In a nutshell, Alberta's varied alpine terrain and transition zones offer hiking enthusiasts endless choices for all kinds of excursions, from short trips through rolling foothills and spare forest, and along swift-running alpine creeks and rivers; to multi-day excursions up and over mountain passes, past towering waterfalls and massive glaciers, through the Continental Divide -- on and on and on. There is a lifetime of options.
Some regions are particularly conducive to hiking excursions (read: the mountains); read on for some guidelines, including where to find trail maps and tour operators.
In the Canmore/Kananaskis area, Tourism Canmore (tel. 866/CAN-MORE [866/226-6673] or 403/678-1296; www.tourismcanmore.com) has a comprehensive guide of hiking trails near town, as well as throughout the vast Kananaskis Country to the south; here, just east of Banff, the terrain is a little more varied -- a mixture of alpine and foothills. For guided tours, contact Inside Out (tel. 888/999-7238; www.insideoutexperience.com) in Canmore; they can set you up with a huge variety of guided hikes in the area. Costs per person for half-day hikes are C$69 (C$59 for children, or groups of eight or more), for full-day hikes C$139 (C$129 for children or groups). All guided tours include shuttle service to the trail head. Mahikan Trails (tel. 866/776-HIKE [866/776-4453] or 403/609-2489; www.mahikan.ca) will lead you to archaeologically significant First Nations sites in the area. Full-day rates are C$600 for a group of four people, with an additional C$124 for each extra person up to eight. Banff National Park offers an almost immeasurable number of hiking options (1,600km/994 miles' worth), from short day trips to multi-day treks. Not all of them are difficult (though many are), but be aware that the easier hikes tend to draw the most crowds in summer. It's wise to check with the park to find the right trail for you. Parks Canada's website for Banff (www.pc.gc.ca/banff) has many maps and good tips, as well as regularly updated trail reports. Or call them at tel. 403/762-1550. Guided hikes and overnight backpacking trips are led by a number of companies, including WildTrips (tel. 403/678-0929; www.wildtrips.ca) and Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (tel. 866/678-4164; www.yamnuska.ca). The Sunshine Meadows guided hike, run by White Mountain Adventures (tel. 403/762-7889) takes you above the Sunshine Village ski area and into a gorgeous alpine meadow. Group hikes cost C$35 per person.
In Jasper, your best bet for hiking isn't the local tourist authority, Jasper Tourism (tel. 780/852-3858; www.jaspercanadianrockies.com), though they are able to help with hiking guides and trail maps. The real hiking authority in Jasper is the Hike Jasper guide, a tremendous online resource run by local enthusiasts. On their website, www.hikejasper.com, you'll find their take on the best hikes summer and winter, night-time hiking, and a listing of the best guides plying the park and their offerings (a top one is a 5-day guided hike retracing the route of legendary explorer David Thompson as he pushed through the Rockies and on to the Pacific Ocean).
Waterton Lakes National Park is considerably less developed than the other national parks in Alberta -- which, overall, is a good thing. At the park office (tel. 403/859-2252; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/index.aspx), you'll find all the information you need, from maps of hiking trails to weather conditions. They'll also let you know if there's been a bear sighting recently -- handy info if you plan to venture forth on foot.
However, Waterton's relatively untrammeled wilderness will make finding a guide a little tougher. You can try the one outfitter in town, Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters (tel. 403/859-2378), which may be able to hook you up with a game local; otherwise, follow the guidelines the parks service provides and be aware of wildlife: This is the wildest of Alberta's mountain parks.
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.