Epic Alberta Road Trip: Calgary to Jasper to Edmonton

by Heidi Gollub on July 3, 2024 in Travels,
Snow banks alongside a river leading to a frozen lake surrounded by mountains and a glacier.

If the Canadian Rockies are on your bucket list (and they should be), you’ll likely fly into nearby Calgary, Alberta, to get there. This vibrant city — the fourth largest in Canada — has an exploding culinary scene and boasts North America’s largest network of urban pathways. 

Stick around Calgary to hike, bike, drink and dine before heading on to the majestic Rocky Mountains in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Then, after you’ve had your fill of icefields, glacial lakes and snowy mountain peaks, continue on to Edmonton, Alberta’s Festival City. 

The drive from Calgary to Edmonton by way of Jasper takes a little more than eight hours without stops. But spread over a week, it makes for an amazing four-part road trip adventure.  

Part 1: Calgary

Metal flower sculpture near a pedestrian bridge over a snow-covered river.
Explore nature on Calgary’s St. Patrick’s Island, easy to access from a pedestrian bridge. Photo Heidi Gollub.

With 333 days of sunshine a year, Calgary (pronounced Cal-gree) is the sunniest city in Canada. Whether you come for the summer Stampede or the winter Chinook Blast, you’re in for a good time. 

Towering tree sculptures adorned with ribbons of red, orange, green and yellow.
Art installations on Stephen Avenue in Calgary. Photo Heidi Gollub.

Roam the miles of Calgary’s urban trails and nature walks for playgrounds and pop-up curling or wander the heart of the city to enjoy public art and outdoor music. 

Where to stay in Calgary: The Dorian

A portrait of Oscar Wilde by a King bed with white sheets and a settee that matches the blue bird wallpaper.
Bold design at The Dorian in Downtown Calgary. Photo Heidi Gollub.

The Dorian is a stunning Autograph Collection Hotel in Downtown Calgary. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” its bold decor is captivating, from the spooky interactive portrait of Wilde in the lobby to the intricate floor tile design and peacock feather wallpaper. 

A ball of clear sugar with berries and cream inside.
The Wilde’s “Snow Globe” has an edible sugar shell to crack. Photo Heidi Gollub.

Don’t miss the opportunity to eat at the hotel’s exquisite restaurant on the 27th floor, The Wilde. Menus are bound like books and the food is almost too beautiful to eat. Try the Wagyu brisket and save room for a decadent “snow globe” dessert. 

If you want to brush up on the story of Dorian Gray during your visit, you can read Oscar Wilde’s only novel while curled up in bed — each room has a copy on the nightstand.

Dine and drink in Calgary

  • The Beltliner. Start your day with a Caesar, Canada’s national cocktail invented in Calgary. This diner has a Caesar bar where you can choose a base of gin, vodka or tequila, add your Clamato juice, and garnish with skewered snacks. Come hungry — this Canadian version of a Bloody Mary could be a meal in itself. 
Glass jars filled with herbs and botanicals.
Choose your ingredients to make a custom gin at Burwood Distillery. Photo Heidi Gollub.
  • Burwood Distillery. At this distillery, which celebrates Alberta’s agriculture, you can pick up to 10 botanicals and distill your own gin. Then, stay for a meal at Veranda which offers scratch food, craft beer, and spirits. Try the Queen Bee — a local take on a Margherita pizza, drizzled with Burwood honey.  
Smiling waiter watches fire in a pan as he cooks by a restaurant table.
Tableside Cherries Jubilee at Caesar’s Steakhouse. Photo Heidi Gollub.
  • Caesar’s Steakhouse. Step back in time at this steakhouse reputed to have perfected the Caesar cocktail. Founded in 1972 by a Greek immigrant to Calgary, Caesar’s is known for Ribeyes cooked on an open charcoal grill and tableside Cherries Jubilee. 

Part 2: Icefields Parkway 

Red canoe in glacial blue lake at the base of a snow-peaked mountain.
Lake Louise in June. Photo Heidi Gollub.

