At a time when there’s much (necessary) discussion about travel footprints, it makes sense to plan extended stays – and to minimize one’s impact while visiting. And when it comes to picking a destination worth landing in for awhile, Canada’s Alberta seems a wonderful choice.
Located in the western part of the country, the province is bordered by the Canadian Rocky Mountains to the west, vast prairies and badlands to the east and Montana (and Glacier National Park) to the south.
Kayaking Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park is merely one magical adventure awaiting in Alberta — Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Ryan Bray
For starters, Alberta boasts 10,627 square miles of protected land in more than 500 sites (including 75 provincial parks). It also has six UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most of any Canadian province or territory; think jagged peaks and otherworldly turquoise lakes. The province is home to two cities of one million people, plus small resort communities ranging from Banff and Lake Louise to Jasper, Canmore and Waterton.
“Alberta’s landscapes are breathtaking and dramatically change within a few hours’ drive,” says Danielle Vlemmiks, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Communications at Travel Alberta. “From the flat prairies to rolling foothills to the massive Canadian Rocky Mountains…If impressive landscapes are on your bucket list, Alberta has them.”
Consider using Calgary as a base from which to branch out, as you explore nearby gems like Banff, Kananaskis, Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, Bragg Creek, Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller, the largest town in the badlands. While in Alberta, wander the Cowboy Trail and learn about the region’s rich Indigenous culture at sites like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, now a UNESCO World Heritage site that was used by Blackfoot hunters for at least 5,700 years.
Visitors can respect the history of the province by learning about its Indigenous residents and their exquisite cultural traditions — Photo courtesy of Government of Alberta
Calgary features a mix of towering business buildings, tucked-away hip hangouts, omnipresent bike trails and an abundance of urban green space, too.
The city’s main claim to fame is its summertime Stampede – an annual 10-day extravaganza of rodeos, rides, fried fair food and high-energy entertainment – all accompanied by free community pancake breakfasts that pop up around town. However, you’ll see cowboy hats and cowgirl boots on display all year long. (If you’re looking to pick up a dazzling pair for yourself, family-run Alberta Boot Company is the spot for you.)
The city lights of downtown high-rises illuminate Calgary at night — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
While in the city, longer-stay venues like the the Residence Inn Calgary Downtown/Beltline District prove ideal for multi-night stays. This 33-story hotel, located where the historic Alberta Boot Company once stood, offers stunning city and mountain views, plus easy access to Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary Zoo and Calgary Tower.
Better yet, spacious guest suites come with plush linens, contemporary bathrooms, smart TVs and free Wi-Fi, as well as temptations ranging from comfortable work stations to one’s own mini-kitchen with complimentary grocery shopping services.
In Calgary, the Residence Inn Studio Queen with sofa bed makes for an inviting and luxurious home-away-from-home — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
If you’re craving some food and drink out on the town, wander to the Simmons Building, a former mattress factory that’s become one of the city’s hottest hangouts. Inside this East Village culinary destination and community gathering space, you’ll find Charbar (Argentinean-inspired fare and a to-die-for rooftop), Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery.
Steps from your hotel oasis, beautifully designed Bridgette Bar surpasses Calgary’s meat-and-potato stereotypes by serving a bounty of fresh vegetable dishes (think broccoli, spiced beet salads and roasted cauliflower). You’ll also enjoy the maple BBQ rainbow trout and perfectly-prepared wood-grilled beef strip steak, all accompanied by delightful Okanagan Valley wines.
Edmonton, another prime home base for exploring Alberta’s natural treasures, can be found about three hours north of Calgary. En route, as you cruise alongside vistas of wide-open skies and yellow canola fields, you’ll pass through countless farms dotting the Red Deer region.
Make a pit stop at quaint spots like The Jungle Farm, where – depending on the season – you can pick your own berries or enjoy a freshly-baked pie, luring you in from the aromatic counter case.
Element Edmonton West’s beautiful breakfast bar helps facilitate longer stays — Photo courtesy of Marriott International
Twenty minutes from downtown, Element Edmonton West anchors itself around the ideas of wellness and sustainability – encouraging guests to live on the road much like they would at home. This gets reflected in the hotel’s inviting spaces (with a design that’s clean, simplistic, and nature- and Nordic-inspired), onsite laundry services, a fitness center and pool, plus a complimentary Bike to Borrow program.
Temporary living here feels like a breeze with perks like complimentary breakfast every day and complimentary beer, wine and snacks (Monday through Thursday).
Feel your cares fade away while swimming at Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park — Photo courtesy of Tourism Jasper
So how to be a better traveler while experiencing Alberta’s abundance? Vlemmiks says it’s important to understand one’s travel footprint, and Alberta’s tourism operators encourage visitors to seek out sustainable trips and experiences, as well as to respect wildlife and their habitats to maintain the natural ecosystem. (On the official front, she adds, policy makers and governments of all levels are working together to ensure their tourism strategies are sustainable.)
A black wolfdog pauses in the wildflowers at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane — Photo courtesy of Discover Banff Tours
“Natural beauty is one of the things that visitors and residents alike value most about Alberta,” comments Vlemmiks. “To ensure our wildlife and environment are protected, many of our tourism partners offer ecologically-sensitive transportation options. For example, you can visit many areas throughout Banff National Park car-free in the summer months. Banff and Lake Louise Tourism and Parks Canada have a system of transit and shuttles to help you get around.”
With all these tips in mind, we anxiously await our next visit to this stunning pocket of the globe.