Zentraveller’s Alberta Summer Bucketlist

What’s new at Zen Travellers? We’re fortunate to live in a place that offers no shortage of exhilarating views and epic adventures.  We’ve put together an Alberta summer bucketlist because we know that travelling through Alberta in winter may not be everyone’s cup of tea and Alberta’s summers are short but truly spectacular.  It can take what feels like an eternity for the snow to leave the mountains, but once it does, the Rockies reveal their true splendour.

A typical Alberta summer is hot and dry with long hours of daylight.  Glacier streams and lakes shed sheets of ice turning majestic turquoise blue in the process. Wildflowers blanket rocky slopes and once snow-capped peaks bask in summer sun. Cold winds may reappear far too quickly but not before leaves and larches turn golden yellow, marking an end to a breathtaking summer season in the Rockies.

Alberta Summer Bucketlist:

Each year the arrival of summer incites a desire to spend as much time outside as possible,  and with quickly waning warm weather in mind, we set out a list of priority adventures for the 2017 summer season in Alberta. While many tourists flock to popular and well-known places like Johnston Canyon in Banff and Grassi Lakes near Canmore, our Alberta summer bucket list is the insider’s scoop to making the most of a short but sweet season.

 Climb Mount Temple, the tallest mountain in the Lake Louise Area

A long but not overly technical climb, that one of us has done but we’ve never done together.  Bad weather, injuries and running out of time have hindered us the past, but we’re hopeful we can make it work this year. For those who may find this to be too challenging, a hike up to Sentinel Pass in the fall when the larches turn golden is a worthy endeavour. Remember to hike in groups of 4 and bring bear spray!  Parks Canada has an excellent guide to the scrambler’s route up Mount Temple.

Mount Temple dominates the Lake Louise Skyline
Mount Temple dominates the Lake Louise Skyline

Paddle the Milk River

Check! We did this in early June which can be a mixed bag weather-wise since it is typically Alberta’s rainiest month. While the mountains understandably get most of the glory in Alberta, visiting the badlands is a unique and memorable experience.

Hoodos in Southern Alberta
Checking out the Hoodoos along the Milk River

Camp in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Check! Sort of. We camped here after our Milk River paddle. Although, we arrived with enough time to enjoy a soak in the river and some beach lounging, a storm rolled in after dinner and did not let up the whole night and into the next day. We didn’t get to hike around the hoodoos and do the archaeological tour to the largest collection of Indigenous petroglyphs in the Great Plains. We will have to visit this off the beaten path park again.

Camp in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Closer to Calgary than Writing on Stone, this park is in the badlands as well and features fossil hunting tours and fireflies! We’re hoping we can arrive here via a Red Deer River paddle, which is one of our favourite things to do in the summer.

Visit the Waterton Wildflower Festival

Sadly we missed this one. We had been slow to plan it and didn’t register for any of the workshops ahead of time. We will have to try again another year. Luckily for us and everyone else, Waterton National Park runs citizen science volunteer opportunities throughout the summer. More information on those can be found here.   Waterton doesn’t get the same attention as Banff or Jasper but it also offers excellent hiking and views.  It boasts a massive variety of wildflowers, plants, and wildlife, with over 1,400 unique species of plants and 250 species of birds, many of which are not found elsewhere in Canada.  

Visit all of Calgary’s parks

This will likely have to happen throughout the year but summer is a great time to get out and enjoy Calgary’s many beautiful parks. The flowers are blooming and there are lots of animals to be seen like ducks, geese, beavers and deer.

Catch a “Shakespeare By the Bow” Play

Speaking of things to do in Calgary’s parks, each summer, a new production runs on weeknight evenings at beautiful Prince’s Island Park by the Bow River. This year’s play is As You Like It that features up and coming actors and is pay what you can. You are encouraged to bring a picnic too. It sounds like such a fun way to spend a hot summer evening but we always end up missing it. We hope that changes this year!

Remember why I prefer Calgary Folk Fest over Calgary Stampede

It’s crowded, expensive, there’s long lines for everything and if overpriced beer gardens, rodeos, and country music aren’t your thing, there’s not much to enjoy at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. I know this might sound like sacrilege coming from a native Albertan, but I can do without the Stampede in summer. More often than not, we are out of town during that time, but we went this year on a discounted weeknight. Attracted by the $5 admission, the fact that a band we liked was playing the Coke stage,  and the buzz about all the new ridiculous deep fried midway food we headed there after work.

