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2014trip Dec 2nd, 2014 08:07 PM

The more I read about Alberta the more it reminds me of some senic destinations where I've been - Patagonia, New Zealand, Switerland to name a few. I'd like comments from people who have travelled in Alberta how it compares to any of the other places I've mentioned.

Is Edmonton a must see? I am aware that Banff/Lake Louise, etc are closer to Calgary.

I'm undecided about whether to visit this region in spring (late May or early June) or travel elsewhere.

Any advice will be appreciated.


BC_Robyn Dec 3rd, 2014 10:26 AM

By Alberta, you likely mean the Canadian Rockies, which are mostly in Alberta, but also partially in British Columbia as well. This is definitely some of the world's most dramatic scenery, on par with the wild beauty of Patagonia, New Zealand, Switzerland, etc. Having never been to Patagonia, New Zealand, or Switzerland, I can't give you my own personal account, but I doubt you'd be disappointed - there are geographical, geological, ecological, and cultural differences of course. Even the way the land is managed is different. The National Parks in the Rockies (Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Revelstoke) are protected from development, for example.

Edmonton would not normally considered a must see, especially given your interest in beautiful scenery. Most would also claim Calgary isn't a must see.

Late spring (late may/early June) is the tail end of winter in the Rockies when the ice is melting off the lakes. Great for sightseeing if having snowcapped mountains is your priority, perhaps not so much if hiking is a priority. For casual sightseeing, a better time to visit would be July, August, or September. Early June is not terrible, however. Just know what to expect ahead of time.

BC_Robyn Dec 3rd, 2014 10:28 AM

Also, the Rockies are along Alberta's western border. East of the Rockies, the land is flat and agricultural and primarily unremarkable. The Badlands around Drumheller are a distinct geological feature, famous for its dinosaur fossils. The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology would be a worthy detour from the grandeur of the Rockies.

kgsneds Dec 3rd, 2014 11:25 AM

"The National Parks in the Rockies (Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Revelstoke) are protected from development, for example. "

Theoretically... unless you can spend enough money to get the government to change the rules. Humph.

That said, the Rockies are spectacular and worth visiting even if you've been to the other locations mentioned. The landscape is quite different and higher than lots of those locations. I loved Switzerland, but the Rockies are my playground and like how easy it is to get out in wilderness.

I agree that Edmonton is not worth a visit - nice place to live, but nothing to recommend it as a tourist destination. calgary is fine to fly into, but again there's nothing unique that differentiates it from many other cities.

Late May/early June is on the early side for a visit to the Rockies, but as indicated, quite doable if you are willing to deal with a few limitations. Most seasonal roads other than the road to Takkakaw Falls and the one to Edith Cavell are open by very early June unless it's a really bad winter. The higher lakes tend to thaw by early June, though higher hiking trails can be snowbound as late as early July. Most boat cruises start sometime in early to mid June. It's a great time to see wildlife as animals tend to be down in the valleys where food sources are accessible.

Hiking can be a bit limited at that time of year, so if you are interested in doing a lot of hiking, especially up at higher elevations, it might be worth waiting until later in the year. Even a couple of weeks into mid or late June can make a big difference.

I agree that Drumheller and the Badlands are worth seeing, as well as Writing on Stone further south. Hours may be more limited at that time of year since it's not peak summer season, but it will be warmer in the south of the province and the scenery is stunning. Even for those not totally into dinosaurs, the Royal Tyrrell is still worth a visit.

2014trip Dec 4th, 2014 05:49 PM

Thank you for the replies.

I am referring to the Rockies and the province in general - in my view this is my 'Alberta Trip'.

Hiking is of no interest, and travel primarily to see cultural and historic sights. I am aware that this trip will be more focused on scenery and off and on I welcome a trip that takes to nature's beauty instead.

What is Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump like? I'm debating if it's a worthwhile day trip from Calgary.

I'd also like to visit a Indian reserve from Calgary if that's possible.

As for the two cities, all that I care to see in Calgary is the Saddledome (from outside) and the Tower (not particularly interested in going up to the top). In Edmonton Fort Edmonton Park and the trams appeal.

Is there any advantage/disadvantage to visiting before or after Victoria Day? Is the wildlife better later in the month? The more I look at this, it looks like early June won't be feasible as I have a work commitment.

