Winter may be just around the corner but there’s still plenty of time to get outside and enjoy the sights of Alberta, Canada’s most beautiful province. Alberta is an all-seasons playground, and autumn is a great time to visit, as summer crowds taper off and fall colors ignite trees to shades of golden hues. Before the snow falls and people strap on their skis and snowshoes, there’s still plenty to do as the dog days of summer fade away.
Calgary is the perfect starting point for your vacation. Rent a bike to explore the sights along the Bow River. Take a walk across the Peace Bridge and marvel at the sculpture of a giant head in front of the Bow Building. Later in the day, dine on the patio at Model Milk, where Chef Justin Leboe changes the menu regularly depending on what local produce is available. Other highlights include Charcut for meat lovers, National Beer Hall for a selection of microbrews, and Yellow Door Bistro.
Once you’ve had your fill of urban living, head south for horseback trail ride in Black Diamond. Located just 30 minutes from Calgary along the Cowboy Trail, this is an artsy community with a number of horse ranches. Make your way to Anchor D Guiding and Outfitting for a special fall foliage ride. On this jaunt, you’ll head out to the mountains to marvel at the changing colors of trees in the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
Moving farther south, Waterton Lakes National Park is a perfect fall escape. The days are still long and warm in this part of the province, making for comfortable hiking, biking, and even golfing (there are a number of courses near the entrance to the park). There also is a good chance you will see elk and deer displaying their fully-grown antlers as they graze in the distance.
As you loop your way around the province, make sure to stop at Dinosaur Provincial Park, in the heart of the badlands. About 150 complete dinosaur skeletons have been discovered at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can hike on their own or take a guided tour through an actual excavation site. Even if you aren’t keen on dinosaurs, the landscape is extraordinary and the canyons filled with hoodoos and coulees will remind you of a beautiful cowboy movie setting.
The badlands experience doesn’t stop here. As you continue to make your way to Drumheller there are plenty of stops worth exploring. At the Atlas Coal Mine, you can tour an old mine that dates back to 1911 At the Last Chance Saloon, you can marvel at the bullet holes in the wall from a wilder time in the past. Then, of course, you can marvel at more of those hoodoos, tall sandstone pillars that have been eroded by wind and rain over the centuries into crazy shapes. There’s a barrier protecting these natural wonders from human destruction, but you can walk around the site on a steel walkway and admire the beauty and artwork created by Mother Nature. Make one final stop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses one of the best dinosaur exhibits in the world—an exhibit in which you can watch paleontologists at work in their lab.
Viewfinder Tip: When visiting Alberta, pack a cowboy hat and cowboy boots; by wearing this outfit, you’ll fit right in.
I know what you’re thinking: What about Banff and Lake Louise? This part of the province is memorable in autumn as well. Outfitters offer kayaking on Lake Louise through mid-October, and hiking in and around Banff can introduce you to some of the most beautiful mountain scenes in the region. Whenever you go out, be careful: Bears are busy filling up on berries at this time of year, so make sure to bring bear bells or hire a guide. Discover Banff Tours offers a number of terrific guided hikes, and in the fall tours focus on showcasing the beautiful golden shades of Aspen, Larch, and Birch trees.
For a more predictable animal encounter, visit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, near Canmore. Open year round, the facility allows visitors the opportunity to sit with wolfdogs and interact with them in a controlled environment; there is nothing more fulfilling than having a timid wolfdog warm up to you and eat treats out of your hand. Ultimately, the sanctuary rehabilitates these rescued animals and places them in loving and caring homes. Admission fees are used to help support education and rehabilitation.
With fall colors, warm weather, and fewer crowds, a trip to Alberta in autumn will be a vacation you never will forget.
Where are your favorite places to travel in autumn?