Alberta's a big place, and there's plenty of ground to cover -- especially out here in the badlands and portions of the south, where the prairie seems to roll without end in every direction. Just accept you're going to spend some time behind the wheel -- and that you'll be rewarded for your efforts -- and you'll be fine.
1. Drumheller & the Royal Tyrrell Museum
Fly into Calgary and set out for Drumheller on Highway 2 North, exiting at Highway 9 East. It'll take you about an hour and a half. Head straight for the Royal Tyrrell Museum, an extraordinary world-class facility that's as fascinating for adults as it is for dino-crazed kids. After the museum, take a spin on the Dinosaur Trail loop, stopping at viewpoints for Horse Thief Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon, carved out of the rough sandstone terrain over millennia by the Red Deer River.
2. Dinosaur Provincial Park
From Drumheller you're about two hours to Dinosaur Provincial Park, where fascinating field guides and a fantastic interpretive center are there to offer tours of this area that was once a vast, ancient inland sea. Some of the most significant discoveries of the Cretaceous period have been found here -- whole skeletons of massive aquatic dinos from millions of years ago. As you walk the valley floor, be aware of the fossilized bone fragments crunching underfoot.
3. & 4. Waterton Lakes National Park
From Dinosaur Park, you're about four hours across bald prairie to Waterton Lakes National Park, a spectacular mountain park that's also the least traveled of the three in Alberta (the others being Banff and Jasper). Take a nice long cruise the length of Waterton Lake on the Historic M.V. International to Goat Haunt, Montana, at the lake's south end, while an expert guide fills your mind with fascinating history and geology along the way. Or rent a canoe on nearby Cameron Lake and marvel at the snow-laden bowls hanging above you from the peaks in June. You can hike Cameron Lake as well, or trudge deep into Red Rock Canyon. Or you could spend an afternoon at High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, gazing out the spectacular south-facing windows at the lake and glacier-laden mountains beyond.
5. Trail Riding at Mountain Meadows
The Nelson family has been ranching their vast spread of land outside Waterton Lakes National Park for four generations. In the last ten years or so, they've been treating visitors to a taste of their western lifestyle. Come for a day's ride and cowboy cookout lunch (read: beef) in the rolling foothills, or stay overnight at their rustic, cozy base camp a day's ride into the high country. Don't worry, all is not roughing it: A hot tub awaits at trail's end, far from civilization.
6. The Southern Cowboy Trail
From Mountain Meadows, head north on Highway 6 to Highway 3 west, toward Crowsnest Pass. Not far along, you'll come across Frank Slide, the site of a dramatic landslide that saw millions of tons of rock tumble down and crush the town of Frank in 1903. Back east on 3 to Highway 22 north puts you on the Cowboy Trail, Alberta's storied western heritage highway along the fringe of the Rocky Mountains. Just south of Longview on the 22, Bar U Ranch National Historic Site was one of the first, and biggest, ranches in Western Canada; it remains a perfectly preserved relic of that era.
At the end of a long road, Calgary's urbane comforts will beckon. Sante Spa can soothe those travel-weary bones, and a pleasant afternoon shopping among the boutiques of the Mission district is a restorative unto itself. Finish up on the patio of Mercato, a Calgary hotspot with some of the best traditional Italian food you'll ever have.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.