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Dynamic, metropolitan Calgary lies on the banks of the Bow River and just east of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies. One of the largest cities in Canada, and the largest in Province of Alberta, Calgary offers the best of city attractions and easy access to outdoor recreation. An oil boom that began in the 1940s turned the city from an agricultural and ranching hub into a metropolis that hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1988. Remnants of the ranch culture remain, especially with the annual Calgary Stampede Festival, a world-class rodeo and parade founded by wealthy agriculturalists in 1912. Other cultural attractions include the Glenbow Museum–the largest museum in western Canada–the Chinese Cultural Centre, and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum. The mild weather and proximity to the Rockies, and resort towns such as Banff and lovely Lake Louise make Calgary a great launching point for excursions into the Canadian wilderness.
Nestled in the lap of the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park's moraine landscape is wild as it is soulful. The park's exquisite panorama unfolds like a painted postcard, upheld by its legion of snow-sprinkled peaks that escape billowing mist at the break of dawn, crystal clear waters that flow from the Athabasca and Smoky river basins in the east, and a battalion of Aspen trees that line the foothills of the gargantuan mountains. Blessed with an undulating terrain, the park allows for a diverse yet delicate ecosystem to live and breathe within its pockets of alpine wilderness, from grizzlies and moose, to heavy-set elk and nimble lynxes. Jasper's sublime landscape is home to the Athabasca Glacier, one of the principal outlets of the Columbia Icefield, while its valley floors are flooded with glacier lakes like the Maligne, Pyramid and Medicine. The national park connects to Lake Louise, Alberta by virtue of the Icefields Parkway, a 230 kilometer (140 mile) long highway that runs parallel to the continental divide.
Known as the “Gateway to the North,” Edmonton is the capital of the Province of Alberta, its second-largest city, and its cultural hub. Situated on the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton is a city that likes to do things on a grand scale: Fort Edmonton Park is Canada's largest living history museum while the West Edmonton Mall is North America's largest, the size of a small city with over 800 shops, a roller coaster and water park of its own. Cultural highlights of the city include the Royal Alberta Museum, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, and the Art Gallery of Alberta, an iconic metal and glass building that is also the city’s largest gallery. Edmonton has the highest amount of parkland per capita of any city in Canada, most of which lies in the stretches of urban parkland in River Valley, where plenty of hiking and camping opportunities abound. Just south of the river lies the University of Alberta and the bustling Whyte Avenue with its youthful charm, arthouse cinemas and quaint eateries. It's festivals too are some of the grandest, its Fringe Festival unmatched across North America, while its Folk Music Festival is world-renown. Assailed by frigid weather for most of the year, Edmonton embraces the cold, its natives dappling in all sorts of winter activities on the ice. A world of adventure and excitement awaits in Edmonton, all you have to do is look beyond its business-like facade.
The serendipitous discovery of a natural hot spring in the rugged depths of the Canadian Rockies led to the foundation of Canada's first national park in 1883. Dominated by stiff white peaks, mammoth lakes that gleam in hues of turquoise and aquamarine, an arsenal of dense conifer trees, and a constant inflow of diaphanous clouds that circle the summits of 120 million-year old mountains, Banff National Park offers incomparable facets of nature's beauty. The highest of these alpine wonders is Mount Forbes, towering at an altitude of 11,850 feet (3,612 meters), while the crown jewel of the Banff is the gorgeous Moraine Lake, tinted a deep blue by glacier waters. Over 1,600 kilometers (994.19 miles) of alpine trails are wrapped around the park's sprawling expanse, and the Banff Legacy Trail, a stunning paved trail offers opportunities for walking and cycling. Spectacular panoramas are just around the corner at Banff National Park, a glorious gateway for astonishing alpine sceneries.
Stampede Park is a sprawling outdoor event venue that is reputed for hosting the major events and happenings in the city. Although it hosts a plethora of formal as well as informal events throughout the year, it is mostly remembered for hosting The Calgary Stampede Festival, a ten-day event dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” that draws about a million visitors to Calgary every year.
Descend into a cave under Grotto Mountain for a unique subterranean adventure. Experienced guides lead two and six-hour expeditions that bring visitors face to face with fossils, calcite formations, and glacial deposits. The two-hour tour is a relatively easy introduction to the amazing underground cavern system. The six-hour Adventure Tour is more exciting; visitors squeeze through tight passageways and rappel into the subterranean abyss. Experienced guides ensure that everyone is safe, and all equipment is provided.
The Columbia Icefield is a large and beautiful stretch of snow and ice nestled in the Canadian Rockies that falls within Jasper and Banff National Parks. The region features eight prominent glaciers including the Athabasca Glacier, the Castleguard Glacier, the Saskatchewan Glacier, and the Columbia Glacier. Parts of the Icefield are visible from the Icefields Parkway, a scenic mountain highway traversing the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Visitors can go on wildlife photography excursions, take tours of the Icefield in snow-coaches during the summer, and go on ski-mountaineering adventures during the winter.
This mall is a top Alberta attraction and one of the largest shopping centers in North American and the world. Measuring 5.3 million square feet, the mall has more than 800 stores and services, 100 eating establishments, 26 cinema theaters, a spa, and a Las Vegas-style casino. There are also theme park attractions of varying types including the Galaxyland amusement park, World Waterpark, Sea Lions' Rock & Sea Life Caverns, Proffesor Wem's Adventure Golf, and the Ice Palace public skating rink.
Covering a humongous area of 44,807 square kilometers (17,300 square miles), Wood Buffalo National Park stretches between the Northwest Territories and Alberta provinces of Canada, making it the largest national park in the country and the second largest in the world. Established in 1922 to conserve the last herd of wood bison, its forest includes the greatest undisturbed meadows and grass in North America, as well as the largest inland delta in the world. Wood Buffalo National Park is home to more than 45 mammalian species, including rare animals like the wood bison and exquisite Whooping Crane. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the park offers opportunities for camping, stargazing, and astronomical presentations.
Canada Olympic Park was the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics and offers a variety of adventure sports facilities. These facilities are used both by high-performance winter athletes and by ordinary, adventurous, Calgarians. The bobsled track immortalized by four Jamaican sledders continues to be used for World Cup events. The downhill ski slope is a popular entry-level spot for skiers, while the half-pipe area crawls with local snowboarders. The park also gets steady summer use by cross-country and downhill mountain bike racers. Inside the main COP building there is a restaurant/bar and the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum. Prices vary according to activity.
Elk Island National Park is 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) of fenced-in forest and prairie located about 32 kilometers (19 miles) east of Edmonton. Established in 1906 to protect dwindling wildlife stocks, it is now a prime attraction with a fine herd of bison as well as elk, wapiti, deer, beaver, coyotes, and a few bears. Although it is one of Canada's smallest national parks, it offers all the opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, golfing, canoeing, kayaking, and guided tours.
One of Canada's great museums and Western Canada's largest, this treasure trove houses artifacts of the west, dating back to the first white settlers of the 1800s and the history of the area's First Nations. Visitors can take delight in exhibits that delve into the history of the region and its people, celebrating their lifestyles and art, and also that record contemporary life in western Canada. Along with permanent displays, the Glenbow Museum presents a variety of temporary exhibitions. Visitors also explore an art gallery and archives on site.