Be a part of the lively western heritage and pioneering spirit of central Alberta. Get ready to party in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city and the festival capital of Canada. Red Deer, the hub of central Alberta, has its festivals too. Join in the celebrations of local history, the Wild West and a famous country music jamboree.
Alberta’s heartland is a myriad of landscapes, from the foothills of the Rockies in the west to an endless expanse of golden plains and aspen parkland stretching east to Lloydminster at the Saskatchewan border. The land is sprinkled with lakes and ponds left by retreating glaciers. The winding Red Deer River plays a leading role in the region's agricultural bounty, not to mention the best place in the province for inner tubing on a lazy afternoon.
Long summer days are filled with hiking, biking, riding, fishing, boating and beaches. Get out on the prairie and into 360 degree views of plains and big sky. Embrace winter with the locals in a game of pond hockey. Snowshoe, cross-country ski, snowmobile, and ice fish. Take a picture of hay bales in the snow that look like frosted wheat cereal.
Plains. Trains. Festivals. Fur traders. Here’s your insider Central Alberta checklist!
Follow the map maker
Head west from Stettler on the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), a pleasant alternative to the Trans-Canada. Follow in the footsteps of the highway’s namesake, the fur trader and surveyor credited with mapping most of the continent’s northwest. Rocky Mountain House was his home base. Check out the ruins of four trading posts here and make like a “voyageur” in a canoe on the North Saskatchewan river.
Move on to Nordegg, once a booming coal mining town, now a secret haven for Rocky Mountain adventures. It’s the last community along the David Thompson Highway before it intersects with the Icefields Parkway.
Just 30 minutes west of Red Deer, Sylvan Lake is a beachgoer’s haven in summer and a classic Canadian adventure in winter. Or head to Ma-me-o Beach at Pigeon Lake, less than an hour south of Edmonton.
Check out the original buildings of the Old West along the Boomtown Trail on Hwy 21, an alternative route from Edmonton south to Calgary. In August, unwind at the four-day Big Valley Jamboree country music festival in Camrose. Take an antique steam train across the open plains on the Alberta Prairie Railway. The Trail of the Buffalo links the small towns east of Highway 2.
Where the buffalo and dinosaurs roamed
South and east of Red Deer is one of our best kept secrets: Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, the site of choice for Cree ancestors to drive bison herds over the flat topped mesa that gives the park its name. At the apex of the Canadian Badlands, the park is home to almost as many dinosaur fossils as found further south. The biggest find is our very own Albertosaurus - think of him as a cousin to T-Rex and just as fierce.
Wet and wild
Lakes, wilderness and three rivers make Brazeau Country the place to be for year round outdoor thrills. Hit the water in summer for swimming, fishing and paddling. Hike, ATV or ride the trails. Golf one of four courses or unload your clip at the shooting range. Winter is prime time for skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. An hour west of Edmonton.
Experience Alberta’s Wild West firsthand. Drive the Cowboy Trail through cattle country from Mayerthorpe on Hwy 22 all the way down to the US border. Connect with the people and places that keep the ranching legacy alive and kicking.
Bulls and broncs
Get in on the bull wrestlin’, bronc ridin’ and steer ropin’ action of Central Alberta’s oldest rodeo, the Ponoka Stampede. 45 minutes north of Red Deer.
Ukrainians, ungulates, and UFOs
From Edmonton east to the Saskatchewan border is known as Kalyna Country, 20,000 sq km (7,722 sq mi) of living ecomuseum. Relive the days of early prairie life at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.
See the highest concentration of hoofed wildlife outside the Serengeti at Elk Island National Park, also home of 224 known Aboriginal sites. Snap photos of the unusual roadside attractions along the way. Would it surprise you to know we’ve even got a UFO landing strip?