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posted on October 22, 2021

When it comes to Canada’s national parks, Banff and Jasper are the first ones that spring to mind, but these world-renowned destinations only scratch the surface of all the provincial and national parks Alberta has to offer.

From haunting hoodoos to boreal wilderness, Alberta’s parks are vast, diverse, and full of surprises. Many were once home to dinosaurs and ancient indigineous groups, and now brim with wildlife including bears, bison, and moose. 

Visiting national and provincial parks is one of the best things to do in Alberta and they’re some of our favourite places to visit near Edmonton and Calgary for fruitful day trips. You can count on clearing your head, learning something new, and witnessing nature at its finest.

Here’s our list of Alberta’s best provincial parks and national parks to make the most of your trip out west:

Many parks are just a road trip away from urban centres, so when you’ve run out of places to visit in Calgary and Edmonton, set your sights beyond the city and prepare to be awed by the natural splendour of this wild province.

Best provincial parks in Alberta

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Transport yourself to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth with a visit to one of the best provincial parks in Alberta for families and dinosaur lovers of all ages. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberta’s badlands to get the full impact of this unique and otherworldly landscape of hoodoos, cacti, and fossils. Activities at the Dinosaur Provincial Park include year-round tours, camping, hiking, and paddling the Red Deer River.

Distance from Edmonton: 4.5 hours

Distance from Calgary: 2.5 hours

Entrance fee: Free for day use

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and at the Visitor Centre within Dinosaur Provincial Park. Inside the park, head to the Cretaceous Café for coffee and small bites. Restaurants, shops, and local accommodation can be found in the nearby town of Brooks. Frontcountry camping is available year-round, as well as comfort campsites from June to October. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Ideal as a day trip from Calgary, this park offers plenty of day use areas and a host of year-round outdoor activities set against the gorgeous backdrop of Kananaskis Country. Known as a camping paradise, the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a scenic retreat of mountain ranges and crystal clear waters, evoking popular Banff attractions with a fraction of the crowds.

Distance from Edmonton: 4.5 hours

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours

Entrance fee: Free for day use

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas within Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Restaurants, shops, and local accommodation can be found in Canmore, just over an hour away. Frontcountry camping is available from May to October, as well as backcountry camping from June to November. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

The largest car-accessible lake in the province is one of best places to visit in Alberta for nature lovers looking to get away from it all. Foothills, white sand beaches, dunes, and boreal forest converge at this park to form a varied landscape brimming with biodiversity. A thriving outdoor playground, the Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park offers year-round activities including swimming, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, birding, and windsurfing. In the winter, its cross-country ski trails can’t be beat.

Distance from Edmonton: 3 hours

Distance from Calgary: 6 hours

Entrance fee: Free for day use

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas within Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park. There are no food concessions in the park, so head to the nearby town of Slave Lake for shops and restaurants. Frontcountry camping is available from May to September, and comfort camping is also available. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

Originally developed for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Canmore Nordic Centre has a reputation for world-class sports facilities and is one of our favourite places to go in Alberta for outdoor winter fun. Renowned among cross-country ski enthusiasts, the park also offers excellent cycling and mountain biking trails, as well as opportunities to hike, picnic, and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Rockies, making a visit one of the most worthwhile things to do around Calgary.

Distance from Edmonton: 4 hours

Distance from Calgary: approx. 1 hour 20 minutes

Entrance fee: Free for day use

Other details: Parking is available in designated areas within Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park. On site, the Cornerstone Café offers coffee, baked goods, and a full menu of comfort foods. Camping is not available in the park, so head to Canmore for local accommodation and a wider range of shops and restaurants, just 15 minutes away. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

Exploring this intriguing landscape of hoodoos and petroglyphs is one of the most unique things to do in southern Alberta. Named by the Blackfoot to mean “it is pictured, it is written”, the Writing-on-Stone park possesses a sacred history and is the site of fascinating archeological artifacts. Located away from heavily touristed routes, this park offers the perfect opportunity to reflect, paddle the Milk River, spot wildlife, and camp under the stars.

Distance from Edmonton: 6 hours, 15 minutes

Distance from Calgary: 3.5 hours

Entrance fee: Free for day use

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas within Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Stop in Lethbridge on the drive in for restaurants and groceries, or at towns along Highway 4 for food and essentials. Year-round frontcountry campsites are available, as well as cabins from May to September. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Best national parks in Alberta

Banff National Park

Visiting Banff is easily one of the most popular Calgary tourist attractions. As home to renowned sights like Lake Louise and as Canada’s first ever national park, it has a global reputation and offers a balance of tourist comforts and wilderness thrills. Banff activities range from mountain climbing and scuba diving to local boat tours and museums, so you can set the pace and choose the best things to do in Banff for your agenda. 

