Without a doubt, planning an Alberta road trip is the best way to see this scenic Canadian province.
A place on the top of many traveler’s bucket lists, Alberta is full of mountains, badlands, and cities alike, and there is so much to explore and uncover.
And lucky for you, I know all about the best spots in Alberta! Not only did I live in Alberta for a year, but I was able to visit the very best of what it has to offer. And trust me, there is a lot!
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How to rent a car in Alberta
- The best places to visit in Alberta
- The best time to go
- What to do
- Where to stay
- And so much more!
The Ultimate Alberta Road Trip Guide
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How to Rent a Car or RV in Alberta
I don’t know if you heard, but there is currently a pandemic-caused global rental car shortage, plus a run on motorhomes and RVs. If you need to rent a set of wheels, do it ASAP. Here are our favorite providers:
- 🚗 Best Car Rental Site – Discover Cars. This is a great site for searching for cars for your Alberta road trip, becuase it searches thousands of sites for you. It also lets you compare customer reviews of agencies, which is super useful.
- 🚐 Best Campervan Rental Site – Motorhome Republic. They’re one of the largest sites for comparing and renting motorhomes from RV rental companies.
- 👉 Best Peer-to-Peer RV Site – RVezy or Outdoorsy – both are kind of like Airbnb but for renting private RVs and campervans. Usually RVezy has more inventory in Alberta, but it’s worth searching both for the best deal.
You’ll also want to use a GPS from the car rental company or save a Google Map of Alberta before you arrive. With so many places to explore — some of them in the rocky mountains where the cell service is spotty — you’re going to want a reliable map that you can take with you anywhere.
What’s It Like to Drive in Alberta?
Sure, it’s not (yet) quite as popular as our Nova Scotia Road Trip guide, but intrepid road trippers knows that Alberta is made for driving!
Driving in Alberta entirely depends on the time of year you visit. Going on an Alberta road trip in late spring, summer, or early fall means that you’ll be driving on clear roads with warm weather and with great visibility.
However, if you want to go on a winter road trip through Alberta then I highly recommend having winter driving experience or bringing along someone who does. In the winter, much of the mountainous areas are prone to snow runoff and avalanches, and the province as a whole deals with slick, icy highways.
Not to turn you off from visiting Alberta in the winter as there are so many great activities that the province is known for, but it’s best to be prepared when it comes to cold conditions.
But, in general, the roads are well-maintained and easy to drive on. Just be sure you have travel insurance that covers you for driving in Canada (pro tip: TravelInsurance.com is a great site for comparison shopping for travel insurance!).
What’s the Best Time of Year to go on an Alberta Road Trip?
Speaking of seasons, the best time of year to go on an Alberta road trip depends on what kind of trip you want to have.
If you expect warm hikes, canoeing or kayaking on the lakes, mountain biking, and dinosaur bone hunting, then it’s best to visit in the summertime. Of course, this is the most popular time of year to visit the Canadian Rockies — namely, the many things to do in Banff and Jasper national parks — so be prepared to battle with higher hotel rates and some crowds.
On the flip side, winter is one of the most picturesque times to visit Alberta all year — if you plan on visiting the Rocky Mountains, that is.
If a winter wonderland is what you have in mind, then prepare yourself for ice skating on frozen glacial lakes, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowy hikes, frozen waterfalls, and drinking hot chocolate by the outdoor bonfires.
That said, I don’t recommend visiting Alberta in the dead of winter unless you like an extremely short window of sunlight each day and blistering cold temperatures. And, if you plan to visit more than the Rocky Mountains, then I honestly don’t recommend visiting Alberta in winter at all.
Late October – Early November and March-April are the perfect times of year to experience winter wonderland vibes in Alberta.
With that, let’s get into our 7-day Alberta road trip guide!
7-Day Alberta Road Trip Itinerary
Days 1 & 2 – Calgary
Chances are when you begin your Alberta trip, you’ll do so by flying into Calgary, Alberta’s largest city.
Calgary is home to a ton of great things to do including exploring the Calgary Tower, experiencing the annual Calgary Stampede (it’s like a huge, ranch-themed county fair), checking out the National Music Centre, stopping at Calaway Park (the resident amusement park) browsing the Glenbow Museum, and hitting up a ton of restaurants, shops, and breweries.
Calgary is quite a cosmopolitan city and is a great place to stock up on supplies before you hit the mountains.
Depending on when you land in Calgary you’ll want one to two days in this funky city to get acclimated to Alberta.
For a great nighttime winter activity just outside of Calgary, check out this Kananaskis Stargazing Tour! With the moon lighting your way, you’ll snowshoe your way through the Canadian wilderness.
