Get ready to explore one of Canada’s most diverse outdoor recreation areas – the latest edition of our Southern Alberta Mapbook is about to hit stores. Featuring countless updates and expansions, this is your ultimate guide to the best outdoor adventures in Southern Alberta.
The east of the area covered in this book is dominated by the majestic, world-famous peaks of the Rocky Mountains. This is the domain of craggy, sky-scraping cliffs, vast and ancient glaciers and emerald-coloured alpine lakes, where your chances of seeing a bighorn sheep are often better than running into another human. While some of the major recreation destinations of the Rockies do get busy, using this Mapbook to get you off the beaten path will ensure unforgettable moments of peace and solitude amid some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth.
As you move east into the foothills, recreation-rich Kananaskis Country offers endless opportunities for hiking and camping, while areas like the Ghost Public Land Use Zone are havens for horseback riders, ATVers and snowmobilers. Here you can explore hundreds of kilometers of trails, travelling as deep into the enchanted Southern Alberta woods as you dare. And as you make your way to the sprawling metropolis of Calgary, urban greenways and parks blur the line between man and nature.
Of course, much of the province is made of prairies. Sprawling agricultural fields are intersected by lazy, meandering rivers, where dipping a paddle or dropping a fishing line can make for an unforgettable outdoor experience amid a truly tranquil setting. Elsewhere, the rugged badlands landscape will take you back in time to a pre-human era, with fossil deposits scattered among ancient geological features.
To help you navigate this stunningly diverse area, the 4th edition of our Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook has been extensively refined, updated and expanded. We now include large scale park maps for Banff, Peter Lougheed and Waterton Parks along with an overview park map for Glacier National Park in the USA. Our maps also now include labelled fish species, as well as Crown Forest Management Areas and Public Land Use Zones.
All of our writing has been expanded and updated, including new trails, paddling routes and fishing hot spots. Brand new to this edition, we have included a separate section for Backcountry Huts among our carefully researched Adventure listings. We also include fish stocking charts as well as trail charts for the area’s main parks and the Trans Canada Trail. No matter your adventure of choice, this latest edition of the Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook has you covered.
Whether you are exploring Southern Alberta’s expansive wilderness on foot, ski, snowshoe, snowmobile or ATV, there is a backcountry hut or cabin waiting to be discovered. Here are a couple of our favourites:
Abbot Pass Hut
Located high up in a pass between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy, this stone cabin looks like something right out of the European Alps. Access is difficult, but is well worth for those with the proper experience and fitness level.
Map 49/D7, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Neil Colgan Hut
Found in the Valley of the Ten Peaks south of Lake Louise, this hut is the highest habitable structure in all of North America. Epic views and endless hiking opportunities await.
Neil Colgan Hut. Photo Credit: Nonac_Digi/Flickr
Southern Alberta has no shortage of manmade and natural attractions that are easily accessed via the region’s well-maintained road system, from charming small-town museums to paleontological sites and First Nations cultural areas. Here are a couple of our favourite places to stop while cruising through the area:
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park
Featuring a Blackfoot heritage exhibition, a 100 seat theatre, art galleries and a tepee village where visitors can eat and sleep, this is Canada’s largest First Nations-owned and operated tourist attraction.
Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park. Photo Credit: Bencito the Traveller/Flickr
Red Rock Coulee Natural Area
Found south of Medicine Hat, this area is home to unique geological formations formed by ancient seas, with sandstone concretions that measure up with some of the largest in the world. The iron-rich rocks give off a reddish glow, which is particularly impressive during sunset.
Map 16/C5, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
From the pristine mountain streams and sparkling alpine lakes of the Rocky Mountains to the big, winding rivers of the prairies, Southern Alberta has a lot to offer anglers. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed descriptions for hundreds of fishing spots complete with species and stocking information, access, regulations and more. Here are a couple of our favourite places to drop a line:
Serving as a catchment area for the Three Rivers Dam, this reservoir contains very nutrient rich water, allowing the rainbow, bull, cutthroat and brown trout to grow to some nice sizes.
Map 11/B5, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Flowing through the scenic Turner Valley, this tributary of the Highwood River offers brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout, along with whitefish. In the deeper pools, you may even find some large bull trout that grow up to 5 kg (11 lbs).
Sheep River. Photo Credit: Matthew Randall
From the big game that roam the Rocky Mountains and their foothills to the game birds and waterfowl of the prairies and wetlands, hunters in Southern Alberta have no shortage of options. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed information on each game species found in the area, complete with tips and regulations, along with descriptions of each Wildlife Management Unit. Here are a few of our go-to WMUs in the region.
WMUs 148 & 150
The Saskatchewan River creates a fertile wildlife habitat in these WMUs, and you can find everything from pronghorned antelope to elk, white-fronted geese and partridge and grouse.
Southern Alberta Mule Deer. Photo Credit: gssafaris.com
WMUs 116, 118 & 119
Containing more than 30 lakes and rivers, these WMUs are a prime choice for hunting mule and white-tailed deer, along with pronghorned antelope. In the spring and fall, the wetlands in this area are home to thousands of migrating geese and ducks.
Whether you are looking for challenging whitewater river runs or long, lazy floats, Southern Alberta has a paddling adventure just for you. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed listings for all of the area’s best paddling destinations, complete with put-in and take-out locations, difficulty, highlights and more. Here are a couple of our favourite places to paddle in the region:
As the name suggests, this lake is glacier-fed, and it is hard to top this shimmering blue waterbody as far as scenery goes. Surrounded by pine forest and towering mountain peaks, the lake also stays remarkably calm despite its high elevation.
