Fun Things to Do in Alberta with Kids: A Local’s Guide
Alberta is arguably Canada’s most scenically diverse province. Within a few hours, you can travel from Canada’s most famous Rocky Mountain national parks to the cowboy heartland in the prairies or desert-like badlands in the southeast. Some of the best things to do in Alberta with kids include skating on frozen lakes, hunting for real dinosaur bones, spotting shooting stars and Northern Lights, and visiting some of the country’s best and kid-friendliest museums in the capital (Edmonton) and largest city (Calgary).
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Things to Know about Visiting Alberta with Kids
Having been born and raised in Alberta, I can still remember my favorite places to visit in Alberta as a kid. Now I visit them as a parent, reliving them through my children’s eyes. Below I’ll share our 10 favorite kid-friendly Alberta attractions.
First, a few facts about Alberta: the province is larger than California. You’ll want to focus on one area rather than trying to see everything.
If you’re flying in, choose Calgary (known for having hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics), which is centrally located relative to the main sights. The capital, Edmonton, is out of the way, but does have enough kid-friendly attractions to warrant a detour.
Alberta is really cold in winter (the record low is -61.1°C / -78°F!) A normal winter day typically ranges anywhere from 0°C / -32°F to -35°C / -31°F. In the mountains, winter lasts from November all the way to April or even May. Snow is possible in any month of the year. If driving in winter, it is essential to get winter tires on your car.
Alberta is at its most beautiful, but also busiest, in summer. It can get surprisingly hot, and hotels should be booked far in advance. The days are very long, with up to 17 hours of daylight.
Best Things to Do in Alberta with Kids
The following kid-friendly Alberta attractions are in no particular order, so you’ll even find some gems towards the end of the list.
1. Hiking in Jasper National Park
Jasper, Alberta’s largest Rocky Mountain national park, lies to the north of the more famous Banff National Park. Jasper is less touristy and more low-key. It is our go-to place for easy (but incredibly stunning) hikes with our kids.
One of the hikes that stands out as the kid-friendliest is the Valley of the Five Lakes. The two-hour trail is just hard enough to challenge little ones. It meanders between five vibrantly green and blue lakes.
Another is Path of the Glacier Trail, a short but awe-inspiring hike to a glacier and ice chunk-filled lake on Edith Cavell, one of Jasper’s most iconic.
Last but not least, if you visit in winter, Maligne Canyon Icewalk is a once-in-a-lifetime walk on a frozen creek flanked by cliffs of ice waterfalls icicles on either side. Ice cleats are required for this one.
2. Skating on Frozen lakes in Jasper and Banff
Speaking of bucket list experiences to be had with your kids, ice skating on a frozen lake in the Rocky Mountains is one of them.
No experience is required; my kids’ first time ever ice skating was on Lake Louise in Banff. This is widely considered Canada’s most beautiful lake, and they fell in love with it!
If you don’t have skates, you can rent them at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the iconic hotel at the lake’s edge, or find cheaper ones in Lake Louise or Banff townsites. After you skate, treat the kids to hot chocolates or splurge on afternoon tea in the hotel.
In Jasper, the two best spots for ice skating are Mildred Lake, which is maintained by Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, or Pyramid Lake, which is maintained by Pyramid Lake Resort.
The best part is: skating on any of these lakes is totally free! Skating can only be done when the ice is thick enough – usually January to early March.
If you’d rather ski, there are three major ski resorts in Banff and one in Jasper.
3. Easy hikes in Banff, Canmore, and Kananaskis
Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park, created after hot springs were discovered there. Today, it remains the country’s most popular, especially for its turquoise lakes like Lake Louise, Maligne Lake, and Peyto Lake.
The drive between Jasper and Banff, called the Icefields Parkway, begs to be road-tripped. There are numerous stops along the way with short and easy hikes to waterfalls and lake lookouts.
Around Banff townsite, the walk to Bow Falls is great with kids, as is the trail to Sulphur Mountain Peak from the top of Banff Gondola; for kids they even supply a treasure hunt, quiz, and free snack for the ride. There are just a few of the fun things to do in Banff in summer.
South of Banff just outside of the park, Canmore is a cheaper place to stay surrounded by gorgeous mountains and kid-friendly walks. Grassi Lakes Trail is one of the most memorable things to do in Canmore.
And for those who prefer to get off-the-beaten track, Kananaskis country, a large region that includes a dozen provincial parks and protected areas, lies further south.
All three areas can be accessed in only 1 to 1.5 hours from Calgary.
4. Visiting the Dinosaur Mecca – Drumheller
Drumheller, the “Dinosaur Capital of the World,” truly lives up to its nickname. Any visit begins at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, which many consider the best dinosaur museum in the world.
You may also get a kick out of “Little Church”, a real, functioning (but tiny) church nearby, which is truly kid-sized.
In Drumheller town, the streets are named after dinosaurs. There are dino statues everywhere, including the “World’s Largest Dinosaur”, a T-Rex that is 4.5 times larger than a real one! You can even climb up into its mouth!
There are plenty of things to do in Drumheller for adults too. The badlands scenery in and around town is out-of-this-world. Don’t miss the collection of hoodoos just outside of town.
