In February 2020 I had the privilege to travel to Alberta and explore its winter wonderland. Never had I see so much snow and Im an avid winter adventurer. Im from Europe and winters in Europe do not even look a tiny bit like winters in Canada. In this blog I will take you along my 2 weeks itinerary in Alberta and give you tips on where to stop and what to do.
To travel Alberta in winter I recommend you to rent a car. I picked up a car at the airport and dropped it there as I flew out. The freedom of road tripping in this magical winter landscape feel so good. Whenever you come across an incredible photo spot or wildlife you can simply stop and take your picture, that is impossible when you use public transport. As well most places to visit in Alberta in winter are off the beaten path and you need a car to get there anyway.
Driving around in winter in Alberta is fairly easy, but some stretches can be challenging. Especially the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff. Simply drive very careful and stay focussed on the road. More about that later in itinerary day 7.
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Ultimate Alberta itinerary for 2 weeks
- Day 1-3: Edmonton
- Day 4-7: Jasper
- Day 8-9: Lake Louis
- Day 10-12: Banff
- Day 13-14: Calgary
Day 1-3: Edmonton
I chose to have Edmonton as my inbound and outbound destination in Canada. There are direct flights from Europe, which makes it the perfect first stop on your itinerary around Alberta. Edmonton was also were I hired my car for my road trip.
Click here for a complete Edmonton winter travel guide.
Day 1: graffiti and gastronomy tour
Edmonton is the perfect place to get rid of your jet leg. The gastronomy scene is incredible and everywhere around town you will find hip places to eat: Pip for breakfast, lunch at Biera in Ritchie Market, try one of the many micro breweries, have dinner at Rostizado or sushi at Dorinku Tokyo.
In and between I recommend you to do a graffiti tour with RustMagic. There are massive murals scattered around town, a great way to see the city. An alternative would be a Segway tour.
Day 2: Legislation building, Ice Castles and Elk Island National Park
Edmonton has a bunch of cool things to do in winter. A must see are the ice castles, which are part of the annual returning Silver Skate Festival. The festival is free and offers loads of cultural and winter activities like: ice skating, snowshoeing, burning ice sculptures, lantern making, etc.
Highlight of the festival are the Ice Castles though. Totally worth paying a couple bucks to enter. It makes you feel like walking around a fairy tale world.
In the afternoon make a quick stop at the legislation building. One of the best free things to do in Edmonton is a tour around this iconic building in Edmonton. I was impressed and it is just 45 minutes of your time.
Make sure to be at Elk Island National Park at least 1,5 hour before sunset so you are able to drive around and find wildlife. The highlight of Elk Island National Park are the incredible Bisons, magnificent animals. They are most active around sunrise or sunset and if you are lucky they cross the road in front of you.
You can even add snowshoeing and stargazing to your itinerary here in Elk Island National Park. Interesting reading more about spotting wildlife in Alberta in winter? Click on the link and see more amazing photos of Kim Paffen.
Day 3: West Edmonton Mall, helicopter flight and Oilers Hockey Game
Don’t miss the 5th largest mall in the world: The West Edmonton Mall is the biggest in North America and houses an aquarium, ice rink, shooting range and even an amusement park with a massive rollercoaster. You can easily spend a whole afternoon here.
Another great thing to do in Edmonton when budget allows you is a helicopter flight over the city. See Edmonton from a different perspective from this epic experience.
When visiting Edmonton you have to add a hockey game to your itinerary. The Edmonton Oilers are what the Yankees are to New York. Everyone speak about the hockey game. If you have the chance to visit the massive Rogers arena then do it. A must do in Edmonton.
Recommended places to stay in Edmonton are the JW Marriott in Downtown. This modern chic 5 star hotel is located right in the heart of Downtown Edmonton. Their breakfast is absolutely amazing. A more lively and bohemian area is Strathcona in South Edmonton. It can by no means be compared to downtown. The Strathcona district is all low-rise and is where you will find endless hip bars, restaurants, vintage shops and boutique hotels like: the Metterra Hotel. Read more about where to stay in my Edmonton things to do article.
