canada Highway and just an hour’s drive east of Canmore – The jumping off point for many of our Rocky Mountain adventures.
With a nickname like ‘Texas of The North’ and its biggest celebration being the Calgary Stampede (billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’), western culture lives strong in Alberta. The lively festival brings over a million people to Calgary (a.k.a ‘Cow Town) each year to enjoy rodeos, concerts, a midway, and other western-themed events.
Edmonton, Canada’s ‘Festival City’, is also becoming hot on the art & culture scene, hosting more than 50 festivals throughout the year.
With an inspiring backdrop nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, The Banff Centre has emerged as a nationally- and internationally-renowned training centre for young professionals in the performing arts, and is host to the annual Banff Mountain Film And Book Festival which shines a spotlight on the world’s best mountain films, books, and speakers.
The province possesses much of the country’s farmable land, ranking the agricultural industry high in importance; However, today, less than a quarter of Alberta’s population is considered ‘rural’ and with the discovery of oil in 1947, agriculture is no longer the dominant economic activity.
Alberta is now Canada's foremost energy-resource province with vast amounts of natural gas and coal and oil sands that are the third largest in the world (after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela). The petroleum industry has brought prosperity to Alberta, giving it one of the highest per capita GDPs and some of the lowest taxes and unemployment rates in the country (Calgary also has greatest number of millionaires per capita of any city in Canada).
English is the most common language in Alberta, but hundreds of languages are spoken and dozens of religions are practiced. In fact, the oldest mosque in North America and one of the largest Sikh temples in Canada are located in Edmonton.
Historically, Alberta’s roots are in 18th century fur trade stemming from the bison-hunting expeditions of the Aboriginal peoples, including the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Gros Ventre, and Kootenay.
Today, several places throughout Alberta underline their strength and stamina, including UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, and Writing on Stone Provincial Park which contains the largest concentration of aboriginal petroglyphs and pictographs on the North American plains.
The Rocky Mountains have unpredictable weather, which can change rapidly. As is the norm in highland environments, the climate changes with increasing altitude. In general, the Rockies have mild summers, cold winters, and a lot of precipitation – The result of air moving east from the Pacific and getting trapped and released in the mountains. The Rockies' eastern slopes are in a rain shadow and Alberta's skies, east of the Rockies, are predominantly clear with the rest of the province enjoying some of the sunniest skies in the country year-round.
Spring comes to the lowlands in April and reaches the high country by June. It brings wildflowers and gushing rivers, which make it the ideal time for rafting. Short sleeves/pants are possible, but it is advisable to have sweaters, trousers and a light coat or rainjacket on hand as well.
Summer days are temperate and long, with the sun setting late and rising early. July is the warmest month, with daytime temperatures around 22°C/72°F in the mountains and up to 30°C/86°F on the prairies. Recommended clothing is shorts, short-sleeved shirts and light dresses in daytime, sweaters and trousers in the evenings, and shell jackets in the mountains areas.
Fall comes in September and October, bringing beautiful autumn colours, clear skies, and cooler temperatures. Fall weather conditions are fabulous for active, outdoor adventures as well as star-gazing. Light to medium clothing with shell jacket in early fall/ medium to heavy clothing in late fall (snow is possible near the end of October/beginning of November).
Winter brings cold, snowy weather that can quickly change to warmer Chinook winds and Alberta sunshine. Winter temperatures vary, but January is usually the coldest month with temperatures rarely rising above -8°C. Snow lasts from November to March, and the ski/snowboard season is in full swing.
We recommend visiting Environment Canada’s website for information specific to the region in which you are travelling.