The best hotels in Calgary:
- For a luxury option, The Fairmont Palliser is hard to beat.
- If you’re looking for something mid-range, then I recommend Regency Suites.
- For a great budget-ish option, consider Super 8 by Wyndham.
Days 3 & 4 – Banff National Park
Banff National Park is one of Canada’s top adventure and scenic destinations and will surely be a shining star on your road trip through Alberta.
To get to Banff National Park, hop in your car and drive one hour west from Calgary. This drive will take you from the flatland prairies right into the towering Canadian Rockies.
The town of Banff itself has a bit of a resort vibe and is full of restaurants, huge woodsy chalets, and great views of the mountains in Alberta. Staying in the town, or just outside, will be a great jumping-off point for experiencing the park.
As for things to do in Banff National Park, I recommend paying a visit to the spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs before going on one of the incredible hikes (Johnston Canyon is a personal fave, but here’s a good list of hikes in the Alberta area), taking a ride on the famous gondola, or going snowshoeing, dogsledding, skiing, or skating.
There are also tons of festivals in Banff year-round, so if you want to make your trip extra special, I’d recommend planning your trip around one of them.
Some more of the best hikes in Banff National Park are Cory Pass – Mt. Edith Circuit (13km/8mile loop), Cascade Amphitheater (13.2km/8mile return), Bourgeau Lake & Harvey Pass (15km/ 9.3mile return), Lake Agnes Teahouse/Big Beehive (7.2km/4.5mile return), Moraine Lake Shoreline/Rockpile (3km/1.9mile return) and Plain of Six Glaciers (13.8km/8.6m return).
While you’re here you’ll also want to spend a good amount of time exploring Lake Louise — one of the most beautiful spots in the whole park.
In the summer, rent a canoe or kayak, or take a hike around the lake. In the winter, strap on a pair of skates and spend an afternoon gliding over the bubbly ice of Lake Louise.
This Banff National Park Tour will take you through Lake Louise and Moraine Lake while giving you an overview of the history of the area!
Note: The Canadian National Parks on this list do require park permits to enter. You’ll be able to get these at the park entrance gates, but remember to budget some extra money along the way.
The best hotels in Banff National Park:
- The Fairmont Banff Springs is not only one of the most luxurious hotels in Alberta, but one of the most historic in Canada.
- The Banff Park Lodge is great if you’re on a mid-range option.
- Banff Voyager Inn is excellent if you want to stick to a budget.
Day 5 – Drive the Icefields Parkway
Okay, so technically Icefields Parkway is in both Banff and Jasper National Park, but honestly, this drive through the Rocky Mountains is so special, it deserves reserving a day just for it.
The highway that links the two parks, Icefields Parkway is known as being one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I can vouch that it’s 232 kilometers of pure beauty.
The road trip will take you past forests, waterfalls, emerald lakes, mountain spires, and over 100 ancient glaciers.
In particular, it’s worth stopping at the view of Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, the Weeping Wall, hiking Parker Ridge, going on the Glacier SkyWalk, and traversing the Columbia Icefield.
I highly recommend that you take your time on the parkway and that you bring along your camera as it’s a photographer’s dream!
Day 6 – Jasper National Park
With the Icefields Parkway taking you right into Jasper, it’s time to discover all that this historic National Park has to offer.
Also in the Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park is the largest National Park in the area and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. While in Jasper, paying a visit to Maligne Lake is a total must — it’s famous for its turquoise water surrounded by towering mountain peaks.
Additionally, visiting Athabasca Glacier (a receding glacier on which you can hike), hiking Maligne Canyon (a beautiful limestone canyon with waterfalls and beautiful foliage), and taking the Jasper Sky Tram (an aerial lift that’ll take you to one of the best viewpoints in the park) are all top activities in Jasper.
If you’re looking to stay in Jasper a little longer, then this 2-Day Jasper National Park tour will guide you through the best sites.
The best hotels in Jasper National Park:
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a great luxury option in the park.
- The Pyramid Lake Resort is a great mid-range option if you’re into outdoorsy activities like fishing and canoeing.
- Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge is an excellent budget accommodation.
Day 7 – Edmonton
Next up, it’s time to hop back in your car and head out of the mountains and into the prairies.
About a 3 hour and 45-minute drive from Jasper National Park, Edmonton is the capital city of Alberta and, while often overlooked, has a ton to offer.
Edmonton is most famed for being home to the biggest mall in North America — the West Edmonton Mall. This mall includes a wave pool called the World Waterpark, an amusement park called GalaxyLand, and too many shops and restaurants to count.