Unfortunately, it seemed like all of Calgary had the same idea and the lineups were insane, the midway food was unappetizing, made us hemorrhage money without actually satisfying our hunger, and it was so hard to get everywhere that we ended up leaving before the band even came on. Which brings us to our next item…

Calgary Stampede Indian Princess
Calgary Stampede does do a good job of celebrating Indigenous Culture

Enjoy “adult summer camp” at Calgary Folk Fest

Calgary Folk Music Festival, or “Folk Fest” as its known to its fans, is a much more relaxed summer festival experience with arguably the best beer gardens in the city. The selection of artists will appeal to various tastes, and the crowds are a lot smaller. Folk Fest makes a concerted effort to cut down on waste and showcase local businesses. It’s a great place to catch up with people that you may not have seen in a while which gives it a summer camp kind of feel.

Sunset at Calgary Folk Fest
Sunset at Calgary Folk Fest

Cycle the new Calgary Greenway

We love our cycling challenges and Calgary recently completed 150km of pathway encircling the entire City, connected by the Rotary/Mattamy Greenway. In honour of Canada’s 150 years since Confederation, the Parks Foundation Calgary has issued the “Summer Challenge” where you can win prizes for touring the whole greenway throughout the summer. It goes until September so there is still lots of time!

Paddle or float the Bow River after work

Check! We floated the Bow on a particularly hot Friday and then enjoyed a pint at the Cold Garden Brewery near our takeout afterwards. Not a bad way to spend a summer evening at all!

Backpack the Northover Ridge Trail in Kananaskis Country

We’ll be taking the road less travelled on this trail. Kananaskis Country is where most locals go to hike if they want majestic mountain landscapes without Banff’s crowds. Northover Ridge follows the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia and is supposed to be one of the most stunning backpacking trails in the area.  That’s quite the claim given how exhilarating the views from the mountains we’ve already climbed in the area are!

Looking up at the stars in Kananaskis Country
Camping under the stars in Kananaskis Country

Find the “warm springs” on Mist Mountain in Kananaskis

There are rumoured to be “warm” (rather than “hot”) springs on Mist Mountain in the Kananaskis region. We tried to do this scramble once already but ended up on the much more boot-beaten Mount Lipsett trail instead. It was probably for the better since we didn’t get a super early start and Mist Mountain is a very long day of climbing. The endless meadows of alpine wildflowers on Lipsett more than made up for the wrong turn and it will forever be one of our favourite early season conditioners/wildflower hikes.  We’ll have to try again at a later date for Mist Mountain.

wildflowers on mount lipset
Incredible Wildflowers on Mount Lipsett, an excellent consolation prize. Mist Mountain on the right.

Be Awestruck by Global Fest Fireworks

Stampede what? Canada Day who? This is where you see the best fireworks every summer. Launched over a beautiful lake and set to music, these fireworks displays are put on by international competition winners and are unrivaled in their creativity. Global Fest also features a variety of international food options, some low key beer gardens, and a focus on human rights issues.

Check out a new festival in Calgary

There are so many festivals in Calgary during the summer and we’ve yet to experience them all. High on my list are Afrikadey and Latinfest. We’ll see which ones we make it to this year!

Go Bird Watching in the Columbia Wetlands during Wings over the Rockies Festival

Check! We did this in mid-May, so technically before summer starts and was that ever clear by how cold it was. We were able to see some cool birds and learn new things about the animals in the area, but not without needing gloves and warm clothes.  Still, this was a lot of fun and I’d love to go back and attend some events next year.

Osprey seen while kayaking the Columbia River
Osprey seen while kayaking the Columbia River

Hike the Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park

This is a spectacular trail in Yoho National Park which receives less traffic than its famous neighbour, Banff. The trail takes you through glacier passes, and meanders passed waterfalls and incredible alpine vistas. Many do this as a (long) day trip but we are planning to spend the night at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Stanley Mitchell Hut  to make the most of our time in the area. We can’t wait to spend a few days in the wilderness here!

Those of you familiar with Alberta may have noticed that the last two items are not in fact in Alberta, but are actually in British Columbia.  We put them on our list as they are easily achievable from our home in Calgary.  For our readers abroad, Alberta alone is 2.7x the size of the United Kingdom so sometimes it’s easier to reach a sight in the province next door than it is to go to the opposite end of the province!

On the other hand, there are quite a few items within the city on our list, proving that you don’t always need to travel far to find a new adventure.

Looking for more inspiration close to home?  Check out this great list of some of the best things for families to do in Alberta.

We’ve managed to knock a few things off our summer bucket list so far and are very excited to try to pack in the rest. Wish us luck, first up is the Iceline Trail!

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