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4 Of The Best Road Trips In Alberta

4 of the Best Road Trips in Alberta

If you’re looking for scenic road trips in Canada, head to Alberta. There’s a huge range of landscapes to explore from the backroads of eastern Alberta with its endless fields of yellow canola swaying in the wind to the beauty of the hoodoos in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Of course the grandest scenery of all is in the mountains, particularly along the Icefields Parkway. 

Four road trips in Alberta described below showcase Alberta’s diverse landscapes. Some can be done in a day, but linger if you can and savour this beautiful part of Canada.

Banff to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway – one of the top road trips in Alberta (and even Canada)

Just shy of 300 kilometres one way, this is the not-to-be-missed road trip in Alberta. It can be done in as little as four hours but linger on this drive and take four days instead.

Spend a night in Lake Louise, more if you have time. There’s enough hiking in the area to keep you busy for weeks. Consider a night at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on Bow Lake.

The lodge is rustic but the views of the Bow and Crowfoot Glaciers are spectacular. Plan to stop at the Columbia Icefields. Take a glacier tour. Do one of the beautiful short hikes in the area (Wilcox Pass is a standout) and spend the night watching the sun setting over the Icefields.

Other highlights on this drive include stunning mountain landscapes for the entire drive, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, Bow Pass, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, the area around Saskatchewan River and of course the wildlife should you see it.

Read: 5 Stunning Hikes to do along the Icefields Parkway 

Road trips in Alberta offer up a view of the Columbia Icefields
A view of the Columbia Icefields

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Road Trips in Alberta #2 – Calgary – Turner Valley – Highwood Pass – Canmore – Calgary

This drive can be done as a long day trip but there are several options where you could night over – or shorten the drive. It’s approximately a 350 kilometre loop.

You can do the drive in either direction. If you start early in the morning it’s beautiful as you head south out of Calgary to Turner Valley and Longview. Watch for deer sprinting out in front of your car once you turn onto Highway 541.

One of the many highlights of the drive is the climb up and out of Highwood Pass on Highway 40. Standout mountain views await you around every corner. It’s the highest paved road in Canada and doesn’t open until June 15th. If you have time at the pass, try the Ptarmigan Cirque hike – but don’t forget the bear spray.

From Highwood Pass you can continue along Highway 40 all the way to the Trans-Canada Highway and then east back to Calgary.

But if you’re up for a little adventure, take the Smith Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail to Canmore. You’ll find it at the bottom of the road on the left as you come down from Highwood Pass. Most of this road is gravel but you don’t need a four wheel drive vehicle to do it.

The mountain scenery is fantastic and the drive down into Canmore offers memorable views. If you want to break up the drive spend a night at Mount Engadine Lodge or at one of the many B&B’s or hotels in Canmore.

Heading up towards Highwood Pass
Scenery around Highwood Pass

The Cowboy Trail from Black Diamond to the Frank Slide

The Cowboy Trail – otherwise known as Highway 22 parallels the Rockies starting way up near Edmonton and continuing for 735 kilometres all the way to Cardston in the southern part of the province. I personally love the drive from Black Diamond to the Frank Slide, a distance of 148 kilometres one way.

Take time especially on a weekend when farmer’s markets are operating to stop in Millarville. If you like steak, make reservations for dinner (on the return) at the Longview Steakhouse – rated as one of the best steak restaurants in North America.

Most of the Cowboy Highway heading south will take you through rolling ranch country. Sometimes there are good mountain views but always you have a sense of space.

Turn west onto Highway 3 to visit the Frank Slide – and don’t miss a visit to the Interpretive Centre. Lundbreck Falls, just off Highway 3 would also be a worthwhile side trip.

On one of the road trips in Alberta stop and admire Lundbreck Falls
Stop and admire Lundbreck Falls
One of the road trips in Alberta takes you by the Frank Slide
Austere looking landscape left from the Frank Slide
Looking at the Frank Slide from the top of Turtle Mountain
Looking at the Frank Slide from the top of Turtle Mountain

Lethbridge – Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – Cypress Hills Provincial Park – Medicine Hat – Lethbridge

The southeastern part of Alberta is largely overlooked yet it’s got lots of gems – and if you like to explore backroads through farm country, you can have a lot of fun.

Assuming you start in Lethbridge and do a giant loop, you will drive 600 kilometres in total. You could shorten it by bypassing Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

I like to find a detailed map and work my way on the backroads to my destination in this part of the world. It’s big sky country and particularly interesting if there’s a storm brewing.

In summer the fields are filled with canola and flax – perfect for any photographers doing the drive.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is beautiful with it’s eroded rock formations along the picturesque Milk River. Take a Rock Art tour with an interpreter and perhaps even spend the night.