Is there any damage to roads in this area from last year's flooding?


kgsneds Dec 5th, 2014 09:31 AM

Before Victoria Day would be very early weather-wise and site-wise - a lot of tourist places, especially smaller historic sites, don't open until after Victoria Day. This includes Ft. Edmonton Park and places in the Rockies (washrooms along the Icefields Parkway generally are not serviced/supplied between Thanskgiving and Victoria Day, for instance). Others have very limited hours. If you traveled prior the holiday, your options will be a lot more limited.

The trams in Edmonton are really nothing special - the new line isn't running, the summer train over the river doesn't start until May or June and they are like light rail in every other city. The light rail in Calgary is better, honestly. I also wouldn't go all the way to Edmonton just to see Ft. Edmonton. I think you can get a good feel of history and culture from other locations that would be much more pleasant at that time of year and much more scenic.

I really liked Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump - to me it's worth a visit as part of tour of the southern part of the province including Drumheller, Writing on Stone, Frank Slide etc. It would be a long day trip - better to stay in the area for a few days. Take a look at the Alberta Historic Sites for a good selection of historic/cultural sites;

As to a First Nations reserve (the term Indian refers to someone from India - in the US you would say Native American, in Canada, First Nations), you'd need to do some research. Certainly you can stop on reserve to get gas/food/supplies, but there aren't always 'cultural' tourist sites. The more common attractions for visitors tend to be hotel-casinos, with some bands having invested in things like helicopter tours/ropes courses/resorts etc. However, unfortunately, more than a few reserves have significant economic/social issues.

First Nations are generally open to educating people about their cultural heritage and traditions. It just needs to be in a respectful setting/situation. A good source of info: I know that one of the bands has a museum in Banff, and both Head Smashed In and Writing on Stone have First Nations interpretive staff, so offer a great insight into First Nations history/culture/traditions.

You won't have issues regarding flood damage - what hasn't been fixed is on private property or in more remote areas (hiking trails, reserves, parks).

2014trip Dec 5th, 2014 05:32 PM

Thank you for the reply.

Okay, it's May after Victoria or I'll look at visiting a different destination in spring and leave Alberta for a summer trip at a later date.

I have no intention of renting a car or driving around, and I'm aware that can limit my options.

I did look at day tours and found one that visits Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation reserve, however, it sounds very much like a museum as opposed to an actual working reserve. Given the feedback in the last post it sounds like a visit to an authentic First Nations (thank you for correcting me!!!) Reserve may not be feasible. I have no desire to visit a casino, or a reserve or otherwise.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is doable as a day tour from Calgary. This is definitely on the list.

I am in two minds about Drumheller, it sounds like a tour for the terrain and dinosaurs. What exactly are the dinosaur sights? The sandstone formations aren't of too much interest especially as I've been to Capadoccia recent and was completely underwhelmed.

What is the wildlife like in late May, I imagine it isn't prime viewing season.

kgsneds Dec 9th, 2014 12:14 PM

Siksika is certainly an authentic First Nations reserve. You can find their website here;

If they offer a tour, it probably includes some sort of band museum and perhaps a cultural activity. Which would be a great way to learn about their culture/heritage.

Just keep in mind that most reserves are going to look pretty much like every other semi-rural/rural area - towns, clusters of houses, farms etc. If you want to experience First Nations culture, it's going to be through cultural exchange on a tour or at a museum.

As a note, I should say that certainly not all of the on-reserve economic activities involve casinos/hotels, but like everyone else, the First Nations bands are trying to get a portion of the tourist/Alberta dollar. And there is probably only so large an audience for cultural tourism - so why not go for the regular tourism dollar as well.

I happen to find the hoodoos and the landscape of southern Alberta fascinating, but they're not for everyone. Especially in the dawn and evening light, the colors and shadows are wonderful, and you really appreciate the vastness of the prairie/badlands. For the dinosaurs, there is the amazing Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, and the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Brooks. The latter is where many of the fossils have been found - you can walk around and see fossils in situ. In the summer, they also have guided walks.

Late May is actually a great time to see wildlife in the mountains. Down south, probably not a bad time either. It's elk calving season and most of the big mammals are down in the valleys because the higher elevations are still snowbound. And the foliage hasn't completely filled in, so it's an easier time to spot things moving around.

