Hit the highway: 5 epic road trips to take in Alberta

Mar 22 2022, 6:40 pm

The days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer. That means it’s almost road trip season!

Alberta is home to many spectacular drives, and what better way to spend a weekend than exploring our natural playground with epic routes that are sure to provide stunning views?

Adventure is out there – where will it take you this summer?

We’ve compiled a list of five fantastic Alberta road trips to add to your bucket list.

Highwood Pass

In our humble opinion, this is hands down one of the best scenic drives in all of Canada. It’s good for cars, motorbikes, or even cyclists if you’re up for it! Highwood is the highest paved pass in the country. You can start the route from Banff, Canmore, Cochrane, or Longview and drive in whichever direction you like. We suggest starting from the north so that you can roll on down into Longview and catch the epic views from the top of the pass. If you’re starting from Cochrane, head west to Highway 40 and then south toward Highwood Pass.

This is where the sky meets the mountain tops. K-Country is surely one of the most breathtaking places in the world. Pack your hiking gear and your water bottle because you’ll definitely want to stop and snap a picture on one of the many hikes you can take whilst on this amazing road trip. Pickle Jar Lakes trail is accessible from the highway, along with Elbow Lake and Rae Glacier.

It’s important to note that Highway 40 is closed annually from December to June to protect wildlife migration in the area, so this is one to add to your summer bucket list. Additionally, anyone stopping at provincial parks and public land sites in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley needs a Conservation Pass from the Alberta Government. Head here to buy your pass now.

Road Trip Alberta offers plenty of details about this route, along with an interactive map.

alberta road trips

Road Trip Alberta (roadtripalberta.com)

Length: Approximately 150 km
Duration: 
Driving time will take around two hours, but budget a whole day if you want to truly enjoy the scenery and stretch your legs.

Cowboy Trail

 

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Welcome to big sky country. From the unreachable horizon through the prairies to the glorious looming mountains, this route is perfectly named. The Cowboy Trail stretches from Mayerthorpe, just north of Edmonton, and continues all the way down to Waterton Lakes National Park, before concluding in Cardston.

You can start this road trip from Banff National Park, Calgary, Edmonton, or Waterton. Regardless of where you kickstart the engine, this roadie is a must-do in 2022. You’ll travel along Highway 22 and through places such as Bragg Creek, Drayton Valley, Longview, Sundre, Okotoks, and Rocky Mountain House.

While you’re in cowboy country, why not keep the theme going and catch a rodeo? Check out the Pro Rodeo Canada schedule and plan accordingly. Or, stop in Cochrane and hit up the delicious ice creamery, MacKay’s.

alberta road trips

Google Maps

Length: Approximately 710 km
Duration: This route is about eight hours of nonstop driving, but it can be as long as you want it to be! You can take a few days and make pitstops along the way, exploring the small rustic towns, natural wonders in the mountains and meadowlands, and enjoying everything the Wild West of Canada has to offer. Alternatively, try driving sections of it at a time for shorter trips to go in-depth with each area.

Icefields Parkway

 

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If you’re from Alberta and you haven’t travelled the Icefields Parkway yet, there’s no time like the present! And if you’re a visitor, then hustle yourself up to this desktop-background-worthy area. Kudos to Mother Earth for making the Columbia Icefields so bloomin’ breathtaking – it almost looks fake.

Driving through the mountains here will make you feel so small, while also giving you an appreciation for the natural wonders that are right on our doorstep. Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, black bears, and moose, as we’ve spotted them a few times while driving along this road. If you are lucky enough to see some wildlife, please do not get out of your car to take a photo. And be wary of causing unnecessary road accidents as well – make sure you find a safe place to pull over.

There are multiple things to do along the way. Stop at the Icefields Visitor Centre, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Glacier, Vermillion Lakes, Maligne Canyon, Peyto Lakes, Mistaya Canyon, or Athabasca Falls.

It’s a great trip to do in the winter as well, but please be aware of road and avalanche conditions. You will need winter tires and potentially chains, which are required by law in some areas. There is also only one gas station located between Lake Louise and Jasper, at Saskatchewan River Crossing, and it’s not open in the winter. So, plan to fuel up in either Banff National Park or Jasper, depending on which way you’re driving the route, to ensure you can make it the whole way. As well, note that there is no cell service for the majority of this drive.

alberta road trips

Google Maps

Length: Approximately 290 km
Duration: This trip will take you three to four hours in the summer months. If you’re driving it in snowy conditions, allow an additional two hours as the roads can be slippery and you will need to proceed with caution.

Smith-Dorrien Trail

 

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Looking for a quick day-trip? K-Country is once again providing the goods. This trip is set high in the mountains along a winding gravel road. The road can get a little rough and dusty, but you’ll be surrounded by alpine trees and the drive is incredibly scenic. Also known as Highway 742, it connects to the Kananaskis Trail through Canmore on a route that stretches through the Smith-Dorrien Valley.

This drive can be done in either direction as it is a loop along Highway 40. This is a prime place to spot moose, bighorn sheep, and elk, so be on the lookout! It’s also a great spot to catch the sunset if you’re down to stay out a little bit longer! Please note that there is no cell service on the route.

Hikes along the Smith-Dorrien Trail are plentiful, offering varying lengths of time and difficulties. Troll Falls, off of Highway 40, is one great family hike to consider. Kananaskis Lakes, Mount Lorette Ponds, Spray Lakes Reservoir, and Wedge Pond are all beautiful places to have a waterfront picnic.

Google Maps

Length: Smith-Dorrien Trail to Spray Lakes is almost 70 km
Duration: Two hours without stopping, but we suggest you pause for a hike or picnic, so add on a few more hours for the trip.

The Boomtown Trail

 

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Welcome to the Alberta frontier! Or at least that’s what it will feel like when you take the scenic route between Calgary and Edmonton. Avoid that long, boring drive on the main highway and explore this backwater road instead. Along the way, stop at places like Buffalo Lake or check out Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park.

There are a few weird little sights to see on the Boomtown Trail, including the World’s Largest Oil Lamp. The towns along this stretch will take you back to the pioneering era, filled with historical buildings in railway towns, rolling tumbleweeds, cabins, horses, and buffalo. It’ll be as if you’ve stepped back in time, except for a bit less gun slinging and cowboy hat wearing.

The Railway Museum, Camrose & District Centennial Museum, and Bailey Theatre are also some great pitstops to make. Keep your eyes out for wildlife, as there are elk, moose, and deer in the area.

Google Maps

Length: Approximately 570 km
Duration: This trip will take about seven to eight hours to complete, depending on how many stops you decide to make.

Happy (and safe) road tripping!

Madeline HoskingMadeline Hosking

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