Superb hiking on the Hoodoo Trail in Writing on Stone
Superb hiking on the Hoodoo Trail in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

The drive north towards Medicine Hat passes by loads of ponds filled with ducks and birds you don’t normally see, especially in spring and early summer. Do the side-trip to Red Rock Coulee, especially if you’re a photographer.

Colourful concretions at Red Rock Coulee
Colourful concretions at Red Rock Coulee

Cypress Hills Provincial Park is only 40 minutes from Medicine Hat. It’s home to a unique and beautiful landscape of lakes, prairies and forested hills, the highest east of Ontario. There are interesting nature tours you can do along with hiking and kayaking. It’s certainly worth a visit.

Grain elevator in Milk River, Alberta
Grain elevator in Milk River, Alberta

Medicine Hat is often overlooked but the downtown core is charming and loaded with cafes. Include a guided tour of the Medalta Museum, a fascinating industrial museum that looks at the brick and pottery factories that flourished around 1912. Then return to Lethbridge.

Sunset seen from Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Sunset seen from Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Further reading on things to do in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

4 of the best, most scenic road trips in Alberta

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 73 Comments
  1. Lethbridge – Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – Cypress Hills Provincial Park – Medicine Hat – Lethbridge

    Would love to do this drive

  2. I have done everyone of these road trips except one…and they are always awe inspiring. one thing you could add about the highwood pass is its actually the highest paved road in all of Canada.

  3. The Jasper to Banff Icefield Parkway revives my soul! The air, scenery, and wildlife thrill me no matter how many times I do this trip!

  4. All these are great tours. Have never done the Writing on Stone /Cypress Hills tour. This would be so cool to do? Thanks

  5. Banff to Jasper is one of the most breathtaking road trips we have taken in Alberta.
    So many beautiful places to stop and take photos and there is always a good chance you can photogragh
    Some wildlife in their natural habitat. We never tire of this trip and what you might see enroute πŸ™‚

  6. I want to do the Banff road trip. Tried it once but the fog was so bad I couldn’t see the front of my car – so a repeat is in order πŸ™‚

  7. The Icefield Parkway is hard to beat in terms of scenery!!
    I will definitively add the Writing-on-stone / Cypress hill road on my ever expanding to-do list, thanks!

  8. I think Jasper to Banff is the more scenic direction… You get to see some spectacular North Faces of the mountains more easily that way, and a lot of the turnoffs are conveniently on your right.

    I’ve still never been to the Cypress Hills but I’ve been meaning to see it forever, lol…

  9. I would want to do the Banff to Jasper road trip. I was 14 when I last saw that area, and I certainly wasn’t in control of where we went and for how long.

  10. I’m dying to drive Banff to Jasper as my wife and I got engaged there and we’re coming up on our tenth anniversary. Hopefully we’ll get back there to celebrate the occasion.

  11. I love the drive from Calgary to my hometown of Drumheller – wheat fields as far as you can see and then BOOM. You’re in the dinosaur valley. πŸ™‚

  12. Have not yet been to Writing on Stone. Also I have not taken my kids to Frank Slide since we moved back to Alberta. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. I haven’t actually done the full drive from Jasper to Banff but it’s on my to do list. Cannot get enough of the icefields pkwy!!!! I’m also always up for a road trip so the other sound equally fun and beautiful!

  14. I’d like to try the Writing on StOne/Cypress Hills route. Sounds like an exceptional scenic opportunity in the early summer period. Thanks!

  15. Great read! makes me wanna fuel up and hit the road. I am always fascinated by the history of the cowboy trail and the eerie history of the town of frank. standing at the bottom of that mountain and looking at the devastation that the slide caused. It really makes you realize how big those mountains really are.

    Alberta has so much to offer, so grateful to call it my home.

  16. I would love to drive the cowboy trail! I’ve lived in Alberta for 23 years and have never experienced it! Simply beautiful!

  17. Have done them all and hope to do them all again. But I definitely love exploring the deep south and southeastern parts of Alberta. So many hidden gems.

  18. Even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen the Frank slide, the Banff to Jasper has to be the trip for me!

  19. We’ve done 3 of the 4 but have never done the Lethbridge-Writing on Stone Provincial Park-Cypress Hills Provincial Park-Medicine Hat route before. Alberta is such a diverse and beautiful province to visit and live. Would love to add it to the bucket list! πŸ™‚

  20. We’ve done a lot of these trips just aimlessly driving before the time of Google maps and cell phones. Love the mountains they have a way of making one feel safely insignificant and reminding us of what’s really important in life.
    We’ve yet to visit the southern parts. It’s on my bucket list to see cypress hills and would love to go to Waterton as well.
    Lisa

  21. I love this post – what great information for anyone wanting to explore the beautiful province of Alberta! I’m personally looking forward to the Circle Trip: Calgary – Turner Valley – Highwood Pass – Canmore – Calgary. By car or by motorbike, what a fabulous way to enjoy a summer day off!:)))

  22. I’ve been wanting to get to Frank’s Slide, so I choose the Cowboy Trail. There are so many hidden treasures. I’d love a roadtrip!