If you aren't going to be driving, summer is probably the best time to visit. I suspect that until mid-June, there aren't going to be a whole lot of tours, especially to the less popular tourist sites. I visited many of these sites in very early June. No problem with things being closed, but the only tour groups were school groups and most of the tours/activities run by the sites themselves were limited to weekends.

2014trip Dec 11th, 2014 03:04 PM

Many thanks for the detailed reply.

The more I look into this, the less I care to travel in May as it's not the best time to be in the region. I will try to organize my travel dates to be in Alberta in summer instead. I need to be certain I get travel from A to B on certain dates. I'd hate to be in Calgary and have day trip cancelled because of poor demand.

As for the tour to Siksika, it appears to be a long drive primarily to visit their vistors centre. I am now fully aware than an authentic visit to a Native Reserve isn't possible. I'll scrap Sikisika.

I hope to make two day trips, one to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump and the other to Drumheller.

I appreciate the helpful replies from BC_Robyn and kgsneds.

oscarandpenelope Dec 12th, 2014 09:04 AM

I have not been to Patagonia but have recently visited the other three places you mentioned in the late fall (Banff last American Thanksgiving; New Zealand this past June, and Switzerland for American Thanksgiving this year). I think they are a bit similar but not exactly the same and I loved all three. So if you are into this type of scenery but looking for something slightly different, you'll probably like the Canadian Rockies too.
I have a question along the same line. How do those places compare to the northern Sierra Nevada? I am thinking Lake Tahoe for next year's Thanksgiving (have already been to Yosemite for Thanksgiving vacation about five years ago).

BC_Robyn Dec 12th, 2014 05:06 PM

Summer's probably a good idea for the Rockies.

Regarding your interest in visiting an Indian Reserve, perhaps you were expecting something that doesn't exist? I think this is a quite common expectation from people who aren't from here, so don't feel bad about that. I know some people think that Indian Reserves are like Masai villages, where you can watch First Nations live as though they were living in prehistoric times or pre-European contact times. If this is what you were expecting, you will not find that. It simply does not exist with our aboriginal populations.

First Nations, whether they live on a reserve of off reserve, live modern lives and have adopted modern technologies, and have done so for centuries. They dress in modern clothing and live in modern houses. Most speak English, dress like regular North Americans and live/work and go to school like regular North Americans do. If they hunt, they use rifles just like modern hunters do, not bows and arrows. However, ethnically and linguistically, they come from a culture that's unique from any other culture, in the same way that the Chinese culture is unique from Swedish culture. Haida culture is unique from Cree culture. Even "First Nation" is an umbrella term in the same way that "European" is an umbrella term. Most First Nations have their own unique culture, language, art style, traditional dress, etc. Even though they don't dress that way or speak that language, doesn't mean they are any less authentic. It is still a unique, authentic culture... but you won't see if lived like it was lived thousands of years ago, you'll learn about it from the First Nations in the context of a museum, or a tour. But just because First Nations don't live as they did thousands of years ago doesn't mean that their culture is any less authentic. For example, just because women in Tokyo don't dress in kimonos anymore, doesn't meant they're not authentically Japanese. It's the same with Canada's First Nations - they may not hunt with bows and arrows, but they're no less authentically First Nations. Canada's First Nations have evolved technologically with the times, and they've done so ever since European colonial contact. However, their cultures are still authentic - their values, their beliefs, their ancestral clothing, their languages, their traditional stories - these are unique and very much a part of their culture.

BC_Robyn Dec 12th, 2014 05:13 PM

I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't write off a visit to a museum or a tour with a First Nations group. If you come to BC (the province to the west of Alberta), you can experience and learn about various First Nations cultures in a variety of ways:

BC_Robyn Dec 12th, 2014 05:16 PM

Ooops, wrong link!

This is BC's aboriginal tourism organization. It'll give you a ense of the various authentic cultural experiences. It may not be a traditional village like you may imagine, but it's no less authentic:

2014trip Dec 15th, 2014 05:38 AM

Thanks for the additional replies and the links.

I doubt I'll have time to venture to BC, Canada is a huge country and I only have 8 - 10 days to spare on this trip.

I'm trying to work out a schedule visit in late June, just before schools out. I know of the Canada Day holiday which may affect travel plans. Also, hotels are much more expensive due to the Calgary Stampede.

If Alberta doesn't work out, I'll leave if for another trip and head some place else in May 2015 (getting away in May is better for my work schedule).

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