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Day 4-7: Jasper
Day 4: Jasper National Park
Leave early morning from Edmonton. The first 3 hours are not spectacular, but once you see the Rocky Mountains coming closer and you enter Jasper National Park the scenery becomes better and better. When you have checked in to your hotel make your way to Pyramid Island on Pyramid Lake with Pyramid Mountain in the background. It is just one of the many amazing photo spots in Jasper for sunset.
If you feel like ice skating you can go to Mildred lake located at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. There is a huge ice rink and you can rent ice skates there or bring your own. In the evening eat sushi at Oka restaurant. Located at the basement of The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the only sushi restaurant in Jasper.
Click on the link to read my complete Jasper things to do in winter guide. Jasper was my favorite place on my trip to Alberta!
Day 5: Maligne Canyon Walk and Maligne Lake
In case you are not staying at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge you can still go here for breakfast. The smoothie bowls or the Nutella French Toasts are delicious and worth going to Orso Trattoria in the Fairmont.
From here drive towards Maligne Lake to spot wildlife on an absolutely breathtaking scenic road. Maligne Lake is located at the end of a 40 kilometers icy road. It is a dead end, but that makes it completely off the beaten path in winter. You will hardly see any other tourists, but instead when you lucky you can spot wildlife like: owls, moose and big horn mountain sheep. I spotted a baby moose and her mother, it was a great encounter.
You can also book your private wildlife tours where a skilled guide will help you find wildlife… if you are lucky of course. Click here to read the complete Alberta wildlife blog of with amazing photos of Kim Paffen.
On your way back stop at Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for lunch. Open year round, this old teahouse is converted into a modern chic restaurant, but it still boasts this cosy mountain lodge feeling.
In the afternoon do the Maligne Canyon walk, an adventure into the deepest canyon of Jasper National Park. In summer water is raging through the canyon, but in winter when everything is frozen you can admire this winter wonderland from the bottom of the canyon. You can go ice climbing, there are some slides, an ice cave and many more adventures.
Day 6: Skiing Marmot Basin and wellness
Don’t miss a day on the mountain when traveling to Jasper in winter. Marmot Basin is located just about 30 minutes from Jasper and is a great ski resort for all levels. There are some groomed runs but Marmot is all about tree skiing and open terrain. The resort has some cool challenging runs. I spent all day snowboarding at Marmot Basin and had a great time.
When you come back from the mountain you deserved yourself a couple hours of wellness. Heat up in the outdoor swimming pool of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. It is also open to non hotel guests. There is a sauna and also an outdoor hot tub with stunning mountain views.
Dinner suggestion for tonight is the Jasper Brewing Company. The only brewery in Jasper National Park. This pub like place shows sports events on big flatscreens as well. This is were I tried my first poutine, Canada’s national dish! Delicious…
Day 7: Athabasca Falls and Icefields Parkway
Prepare for an epic adventure today on your way from Jasper to Lake Louis. You will be driving on an amazingly scenic Icefields Parkway for at least 4 hours. Depending on the weather conditions this can easily be 6 hours though.
Just 30 minutes after leaving Jasper you will find the Athabasca Falls along your way. One of the must see places in Jasper. In summer a raging waterfall but obviously frozen in winter. Spectacular site to walk around and in winter you will most probably be alone.
Another 30 minutes further you find more falls: Sunwapta Falls. A little less spectacular but still worth a stop. After these falls the road will continue for many hours through epic landscapes, but there are no more designated stops. Neither will there be a place to have a drink, snack or gas station until you reach Lake Louis.
Although the falls are beautiful, this day is all about road tripping through the mountains. Im pretty sure the Icefields Parkway won’t disappoint you.
Day 8-9: Lake Louis
Day 8: Ice skating and high tea at Fairmont Lake Louise
There is no better place to strap on your ice skates than at Lake Louise. It was my first time ever ice skating and no better place to try this than here of course. The majestic mountains surrounding the around the iconic lake make it an impressive place to be at in the first place. The recognizable Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise lies directly at the lake, here you can rent your ice skates.
There is more to see and do than just ice skating. The Fairmont Lake Louise organizes ice sculpture competitions, there is a horse sleigh, ice hockey opportunities and there is a kind of ice bar. You can easily spent your whole day at Lake Louise.
It is also worth it strolling through the ground floor of the Fairmont Lake Louise. There are several restaurants, coffee places and bars. My suggestion is that you go for a high tea in the newly renovated Fairview Bar & Restaurant.