  23. Lethbridge – Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – Cypress Hills Provincial Park – Medicine Hat – Lethbridge

    I’ve never been to some of these places even though I’ve lived in YYC for 10yrs

  24. Nothing beats the the drive from Banff to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. It is never boring. Brought family from the Philippines on a vacation that route and they too fell in love with the beauty of the Rockies. Proud of the National Parks program to preserve our environment for future generations.

  25. All of these look fabulous. Bucket list…all of them have been added; however, the first one will be taken this year, likely within weeks!

  26. I have done all of these but the Lethbridge – Cypress Hills trip. The other three are amazing! We live in a beautiful part of the world.

  27. Banff to Jasper! My mom took all four of us kids camping out there when I was little! I would love to go there with my son and take my mom along too! It would be awesome to make new memories!

  28. Have not seen the mountains yet, been living in Alberta almost 2 years, going this summer with the mother in law, she is flying out for 2 weeks in July, we are going down cowboy way to Canmore then through Banff and up to Jasper going to take us 2 days total I think. So excited and definitely bringing the camera.

  29. I have done the first two and would love the to do the one from Lethbridge to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. Alberta has some pretty country side for perfect road trips!

  30. Lethbridge – Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – Cypress Hills Provincial Park – Medicine Hat – Lethbridge

    Crazy I’ve only been to Lethbridge and Med Hat and have missed the 2 provincial parks. Thanks for the Road Trip Ideas

  31. The Calgary – Turner Valley – Highwood Pass – Canmore trip would be my top choice. It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve been to the Highwood Pass, but I remember it was this majestic yet mysterious type of feeling there. Serene & filled with a beauty that makes me proud to be an Albertan.

  32. Would love to try the Circle Trip: Calgary – Turner Valley – Highwood Pass – Canmore – Calgary. My kids are coming to visit me for the first time in seven years and their would be awesome quality time together☺️

  33. My favourite drive is Banff to Jasper via Icefields parkway’ the natural scenery during this drive is fabulous.

  34. The Icefields Parkway has been on our road trip list and I’m hoping to do that soon. And I’m thinking Writing-on-Stone Park will be on our to-do list this summer. It is so wonderful to have such amazing scenery so close to home!

  35. I would love to take the kids on the Banff to Jasper Icefeilds Parkway road trip. I’ve never gone that way before either. It sounds beautiful!

  36. This year my little family is declaring this summer road trip season. Can not wait to try out the cypress hill.

    We travel to fuel our adventure side.

    Aleysha

  37. I think the drive over the Highwood Pass and then the gravel road into Canmore would be first choice. Maybe combine that with the Banff-Jaspet trip.

  38. I would love to do The Cowboy Trail from Black Diamond to the Frank Slide. I have never done it and would love to explore that part of the world

  39. Definitely Lethbridge – Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park – Cypress Hills Provincial Park – Medicine Hat – Lethbridge. If only for the name πŸ™‚

  40. I would love to do the Lethbridge circle route. I have done the Highwood pass one many times – my mom and I made a yearly trip of it as no matter how often you drove it, it still took your breath away and was never the same twice. It was as if your mind could not hold all of the beauty. I have also driven the Cowboy Trail from Black Diamond to Frank Slide many times, and often drive this way to meet friends in B.C. Last year, I drove this for a wedding at Waterton – the lovely drive added to the great experience. I have never driven through Writing-on-Stone but I have camped once at Cypress Hills. It was over 20 years ago but it was unforgettable – a magical experience. All of these would be superb trips.

  41. I would love to do the Writing on Stone road trip. We’ve done the other three and they’re all great!

  42. Having worked building the ” Cowboy Trail ” (1948 to 1952 ), although we didn’t call it that, this would be my choice and would bring back many fond memories of those who worked with me and a lot of stories during the locating, clearing, surveying, and construction of the original road, it was gravel all the way then .

  43. Would love the Cowboy trail one. Have never been anywhere near those places. Sounds fascinating. Would love to take grandkids for a trip some day.

  44. We’re going to Lethbridge in a few days from Grande Cache. Dont want to stop over for the trip going there. What route would be the best to take. We want to take a lot of photos so something with spectacular views etc on our way. Tia

  45. I love the Cowboy trail in the Mustang convertible on a sunny day. Reminds me of the old west but our horse is red and the saddle is pure comfort.

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