Two hours from Calgary, Icefields Parkway links Lake Louise in Banff National Park with Jasper National Park to the north. This breathtaking route through the Canadian Rockies will take you past glaciers and waterfalls. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Lake Louise. Known for its jaw-dropping electric blue water in the summer, Lake Louise is a playground for ice skaters and hockey players in the winter months. It’s a gorgeous area no matter the weather. Book a room at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to enjoy views of the lake from the comfort of your bed. 
  • Athabasca Glacier. Walk, snowshoe, or hike along the glacier in Jasper National Park. Part of the Columbia Icefield, it is easily accessible from Icefields Parkway. 
  • Tangle Creek Falls. This multi-tiered waterfall is only about a 10-minute drive from the glacier. It’s visible from the road, so no hiking is required. In winter, you may see brave ice climbers on the frozen falls. 
  • Sunwapta Falls. Another half an hour on the road to Jasper and you’ll find Sunwapta Falls. Fed by the Athabasca Glacier, its upper falls are easy to access from the parking lot. If you’re up for a 0.8-mile hike through a lodgepole pine forest, you can also visit the lower falls. 
  • Goats and Glacier Lookout. Less than 15 minutes down the road from Sunwapta Falls, you’ll arrive at a lookout with sweeping views of the Athabasca River, mountains and glaciers in the distance. You may also see mountain goats. 
  • Athabasca Falls. Five minutes more on Icefields Parkway takes you to Athabasca Falls, below Mount Kerkeslin. Even in winter, this waterfall is magnificent. From here, it’s only half an hour to the town of Jasper. 

Part 3: Jasper 

A climber in a red jacket uses an ice pick to scale an ice wall.
Walking by ice climbers on the Maligne Canyon Icewalk. Photo Heidi Gollub.

Jasper is an alpine town with easy access to outdoor activities, from hiking and kayaking to snowshoeing and ice climbing. It’s also part of the Jasper National Park Dark Sky Preserve. If you’re lucky, the Northern Lights might put on a show.  

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge offers ice skating in the winter and long days of sunshine in the summer — so long, you can play three rounds of golf in one day. 

A quick five minutes from the lodge, you’ll find the deepest canyon in Jasper National Park, Maligne Canyon. Its scenic trail takes you over six bridges along limestone cliffs and down to the Maligne River. In the winter, you can join a 2.5-hour guided ice walk into the canyon. Strap on a helmet, winter boots, and ice cleats to slide down iced-over waterways and walk by frozen falls.  

Part 4: Edmonton

A fish sculpture made of snow.
Snow sculpture at Edmonton’s Silver Skate Festival in February. Photo Heidi Gollub.

The drive from Jasper to Edmonton is just under four hours, which is shorter than the time it would take to drive back to Calgary. 

From the Fringe Festival in August to the Flying Canoë Volant — a winter festival inspired by French Canadian, First Nations and Métis traditions — there’s always something going on in Edmonton. 

It’s home to the largest shopping mall in North America, complete with a water park, but with 18 hours of sunlight in the summer, you won’t want to stay indoors. 

To learn about the North Saskatchewan River area, join Talking Walk Tours with Keith Diakiw, a Métis Canadian guide and geologist. He’ll share the area’s history, saying there are “10,000 years of history hiding in plain sight.”

Where to stay in Edmonton: JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District

 King bed under black and gold oil field pictures in a room with a blue settee by a window overlooking city buildings.
JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District. Photo Heidi Gollub.

The JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District is a 5-star hotel in the heart of the city. Check in and order from the hotel’s signature handcrafted ice menu. Choose your flavor of cubes, from cinnamon and ginger to strawberry and blueberry, and complimentary flavored cubes will be delivered to your room. 

This luxury hotel also has a lovely steam room, jacuzzi and indoor pool for guests to enjoy. If you’d like to splurge, book a treatment at the spa. 

Edmonton’s Dining and Drinking Hotspots

Bowl of cheddar soup and a chicken sandwich with pickles on a plate.
A hearty lunch at Pals in Edmonton (not pictured: yet another Caesar cocktail). Photo Heidi Gollub.
  • The Monolith. Take a tour of this brewery and barrel house designed to create complex, acidic beers through barrel fermentation. Visit the barrel rooms to learn more about the process and taste beers in the taproom. 
  • Pals Sandwiches. This is a great spot for lunch near the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. Try Alberta brews and mouth watering soups and sandwiches.
  • RGE RD. Enjoy wood fire cookery and whole animal butchery while supporting local Alberta farms.
The author poses in the snow in front of the Columbia Glacier in Alberta, Canada.
Writer Heidi Gollub. Courtesy photo.


Cover photo Heidi Gollub

Heidi Gollub is a Canadian-American living in Austin. She never misses an opportunity to see more of Canada, even when it requires busting out her winter toque.