Malls not your thing? Edmonton still has a ton for you.
The city is also home to the Royal Alberta Museum, Elk Island National Park (great for seeing elk and bird watching), the Telus World of Science, the Muttart Conservatory (botanical gardens inside pyramidal biomes), and enough restaurants and breweries to keep you fully occupied.
If you’re looking for something a little different, I recommend planning your own Edmonton gastronomy tour — there is so much to uncover (and eat!)
For a brief overview of what the city is all about, check out this 1.5 hour Edmonton bus tour.
The best Hotels in Edmonton:
- Fantasyland Hotel is a lot of fun if you love high-end themed accommodations.
- Element Edmonton West is a highly-rated mid-range hotel.
- Whitemud Inn Edmonton South is worth checking out for budget accommodations.
10 Days in Alberta
Days 8 & 9 – Drumheller National Park
If you find yourself in Alberta for more than a week, then do yourself a favor and head to the Alberta Badlands. In particular, I recommend heading 3 hours south of Edmonton to the town of Drumheller.
Known as the Dinosaur capital of the world, you will find a bunch of dinosaur-related activities in Drumheller, surreal lunar-esque landscapes, and a ton of historical and outdoorsy experiences
In Drumheller, I highly recommend paying a visit to The Royal Tyrrell Museum which is home to excellent exhibits, dinosaur fossils, information from different prehistoric periods, and more. There’s even a fully reconstructed Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Next, head over to the world’s largest dinosaur which, at 151 ft long, 86 feet tall, and weighing over 65 tons, will be hard to miss. This T-Rex statue is over four times bigger than a real T-rex would have been and you can climb right to the top for a great view of downtown.
Then, I recommend heading to the outskirts of town to see the hoodoos.
Over 20 feet tall and millions of years old, these rocks were created by wind and water erosion, and in Blackfoot First Nation mythology, were thought to be petrified giants.
And last but not least I recommend driving to Dinosaur Trail. This 48-kilometer loop road trip begins just outside of the town and will take you through some beautiful landscapes with some scenic stops along the way including the Bleriot ferry Crossing, Orkney Lookout, The Last Chance Saloon, and Horsethief Canyon.
Note: While getting out of the car and exploring the area is definitely recommended in this part of Alberta, there is wildlife to contend with when hiking — in particular, rattlesnakes. While they would rather retreat than strike, I recommend wearing hiking boots as opposed to sandals around here.
I’ve been to Drumheller a few times and have never seen any wildlife, but it’s best to be prepared!
The best Hotels in Drumheller:
- Ramada Hotel and Suites is a great mid-range option in Drumheller.
- Badlands Motel is a highly-rated budget option.
Day 10 – Dinosaur Provincial Park
The Dinosaur fun doesn’t stop in Drumheller!
About 1 hour and 45-minute trip southeast of Drumheller is Dinosaur Provincial Park — a UNESCO World Heritage site that contains the world’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils from 75 million years ago (the late Cretaceous period).
Here you’ll find an incredible valley landscape filled with complete inground dinosaur fossils, some very cool hiking trails including the Badlands Trail (1.3km/0.8 miles), Coulee Viewpoint (0.9km/0.55 miles), Cottonwood Flats (1.4km/0.86 miles), Prairie Trail (0.3km/0.19miles), and Trail of the Fossil Hunters (0.9km/0.55miles).
You’ll also see tons of hoodoos and other rock formations, and Dinosaur Provincial Park has an impressive interpretive center.
The best hotels in Dinosaur Provincial Park:
- If you plan on making the trip in the summer then I highly recommend staying a night or two at the campground in the area as there’s truly so much to see.
- While there are no hotels in the park itself, there is a Days Inn & Suites in nearby Brooks, Alberta.
📚 Related Reading: The Best Activities to Do on Vancouver Island
What to Pack For an Alberta Road Trip
Electronics are a must for any road trip through Alberta. I recommend bringing a car adapter and charging cable for your phone and a smartphone mount for easy navigation.
If you’ll be visiting Alberta in winter, then I recommend bringing along a pair of winter boots, an insulated coat, heavy duty gloves, a thermal base layer, and a trusty toque (or beanie, whichever you call it!)
Alberta is a province with a ton of outdoorsy and hiking opportunities. To prepare, I recommend bringing along a pair of hiking poles, some hiking boots, a water filter, sunscreen (no matter the season), bug spray, and a sun hat.
That’s it for our Alberta Road Trip Guide!
There is truly so much to see in Alberta and I hope this article gave you some great itinerary inspiration!
For more tips on road trips and traveling to Canada, visit:
Have fun in Alberta!