Map 37/E1, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Red Deer River
Considered by many to be one of the best paddling rivers in Alberta, the Red Deer presents some good challenges as it flows through the Rocky Mountain foothills between Bighorn Creek and Coalcamp Creek. Numerous rapids and drops make this an exciting paddle even for experienced kayakers.
Red Deer River. Photo Credit: rockiesfamilyadventures.com
Many of Southern Alberta’s parks are considered the crown jewels of Canada’s outdoor tourism industry, but there are plenty of lesser-known parks to explore as well that can be just as impressive. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed listings for over 160 National, Provincial and Regional Parks complete with access, activities, highlights and more. Here are a couple that we highly recommend visiting:
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Occupying the highest point of land between the Rockies and Labrador, this park offers spectacular views along with opportunities for hiking, fishing, paddling and even downhill skiing.
Map 17/B5-G5, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park
Accessible only by foot, mountain bike or horse, this park contains vast stretches of Lodgepole pine and spruce forest set in the foothills of the Rockies. Backcountry camping, rock climbing, fishing and hunting are a few of the main draws here.
Elbow Sheep Wildlands. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Southern Alberta boasts many world-class hiking trails in the Rockies, Foothills and Kananaskis Country. And though the hiking opportunities get fewer and further between as you move into the prairies, there are still many trails to explore. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find hundreds of detailed trail listings complete with distance, elevation, access, highlights and more. Here are a couple of our favourites:
Grotto Canyon Trail
Found outside of Canmore, this moderate hike features a waterfall, rock climbing opportunities and even First Nations pictographs, as well as remarkable views of the canyon itself.
Grotto Canyon Trail. Photo Credit: bigdoer.com
Phillips Pass Trail
Also known as Rumrunner’s Run due its use during the prohibition, this trail is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and ATVers and offers sweeping views from atop the pass, including of Island, Crowsnest and Emerald Lakes.
Map 9/G4-10/A4, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
The southern part of Alberta has some of the largest and most popular ATV areas in the province, particularly in the foothills of the Rockies. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed descriptions for over 60 ATV areas in the region. Here are a couple that are well worth checking out:
Encompassing over 1,000 km2, this is one of the most expansive riding areas in the province and includes the newly formed Castle Provincial Park and the Castle Wildland Park. ATVers have plenty of campsites to pick from while riding here, so you can easily turn your day out riding into a weekend adventure.
Map 1/D, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Crowsnest Pass Area
From easy, family-friendly trails to steep basins and hardcore hill climbs, the Crowsnest Pass has it all. The trail options are virtually limitless and the stunning scenery doesn’t hurt either.
Crowsnest Pass. Photo Credit: Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad Association
Along with formal riding areas in the Rocky Mountain foothills and along the Forestry Trunk Road, there are thousands of kilometers of informal snowmobile trails to explore in Southern Alberta. In your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook you will find detailed listings for the best places to ride in the region complete with staging areas, distances, highlights and more. Here are a couple of our favourite sledding destinations in Southern Alberta:
Crowsnest Pass Area
Featuring an average annual snowfall of 8 metres (25 ft), over 200 km (125 mi) of groomed trails and another 1,000 km (620 mi) of ungroomed trails, this is one of the premier snowmobile destinations in the entire country.
Photo Credit: snoriderswest.com/Stephen Harty
McLean Creek Area
Conveniently found just 60 km from Calgary, this is one of the biggest and best-known snowmobiling areas in the province. Sledders can enjoy over 200 km (125 mi) of groomed trails, along with endless ungroomed options.
Map 29/A1-C2, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Prairie wetlands, abundant lakes and remote mountain environments create a fertile habitat for wildlife all across Southern Alberta. From large mammals such as elk and bighorn sheep to rare birds and waterfowl, your Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook gives you the scoop on the best places for wildlife viewing in the region. Here are a couple of our top spots to whip out the binoculars:
Beehive Natural Area
Containing more than 800 hectares (1,976 ac) of old growth forest, the Beehive Natural Area is home to a huge variety of wildlife species, from pileated woodpeckers to lynx and peregrine falcon.
Map 19/A6, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Hand Hills Ecological Reserve
Composed of fescue grassland and aspen woodland, this reserve is home to over 130 species of prairie-breeding birds, many of which are endangered or threatened. These include Baird sparrows, ferruginous hawks, loggerhead shrikes, upland sandpipers and many others.
Hand Hills Ecological Reserve. Photo Credit: takearuralroadtrip.ca
From downhill skiing to cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, wildlife viewing or just soaking in the majestic snow-covered landscape, Southern Alberta becomes an outdoor explorer’s paradise once the snow hits. Here are a couple of our favourite places to explore in the winter months:
Allison/Chinook Cross-Country Ski Area
There are over 30 km (19 mi) of groomed trails that lead you around the foot of Mount Tecumseh in this breathtaking area of the Crowsnest Pass, while traversing through the forest further north along ungroomed trails leads you to scenic Chinook Lake.
Allison Chinook Cross Country Ski Trails. Photo Credit: Crowsnest Pass Nordic Ski Club
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park
With 72 km (45 mi) of cross-country ski trails, a day lodge, biathlon facilities, an athlete training building and more, this is one of premier Nordic skiing centres in the world. Fat biking, snowshoeing, tobogganing, ice skating and even winter disc golf are a few of the other recreational opportunities visitors can find here.
Map 38/G5, Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook
Check out these adventures and many more in the 4th edition of our Southern Alberta Backroad Mapbook – your key to some of the best outdoor recreation in Western Canada!