Day 9: Skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort
There are a ton of things to do in Lake Louise in winter, but the main winter activity is of course skiing. The Lake Louise ski resort is one of the biggest in Alberta and therefore no need to praise this place.
If you are not a fan of skiing or snowboarding I can suggest you to go hiking around the beautiful winter wonder land, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or hop on a sleigh ride.
Grab a quick lunch at Trailhead Cafe in Lake Louise center, a small place with great choices of small meals, salads and sandwiches. Their coffee is also pretty good. They have vegan options as well.
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Day 10-12: Banff
Day 10: Drive to Banff and enjoy tubing at Mount Norquay
Don’t take the highway from Lake Louise to Banff, but opt for the Bow Valley Parkway, a beautiful scenic backroad. In winter this road will be mostly deserted as I hardly came across any other traffic. But it leads you up and down through the woods.
Once you arrive in Banff drive through Banff Avenue just because it is really special with the big mountains looming large over this picturesque town. You will experience first hand why this is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Alberta in winter.
One of the great winter activities in Banff can be found just 15 minutes from downtown Banff: Mount Norquay. Here you will find a Tubing Park. It was my first time ever trying this and I was definitely excited about it after my first run down. There is a little restaurant with great views of Mount Norquay as well.
See the videos of the snow tubing park at Mt. Norquay in my Canada 2 highlights. For the best views of Banff village I recommend you going up the Banff Norquay sightseeing chairlift.
Day 11: Activities at Banff National Park
The easiest ways to search for wildlife is to go on one of the wildlife sightseeing tours in Banff. But you can also get out by yourself. Drive with your car towards the Vermilion Lakes Road. At the end of the road there are some hiking trails. If you are lucky you will spot owls in this area but Elk’s are regularly spotted here.
Feeling like you need to revitalize then go to one of the hot springs in Banff. The Banff Upper Hot Springs are a great option. Dog sledding, cross country skiing, canyoneering and a visit to Lake Minnewanka are other things to do in Banff. It is easiest to get around Banff if you have a car, there are busses, but it is not convenient. You make the most of your trip to Banff if you rent a car.
The above Lake Minnewanka is because of strong winds often clearer than other lakes. The snow is partially blown away!
Day 12: Skiing at Sunshine Banff
Number 1 winter activity in Banff and on most people’s Alberta itinerary is skiing in Banff. At Sunshine Village Ski Resort you can ski on 3 different mountains with more than 3,300 acres of skiable terrain. Beginners as well as experienced skiers can eat their heart out in this big ski resort claiming to have to most modern lift system in Canada. Well… compared to Europe it still feels like skiing in the stone age but that is my personal opinion! :)
I only went snowboarding in Marmot Basin in Jasper and therefore skipped skiing in Banff. Locals rave a lot about it, so I go with that and I guess it is epic out there.
Views are absolutely magnificent and even for non-skiers there is the Banff Sightseeing Gondola which is worth going up for some of the best views of the Rocky Mountains. The Gondola takes you up to 2,281 meters (7,500 feet).
Where to stay in Banff
There are a dozen places to stay but the most iconic hotel by far is the Fairmont Banff Springs, so majestic and overwhelming. Check it out!
Day 13-14: Calgary
Day 13: Explore Calgary
Your 14 days Alberta itinerary is almost over, but last but not least you have one day left in Calgary. The drive from Banff to Calgary takes only 1,5 hours. You can’t miss Studio Bell, one of Calgary’s newest landmarks. The building itself is a great place to visit, but you can also take a tour around this exhibition place and learn about the music history of Canada.
If you still have time then a great way to end your trip to Alberta is from the top of the Calgary Tower. From the viewing platform at more than 190 meters high (623 feet) you have the best views over Canada.
The drive back to Edmonton is pretty boring, but it saves you an extra fee for dropping your car at a different location. Gasoline in Canada is pretty cheap anyway so it is worth driving 4 hours North.
I hope you liked all the above tips for traveling in Alberta in winter and that this itinerary is handy for you planning your next visit. I traveled to Alberta in February 2020 together with Traveltomtom team member Kim Paffen, an award winning travel photographer who took all the pictures in this blog.