Distance from Edmonton: 4 hours

Distance from Calgary: 1.5 hours

Entrance fee: $10.00

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas with a valid park permit within Banff National Park. Plenty of hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, and shops can be found in Banff. Backcountry, frontcountry, and oTENTik campsites are available from May to October, with some year-round options as well. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Jasper National Park

If you’re visiting Calgary, the drive from Banff to Jasper is a must do. Enjoy the scenic views of the Icefields Parkway and get ready to explore the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. The list of things to do in Jasper is endless — from paragliding to  mountain climbing, to enjoying a luxurious soak in the Miette Hot Springs. Wildlife observation, waterfalls, and the picturesque view of Spirit Island on Maligne lake are our top picks for some of the best sightseeing in Jasper.

Distance from Edmonton: 3 hours 20 minutes

Distance from Calgary: 3.5 hours

Entrance fee: $10.00

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas with a valid park permit within Jasper National Park. Shops, restaurants, and local accommodation can be found in the town of Jasper. Backcountry, frontcountry, and oTENTik campsites are available from May to October, with winter camping available at select sites. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Elk Island National Park

Looking for things to do this weekend in Edmonton? Look no further. As a bison refuge, campground, and Dark Sky Preserve, a visit to Elk Island is one of the best things to do around Edmonton if you’re looking for a convenient natural escape. Located just 35 minutes outside the city, this sanctuary of woodlands and prairie meadows is one of the most accessible Edmonton attractions for day trippers, and is open year round. In the winter, the northern lights have been known to make an appearance.

Distance from Edmonton: 35 minutes

Distance from Calgary: 3 hours 10 minutes

Entrance fee: $7.90

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas with a valid park permit within Elk Island National Park. Shops, restaurants, and local accommodation can be found in Edmonton, just over half an hour away. Backcountry, frontcountry, and oTENTik campsites are available from May to October, with winter camping available at select sites. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Waterton Lakes National Park

This southern Alberta tourist spot offers scenic roadways and incredible mountain panoramas packed into the smallest national park in the Rockies. Great for families, this is one of the best parks in Alberta for outdoor activities and offers everything from scuba diving to snowshoeing year-round. Visit the natural waterpark of Red Rock Canyon and treat yourself to afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel to fully experience the park’s delights and small town charm.

Distance from Edmonton: 5 hours 25 minutes

Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 40 minutes

Entrance fee: $10.00

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas with a valid park permit within Waterton Lakes National Park. The Waterton town site is fully serviced with restaurants, shops and local accommodation available. Backcountry, frontcountry, and winter campsites are available. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Head north to discover Canada’s largest national park, home to bison, natural swimming holes, magnificent wetlands, and salt plains left behind by ancient seas. Straddling the border of the Northwest Territories, the park is one of the lesser-known Alberta attractions, but is well worth a visit for outdoor enthusiasts seeking an unspoiled escape and a true taste of the Canadian north.

Distance from Edmonton: approx. 12 hours

Distance from Calgary: 14.5 hours

Entrance fee: Online reservations starting at $11.50

Other details: Parking is available in campsites and designated areas with a valid park permit within Wood Buffalo National Park. The nearest town is Fort Smith, just across the provincial border in the Northwest Territories, and offers accommodation, grocery stores, and local restaurants. Backcountry and frontcountry camping is available, as well as cabin rentals which are available from May to September and on weekends through the winter. Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed and supervised.

Whether you’re hiking the badlands or hitting the slopes, our hosts at Turo have you covered with the perfect car to conquer the great outdoors. Bike racks, ski racks, park passes and camping gear are just some of the perks offered to dial up the adventure on your Alberta parks getaway, plus pet-friendly options if your cat or dog is riding shotgun.

If you plan on catching the colours of the fall season, be sure to read up on our best Canadian drives for autumn foliage before you go.

Calgary featured hosts:

  1. Owned by an experienced All-Star Host with a five-star seal of approval, Nick’s Hyundai Tucson is conveniently located on the route to Banff and Vancouver from the Calgary airport, so you can hit the road the moment you arrive. Camping gear and a national parks pass can be added to make your trip a breeze.
  2. Eugenia is a five-star host offering everything you need to experience the best of the Rockies. Her Mazda CX-9 is a pet-friendly ride including 2000 km of mileage, and park passes to Banff, Jasper, and Yoho national parks can be added as an extra.
  3. Haitao is a five-star host with a generous 24/7 availability, perfect for late night or early morning arrivals or last-minute bookings. His Toyota Sienna is pet-friendly and has the option of adding extras including camping gear, a roof rack, and kids’ car seats, perfect for families exploring Alberta’s parks.
  4. Based in the heart of Banff, Louise is a five-star host perfectly located for the mountain adventure of your dreams. Her Ford Explorer is pet-friendly, has the option of camping gear and national park pass extras, and includes free pick up and drop off within Banff.

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