Alberta is a wild place. This province has every type of terrain you could possibly imagine. From mountains to prairies, foothills to badlands, sometimes it feels like there are dozens of different planets all rolled into this one province. There are several natural wonders around Alberta that might make you feel like you’ve stepped right out of Canada and into the Californian desert. We’ve rounded up a list of places that will satisfy your travel bug without having to hop on a plane.
Athabasca Sand Dunes
We know it’s odd to start this list off with a destination that isn’t technically located in Alberta, but it’s so close that we’re willing to make an exception. Lake Athabasca stretches between the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. On the Saskatchewan side, you’ll find Athabaska Sand Dunes Provincial Park. Stretching about 100 kilometres along the south shore of Lake Athabasca, the Athabasca Sand Dunes is the largest active sand surface in Canada. There are dunes as high as 30 meters. You will not believe this place exists in Canada, let alone in the prairies. The park is only accessible by float plane, but it’s worth a spot on your bucket list if you’re willing to make the journey. You can camp, hike, check out the extensive wilderness, or take a guided tour if you’re not comfortable venturing out alone.
Just west of Drumheller, Horseshoe Canyon is a must-see destination in Alberta. The massive u-shaped canyon has two arms that extend about 5 km each. The place looks so prehistoric you might be surprised that dinosaurs aren’t walking around. You can venture into the canyon to explore the hiking trails and enjoy the unique scenery. It tends to be hot and dry, so bring water and sun protection. If you simply can’t get enough, consider making a weekend of it and booking a campsite.
Red Rock Canyon
This super cool destination can be found in Waterton. The canyon is jaw-dropping, with layered rocks that are coloured red and green, offering a lovely contrast to the lush surrounding greenery. There are a number of short hiking trails that will provide views of wildflowers, meadows, and gorgeous mountains. The rock formations are incredibly unique and a total treat for the eyes. You’ll want to see this place for yourself.
Midland Provincial Park
Here we have another badland beauty. Midland Provincial Park is just north of Drumheller, once the site of the Midland Coal Mine. The area is breathtaking, offering gorgeous rock formations and lovely green valleys. You can hike, view wildlife, geocache, bike, bird watch, picnic, or even play disc golf. There are paved trails that make for nice, easy hikes and there are a ton of interpretive signs and artifacts to check out along the way. If you’re looking for a place to kick back and relax for a moment, check out the gazebo. At the west end of the park, you’ll find the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a destination in its own right.
Red Rock Coulee Natural Area
This place is sure to take your breath away. There are tons of massive, red sandstone rock formations, some of which are up to 2.5 meters and are believed to be some of the largest of their type in the world. You will also see hoodoos and unique plant species such as sagebrush, juniper, prickly pear cactus, prairie crocus and broomweed. If you’re in it for the wildlife viewing, you’re in luck. This area is home to white-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, pronghorn, western rattlesnakes, bull snakes, short-horned lizards and scorpions. You can enjoy day hiking, hunting, geocaching, and wildlife viewing in the area.
Britanny Burr is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the 2023 Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.