5. Searching for real fossils at Dinosaur Provincial Park
While Drumheller is touristy and aimed at kids, Drumheller Provincial Park is the real deal. Much lesser-known, the park is 1 hr 45 min away in a remote location.
There’s no town, nor are there hotels or restaurants. Just dinosaur fossil-bearing badlands and dramatic scenery. The ultimate experience is a night spent in the park’s campground, which is set amidst the badlands.
The next day, take a guided tour into the preserve (it’s the only way you can enter). There are different choices, but one is aimed specifically at kids and includes various hands-on activities set in the badlands.
On the tour we found several small dino fossils along the trail. Just note that it’s illegal to take one home. But the real highlight came when we to a massive hadrosaur leg bone still half buried in the ground!
6. Spotting moving dinos at Jurassic Forest – Edmonton
Before we leave the topic of dinosaurs, there’s one more must-visit. Jurassic Forest, which is 45 minutes outside of Edmonton, features several dozen moving and roaring dinosaurs in a natural forest setting.
Compared to the usual animatronic dinosaurs in children’s museums (yes, we’ve been to many), this experience is more enjoyable because you have to actually walk through the forest to find them. It makes the experience more authentic, and enjoyable for adults, too.
7. Spending an indoor holiday at West Edmonton Mall
It’s possible to spend a multi-day family-focused holiday at West Edmonton Mall without even stepping foot outside. “The Mall” (as we locals call it) was the largest mall in the world from 1981 to 2004 and remains the second-largest in North America after the Mall of America in Minnesota.
Why would you want to do this? Well, there is a long list of temptations on offer: an enormous amusement park (including a triple loop rollercoaster), equally enormous waterpark, ice skating palace, IMAX theater, mini golf, go-karting, VR game center, bowling alley, and more.
The mall even has a Chinatown and New Orleans street, dozens of restaurants, and hundreds of retail shops.
For accommodation, you can stay in the adjoining Fantasyland Hotel, which has a choice of themed rooms.
We personally recommend the Space Room, the newest one, which comes with a hot tub, sparkling stars on the ceiling, adjustable colored lights, and space pods for the kids to sleep in.
8. Museum hopping in Edmonton and Calgary
Edmonton and Calgary each have several must-visit museums for kids, indoors and out.
In Edmonton, Royal Alberta Museum is the province’s showcase museum, covering dinosaurs and natural history, indigenous culture, a live bug gallery, and kids’ playroom.
Fort Edmonton Park and Ukrainian Village are two excellent outdoor living history museums, while Telus World of Science is all about science and hands-on activities.
In Calgary, Glenbow Museum is the big one, while Telus Spark Science Centre is the city’s equivalent to Telus World of Science in Edmonton. It also features an excellent outdoor playground, including a 36-foot tower and slide.
It’s worth mentioning that next door is Calgary Zoo, one of the largest and best zoos in Canada.
Yet another cool museum in Calgary is YouthLink, a police-run and focused museum, while Heritage Park Historical Village is a massive outdoor living museum.
9. Calgary Stampede and other Alberta Festivals
The annual Calgary Stampede in summer is one of Canada’s largest festivals, not to mention the biggest rodeo in the world.
The whole city takes on a festive, cowboy vibe for the duration of the event. There are loads of kid-friendly associated events, including rides, pancake breakfasts, performances, and more.
Other family-friendly festivals in Calgary include the Comic & Entertainment Expo, Taste of Calgary, Global Fest, and Circle Carnival.
Meanwhile, Edmonton has so many festivals that is has been nicknamed “Festival City.” Some of the best for kids include K-Days (an outdoor fair with rides, midway, performances, etc.), Edmonton Fringe Festival and the similar Street Performers Festival, Heritage Festival, Cariwest Caribbean Festival, Children’s Festival of the Arts, and Silver Skate Festival in winter.
10. Camping in Alberta
A favorite family activity among locals in Alberta is camping. This is the most affordable way to visit the Rockies, not to mention the high odds of spotting wildlife (yes, that includes bears!) and stargazing at night. In fact, Jasper is the largest easily accessible Dark Sky Preserve in the world!
Alberta also has nearly 500 provincial parks, from the mountains to countless lakes on the prairies and immense swaths of boreal forest in the north. There are also hundreds of privately run campgrounds, which tend to offer higher-end facilities.
In recent years, the popularity of camping has gone from huge to record setting. Therefore, it’s essential to find out when online reservations start and try to book the minute they open.
For Canada’s national parks, keep an eye on the opening date for the summer season (this year it was February 8!). For provincial ones it’s usually 90 days in advance.
Well, that brings us to the end of this guide to the best things to do in Alberta, Canada with kids. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit and given you plenty of ideas for making the best of your family visit!
*All photos credited to Nick Kembel with the exception of lead image and unless otherwise noted.
|About the author: Nick Kembel is a published author whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, CNNgo, and Vogue. After living and traveling abroad for 15+ years, he’s now back at home exploring Alberta with his kids. He runs nickkembel.com and funworldfacts.com.|